Sometimes an object you have walked past a thousand times without a second glance suddenly takes on new meaning because of a chance encounter. This homely, somewhat battered patent timepiece (commonly called a “banjo clock”) is such an example.
This clock (19xx-11), which has been in the Storrs House Museum for decades, came from the Storrs family. This type of clock was made famous by Simon Willard of Roxbury and Grafton, MA, but was widely copied by other clockmakers. Called Banjo clocks because of the resemblance to the shape of a banjo, the design was patented in 1802 by Simon Willard. The glass panel was often decorated by an eglomise design, or reverse painting. While many of these paintings are completely imaginary scenes, occasionally the painting represented a real place.
The clock in the Longmeadow Historical Society’s collection has had a troubled past—it is currently not in running condition, and it was reportedly damaged in a break-in in 1970 (see History Note about the recovered Goldthwait gun). The Historical Society was fortunate to have a visiting curator from Historic Deerfield visit the museum recently. The goal of the visit was to obtain some information about several pieces of furniture in the collection. He walked into the south parlor, and immediately recognized the eglomise painting in the banjo clock! He pulled out his phone, and instantly located a photo of a Staffordshire plate with the same design!
The image on the clock’s glass panel turned out to represent the Mount Pleasant Institute, a school for boys once located in Amherst, MA. The school was founded in 1827 by an 1826 Amherst College graduate and Longmeadow native Chauncey Colton (1800-1876), along with his brother-in-law Francis Fellowes. The school was only in operation from 1827 to 1832, and had as its second enrollee, none other than Henry Ward Beecher!
The building depicted on the clock no longer exists in its entirety, but parts of the building still stand in Amherst.
-Contributed by Betsy McKee, Longmeadow Historical Society Board Member
Carpenter, Edward Wilton and Charles Frederick Morehouse. History of the Town of Amherst, Massachusetts.Amherst, Mass.: Press of Carpenter & Morehouse, 1896. 271.
Sousa, Dan, "The Mount Pleasant Classical Institution: A Rarity of American Historical Staffordshire." TCC Bulletin, 2021 Vol. XXII No. 1,7. https://www.transferwarecollectorsclub.org/sites/default/files/bulletins/21_tccxxii_no1-feature.pdf