How a grandfather clock from Boston landed in the Oval Office — and Comey’s memo
I have a face that does not frown and hands that do wave. I do not walk but move around. I’ve met at least eight presidents. What am I?
A grandfather clock — well, the grandfather clock in the Oval Office, that is.
Featured in former FBI director James Comey’s prepared remarks for his Thursday testimony in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee, the grandfather clock in the Oval Office stood as a marker in Comey’s Feb. 14 meeting with President Trump.
When Jared Kushner left Comey alone with Trump that night, he left through the door by the clock. When Reince Priebus peeked into the office, he used the door by the clock. And when Comey left the Oval that Valentine’s Day night, again, it was the door by the clock that was used.
Basically, if those mahogany panels could talk, they’d have the details we want to know about Trump and Comey. But they’d also have decades of presidential secrets to share.
Acquired in 1972, the old clock was made by John and Thomas Seymour of Boston, circa 1795-1805, and has stood in the Oval Office since 1975, according to the White House Historical Association.
Papers housed at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library and Museum in Michigan offer a little more light on the origins of the clock.
According to a memo regarding “materials for the Queens’ Bedroom” that was prepared for First Lady Betty Ford in 1975, former First Lady Patricia Nixon was partially gifted (and partially purchased) the “wonderful collection of very beautiful and rather feminine American furniture” by the Seymours from Boston’s Vernon Stoneman in 1972. The Ford memo lists the father-and-son duo as being from Salem.
The Peabody Essex Museum, however, states that the Seymours landed in Boston in 1793.
Having hosted an exhibition on Seymour furniture from November 2003 to February 2004, the PEM explains that the Seymours benefited from Boston’s changing social landscape at the time.
“New leisure activities, and growing wealth led to the construction of larger houses and created demand for higher quality furniture and new forms, such as sewing tables, ladies’ desks, sideboards, and lap desks,” the PEM writes. The “increased prosperity and foreign trade” as well as a “consistent supply of the exotic and rare woods and veneers” led to the Seymours’ prevalent style of using mahogany and rosewood, according to the PEM.
Stoneman, the Boston lawyer who wrote what’s considered to be THE reference book on the Seymours and collected the furniture that was eventually sent to Washington, worked with White House curator Clement Conger on the deal that included a tax-deductible gift of a “pedimented tambour desk” as well as a mirror.
In 1973, Conger called the transaction with Stoneman the “coup of the 20th Century.” In all, 30 pieces, worth “somewhere between $250,000 and $500,000,” were sent to the White House.
In 1976, Stoneman told the Globe that the tambour desk “is the piece Mrs. Ford is said to touch every time she comes down the stairs.”