In 1802, Simon Willard was so proud of his newly patented Banjo clock that he decided to tell everyone about it.
So he advertised the words, "Willard's Patent," on every Banjo clock he made.
That may have been what impressed buyers, who made the clock a hot-selling item for years. But rival clockmakers remained unfazed. They noticed the clock's popularity, and they wanted to cash in on it. So, they blatantly ignored the patent, turning out Banjo clocks of their own. Soon, the clocks became so prolific that no one realized Willard was its inventor.
But Ed Stone knows all about Willard and hisinvention. And he's eager to regale anyone who will listen about Willard's creation. In fact, he knows plenty about any American clock that was made between 1800 and 1840.
A retired landscape architect, Stone, 58, makes reproduction clocks from the early 1800s. His repertoire includes the Banjo clock, so named because it looks somewhat like a banjo; the Pillar and Scroll, a mantel clock adorned with columnsand topped with a scroll and plinths; and the Half Column and Splat,usually a two-tiered shelf clock decorated with half columns and capped with a carved eagle or fruit.
Normally, these clocks are decorated with stenciling, etchings, 22-karat gold gilded borders and paintings on glass.
Just like Willard and other 19th century clockmakers, though, Stone farms most of that fancy work out to skilled artisans. He makes the mahogany shell, cutting the delicate curves on his woodworking equipment at his Crofton area home. He also assembles the brass mechanical timepiece. And he places the paper-thin 22-karat gold leaf paper on his clocks.
But he has a handful of artists acrossthe country who finish the job. A Silver Spring woman, for example, performs the stenciling; a Massachusetts woman hand-paints the dials;and a Michigan man does the reverse painting on glass, a painstakingprocess that involves painting everything backwards.
Composing the entire clock takes several months. And the cost will put a dent in your pocketbook. Prices range from $700 to $1,400 for the Banjo clock; $1,130 to $1,400 for the Pillar and Scroll; and $1,100 for the HalfColumn and Splat. Obviously, these clocks are for the discriminatingbuyer. Stone knows that.
"Really, these are for people who appreciate craftsmanship," he says. "And anyone decorating their house in this period really ought to have one of these. They're far more attractive than the original."
Stone also dishes out plenty of cash for the stenciling and special painting. Reverse painting on glass can cost him from $100 to $325; hand-painted dials from $100 to $150. Accessories also are expensive. Brass finials cost from $10 to $15 each; brass eagles from $10 to $30.
His aim is to create a useful piece of art that tells something about the early 1800s.
"These clocks tell a story," he said. "It shows what people were talking about back then."
One Pillar and Scroll clock, for example, has a glass painting of Mount Vernon, George Washington's home. One Banjo clock depictsa famous sea battle.
Because the clocks take months to make, Stone estimates that he has crafted "less than a dozen" in the two years he has been creating them.
He doesn't advertise. But that doesn't mean he hasn't been noticed. Last year, the editors at Early AmericanLife magazine named him one of the country's 200 best traditional craftsmen. They also placed him on this year's list. And Country Home magazine wants to do a story on him, too.
Stone offers a catalog for $3. And he talks to ladies' groups about his work. Clients can choose a variety of decorations for their clocks, even something that isn't authentic.
Anyone interested may call Stone at 1-301-464-8079.