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Tall Case Clock Dial
about 1760

Complex machine, decorative piece of furniture, powerful status symbol
This brass dial fitted into a blue-lacquered clock case that stood in the house of the Ryerson family of Brooklyn, NY. The Ryersons, who had arrived in New York from the Netherlands in 1646, purchased the 8-foot tall clock about 1760. Clocks were rare in America at this time and were often a family's most expensive possession. Often, they served less as practical timekeepers and more as powerful symbols of status and order. The case of this one is decorated lavishly in the mid-18th-century style of japanning (or varnishing), with raised human figures and buildings vaguely Asian in appearance and a sprinkling of stylized, gilded flowers and animals.

"Japanning" is the process of applying a hard clear varnish, in imitation of Asian techniques.
The clock was probably assembled and finished by Isaac Rogers, who worked in London between 1748 and 1776.
Web display only

Learn more!
· Lacquered Furniture
· "On Time," an NMAH Virtual Exhibition
· "Taking the Measure of Time" by Per Ola and Emily d'Aulaire, "Smithsonian" magazine, December 1999

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