About time

Historic Deerfield brings Stebbins family clock back to Deerfield

The clock was purchased at auction at Sotheby’s in New York City on Saturday. (Photo courtesy of Historic Deerfield)

The clock was purchased at auction at Sotheby’s in New York City on Saturday. (Photo courtesy of Historic Deerfield)

DEERFIELD — Historic Deerfield has bought a late 18th-century clock that was once owned by the Stebbins family, early settlers of Deerfield.

This rare “tall clock” was first owned by Asa Stebbins (1767-1844) and was probably among the original furnishings of his house built in Deerfield in 1799, the first brick house in Franklin County.

The tall clock, by Aaron Willard (1757-1844) in Boston, was purchased at auction at Sotheby’s in New York City on Saturday.

The acquisition of the Stebbins family tall clock was made possible due to the pledges of support by more than 50 donors, who raised more than $200,000 in a span of 10 days.

“It is a very rare opportunity to return an important artifact of the past to its original setting,” said Philip Zea, president of Historic Deerfield, the museum of colonial New England life. “Even more so when you consider that the clock probably left the house right after the Civil War.”

Asa Stebbins served as Deerfield’s state representative for 11 years in Bulfinch’s new Boston Statehouse and would have been a knowledgeable modern shopper for such urbane trappings as this clock. When Stebbins died in 1844, one eight-day clock valued at $15 was inventoried in the north parlor of his home.

The Stebbins house has been opened to the public as a museum house since 1950 and features an Asher Benjamin-designed “flying staircase” and molded plaster ceiling.

The return of the clock to the Stebbins house will enhance the story of the Stebbins family and their time in Deerfield, according to the museum, whose restored colonial homes line Main Street in Old Deerfield.

Besides the strong connection to Deerfield, the Stebbins family, and the house, the clock is a highly important and beautiful example of the Willard family’s workmanship.

The clock case stands at 105 inches and illustrates the Willard brothers’ near top-of-the-line model. The Willards sold four models of tall clocks; this example features a superior case attributed to the cabinetmaker Stephen Badlam (1751-1815) of Dorchester Lower Mills.

The clock movement itself was made in Aaron Willard’s “manufactory” on Boston Neck while the painted dial is also Boston-made.

Stebbins probably paid more than $100 for the clock in an age when a day’s common labor was valued at 25 to 50 cents and when the Willards’ basic eight-day model retailed at a still prestigious $60.

The Stebbins Tall Clock will be on view in the Stebbins House at Historic Deerfield later this spring.

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