Watchpapers

March 11, 2013

For those (like me!) who had never heard of watchpapers before, perhaps this blog will help clarify the purpose of these tiny, often exquisite, yet highly practical, works of art.

The fine watchpaper recently added to KOAR (2012.4.1) came from a London-made gold watch that contained a stack of five papers. This was Anderson Collectionthe base paper actually in contact with the iron hinge, which visibly stained the paper. (Three of the other watchpapers were from Cincinnati.) It was engraved by David Humphreys, who arrived in Lexington, Kentucky, from Virginia as early as 1788.His brother Joshua, also a clock and watchmaker in Virginia, had apparently arrived in Kentucky in 1780 or very shortly thereafter, but it is unclear if they ever worked together. David Humphreys may have been as well known for his engraving as for his silversmithing. He was chosen to engrave the first Seal for the new state of Kentucky in “An Act of the Kentucky Legislature on December 20, 1792.” Humphreys also engraved the plates of the surveys which John Hughes used to illustrate his “Hughes Reports,” the first publication of the “various decisions by Kentucky’s Supreme Court.” He later “made a Map of the Seat of War 1812-15,” a copy of which was given to the Lexington library by William Levy. Humphreys was still in Lexington until sometime after 1815, although the date of his death or departure from the city is unknown.

The first pocket watches seem to have originated in England during the seventeenth century. They were a highly prestigious item, and in America they were taxed by some states. (Solid 14-carat gold was taxed at a higher rate.) Most eighteenth-century pocket watches were “pair cased”, meaning that there was an inner case (or “box”) housed within an outer protective case to prevent dust and moisture from entering through the winding hole of the inner case. The outer case had to be removed in order to wind the watch. Often a fitted silk liner prevented chafing between the two cases. Watchpapers were originally used as a packing between the inner and outer cases to protect the watch’s inner workings. The earliest printed watchpapers appeared around 1760, with most surviving examples dating from the nineteenth century.

Watchmakers soon realized they could use these as an advertising medium that would continue to remind the watch’s owner of the watchmaker each time the watch was wound. A watchpaper could be placed inside the case when the watch was sold or when it was subsequently brought back for cleaning or repairs. This also had the advantage of taking up any slack in the case joint due to wear, which gave the owner an impression of a tighter, better fitting outer case. (However too many papers could also cause stretching of the joint, possibly leading to a weakening of the case.) Many watches contained more than one paper, as each repairer usually put their own paper at the top of the stack without discarding those of others. There were perhaps thousands of fancy goods and jewelry stores that performed repair services over the two hundred years pocket watches were in vogue and most, if not all, used watchpapers to advertise themselves.

These small circular papers were approximately two inches in diameter. The paper was usually white, cream, buff, orange, blue, green, yellow or rose. Sometimes engravers printed color combinations such as white on silver, gold on blue, blue on gold, or red or green on white. Most of the papers were engraved, although a few were letterpress printed. The name and location of the watchmaker’s shop was on the front, while the price and date of repairs, and even the owner’s name and address,  could be noted by hand on the reverse, providing a detailed written record of the pocket watch’s history. The paper itself varied in thickness, but the earliest are on higher-grade and thicker paper. Many were originally produced with small cuts around the edge to allow for a better fit within deeply concave cases.

Since sundials were then the only easily available way of finding the correct mean time, the earliest watchpapers included an “equation-of-time” table around the circumference that allowed owners to correctly set their watches. Due to the change of earth’s tilt in relation to the sun throughout the year, the sun is up to about fifteen minutes faster or slower than actual mean time. The table provided the number of minutes fast or slow of mean time that the sun would be for every week of the year. These tables continued to be featured on watchpapers into the nineteenth century.

