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Clock at Old Economy Village keeps time with history

June 27, 2016

Filed under Collections, Exhibits, Pennsylvania Treasures

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The Jacob Neff Clock

This clock, on exhibit in the main hall of Old Economy Village’s George Rapp House, dates to 1809. A Harmony Society cabinetmaker most likely constructed the case which houses the clock.

The main hall of Old Economy Village’s George Rapp House features a tall case clock with quite a history. Its story began in Harmony, Pa., north of Pittsburgh, where the Harmony Society formally organized in 1805. Just arriving in America from Württemberg (now part of Germany), the 800 members of the society pooled their resources to build the town. However, there was still a struggle to survive with so little.

Leaders George and Frederick Rapp sought the good auspices of friends in Lancaster County and elsewhere to help them out financially. Jacob Neff (1757-1818) of Hempfield Township, Westmoreland County, loaned the society money without interest in 1806. While corresponding with the Rapps, Neff became interested in the ideals of this communal, celibate society enough so that he and wife Maria (1768-1851) joined its ranks in May 1808, giving everything they owned to the Harmonists.

Although everyone was to live equally in this communal society, all was apparently not equal, indicated by the fact that Neff’s second Harmonist house, built in New Harmony, Indiana, where the group moved in 1814, was valued at six times the price of most other members’ houses in 1824. In 1809, one year after joining the Harmony Society, Neff received a letter from Jacob Stahl, a friend in Lancaster County, stating that Neff’s clock was on its way to Pittsburgh. Neff was still able to purchase niceties even though his money was now shared with the rest of the society. The timepiece was much nicer than any other clock in the Harmony Society.

John Hoff (1776-1818), a master clockmaker in Lancaster, crafted the clockworks. In Hoff’s order book for April 20, 1809, he recorded the sale: “Jacob Neaff (Harmony), To one 8 day Clock 13 Inch Dial Moon and date” for £17.5.0 with an extra 7s, 6d for “Boxes and Packing to be sent to Mr. George Sutten in Pittsburg” (a merchant who facilitated shipments for the Harmony Society). On behalf of Neff, Jacob Stahl paid $47.00 for the clock. The clock was sent to Harmony, Pa., on May 10th “by Gompers waggon” and arrived May 25.

The 8-day movement has a moon dial to show the phases of the moon and a date wheel that advances every twenty-four hours. The clock also strikes the hour. The face was made by Thomas Hadley Osborne, a Birmingham, England, dial maker. It is believed that a Harmony Society cabinetmaker constructed the case to complete the clock. The case is made of cherry and cherry veneer with ebony and ivory inlay in the pediment scrolls.

Several years after Neff’s death in New Harmony, Indiana, in 1818, the clock travelled with the Harmony Society back to Pennsylvania. The group established Old Economy Village in 1824, and the clock has remained there ever since. The clock is featured in Harmony in Wood: Furniture of the Harmony Society, written by Philip D. Zimmerman in 2010.

Sarah Buffington of Old Economy Village wrote this post.


About Pennsylvania Treasures:
The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission houses artifacts hailing from all eras of the commonwealth’s past. These objects represent Pennsylvania arts, culture, history, sciences, business and agriculture. PHMC curators continue to research the stories behind many of these rarely exhibited artifacts and works of art. We are sharing these Pennsylvania Treasures with the public through weekly updates.