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The Perrigo Family Antique Clockmakers of Wrentham

“This dial features a wonderfully painted lunette decorated with a detailed song bird on a foliate bough, within a gilt scrolled border. The four corner spandrels, which frame the dial face, feature polychrome floral sprays. The dial is boldly signed with the clockmaker’s name and locale below the calendar: ‘James Perrigo. Junr. / Wrentham’.” Source: Gary Sullivan Antiques online catalog.

Did you ever know that two historic clockmakers were born and worked in Wrentham back in the 1700-1800s? Read on to learn more!

Clocks have been a part of our lives for centuries, from the times when the sun was the only method we used to keep track of time to today’s era when atomic clocks and the widespread use of digital processing allow us to be always connected with clocks that never show the wrong time. But think back to the “old days” – back to when Wrentham was founded and no one had an Apple watch.

Devices operating on several physical processes have been used over the millennia, but the most commonly recognized form of “antique clock” is typically referred to as a grandfather clock. Known among collectors as "tall case clocks" or "tall clocks," these early American antique clocks range in size but are normally around eight feet tall. Considered a luxury item at their time of manufacture, antique grandfather clocks feature cases which are often constructed of vibrant, high-quality hardwoods and can feature elaborate inlays, carving and paint decorations.

The American antique grandfather clock was produced in all of the original states and appears with great regional variety. The form began to dwindle in popularity by the 1830s and was replaced by less-expensive manufactured examples. Despite their age, a properly maintained antique grandfather clock keeps surprisingly good time.

Wooden clocks were produced across New England and Ohio by an extensive and complex network of clockmakers and allied craftsmen working from 1712-1835. According to American Wooden Movement Tall Clocks: 1712-1835, “Clockmaking was well-established in 18th century Massachusetts, and a wide variety of clocks were produced there. Finely made brass tall, wall and shelf clocks were readily available in Boston… and in many of the smaller towns. Wooden tall clocks were also available from a surprisingly large number of clockmakers working in the state. These wooden clocks were a more affordable alternative to expensive brass clocks, and the large number of clockmakers engaged in their manufacture suggests there was a ready market for them. For the most part, these wooden clockmakers worked independently and do not appear to have shared shop practices.”

Which brings us to the Perrigo Family of Wrentham: two clockmakers from Wrentham! Given that the father and son both shared the first name, James, some confusion can be found with sourcing of their clocks. But for the benefit of our readers, we researched and talked with various sources to present reliable information on these innovative clock designers / makers who were descendant of French Huguenots.

  • James Perrigo Sr., was born in Norfolk County, Massachusetts in 1737 and died in Wrentham-Norfolk in 1808 at the age of 71. He may have been Massachusetts’ earliest clockmaker of wooden-geared clocks, and it is thought that he may have been at work as early as the late 1750s.