In addition to serving as a practical supplement to pocket watches, eighteenth-century watchpapers can be works of art in their own right and are fine examples of printing at that time. The earliest surviving American watchpaper was likely contained in a pocket watch sold by Samuel Bagnall of Boston around 1740-1741. In 1758, Hugh Gaine ran the first notice of an American watchpaper in a New York newspaper advertisement; other engravers followed suit. Designs range from the naïve, perhaps done by the watch repairers themselves, to the quite elaborate; popular iconography included Father Time, Aurora in her chariot, cherubs, allegorical women, Masonic symbols, hourglasses, clocks and eagles. The constraints of such a small size seem to have motivated many accomplished engravers to new artistic heights. Ironically, while watchpapers were intended to show off the name of the watchmaker or repairer, engravers seldom marked their own names on them, although a few incorporated their name somewhere in the design. Many well-known eighteenth-century American engravers who printed bookplates also did watchpapers; these included Paul Revere, Peter Maverick, and Nathaniel Hurd.

The key-wound, pair cased watch began to be replaced with the newer, slimmer, single cased watches by the middle of the nineteenth century. However, the pair cased watch continued to be produced and sold in some areas (such as Scotland) well into the late nineteenth century, and even into the first quarter of the twentieth century in more rural and farming communities.


Kentucky Sideboard

November 4, 2012

Earlier this year, The Speed Museum purchased an extraordinary Kentucky-made sideboard. Its complex profile, richly figured veneers, precise inlays, and the exceptional quality of its craftsmanship place it among the most ambitious Kentucky sideboards to have survived from the early nineteenth century. It was made between about 1800 and 1815, probably in Lexington or its surrounding area.

It is not known who originally owned the sideboard. The previous owner, Robert Brewer, acquired it from Eleanor Hume Offutt, one of the most important early dealers of Kentucky antiques; she had opened Wilderness Trail Antiques in Frankfort in the late 1920s. He purchased the sideboard in 1951at the urging of his mother, Juliet Goddard Brewer, an influential early collector of Kentucky antiques and an outspoken advocate for preserving Kentucky’s architectural heritage. In this short video, Robert Brewer describes the unique circumstances surrounding his purchase on the day he shipped out for Navy service in the Korean War.

Sideboards have symbolized status throughout their history. In the Middle Ages, wealthy diners might sit to eat at a “side-board”, a type of table set along the side of a room. By the late seventeenth century, the “side-board” had evolved into a service piece, used to hold wine bottles, silver, dishes of food, and other items. The sideboard as we recognize it today, offering a combination of storage and display, developed in the eighteenth century. Within its drawers and compartments, owners stored textiles, silverwares, liquor, candles, and similar domestic goods until they were needed for use. Early nineteenth-century Kentucky: estate inventories and other documentary sources show that sideboards were often among the most expensive pieces of furniture one could own.

Inlay had become the preferred decorative treatment for fashionable American furniture in the late eighteenth century. The cost of inlaid furniture was considerably higher than for plain examples, so most furniture made in Kentucky in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries would have had little, if any, of the inlaid decoration affordable only for those who had the economic means to pay beyond the utility of an object. In Kentucky, regional differences in inlay styles and patterns evolved and today frequently assist in the identification of local schools of early Kentucky cabinetmaking. For example, though the form and inlay of this sideboard were influenced by Baltimore cabinetmaking practices, the decoration on its legs exhibits a distinctive bellflower and line pattern. Similar decoration has only been found on a few other Kentucky pieces, all of which most likely came from the same maker or shop. To date, the group includes The Speed’s sideboard, a pair of dining table ends, and possibly a blockfront card table.

Fortunately, Robert and Kathy Brewer treated this sideboard with great care for over sixty years. As a result, the sideboard remains relatively undisturbed. Preserving, analyzing, and understanding its layers of history became a team effort between furniture conservators, an analytical laboratory, and The Speed’s curators. Several months of conservation treatment and technical analysis included microscopic examinations of wood samples as well as x-ray fluorescence spectrometry and Fourier transform infrared microspectroscopy to analyze the compositions of different materials. Some of the discoveries?

