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Sir John Bennett Jewelry Store, with its famous clock figures, in Greenfield Village.


May 2006

Restoring Sir John Bennett’s Giants

For decades, Sir John Bennett’s shop—with its figures of mythological giants Gog and Magog—has intrigued and enthralled Greenfield Village’s visitors. Prior to 1930, the jewelry and clock shop was a popular presence many thousands of miles away in the City of London, where its animated giants chimed the quarter hours above the busy thoroughfare of Cheapside.

While London and Dearborn would seem to have little in common, Gog and Magog—if they could talk, as well as chime—might disagree. Exposure to the weather has been a continuous element in their over 125 years of timekeeping in both England and in America. Climate has taken its toll on the figures. So, during the winter of 2005-2006, The Henry Ford undertook an extensive restoration of the Sir John Bennett figures.



MORE: Restoring Sir John Bennett’s Giants

Newly restored Gog and Magog await their return to the Sir John Bennett shop.

Father Time and the Muse show off their new coats of gold leaf.

The dragon weathervane is readied for removal from its perch.


Clock Figures

This was not the first time that the figures, or “jacks” as they are known in the world of clocks, had been given a thorough restoration. When Henry Ford originally brought them to the United States in 1931, he had them repaired and repainted. A second restoration and repainting took place in the 1970s.

The current restoration, in addition to reversing damage and safeguarding Gog and Magog for future generations, also offered an opportunity to attempt to determine what the wooden figures originally looked like. Deeply carved recesses were carefully excavated in order to discover clues to the original color scheme. Conservators also studied a similar set of Gog and Magog figures in London’s Guildhall, a set in Melbourne Australia, and many historical prints and illustrations to compare our paint analysis with other known examples. One finding revealed that the giants’ chain mail had, at some point, been painted the color of their clothing. The chain mail is now painted to look like metal rather than cloth. Areas of the giants’ armor were found to have traces of gold leaf in the recesses. Also, successive paint layers and weathering had obscured a number of decorative elements in the giants’ armor. Previous restorations had used gold colored paint on the armor, which eventually oxidized and turned brown. All of the decorative armor components have now been coated with gold leaf. The figures’ themselves were in poor structural condition with many breaks and numerous large cracks. With a view to preserving as much of the original figures as possible, the decision was made to inject a deep penetrating resin into the porous wood rather than cut out and replace damaged sections.

Of course, Gog and Magog are not the only figures in the façade of the building—Father Time and a Muse are also in attendance to assist in the job of chiming. Made of plaster rather than wood, these figures were given structural repairs and then gilded with 1400 sheets of gold leaf. During the repair work on the Muse, decorative elements were discovered on the harp under layers of paint and filler. The decoration has been carefully restored and can be seen on the front vertical post of the harp. A maker’s name “Brogiotti” was also revealed during the restoration.

Finally, the internal mechanisms for all four figures were repaired, and additional lubrication points were added to help minimize future wear.

The Clock

The clock mechanism was in need of a complete overhaul. Many of the bronze bearings—separate components fitted into the clock movement’s large cast iron frame—had become worn and needed to be “re-bushed” to bring the mechanism back to its original operating specifications. During cleaning, conservators discovered that all of the cast iron framing was originally painted a blue-green with white pin striping. All of this original paint was carefully cleaned and preserved.

During the 1931 reconstruction of the building and clock in Greenfield Village, a number of components had been replaced. Cleaning the mechanism helped gain a better understanding of the extent of Henry Ford’s restoration: the modern steel components lack the dark graining found in the original wrought iron pieces. These dark lines are called “slag inclusions” and are remnants of a glass-like material that gets worked into the iron during the smelting and production processes.


Gog and Magog receive the most attention from visitors—understandably, given their size, character and animation—but higher up, fully exposed to everything the Michigan climate has to offer, is one of the most vivid elements of Sir John Bennett’s shop: the dragon weathervane. The dragon—made of hammered copper and detailed with sharp claws, taut bat-like wings and a fiery tongue—is a quiet masterpiece of design, craftsmanship, and balance. Its swept wings and extended tail are designed to catch even the slightest breeze; its head is weighted with lead in order to balance the body and allow for free pivoting.

When the dragon was removed from its perch in late 2005, it was found to be in stable condition. Structural repairs were followed by a thorough cleaning to remove corrosion and degraded metallic paint. Finally, rather than simply repaint the dragon, it too has been returned to its original splendor with a coat of gold leaf. Repaired and resplendent, silhouetted against a Dearborn rather than London sky, the dragon once again watches over the visitors who gather to watch Gog and Magog.



Malcolm Collum

Marc Greuther
Curator of Industry


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