Issac Youngs Wall Clock (part 3) A tale of six clocks

Issac Youngs interest in clocks started as a young boy in the shop of his uncle Benjamin Youngs, a clock maker by trade.

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It was not customary for Shakers to sign their work, in fact it was very much frowned upon drawing attention to yourself in this way.  Brother Issac signed his clocks where it would not be noticed on the back side of the clock face.

“When I was a child, I lived with my uncle, who was a clock maker. I used to be with him in his shop & watch his motions, learned the parts of a clock, & could put one together perhaps when 6 or 7 years old, & knew the time of day before I could talk plain. I had a relish for clocks & liked to be among them & handle the tools, but as I left my uncle the spring before I was 10 years old, I did not arrive to much understanding or judgment in the business.”

His interest in clock remained though and when he was 21 was allowed to apprentice with clock maker Amos Jewett. Jewett made clocks with mostly wooden movements that Brother Issac would pick up on in his clock making. A fallacy I have run across in some references is that INY just made the clock cases, not the movements. This is untrue, he made every part of the clocks, movements included.

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Some of the wood gearing in clock #23. In the upper left you can see part of the inscription on the back of the clock face. I apologize for the terrible photo, it was taken thru the side window of the clock. That is why there is a fat finger refection!

Issac kept a clock maker’s journal from 1815 to 1835 that chronicles the production of 16 clocks during that time. After 1835 his references to his clock making activities are mentioned here and there in his daily journals.

The clocks I will be covering here and generally referred to as his 1840 style, are his most famous and well known. Issac made six (depending on the reference you read you will see he made 23 or more of this style, have no idea where some of the numbers came from, he just made six) of this style of clock, of which five survive today. All are signed, numbered 18-23 and dated on the back side of the clock face May 12th, 1840. All also have a verse written on the back of the face,unique to each clock. Though it seems his earlier clocks all had very similar wooden, weight driven movements, the clock case styling was a departure from the norm. To most, it is Shaker at it best, I would agree. He made the six clocks of this style pretty much all at the same time, though he did write about finishing #23 in 1847 with just an hour hand for use in a dairy barn!


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#18, first of the series. Seems to be identical to #19 and #23. The painted flowers on the door and the trim on the clock face are not original.  This clock is in private collection. It is featured in the book The complete book of Shaker furniture by T. J. Rieman and J. Burks. The verse inscribed on the back of the face reads “O let each one his moments well improve, To gain abiding bliss in the realms above.”


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#19 In the collection at Hancock Shaker Village. Made of Butternut and White Pine. The verse on back the face “O where will my fortune find when this shall cease to measure time?!”


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#20 This clock is believed destroyed. There is no record of it in present time. Last seen in Atlantis, possibly buried with Jimmy Hoffa!


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#21 As I am sure you have noticed this one is unique among the five survivors with it’s spiffy glass lower door. The joinery layout marks are a bit different on the lower door than 19 & 23 even though the joints themselves are the same between the glass and paneled doors. There are also holes that have been filled on the inside of the door frame that I don’t know what to make of. This one, I am pretty sure is Walnut though could be stained Butternut. The verse on this one reads ” O time! how swift the solemn day rolls on, When from these mortal scenes we shall be gone!!”


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#22 This clock was formerly displayed at the The Time Museum in Rockford IL. The museum closed in the 1990’s and it was apparently sold into private collection. Even in this grainy photo from 1937 you can see the pediment is of a different profile than the other clocks. It was featured in Shaker Furnitue by Edward and Faith Andrews. If anyone has a better photo of this clock please drop me a line!! The verse on this one reads ” O swiftly see! each moment flies! See and learn, be timely wise. Seize the moments as they fly, Learn to live and know to die.”


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#23 This is the last clock in the series and may have been the last clock INY ever completed. He did write about one after this with a spring driven movement in 1849 he was working on but I have found no record of it if he did finish it. Also in Butternut and White Pine, this clock is in the collection of HSV as well. This one is considered to be the most original condition of the surviving clocks.  The verse for this clock “Behold! how swift the seasons roll! Time swiftly flies away! Tis blown away as fleeting chaff upon a windy summers day. Then O improve it as it flies, Eternal joys are for the wise.”

That’s all for today!!

-Will Myers

7 thoughts on “Issac Youngs Wall Clock (part 3) A tale of six clocks

  1. I didn’t realize that they had wooden movements. That’s pretty neat. I do like the simple case designs.


  2. Thanks again, Will. I made one of these as a very early project, using a Mason and Sullivan movement. There is so much i didnt know then. I used white pine for the case, but for the lower door panel I chose 1/4 inch plywood from the lumber yard. I cringe when I think of the grain in that panel.


  3. Hey Will, how did the shakers set the time on their clocks? I assume it was more important that locally clocks were in sync than it was to be accurate on a broader cosmic scale. But even still, if there was a central clock how did they go about setting that one?


  4. Hey will, how did the shakers set the time on their clocks? I assume it was more important for local clocks to be in sync with each other than it was to be actually accurate from a cosmic standpoint. I assume this means one town clock or such that others were set by. Even still how did they go about setting that one?


    1. That’s a good question. I would assume noon would be judged by the sun. Shakers used a bell in the village to indicate when to wake, noon and dinner. I would think everyone would coordinate clocks with the noon bell. This is all my guess, never seen a reference to answer that question.


  5. Will, thanks for your work in bringing knowledge to the public.
    Living in Rockford I visited the Time Museum a few times
    Wish I had taken pictures.


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