  • The sideboard retains an old finish history comprised of shellac coatings. Shellac is made by dissolving in alcohol the resins secreted by particular types of insects, including the so-called lac beetle.
  • The wood used to make the inlay along the bottom edge of the sideboard is most likely eastern hophornbeam, a hard, heavy wood that grows in Kentucky but rarely seems to have been used by early Kentucky cabinetmakers.
  • Three of the “bone” shields around the keyholes are twentieth-century replacements made from celluloid, an early type of plastic.

During conservation, one of the celluloid shields was replaced with a new one made of bone; two celluloid examples still remain.


KOAR’s Russian Connection

October 15, 2012

Who would have imagined a future link between the rosy-cheeked toddler in this Kentucky painting and the Russian imperial court?

The impressive portrait (8’-4” x 6’-6”) of the John Speed Smith Family in Richmond, Kentucky, was painted in 1819 when little Sally Ann Lewis Clay (1818-1875) was only a year old. Colonel John Speed Smith (1792-1854) was well on his way to an outstanding law career, and became one of the prominent men of eastern Kentucky. A descendent of James Speed, who in 1690 immigrated to Virginia from England, John was born in Jessamine County on July 3, 1792, the year Kentucky petitioned the Commonwealth of Virginia to be recognized as a
free and independent “Commonwealth” and join the recently established union as its fifteenth state. A graduate of Transylvania College in Lexington, he had taken part in the Indian campaigns and acted as aide-de-camp to General Harrison in the War of 1812. During President Monroe’s administration, Smith was a Representative in Congress; immediately afterwards, he went on a mission to South America for President John Quincy Adams. President Andrew Jackson appointed him U.S. District Attorney for Kentucky. Smith also served six terms in the Kentucky Legislature, part of the time as Speaker, and four years in the state senate.

In 1815, on his twenty-third birthday, John married Elizabeth Lewis Clay (1798-1887), then seventeen. Eliza was the daughter of General Green Clay, a veteran of both the American Revolutionary War and the War of 1812, and a cousin of famous Kentucky statesman Henry Clay and Alabama governor Clement Comer Clay. Green Clay was thought to have been the wealthiest man in Kentucky of his time, reputed to own tens of thousands of acres, several distilleries and a tavern, and many ferries across the Kentucky River.

The charming new home shown off in the John Speed Smith Family portrait had been built in 1818 on land given by Green Clay to his daughter. (The Smiths lived here until 1829, when John built “Castle Union” near Speedwell in Madison County; their original one-story brick Georgian house on North Street at Aspen Avenue in Richmond was demolished in 1957.) The painting reveals in unusual detail a fashionable interior of that time, with patterned carpet, decorated “fancy” chairs, and sheer curtains behind red drapes. Along with the stylish clothing, from the Colonel’s fancy ruffled shirt and gold watch fob to his wife’s empire gown and comb tucked into a modish ringlet hairdo, this portrait gives a glimpse into an unexpectedly refined lifestyle in what was still considered a “frontier” state. The book Eliza is holding indicates her education as well, fairly uncommon for women of the day. This portrait is considered a major visual portrayal of Kentucky life and its significant role in American history.

It is also a remarkable example of early work by Chester Harding (1792-1866) who at this time was still self-taught. Born in New England, he had tried a variety of trades before moving to Pittsburgh, where he began painting signs and houses. Around 1818 an itinerant artist introduced Harding to portraiture, at which he had some success before moving to Kentucky to join his brother, a carpenter and chair maker living in Paris. Harding found that painting was his passion and he became quite a popular portraitist in the region, charging $25 for each, half of what Matthew Jouett in nearby Lexington was getting. Harding earned enough money to afford formal training and eventually went on to great fame after studying in Philadelphia, in London with Sir Thomas Lawrence, and in that “other” Paris (i.e., France) before returning to America and settling in Boston.

