Dear Helaine and Joe:
The face of this clock has M. Ferguson Mauchline as the maker. I was told it was made in the late 1700s. It is a tall case clock made from walnut with a flat top and an ornate hand-painted dial of the four seasons. The top painting shows a hunting scene with the title “Death of a Stag.” Can you give me the approximate date this clock was made and the approximate value? Are you interested in purchasing it?
The first issue that needs to be dealt with in this letter is that we never, ever, under any circumstances purchase — or offer to purchase — an item that we are asked to evaluate in this column. It is unethical, pure and simple.
Taking it a step further, it is a very bad idea to sell an item to the person who appraises it. Or in this case, offers to suggest a price based on a photograph and information supplied by the owner, which is not an appraisal but an opinion. An appraisal is a formal process that involves seeing something in person, carefully examining it and then doing research to determine a value for a stated reason (i.e. for sale, for insurance, etc.).
These are important rules that govern our impartiality and we do not get the opportunity to state them often enough.
With these issues out of the way, we think we have discussed a similar clock made in the Scottish village of Mauchline once before, but it was a long time ago, and a revisiting this subject will not hurt and may help those who did not see our earlier response.
It is important to understand where this clock was made and not just when. The place of origin is in the Scottish Civil parish of East Ayrshire. In 2001, it had a population of just a little over 4,000. It traces its history back to 1165, when the High Steward of Scotland granted land to the Cistercian monks of Melrose. They built an abbey, the ruins of which are now known as Hunters Tower or Mauchline Castle.
The town of Mauchline is known for the making of curling stones (yes, the ones used in the sport of curling), the production of sandstone, the making of small boxes (with pictures of famous places, representations of Scottish tartans or actual ferns glued on) and the making of clocks. Some of the boxes are called “Mauchline ware” by collectors, others are called “tartan ware” and still others “fern ware.”
Clockmaking was big in Mauchline in the 18th century, but it declined in the 19th and that is when the tall case clock in today’s question was made. Notice, we did not use the term “grandfather clock,” because this is not the proper term for this sort of timepiece. Tall case, long case or hall clock is correct.
Little is known about the maker of this clock, but it was probably Montgomery Ferguson, who worked in Mauchline circa 1837 to 1850. These dates are confirmed by the style of this clock with its elaborated painted dial, which is quintessentially Scottish from the first half of the 19th century. Value? Probably in the $1,000 to $1,500 range for insurance if it is working.