Webster’s dictionary defines “preservation” as a state of well being, to protect and save, to prevent decomposition, and “restoration” as putting back into nearly the original form, to return to good health, to bring back to dignity. Taking part in the restoration of white clock dials is not only rewarding and challenging, it is a chance to learn a little of the history of the japanned white clock dial.
Since the invention of the white clock dial around 1770 in the Midlands of England, the environment, the passage of time, use and mishandling, have all contributed to the deterioration of these clock dials. Japanned white clock dials were manufactured during the period when England was enjoying tremendous growth in the ornamental arts, 1750 to 1860.
The surface of japanned sheet iron, be it a tea tray or a clock dial, can fall victim to rust and surface deterioration from moisture and mishandling. Left untreated, rust will travel under the japanned layer and soon the surface paint will lift and fall off.
Extreme heat, maybe in an attic, can cause the clock dial plate to expand creating fine cracks which dampness can then get into, starting the rust process. Care must be given to these clock dials. Strange as it may seem, spIndrels may be intact while the entire clock dial center is lifting and flaking. The center (inside chapter ring) must be removed and the rust treated before the center can be primed and returned to the level of the existing spandrels.
Each clock dial received for restoration has to be analyzed. Photography plays a major role in the restoration process. A good knowledge of the techniques used in the period, and knowing what to do with treating a rusted surface, assures a quality restoration of the clock dial.
Amateurish attempts at restoration present still another problem. Some well-meaning, do-it-yourself artists overpaint decorative artwork, completely covering the original clock dial, using contemporary products such as acrylic paints, coarse brushes, spray colors and varnishes. I have seen roman numerals redone with felt-tip markers.
When restoring, one must take care to use products and art techniques as close to the original as possible. Gesso is handmade using the old time recipe. Real gold leaf is used when called for. No varnish is used over the gesso and gold leaf, as real gold leaf has a permanency of its own and needs no protection. Oil paints and fine proper brushes are a must. Partial restoration of a clock dial is discouraged. Do the job correctly or simply don’t do it at all. A restored clock dial shouldn’t look as though it was painted yesterday. Fine restoration takes time; it’s a process that can’t be rushed.
NAWCC April 1997
It was indeed an honor to be asked to join other dedicated historians in the restoration of the U.S. Custom House Tower clock on Boston's waterfront. As acquaintances were made with these historians and tower clock restorers, the illustrious history of the building and its tower emerged.
Boston Edison co. donated the cost of the restoration project to the people of Boston. The original building was built in 1847 at 2 India Street. The tower clock, manufactured by the Howard Clock Co. of Boston, was installed when the tower was added to the original building in 1915. The tower stands 29 stories, made of granite and was Boston's first skyscraper. The clock had not been in operation for ten years.
Authored by: Astrid Donnellan
The Custom House played an important role in government finances during the early history of the country. Customs duties collected on goods entering the country were a major source of revenue for the federal government and the port of Boston accounted for one-fifth of the money collected. It served as the port of Boston's thriving maritime activities during the latter half of the nineteenth century. India Wharf, headquarters employees of the coast Guard and the Federal Communications Commission as well as custom official. During the original construction of the building several tunnels were built underground; and these were said to have been a means of escape for custom agents. At one time, workmen uncovered mysterious documents concealed behind a wall of a sealed -off tunnel. The documents were whisked away by government officials and their contents never revealed.
The tower dominated the city skyline for much of the twentieth century, Although newer buildings have dwarfed the tower in stature, its prestige has continued as a city landmark. With the lighting of the tower, it once again has taken its place as on outstanding piece of architecture.
The restoration began when the city of Boston purchased the building for $11 million from the General Services Administration which had declared the Custom House surplus government property, and the U.S. Customs Service was relocated elsewhere in the city. One of the biggest challenges in the restoration project was to remove and lower the 14 foot and 11 foot hands of the clock from the perch 25 stories above the ground. Two workers from the Boston Chimney and Tower Co. hung from rope chairs outside the building and attached ropes to the hands so they could be lowered.
Ross and David Hochstrasser of the Scituate Tower Clock Co. disassembled, cleaned and repaired the clock's weight -driven mechanism. The main gear which drives the 9 foot pendulum was recast in bronze. The clock faces, all four of them, are 22 feet in diameter. They contain 3 foot gold colored glass Arabic numbers and sixty circular glass minute-markers. The hands are made of birch. The minute hands, 14 feet long, had to be replaced because of the effects of wind and vibration. Arcor, Inc. of Rockland, Massachusetts used a minute hand in the best condition to make a mold for the new hands. Into this mold was poured a new advanced plastic amalgam similar to that used in advanced defense hardware. the new hands will be lighter and more aerodynamic in design and will cut ten pounds from the weight of each hand.
My role in the restoration was to prepare a sealed surface ready for gold leafing of the hands. The hands were delivered to me four hands at a time. Exterior oil base primer was applied to both sides to each hand. A slow oil size was used as the gold leaf medium. the entire project took 60 books of gold leaf or 1500 sheets.
Also involved as part of the restoration was the preparation of the iron base used to house the gears, pendulum and seventy pound weight. The base was sandblasted, primed and painted the typical green color and design in gold leaf was taken from the old Howard Co. catalog.
To culminate this historic and memorable milestone, the Boston Edison co., along with Mayor Raymond Flynn and dignitaries from the Boston Landmarks Commission held a tower lighting ceremony complete with laser light show on October 30, 1987.
Credit: Published in The Decorator, HSEAD, Inc. 1990
Beloved Scottish poet, Robert Burns (1759-1796) wrote numerous poems and short stories with loving accuracy depicting the life of rural Scots.
Many of the themes and titles from his writings are illustrated on painted clock dials. These clocks and painted dials, sometimes called four season dials, usually had painted scenes in the corner spandrels depicting the four seasons, country scenes or the four continents.
The break arch area was reserved for a popular theme of Robert Burns' short story or poem. The technique was a more folk art style with vibrant colors. Many times the clothing worn by the subject had a silver leaf layer covered with a transparent glaze of color resulting in an iridescent quality.
Although the towns of Edinburgh and Glasgow were the main centers of Scottish clock and dial manufacture, There were other towns and villages where local talented artists worked. These Scottish Highlands clock dials were produced between 1780-1870.
The Decorator, Vol 61 # 2 -2007