Wednesday, September 4, 2019

What Was He Thinking?

Jug of Wine and a Good Pipe Makes Me Happy



This week I was contacted by a client with another late 17th century marquetry tall case English clock for restoration.  It had been in his family in New York for a century and he wanted it put back in original condition.  I have done dozens of these similar clocks in my career, and it always amazes me that I can live and work in Southern California and still be able to restore marquetry furniture from over 3 centuries ago.

I have written many posts about the history of the tall case pendulum clock.  The concept was invented in England around 1650 but the golden age for the marquetry case and brass works was during the last 20 years of the 17th century when it became essential to own such an expensive time piece.

When I began my initial examination of the marquetry, I discovered a rather unique design, which I am sure is the only one of its kind.  I did some initial cleaning of the dark finish and took some photos.  What came to light stimulated my imagination and made me want to determine the series of events that would lead to this creation.

Tall case clocks at this period were custom made for clients, and took a long time to deliver.  In some cases, the client expressed their own personal desires to have something different from their rich friends.  (Only rich people could even imagine owning a clock at that time.)

So I created a story about Mr. and Mrs. Smythe to explain what I saw in the marquetry.  How much is fiction and how much is fact I will leave it to historians to determine if the research is available...

Mr. and Mrs. Smythe have a good life.  They live in a large house and have a good income which was left by Mr. Smythe's grandfather, a landed gentleman, who died when Mr. Smythe was a young man.  So Mr. Smythe grew up rather spoiled and always got his way, no matter what.

He married well, finding a decent and intelligent wife in the church, but she had a habit of arguing with him on certain occasions.  This would always cause him to lose his temper, and even to resort to physical violence, slapping her in the face.  She was smarter than him and when he ran out of good reasons why he was right, he found that using force would end the argument.

One good day in 1692 he was visiting a wealthy neighbor in the next township and discovered that this person had just installed the latest fashion for keeping track of the time: a tall case marquetry clock.  When he inquired about its function, he was told it could keep time to within an hour a month, and that it was essential to know exactly what time it was at all hours of the day.

"Everybody should have one," his neighbor boasted.  "In a few years, if you do not know what time it is exactly, you will not be considered 'civilized'," he added, with a smug grin.

Mr. Smythe immediately ran home to inform his wife that he had decided to get such an object, no matter what the cost.

"You will do no such thing," she admonished.  "You can tell the time by looking at the sun.  Why do you need to know exactly what the time is, anyway?"  When he hesitated to answer, she asked, "Exactly how much is this going to cost?"

"None of your business," he bellowed, "It's my money and I will do what I want with it!"  He raised his hand to make his point, but she quickly turned and left the room.

Mr. Smythe went to the local clock maker's home the next day.  His name was Lewis Holland and he lived and worked in London, where he established his reputation as a master clock maker the year before, making wonderful marquetry clocks with brass dials.

"Here are some of my designs," he said, as he opened a folio of drawings.  "I like birds, animals, arabesques and flowers.  They are very popular recently and I am very much in demand."

"I like them," Mr. Smythe replied, "But I have something personal in mind.  I would like you to add images of my good wife and myself, so it will reflect our marriage to all who enter the door."

Mr. Smythe then handed a small drawing to Mr. Holland, and presented him with a good deposit to begin the work.  With ready cash in hand, Mr. Holland was in no position to complain, and he went to work.

Sometime later that year the clock was delivered and placed in the entry hall.

There is no record of what Mrs. Smythe had to say about the purchase.

What Exactly Is Going On With These Two?

Looking at Mr. Smythe, it seems he is making a rude gesture and sticking out his thumb while he reaches out and slaps Mr. Smythe in the face.

Not a Nice Man

Looking at Mrs. Smythe, it seems she is surprised to be slapped in the face.

Perhaps a Marriage Counselor Would Help?