Tall Case Clock by John Greer

Curator's Choice tells the stories behind prized objects and artifacts from the collections of historical organizations and cultural institutions in Pennsylvania.

A recent addition to the fine collection of case furniture assembled by the Cumberland County Historical Society, Carlisle, is the earliest known signed and dated tall case clock made in the county seat. The clock was made by John Greer (?-1773), one of the community’s earliest clockmakers, one year before his death.

Little is known about John Greer-except that he was a talented craftsman who produced pieces of exceptional quality. Tax lists indicate only that he lived in Carlisle from 1767 until his death six years later, and that he rented the lot on which he lived and worked. A notice that appeared in the February 28, 1774, edition of the Pennsylvania Packet advised, “All persons indebted to the estate of John Greer, late of Carlisle, Clock and Watchmaker, deceased, are requested to make speedy payment [to] William Oliphant, Administrator.” One of two estate inventories, tacked to the inside of the recently acquired dock, enumerated personal items such as “Wearing Apparel, Gun Hanger & whip,” “an old Mare Saddle & Brid­dle,” “Tools and Implements,” including watch parts, four watches, and a quantity of silver.

An inventory conducted in Philadelphia included a sizable book debt, indicating that Greer either moved to Carlisle from Philadelphia and hadn’t yet settled his accounts there, or was planning to relocate to Philadelphia from Carlisle and had begun building a client base there. Many craftsmen and artisans who migrated westward originally apprenticed in Philadelphia, and it was common for them to maintain relations with patrons and earlier clients in the city.

Greer’s piece is an eight-day tall case clock with brass movements and dial set in a carved and moulded walnut case. The dial is engraved with the maker’s name, “Carlisle, Pa.,” and the year 1772. This clock is significant because it is the earliest example of a signed and dated clock made in Carlisle.

The tall case clock was given to the historical society by members Mr. and Mrs. Pierson K. Miller of Carlisle. It had been owned at one time by Judge Richard Kohler of York.

Founded in 1874, the historical society collects, documents, and interprets regional history. It possesses an exceptionally strong collection of images chronicling the history of the Carlisle Indian Industrial School. The society also administers the historic Two Mile House, built in the Federal style in 1820.

For more information, write: Cumber­land County Historical Society, 21 North Pitt Street, Carlisle, Pennsylvania 17013; telephone (717) 249-7610 or 249-6931; or visit the Cumber­land County Historical Society website.