I find it quite common for people to have difficulty identifying various wood species on clocks. I will frequently see collectors confusing mahogany, rosewood, and walnut, as well as other species. While it can often be difficult to identify a particular wood species with just a photo, or under thick and darkened finishes, I wanted to try to illustrate some decent examples of the most frequently found types as well as feature some rare and unusual combinations, or examples with special "cuts" of wood.
Disclaimer: this blog post is meant to illustrate various veneers used on ogee clocks, and as such, it is not intended to be used as an in-depth guide on how to identify specific veneer species. Wood identification takes many years of practice and experience to master, and it's not a topic I can cover in a single blog post, and with only a handful of images. It is my sincere hope that it will still be very useful and informative.
For those of you know know me rather well, you will not be surprised to hear that I adore ogee clocks. I know they are not to everyone's taste, but for me they have a lot of positive features, and few negatives. At the time of this writing I own over a dozen of these clocks, from small miniatures to very large 8 day models. I plan to highlight the rather wide ranging variety of ogee clocks in my next post, but for now, let us focus on wood.
If you are familiar with ogee clocks you will already know that the word "ogee" refers to an "S" shaped curve, which forms the basic moulding on the front of the clock case. The term "O.O.G" may sometimes be found, and this term usually refers to the thin banding that forms the door frame and the outer edge of the case being in concave and convex profiles. The standard ogee cases simply have flat stock on these case pieces.
Typically, all American made ogee cases were built from a pine or poplar secondary wood, and veneered in beautifully selected woods. The most popular two choices being mahogany and rosewood. Both of these woods were popular from the 1840s, right up to the 1910s when the production of ogee clocks started to decline. The veneers on the fronts of the cases were often extremely elaborate and well chosen, while the veneer on the sides of the cases were usually quite plain and rather poorly figured. It is not uncommon to find a non-matching wood species veneered on the case sides. I have seen several examples where birch veneer was used on the sides, giving the sides a rather light orange colour compared with a much darker mahogany (or rosewood) on the front.
It is also important to note that not all ogee clocks had veneer. In very rare cases, some were grain-painted to resemble mahogany or rosewood (I have no examples to share but I have seen a few). It is also fairly common to come across "skinned" ogee cases, where the original veneers have chipped off and been completely removed. These are often refinished with the underlying pine stained dark and varnished. In my opinion, these clocks have lost one of their most important features, and should be considered as parts donors, unless the time and expense to re-veneer the case is deemed appropriate, or the owner appreciates the clock "as-is".
Note: Images in this post are collected from various sources. These are not clocks that I own.
Let's start with a fairly simple example.
The clock shown above is a beautiful H. Welton and Co. ogee clock with spectacular mahogany veneer, dating from the early 1840s. The veneer on the banding (door and trim) is plain mahogany while the ogee curves feature crotch mahogany veneers. The crotch figure comes from the joint where the trunk separates into two branches, forming an arch, and often also a flamed figure. Because the wood grain has so much of a pattern, the seams between the sheets of veneer are often visible. Two joints are easy to spot in the top ogee moulding.
Not all mahogany ogees have crotch mahogany. Many of them have very plain veneers or "ribbon stripe" mahogany, but others have very ornate "fancy cut" veneers such as this Seth Thomas. The veneer is just plain mahogany (as far as I can tell), but it has been cut in a certain way to give a repeating spiral or swirl pattern. This veneer treatment can be found on many other clocks including large column clocks and small shelf clocks. For lack of a better name, I have started to refer to this as "S curve" veneer.
The clock above is a Plymouth Hollow era Seth Thomas (prior to 1865), with the painted tablet missing, but I have seen this veneer cut on clocks as late as 1880. The effect is very similar to crotch mahogany, because of the change in the direction of the grain, but there are no seams in the veneer (or very few), so you get a very nice continuous squiggle.
ROSEWOOD / MAHOGANY:
Adding to the confusion in the identification of wood species is the fact that many manufacturers liked to "mix and match". Since rosewood and mahogany are so similar, they are often used in combination, such as on this ogee clock. On this example, the obvious "stripe" effect on the rosewood banding (and door) are clearly visible, while the ogee mouldings have that same "S curve" veneer in mahogany, but with a less aggressive repeat to it.
The ogee clock shown above is an E.N. Welch from the 1860s (also with the tablet missing). The dial is a little worn, but has lovely hand painted floral corners. Many clocks had partial elements in rosewood and mahogany, so it's something to keep an eye on. If you want to see another example of this, have a look at the Seth Thomas column clock (scroll all the way down to the last two photos in the link below). The case is 90% mahogany, with crotch mahogany on the two ogee mouldings, but the door is rosewood. https://jcclocks.blogspot.ca/2014/01/very-rare-seth-thomas-8-day-column_26.html
Rosewood is one of the trickier woods to identify because it often looks different from clock to clock. It can range from almost uniformly deep red, to black and red stripes, to wild brown and blonde. One characteristic to look out for when trying to identify rosewood is that it is much harder than mahogany, and more brittle. It is a slightly oily tropical wood, and as such it is also much more prone to flaking, lifting, and chipping. The wood itself is also fairly coarse a lot of times, and it can even resemble oak (as far as the grain texture). Because the wood is harder to work with, it also tends to have been cut into thinner veneer to facilitate bending and gluing. Rosewood also tends to be a fairly narrow tree, so there is often a lot of repeating lines in the veneers (usually less than 6 inches before a repeat).
