Tall Case Clock

The earliest domestic clocks in the American colonies were English-made "lantern" clocks, with brass gear trains held between pillars. Along with fully furnished "best" beds, looking glasses, sofas, silver, and case furniture, such clocks were the household objects consistently assigned the highest monetary value in inventories of possessions.
By the 18th century, the most common style of domestic clock came to look more like a piece of household furniture. A wooden case enclosed the movement, weights, and pendulum. Through a glass window the dial was visible.
In 1769, Pennsylvania clockmaker and millwright Joseph Ellicott completed this complicated tall case clock. On three separate dials, it tells the time and shows the phases of the moon; depicts on an orrery the motions of the sun, moon, and planets; and plays selected twenty-four musical tunes on the hour.
The musical dial on the Ellicott clock allows the listener to choose from twelve pairs of tunes. Each pair includes a short tune and a long one. On the hour only the short tune plays, but every third hour, both play. During a tune, automaton figures at the top of the dial appear to tap their feet in time to the music, and a small dog between them jumps up and down.
Joseph Ellicott moved from the Philadelphia area to Maryland in 1772 and, with his brothers Andrew and John, set up a flour-milling operation in what is now Ellicott City. The clock was a centerpiece in Ellicott family homes for generations.
Who else owned clocks in early America? Clock owners, like the American colonists themselves, were not a homogeneous group. Where a person lived influenced the probability of owning a timepiece. In 1774, for example, New Englanders and Middle Atlantic colonials were equally likely to own a timepiece. In those regions, roughly 13 or 14 adults out of 100 had a clock in their possessions when they died. Among Southern colonists at that time, only about 6 in 100 had a clock.
Date made
Ellicott, Joseph
Ellicott, Joseph
place made
United States: Pennsylvania
Physical Description
wood (overall material)
brass (overall material)
overall: 116 3/4 in x 22 3/8 in x 22 1/4 in; 296.545 cm x 56.8325 cm x 56.515 cm
ID Number
accession number
catalog number
Credit Line
Richard Norton Fryberger, Joan Evans Strehler and Ann McGaffey Cogswell
See more items in
Work and Industry: Mechanisms
Measuring & Mapping
Industry & Manufacturing
Domestic Furnishings
American Stories
Exhibition Location
National Museum of American History
Data Source
National Museum of American History


For reference, I recently purchased a tall case clock, made by Joseph Ellicott, #48 along with the name is engraved on the face. I was thrilled to find this clock and have enjoyed researching the family history etc.
Hello. When I saw this post about Joseph Ellicott and his clock, I had to relate some news I found out some time ago of my connection with Joseph. I've been very fortunate in my genealogy research, and I have an embarrassment of riches, with regards to all the names I've found. Joseph is my 6 times great uncle, and his brother John is my 5 times great grandfather. It's been fun learning the different people in the history of our country that I'm related to.

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