But back to the Russian connection with that barefooted little girl in the pink-ribboned bonnet and matching coral necklace … One of Sallie Ann’s future brothers, Green Clay Smith, was a member of Congress when Kentucky-born President Abraham Lincoln was nominated for a second term and he came within one vote of being Lincoln’s running mate. One of Sallie Ann’s uncles, Eliza’s brother Cassius Marcellus Clay, nicknamed “The Lion of White Hall”, became well-known as an abolitionist and was appointed by Lincoln to be Minister to the Russian court at St. Petersburg. (In 1853, Cassius M. Clay granted ten acres to another abolitionist, John G. Fee, who founded the town of Berea and, in 1855, Berea College, the first non-segregated, coeducational college in the South and one of a handful in the nation to admit both male and female students at that time.) As Cassius M. Clay was preparing to go abroad, the Civil War broke out with no federal troops in Washington, D.C., so before departing he organized a group of 300 volunteers, dubbed “Cassius M. Clay’s Washington Guards”, to protect the White House and U.S. Naval Yard from a possible Confederate attack. Sallie Ann’s son, William Cassius Goodloe, withdrew from his senior year at Transylvania to be his great-uncle’s private secretary in St. Petersburg; Goodloe also acted as Secretary of Legation until the summer of 1862, when he returned for a commission in the Union army. After Czar Alexander II issued the 1861 Emancipation Manifesto freeing the serfs in Russia, Cassius M. Clay pressured Lincoln to issue an emancipation proclamation in America; later he was influential in negotiations for the purchase of Alaska. The Czar presented these portraits of himself and his wife, Czarina Maria Alexandrovna, to Cassius M. Clay before his final return to America in 1869. And if the name sounds a bit familiar, it was indeed shared by Louisville-born boxing champion Muhammad Ali and his father, until Ali‘s conversion to Islam in the 1960s.

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The portraits of Czar Alexander II and Czarina Maria Alexandrovna are on view in the Kentucky Historical Society’s exhibition “Great Revivals: Kentucky Decorative Arts Treasures” at the Old State Capitol in Frankfort, Kentucky, until 2015.


Early Louisville Racing and Edward Troye

June 24, 2012

Barely five years after Louisville was founded in 1778 by George Rogers Clark, horse races were being held on Market Street. By 1805 there was racing on Shippingport “Island,” which John James Audubon frequented in 1811-1812; he noted that horse racing was almost as interesting as watching birds.

After several unsuccessful attempts at organizing racetracks in Louisville, Oakland Race Course was established in 1832 on a fifty-five acre plot on the west and south sides of present day 7th Street and Magnolia Avenue. The clubhouse was celebrated as one of the most handsome sporting venues in the country, welcoming even ladies with a furnished room and private pavilion. The population of Louisville was approximately 20,000 citizens by then, only thirteen years after the death of Daniel Boone. An 1840 painting of Oakland House and Race Course, Louisville, by Robert Brammer and Augustus A. Von Smith, Sr., has also graced the KOAR webpage image header since we first went online in April 2006. (See our October 2011 blog for more on Edward Fisk’s portrait of Mary Daniel.) Brammer and Von Smith had a studio together in Louisville, upstairs on the south side of the 300 block of Main Street and later at Market and Sixth Streets, during 1840-1841. Since Brammer was a landscape painter, it is assumed that he painted the famous setting, while Von Smith contributed the many “miniatures” of horses, people, and carriages.

Oakland was struggling financially by 1839, when promoter and entrepreneur Yelverton C. Oliver arranged a match race offering a purse of $14,000. In those days racecourses were three to five miles long and there was no starting gate, which did not appear until the following century. Horses often ran in two to three races a day, and this match was for the best two out of three four-mile heats, winner take all. Two of the most famous horses of the era ran on September 30 in what became known as “the greatest
race west of the Alleghenies”: Wagner, foaled in Virginia in 1834, who had already established himself as the finest in Louisiana and Tennessee; and
Grey Eagle, foaled
a year later in Lexington, Kentucky, who had run the fastest two miles in the United States. This engraving of
Grey Eagle, after a painting by Edward Troye, was the Embellishment (frontispiece) for the American Turf Register of April 1843.

