Francis Sommer (1852-1894)
Francis Sommer of Charleston, South Carolina. A 30-day, award winning Floor Standing
The Charleston, South Carolina clock maker Francis Sommer was undoubtedly a very talented man.
Jame W. Gibbs, in his book “Dixie Clock makers,” states that Hugh Barbour, a distinguished
Charleston, SC horologer, has seen three clocks made by Sommer. The three clocks Babour describes
would require a high level of technical skill to manufacture. The first of Sommer's clocks was a clock that appeared in the summer of 2015 the Antiques Roadshow. A guest transported a floor-standing regulator featuring an Astro-formatted dial and high-quality movement. It was an unusual example of having a pendulum with a unique design.
The large brass-covered bob was framed with what looked like several mercury-filled tubes. Today, I
suspect the tubes were not hollow but solid metal and were constructed to look like they contained
mercury. I have also since learned that that clock was designed to run for a year fully wound. It may be
the only American-made year-running clock known.
This the second clock was constructed in a similar manner. The Astro-style movement is very high quality. This clock runs for 30 days once fully wound. The black walnut wood cabinet is substantial. The original finish has been carefully restored and enhances the dark chocolate brown color of the wood. Four pad feet elevated the cabinet off the floor. A double-step molding frames the lower section of the base. The front corners are fitted with complex corner moldings attached to the base at a forty-five-degree angle. These additions are also designed with a double-stepped molding
supporting the three-turned columns. The columns are arranged in a cluster. The base sides are constructed with inset rectangular-shaped panels. The front base panel also features an inset panel. This panel is complex. The design includes corners in the framing that turn in on themselves, an additional raised molding, and a raised oval veneered with a burled grain pattern. The construction of this panel demonstrates a considerable amount of work. It also serves double duty as a door. This door is hinged, and locks closed. As a result, the base section can be used as a storage cabinet. A complex three-stepped molding transitions the base section to the waist. The three sides of the waist are fitted with glass windows. The two side panels are a Doric form and trimmed with a simple molding. The front panel has a more complex frame and opens as a door. Access through this door allows one to adjust the pendulum. A mirror is fitted to the backboard and reflects light against the back of the weight and pendulum. The front corners of the case are decorated with applied 3/4-turned columns. A mult-shaped molding transitions the waist to the neck of the clock. The neck is tapered and supports the round head of the case. The construction of this is evident from the sides. It is laminated with seven layers of wood and then shaped. The large circular bezel is also nicely shaped and fitted with glass. It is hinged on the right and locks closed with a key. A shaped wooden plinth is mounted at the top of the
circular head. The engraved brass dial was likely made for Francis Sommer by R. Achurch. The dial measures 14
inches in diameter. It is composed of a single sheet of brass. The front surface is decorated with skillful and artful engravings. These are filled with wax or shellac, and the dial surface is silvered. The silver compound adheres to the brass surfaces. The engravings pop due to the paraffin that fills them. This dial is engraved with the Clockmaker's name. The signature reads, “Francis - Sommer” across the middle. The working location of “CHARLESTON, S. C.” is engraved under the seconds display. The three clock hands are finely cut from steel and have been blued. They stand out against the silver background. This dial displays the time in an astronomical regulator format. Dials formatted like this are commonly found on clocks that fall into the precision regulator category. The hours, minutes, and seconds are displayed independently. The minutes are located along the perimeter. This closed minute ring is divided into sixty divisions. Each Arabic five-minute marker is located on the inside of this minute ring. The hour dial, displayed in a 12-hour format, is positioned above the center arbor inside the time ring. Each hour is represented with a Roman-style hour numeral. Below this is the second dial that is divided into sixty increments. Each of the ten-second divisions is demarked with the corresponding Arabic numeral. The center of this display has been cut away and fitted with a brass
bezel and a clear glass panel. This window allows the viewer to watch the memorizing motion of the escapement. The second hand is mounted directly to the escape-wheel arbor. Due to its length, the minute hand is counter-weighted. The weight for this is located behind the dial on the minute arbor. The result is that the hand is balance-neutral in the center. This movement is of very fine quality. The two dome-top-shaped brass plates are robust. Four large pillars support them. The pillars separate the plates and are secured with screws. Hardened steel shafts support the brass gearing. The main wheel is positioned between the two plates at the top of the works. It is powered by a single brass-covered lead weight and is wound through the hour hand. It is designed to run for a duration of thirty days. The weight, hanging from a decorative brass pulley, descends directly below the smoothly turned winding drum. Maintaining power is fitted to the great wheel. The Graham deadbeat escapement is located outside the front plate and visible through the dial. The escape wheel is decoratively designed. The pallets and the first four holes are jeweled. The pendulum is
suspended from a substantial bridge mounted across the top of the movement plates in front of the works. The pendulum frame, which traverses the gearing on the front plate, is constructed in steel and brass. A beat adjustment is located on the frame. A steel rod suspends the decorative brass carriage. An engraved brass rating nut holds this carriage at height with adjustment graduations. The horizontal brass bars of the frame are decoratively formed. Hippocamps are positioned at the top. A medallion with Francis Sommer’s initials, "FS," is included in the frame design. The upper collar also serves as a weight tray. An adjustable weight is fitted to the pendulum rod. This can be used for the larger rate adjustments. The carriage holds four steel jars. They are constructed to resemble the jars on a Howard regulator of the same period. They are silver with brass caps. These are not jars but solid metal stock.
They are not filled with mercury, although they were clearly made to give the viewer the idea that they
were. This pendulum swings in front of the clockwork. It is also positioned in front of an engraved
swing indicator. The brass scale is engraved and finished in a silver wash. It is mounted on a fancy
pierced wooden pedestal.
Dimensions: This clock is approximately 91 inches or 7 feet 7 inches tall. At the lower base molding, it measures 33
inches wide and 18.5 inches deep.
Note: This regulator was made in Charleston, South Carolina, circa 1873.
Francis Sommer worked for the retail firm of Carrington, Thomas & Co, previously known as Steven
Thomas & Bro. This business was located on King Street and made a fine trade in jewelry, silver,
holloware, and clocks. William Carrington, the driving force of the business, was born on May 24,
1812, in Bethany, CT and died on August 19, 1901. He was trained as a silversmith, watchmaker,
jeweler, and diamond identifier in NYC. He moved to Charleston in 1872 and joined Stephen Thomas
and remained in business under the name Carrington, Thomas & Co. Francis Summer worked in the
Unfortunately, very little is known about Summer’s life. His immigration paper has been found. It
records Francis Summers being born in Lipsey, Prussia in November of 1852. He was admitted as a
United States Citizen in the U. S. District Court of South Carolina in October 17, 1870. He was
known to be a talented clock maker. James W. Gibbs, in his book “Dixie Clock makers,” reports that a
tall clock, a sunburst clock, and two mercury pendulum clocks are known. In 1879, Francis entered a
regulator clock he made in the Agricultural Society of South Carolina Industrial Exhibition. His
regulator won a medal. The U.S. City Directory for Charleston South Carolina in the year 1894 as the year Francis Summer died. (CL0607)