Collection Spotlight

May 22, 2020

Benjamin Youngs, Sr., Dwarf Tall Clock, 1814, Watervliet, New York Shaker Community

Current events have affected just about every aspect of our lives, including our perception of time. We experience time subjectively, thus we rely on clocks for an objective measurement. Today, they’re hardly ever out of reach, but they were once a luxury.

In early Shaker communities, watches and clocks were seldom used. Sunrise and sunset were the principal timekeepers and, in order to meet the needs of their industrious and community-focused lifestyle, bells were typically rung to summon community members from sleep, to meals and to meetings. Shaker timepieces, while relatively uncommon, were still produced and the Youngs family of craftsmen were the primary producers of those made at Watervliet, New York. The Dwarf Tall Clock in the museum’s permanent collection is a premier example.

Before joining the sect in 1792, Benjamin Youngs, Sr. (1736-1818) learned his trade from his father, a Connecticut clockmaker. At Watervliet, Benjamin Youngs, Sr. continued his craft and, with the help of a joiner, the clockmaker’s mechanics were housed in cases that incorporated characteristic attributes of Shaker furniture. A reflection of the Shaker’s values, these attributes include simplicity and practicality. This piece features movements by Youngs and, it’s believed, the case may have been made by his nephew, Brother Freegift Wells. Though narrow and stately, the clock is only four feet and six inches tall, hence the “Dwarf Tall Clock” name.

Benjamin Youngs, Sr.

United States (1736-1818)

Dwarf Tall Clock, 1814, Watervliet, New York Shaker Community 

Cherry case, pine back, glass, brass works and pendulum 

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