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American clockmakers Aaron and Simon Willard first patented the banjo clock in 1802. Named the Improved Timepiece, the clocks became known as banjo clocks due to their resemblance to the musical instrument. The clocks were designed with a circular face, long neck, and square base with decoratively painted hinged door. The timepieces are traditionally topped with brass sculptures, most commonly an eagle. Banjo clocks feature 8-day movements.
Originally introduced as a wall clock, the banjo clock became a desired item, and was soon produced as a mantel clock as well. The popularity of the pieces spawned a trend among clockmakers. Several copies and variations of the design were manufactured. The Seth Thomas Clock Company produced many fine examples of the Banjo clock. Seth Thomas banjo clocks often featured mahogany panels, painted naval scenes, swirling motifs, and brass ornamentation.
In the 1860s, interest in Banjo clocks declined. However, versions are still made by clockmakers today.
A 20th century Chelsea banjo clock featuring the Constitution-Guerriere naval battle sold at an Eldred’s of Massachusetts auction in 2013 for $475
A contemporary cherry-case girandole clock with door glass bearing a naval battle titled “Perry’s Victory” sold at auction for $1,500 in 2013 at Eldred’s
A Howard and Davis Number 1 banjo clock realized $6,613 at an auction held by Fontaine’s of Pittsfield, Massachusetts in 2009