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Rose Mary
By Rosemary McKittrick
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TIME PAST: ARTISANS BUILT CLOCKS IN EARLY PITTSBURGH

TIME PAST:   ARTISANS BUILT CLOCKS IN EARLY PITTSBURGH
John Johnston & Samuel Davis clock, circa 1805, walnut and cherry. Photo courtesy of Carnegie Museum.
In 1876 a tall clock at the George Hotel in North Yorkshire, England surprised Henry Clay Work. The clock stopped at the death of its owner, inspiring Work to write the song, “My grandfather's clock was too tall for the shelf.”

The timepiece known as “grandfather's clock” played an important role in early Pittsburgh craft history.

Immigrants came by the thousands to Pittsburgh in the late-18th century. The Allegheny Mountains made it difficult for settlers to bring heavy pieces of furniture with them and too expensive to have them shipped by someone else.

As a result, the need for locally made household goods emerged. Immigrants skilled in the crafts of clockmaking, silversmithing, weaving, cabinetmaking, tanning, shoemaking, saddling and blacksmithing were in great demand.

Serving as the “Gateway to the West,” other immigrants traveled through the city by boat on their journey westward. Visits turned into buying trips and the local craft industry grew.

The building of a clock was a three-step process, involving three separate artisans.

"It was the movements of the clock that were made by local clockmakers, the iron dials of the clock would come from England, and the cabinet itself was made by a cabinetmaker," says Sarah Nichols, curator of decorative arts at The Carnegie Museum.

As a result, no two clocks were exactly alike.

It took years for a young man to develop the skill of clockmaking. Serving as an apprentice, mastery came slowly over time. Like doctors and ministers, clockmakers were important men in the community. As you might expect, the early clocks were expensive and only the well-to-do could afford them.

The clock became a symbol of family stability, the grand heirloom that passed from generation to generation.

John Johnston and his nephew Samuel Davis were in the clockmaking and silversmith business in Pittsburgh. Between 1804 and 1806 they built the workings for a clock in the collection of The Carnegie. The clock's case is not signed, but we know the wood used is local, and the style is akin to other Pittsburgh-made cabinets.

The clock belonged to Felix Negley, a prominent Pittsburgh businessman in the 19th century. A timepiece of this quality was a real status symbol for a family. It was the only piece of furniture mentioned in Negley's 1834 will.



Q. I have an electric two-slice toaster from 1929. It is a Star-Rite Reversible Toaster made by the Fitzgerald Manufacturing Company of Torrington, Conn. The appliance is still in the original box and in excellent condition. Is it possible to place a value on it? M. M., Pittsburgh.

A. Generally there are three categories of kitchen collectibles; open hearth, wood stove and 20th century appliance. Kitchen collectibles remain a popular item these days. Age is a big consideration. The handmade objects used from the 17th to the early-19th centuries to cook meals at the fireplace and referred to as "down hearth" cooking are the choicest. Flesh forks, Dutch ovens, cherry stoners, nutmeg graters, raisin seeders and old gridirons are a few examples.

The machine-made cooking utensils designed for the mid-19th century wood and coal ranges come next. Although so many pieces were mass-produced after the Civil War their value has been limited. Butter churns, cast-iron eggbeaters and wooden mixing spoons fall into this area.

The third category is 20th century kitchenware and includes all the electrical appliances, ceramic canister sets, enamelware, flour sifters, etc.

Having your toaster in the original box adds to the value slightly. In excellent condition it is worth about $25-$50. For more information write to Kitchen Antiques & Collectible News. 4645 Laurel Ridge Drive, Harrisburg, Pa 17110.

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