In January of 2003, Yannling Lim '03 asked if she might undertake an independent study with me on the historic clocks in the campus collection at Brown. She explained that she was interested in the use of clocks as memorial objects, whose dignified appearance and practical function made them worthy symbols of some august person or place or event. Brown University seemed to her to abound with such historical associations, and she wanted to explore how clocks were used as relics on campus. It sounded like a fine idea to me, and I agreed to direct her project. Working from the University Curator's catalogue of campus collections, she examined, photographed, and conducted archival research on each of the old clocks used to furnish the buildings on campus. This web site is the record of her work from January through May of her senior year at Brown.
There have been clocks on the Brown campus ever since 1770, when the college settled in Providence. The first documented example was the personal property of President James Manning, who brought a tall case clock with him when he came to Rhode Island from New Jersey. There was nothing antique about James Manning's clock; made by Lane & Jack in Boundbrook, New Jersey, around 1765, it was then a modern timepiece by which the president regulated institutional life. In the college's first years the bell in the cupola of University Hall was rung according to President Manning's clock.
The college is known to have first acquired its own clock in 1785, through a bequest from Newport silversmith John Tanner. In his last will and testament, Tanner designated "for the use of said college, my clock, that has my name upon the face of it, to stand in the college hall forever." Chiming the hour for all to hear, John Tanner's timepiece served as a constant and conspicuous memorial to the donor. Thus, in addition to the utilitarian function of telling time, his was the first clock at Brown intended also to serve the symbolic function of keeping memory alive.
As the years went by and more old tall-case clocks were given to Brown, they were regarded increasingly as relics of the worthy departed. For instance, when Elizabeth Angell presented her family's Samuel Rockwell clock to Brown in 1855, she did so in memory of its original owner, her grandfather Esek Hopkins, the Providence sea captain who became the commander-in-chief of the continental navy. This dignified timepiece, and others like it, were the physical reminders of Brown's colonial origins and of its long-time association with the college's founding families.
Not all tall-case clocks at Brown date from the eighteenth century. Several were made a century later, in emulation of those early timepieces. These colonial revival clocks tend to have elaborate English chiming works housed in elegant mahogany cases made in this country by Walter Durfee of Providence, or his contemporaries. As with the early clocks, they often are accompanied by engraved plaques bearing testimonony to the donors' association with Pembroke College or with Brown University. And, as with the early clocks, they can be found today in such venerable settings as Pembroke Hall, Alumnae Hall, the Admissions Office, Maddock Alumni Center, the John Hay Library, or the English Department.
Not all antique clocks at Brown are driven by weights descending the length of tall cases. Some are driven by coiled springs, like the wall clocks and shelf clocks collected in the 1920s and 1930s by George Gardner, class of 1894, and his wife Jessie Barker Gardner, in their campaign to furnish Brown's guest residence with fine antiques. As with the tall clocks, these forms also were revived in the twentieth century. Examples of these more recent clocks made in antique styles can be found on campus. And, as with the tall clocks, several of them bear inscribed plaques testifying to lives lived with usefulness and reputation, and commemorating service to the University.
And so in her study, Yannling Lim discovered that the antique clocks at Brown do more than just tell the time. Taken together, they can be viewed as representing the culture of the campus over time. They date from every period in the life of this institution, recalling some of its most dearly regarded friends and significant events. She had a busy semester getting to know each of these clocks, and through them, the history of Brown. The enthusiasm and affection with which she greeted each new acquaintance will be apparent in the entries she has so carefully prepared.
Robert P. Emlen