Astrid Donnellan

21 Mast Hill Road, Hingham, MA  02043 


Clock Dials  Ltd.

​​​Ornamental Artist  
  Specializing in Preservation, Restoration and Reproduction

clock dial painting,  painted dial restoration, clock dial restoration, dial restoration, antique clock dial restoration

The Custom House played an important role in government finances during the early history of the country. Customs duties collected on goods entering the country were a major source of revenue for the  federal government and the port of Boston accounted for one-fifth of the money collected. It served as the port of Boston's thriving maritime activities during the latter half of the nineteenth century. India Wharf, headquarters employees of the coast Guard and the Federal Communications Commission as well as custom official. During the original construction of the building several tunnels were built underground; and these were said to have been a means of escape for custom agents. At one time, workmen uncovered mysterious documents concealed behind a wall of a sealed -off tunnel. The documents were whisked away by government officials and their contents never revealed.

      The tower dominated the city skyline for much of the twentieth century, Although newer buildings have dwarfed the tower in stature, its prestige has continued as a city landmark.  With the lighting of the tower, it once again has taken its place as on outstanding piece of architecture.
      The restoration began when the city of Boston purchased the building for $11 million from the General Services Administration which had declared the Custom House surplus government property, and the U.S. Customs Service was relocated elsewhere in the city. One of the biggest challenges in the restoration project was to remove and lower the 14 foot and 11 foot hands of the clock from the perch 25 stories above the ground. Two workers from the Boston Chimney and Tower Co. hung from rope chairs outside the building and attached ropes to the hands so they could be lowered.

     Ross and David Hochstrasser of the Scituate Tower Clock Co. disassembled, cleaned and repaired the clock's weight -driven mechanism. The main gear which drives the 9 foot pendulum was recast in bronze. The clock faces, all four of them, are 22 feet in diameter. They contain 3 foot gold colored glass Arabic numbers and sixty circular glass minute-markers. The hands are made of birch. The minute hands, 14 feet long, had to be replaced because of the effects of wind and vibration. Arcor, Inc. of Rockland, Massachusetts used a minute hand in the best condition to make a mold for the new hands. Into this mold was poured a new advanced plastic amalgam similar to that used in advanced defense hardware. the new hands will be lighter and more aerodynamic in design and will cut ten pounds from the weight of each hand.

     My role in the restoration was to prepare a sealed surface ready for gold leafing of the hands. The hands were delivered to me four hands at a time. Exterior oil base primer was applied to both sides to each hand. A slow oil size was used as the gold leaf medium. the entire project took 60 books of gold leaf or 1500 sheets.

     Also involved as part of the restoration was the preparation of the iron base used to house the gears, pendulum and seventy pound weight. The base was sandblasted, primed and painted the typical green color and  design in gold leaf was taken from the old Howard Co. catalog.

     To culminate this historic and memorable milestone, the Boston Edison co., along with Mayor Raymond Flynn and dignitaries from the Boston Landmarks Commission held a tower lighting ceremony complete with laser light show on October 30, 1987.

Boston's Custom House Tower Clock, A Landmark Restored

Authored by:  Astrid Donnellan

Boston's U.S. Custom House Clock

     It was indeed an honor to be asked to join other dedicated historians in the restoration of the U.S. Custom House Tower clock on Boston's waterfront. As acquaintances were made with these historians and tower clock restorers, the illustrious history of the building and its tower emerged.

     Boston Edison co. donated the cost of the restoration project to the people of Boston. The original building was built in 1847 at 2 India Street. The tower clock, manufactured by the Howard Clock Co. of Boston, was installed when the tower was added to the original building in 1915. The tower stands 29 stories, made of granite and was Boston's first skyscraper. The clock had not been in operation for ten years.


Reproducing an old Howard design on the base of the movement ( all the gears that run the clock).

Credit: Published in The Decorator, HSEAD, Inc. 1990

The Process of exterior gilding.

Priming 2 of 8 hands, 14 ft. long