Quite a feat of scale engineering, this exhibition-quality model steam engine is the work of John Dean Benton, a jeweler of Providence, Rhode Island, Wilmington, Delaware, Philadelphia and New York. Benton is renown amongst those aware of his fine quality steamship models of solid silver and gold, set on top of music boxes. Twenty-eight models are known to date to have been built by him, and the whereabouts of 19 of those models are known today. This industrial example, one of the 19, displays his exacting technical craft in a perfect compliment to those works of precious metals.
Where to start in describing the details of the condensing steam paddlewheel engine is with its heart: the single cylinder chamber and piston, 3½ inches of bore with a 6½ inch stroke. From there vertical guides rise and connect to the crossbeam which ties into the hard-cast beam itself, which transfers the boiler’s energy to the crankshaft of the paddles. Numerous rods and cottered connectors work in synch with the valves to release and drive the engine, which is supported on large ‘A’ frames with stay rods. Many parts are nickel-plated, with some accents in blue enamel and the paddles in red. All are articulate and delicately designed, to the fact that this model is fully functional, and currently is set to work on a manual hand-crank. Other miscellaneous features include the pierced ‘lift-off’ eccentric rods and the dashpot dampers with hand controls, topped by a brass shield with the inscription “Made for WILLIAMS and DOWNS”, an elusive but known American engineering firm. It is our strong belief that Benton or the company exhibited this model in the London International Exhibition of Ship Models in 1887. It was reacquired by an American Historic Society in Staten Island, New York in 1964 from a London auction house.
Counted among the patrons of Benton is a name that resonates throughout American locomotive and steamship history: Charles Morgan. And as most of his fine ships were built by the shipyards Harlan & Hollingsworth of Wilmington, for whom Williams and Downs built some steam engines, the model comes full circle. This is an exceptional technical model with artistic design of the highest desirability. We believe it possibly is his working engine model for the last of the precious metal music box models that he is recorded building, the CITY OF WORCHESTER.
Provenance: Christie’s of London, 1968 Auction;
Newcomen Society of North America, Downingtown, PA, 1968-2001.
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