Edward Troye was a painter of race horses in Kentucky, Virginia, Ohio, and New York, being periodically active in Kentucky about 1834-1874. His portraits of renowned Early American thoroughbreds from 1832-1843 for the American Turf Register served as a marketing tool for both magazine and horseman throughout the country. They also are perhaps the only visual record of early foundation sires and mares in the United States. Troye traveled widely to sketch from life his legendary subjects, and his attention to the landscape and backgrounds behind the horses preserve a historical record of America at that time as well. This can be seen in his 1840 painting of Grey Eagle’s dam in Ophelia and Falcon, which shows in the distance Major H.T. Duncan’s Kentucky homestead, “Duncannon”, situated along Paris Pike on the outskirts of Lexington, Kentucky.

For that 1839 match an estimated 10,000 people (or more) were in attendance, including hundreds of racing enthusiasts who had made the long trek across the mountains from the Atlantic seaboard. As in the Brammer and Von Smith painting, outside the clubhouse fashionable belles were helped down from fine carriages by gentlemen in top hats and tails; among the noted aristocrats on this day was a contingent from Lexington, led by Henry Clay. Less famous fans who could not afford a seat in the stands perched up in the tall, graceful oak trees that gave the track its name, hoping to catch a glimpse of the race. Wagner won the first heat; in the second, just as it seemed Grey Eagle might have a chance to win, Wagner pulled ahead and won by a nose in a record 7:44, “best time ever south of the Potomac” according to the Louisville Daily Journal. Disappointed Kentucky fans demanded a rematch, which was agreed to be run just five days later, October 5, on the same course for a purse of $10,000. This time, Grey Eagle won the first heat by a length and Wagner won the second. Grey Eagle was leading down the stretch in the in the third heat, when either he broke down from the tremendous stress or possibly was bumped by Wagner; the injury prematurely ended his racing career.

Both horses became successful sires, “continuing” their matches through their offspring; in fact, Grey Eagle’s first colts started racing in 1843, the same year Troye’s portrait appeared in the American Turf Register. Cato, the famous slave jockey who had ridden Wagner, was given his freedom in exchange for the victories. And racing aficionados still consider this one of the high points of the sport in the United States. Many believe the publicity from the match races made Kentucky famous as the preeminent horse-racing state and that Louisville’s legendary Churchill Downs owes at least part of its fame to Oakland House and Race Course. However, Oakland itself suffered financial reverses in the late 1840s and was closed by the mid-1850s. It served as a staging point for Kentucky troops during the Mexican War and as a cavalry remount station for the Union Army during the Civil War. Eventually the area fell into serious disrepair and disrepute, becoming a refuge of shabby homes and gardens for society’s outcasts. At the turn of the century, Alice Hegan (Rice) dubbed the area “The Cabbage Patch” in her best-selling 1901 novel Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch, a fictional name that has persisted to the present day.
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Edward Troye’s portrait of undefeated American Eclipse, a direct descendant of the undefeated eighteenth century British racing champion Eclipse, after whom the annual American Thoroughbred horse racing awards is named, is on view at The Speed Art Museum until September 23, 2012.


Tall Case Clocks

April 3, 2012
 KOAR 2004.1.3

KOAR 2004.1.3

Something about the faces of tall case clocks, with moons serenely waxing and waning above world maps or ships sailing out to sea under windy clouds aloft, is as endlessly fascinating as the steady
tick-tock and chimes on the quarter-hours are comforting.
If you are fortunate enough to have childhood memories of waiting while the weights were adjusted and the correct time checked against an elder relative’s pocket watch, or even a parent’s chronographic wristwatch, perhaps this blog is for you.

The form of the tall case clock, commonly known today as a “grandfather’s clock”, developed in response to technological advances in clock making during the late seventeenth century. Use of pendulums had improved accuracy in time keeping, but their wide arcs made a clock with a long pendulum somewhat impractical since it could not be fitted easily inside a case.