Here's a typical rosewood ogee:
This ogee is by Terhune & Edwards, around 1860-70. Note the deep blackish striped areas, as well as the lighter spots leaning ever so slightly to a softer tan colour. Many rosewood clocks tend to be much darker as well, some are nearly black all over.
Here's a much more dramatic rosewood veneer showing the very wide range of colours and striping that can be found in rosewood. The banding on the door and edge are also rosewood, but in a uniform colour. Note that this particular rosewood shows almost no red.
The clock above is a miniature spring-driven clock by E.N. Welch. Approximately 1860.
Here is another rosewood example with a much more subdued grain somewhat resembling oak. You can clearly see the black striping effect often found in rosewood.
This clock is by JC Brown, of Forestville CT. Approximately mid-1860s. I have a Seth Thomas in nearly identical rosewood veneer.
Oak veneer is very rarely found, and the examples I've seen tend to be made by Seth Thomas and for sale in Canada. I'm fairly sure some may also have been sold in the United States, but many of the oak examples have Canadian labels. One exception that I came across is a two-tone example of an 8 day Forestville ogee clock which seems to have white oak crotch veneers on the ogee mouldings, and rosewood banding (no photos, but it is a clock I own and I will photograph it and share it once it's restored).
The ogee shown here is by Seth Thomas, and it is veneered in what I believe to be white oak. I don't have the label information for this piece, but it appears to be from around the 1860s. The Upper Canada Village in Morrisburg Ontario have in their collection a Seth Thomas column clock in oak veneer with a Vantassel label (Canada).
BIRD'S EYE MAPLE:
Bird's eye and curly maple are found fairly frequently on clocks before 1860, but very rarely afterwards. For whatever reason, bird's eye maple seems to always be combined with a darker wood (as opposed to being used on its own for a whole case).
Technically this is called a "bevel case" since it lacks the ogee curve, but for our purposes I have chosen to include it because the case style is nearly identical. On this lovely Sperry clock from the 1840s, you can see beautiful bird's eye maple, combined with mahogany on the banding and door. This clock would likely have had a lovely hand painted scenery with trees and a stream in the tablet.
Here is another example:
This clock is also bird's eye maple with mahogany banding, and it's by the Union Manufacturing Co. It dates from the early 1840s. The maple is a bit darker on this one so the effect is less dramatic.
This next example is the only birch-veneer ogee clock I have ever come across. As previously discussed, birch was quite common as a secondary wood on the sides of cases, but this is the only one I've seen with birch on the front. November 2019 EDIT: I now own a rather unusual Conant & Sperry 8 day ogee clock with birch veneered ogee curves and rosewood bandings. Basically the same veneer style as the clock below, so it's not a unique example, just very hard to find.
This clock is by Silas Hoadley. Early 1840s with a wooden dial. Not only does this clock feature an unusual veneer on the ogee mouldings, but it's also combined with rosewood banding, which makes it even more unusual. Birch veneer can be very plain, and it can often resemble maple. The veneer on this clock, however, has a bit of curl or "flame" to it, which is quite characteristic of this wood. Flame or curly birch often forms in very wide bands, as opposed to curly maple, which usually forms in very tightly spaced bands.
For comparison, here's an example of a table made from flame birch:
Next we have this unusual ogee. I am unable to identify the wood species on it, but it resembles birch, or a very bleached-out mahogany (possibly sun-damaged), though that's less likely. It's also possible that this is a tropical or domestic fruitwood veneer. I am including it here to show the different veneers used on these clocks.
The clock above is a Seth Thomas. The dial and tablet suggest that it is a later example, but it has a Plymouth label. I would date this to the late 1860s, closer to 1870.
Another rare wood occasionally found on ogee clocks is ash. More specifically, white ash. I have only seen a few examples of clocks with this veneer, but enough exist to confirm that they were offered with this wood. Ash is very similar to oak, but it has a very coarse grain, and the light areas in between the growth rings are very pale and uniformly coloured, which gives a rather distinct striped appearance. Ash is frequently found on European Vienna clocks as well.
Here is an early Sperry & Shaw ogee from the 1840s, with ash ogee mouldings with a rather wild grain pattern, combined with mahogany banding.
This next clock features the opposite treatment:
A rare combination of crotch mahogany ogee mouldings, with ash bandings. This one is by the Union Manufacturing Co., as can clearly be seen on the dial. 1840s.
Lastly is a wood veneer that I have yet to identify. I generally refer to it as "knotty veneer" but it is clearly a wood species that was specifically chosen for use as veneer, because I have found at least 6 clocks with this veneer (mostly ogee clocks, but also one steeple clock). All seem to be made by Chauncey Jerome.
This particular veneer somewhat resembles knotty alder or aspen, but I've been unable to confirm. The knots are not reddish like pine, and I can confirm that it's a hardwood and not a soft wood (I have an ogee with this veneer).
Stay tuned for another post about ogee clocks where I will discuss the various types of ogees that can be found (miniature, 8 day, gesso-front, calendar, etc.)