The invention of the anchor escapement, which used an anchor-shaped mechanism having prongs (called pallets) on the ends of its arms to alternately catch and release a vertical wheel with pointed teeth on it, allowed power supplied to the wheel by weights (or a spring) to be released in small regular bursts. This reduced a long pendulum’s swing to a much shorter arc that could fit inside a narrow case; less oscillation and lower air drag also greatly improved accuracy and reduced the power needed to keep the pendulum swinging and the wear on the clock’s movement. Most tall case clocks had a “seconds pendulum” about 39 inches long with a swing that lasted one second, hence its name.

KOAR 2008.1.11

KOAR 2008.1.11

A tall case was needed so that there would be enough space for the weights to drop. In America, springs had to be imported until about 1835-40 and were very expensive, so weights were typically used. (When the capability to manufacture springs in this country developed, tall case clocks quickly fell out of favor since shelf clocks were much cheaper to produce; it was not until the height of the Victorian era, after about 1870-1880, that big fancy hall clocks, usually with glass in the trunk door and beautiful brass weights and pendulums, became popular again.) Because the weights that provided power to the pendulum were heavy, the weight of the clock mechanism was better supported by a floor-standing pedestal rather than hanging it on a wall.

The tall case clock cabinet is made up of three sections. The top, called the “hood” or “bonnet”, contains the clock works and its face. The middle, called the “trunk” or “waist”, contains the pendulum and weights. The bottom section is the “base” and its height brings the clock face up to eye level. The case of the clock shown at upper left was made by William Lowry, a cabinetmaker in Frankfort, Kentucky, around 1805-1810.

The inner works of many tall case clocks of the early 1800s include imported English-made components, which reached Kentucky by way of trade with major urban centers such as New York City, Philadelphia, and Baltimore. The bell of the clock shown at right bears the mark of George Ainsworth, a Lancashire maker of clock parts and assembled clock works. The clock’s works were likely assembled by Thomas McMurray, a Lexington clock and watch maker who had worked previously in Pennsylvania and Ohio. Judging by his inscription on the clock’s seat board, McMurray apparently operated as Asa Blanchard’s subcontractor. Blanchard, well known as one of Kentucky’s earliest silversmiths, also advertised his Lexington shop’s ability to perform watch and clock work. It is Blanchard’s own signature that is on the back of this clock’s dial. (Only two other clocks bearing Blanchard’s signature are known; one is in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.) However, the Kentucky cabinetmaker who made this magnificent case, alas, remains anonymous.


About Mary Daniel

October 2, 2011

Mary Daniel has graced the KOAR webpage image header since we first went online in April 2006. She was interviewed by Nancy Crane in the Lexington Herald-Leader in 1992 on the occasion of a posthumous one-person show of the work of Edward Fisk, professor in the University of Kentucky Art Department from 1926 to 1942. “Mary D. Lilly learned more than 50 years ago that sitting still doesn’t agree with her,” the article opened. “It was 1938 and she was posing for a portrait by artist Edward Fisk at his Hampton Court apartment. ‘It was the hardest thing I ever did to keep still that long.'” Mary Daniel (Lilly, after marriage) worked as Edward and Lucy Fisk’s housekeeper, not your typical artist’s model. “Lilly is not sure what about her caught the artist’s eye. ‘As an artist, I guess he saw something — the expression on my face or something — that he wanted to paint.'”

At the time this article was published, Mary Daniel Lilly at 77 was only semi-retired. One day a week “‘I still look after Allie,'” the Fisk’s daughter, “‘which I promised her mother when she was sick that I would do.'” However, most of Lilly’s time went to numerous volunteer activities, which she had begun fifteen years earlier as a way to “help cope with the death of her husband of 40 years, Marcellus.” Her remarkable energy and “dedication to the community has not gone unnoticed. In 1989 she was named Lexington’s Outstanding Volunteer by the Volunteer Center of the Bluegrass.” Fisk painted another portrait of the young Mary Daniel, too, seen at:  http://www.edwardfisk.com/portrait/pages/port05.htm

I guess we will never know exactly what caught Fisk’s eye on that day in 1938, yet the indomitable spirit he clearly captured still illuminated Mary Daniel Lilly’s life fifty years later, just as it does ours now.