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Thread: Albert Potter

  1. #1
    Mike Kearney
    Guest

    Default Albert Potter

    Lest you think 'wristwatchers' don't appreciate history, here's something I put together on Albert Potter as an assigment at the NAWCC School. Hope it formats ok. Is anyone lucky enough to own a Potter-made watch? Even just a Charmilles?

    Mike


    Albert Henry Potter 7/3/1836 - 1/25/1908


    Albert H. Potter was born in Mechanicville, NY on July 3, 1836. He was the second child of four. Little is written of his early life except the tale, related in Paul Chamberlain's "It's About Time", of Albert and his younger brother, William Cleveland (Cleve), borrowing his uncle's watch and taking it apart, and just managing to get it back together.

    Of his horological career we know that he completed a three year apprenticeship with Wood and Foley in Albany, NY, then set up shop in New York City in about 1855. For the next six years Potter built some of the most beautiful examples of watch craftmanship the horological world has seen. They number some 35 movements, including chronometers, both fusee and going barrel, lever escapements, key wind, bridge and three quarter plate.
    These were extremely high grade watches and sold for $225. to $350.

    Potter could have worked his entire career in New York and would have probably become the dean of American watchmakers. But for reasons unexplained, he was not satisfied with New York and in 1861 took a job in Havana, Cuba, where he continued to develop his watchmaking skills, designing a quarter repeater and type of duplex escapement. In 1866, Potter was back in New York, and in 1868, he filed the first of his 16 patents, a
    chronometer escapement which had the advantage of not requiring a detent spring, and used smaller more sturdy teeth on the escape wheel.

    By 1870, Potter had moved to Chicago and in 1872 he set up a firm (Potter Brothers) with his brother Cleve. He left the business in 1875. In 1874-76, Potter filed for six more patents, including a novel design for a compensation balance, two escapements, and a barrel arbor. Several of these patents appear to be used in a 12 second tourbillon featured (with photographs) in the 1987 Revue de L'Horlogerie Ancienne.

    In 1876, at what was approaching the height of his career, Albert Potter moved again, this time to Geneva, Switzerland. He continued to make high grade watches, including minute repeaters, minute repeaters with chronograph, and minute repeaters with perpetual calendar and moon phase, and he continued to experiment with escapement design. It's worth mentioning that Potter's watches cost $250.-$500. at a time when Vacheron & Constantin's lowest grade caliber sold for $25.

    The patents that Potter took out in 1887 provide some evidence that his high grade watches were not a business success. After 32 years of producing masterpieces of design and construction, Potter's seven patents of 1887 included such economical designs as a combined watch movement frame and case body, where the pillar plate and sides of the case were stamped from a single piece of metal, and a watch case pendant that snapped into a
    rectangular hole in the case body. These patents were used in the construction of a mass-produced, low-priced watch made in a suburb of Geneva called Charmilles, the watch going by that name. Although not entirely unsuccessful, the watch was a financial failure for Potter, and by 1895, Potter had given up watchmaking completely. Still the inventor, from 1892 through 1897, Potter worked on designs for a steam powered carriage, a high pressure steam boiler and a bicycle cyclometer. Each of these ended in failure for one reason or another. By 1900 he was ill with disease of the intestines and spine that caused partial paralysis, and he died in 1908.

    However, Potter's works live on. Many were acquired by Paul Chamberlain, and some found their way to the NAWCC museum, where we can still visit them and be reminded of one of the great masters of horology.


    References:

    Paul M. Chamberlain, "It's About Time",

    "Albert H. Potter, American Individualist", Revue de L'Horlogerie Ancienne,
    No. 22, 1987, pp. 64-71, Thanslated by T. L. Huguelet, April 1991 (NAWCC
    'Vertical Files')

    Kathleen Prichard, "Library News, Potter-Burger Letters," NAWCC Bulletin
    #290, P. 382, l994.

    Michael Edidin, "Timely Voices, A Watch of Broken Dreams," NAWCC Bulletin #
    ,pp. 516-7, 1996.

    Albert H. Potter, U.S. Patent Numbers 73646, 168581-3, 360474-8, US. Patent
    Office, NAWCC Library special section.



    [This message has been edited by Mike Kearney (edited 02-17-2001).]

  2. #2
    Mike Kearney
    Guest

    Default Albert Potter (RE: Mike Kearney)

    Lest you think 'wristwatchers' don't appreciate history, here's something I put together on Albert Potter as an assigment at the NAWCC School. Hope it formats ok. Is anyone lucky enough to own a Potter-made watch? Even just a Charmilles?

    Mike


    Albert Henry Potter 7/3/1836 - 1/25/1908


    Albert H. Potter was born in Mechanicville, NY on July 3, 1836. He was the second child of four. Little is written of his early life except the tale, related in Paul Chamberlain's "It's About Time", of Albert and his younger brother, William Cleveland (Cleve), borrowing his uncle's watch and taking it apart, and just managing to get it back together.

    Of his horological career we know that he completed a three year apprenticeship with Wood and Foley in Albany, NY, then set up shop in New York City in about 1855. For the next six years Potter built some of the most beautiful examples of watch craftmanship the horological world has seen. They number some 35 movements, including chronometers, both fusee and going barrel, lever escapements, key wind, bridge and three quarter plate.
    These were extremely high grade watches and sold for $225. to $350.

    Potter could have worked his entire career in New York and would have probably become the dean of American watchmakers. But for reasons unexplained, he was not satisfied with New York and in 1861 took a job in Havana, Cuba, where he continued to develop his watchmaking skills, designing a quarter repeater and type of duplex escapement. In 1866, Potter was back in New York, and in 1868, he filed the first of his 16 patents, a
    chronometer escapement which had the advantage of not requiring a detent spring, and used smaller more sturdy teeth on the escape wheel.

    By 1870, Potter had moved to Chicago and in 1872 he set up a firm (Potter Brothers) with his brother Cleve. He left the business in 1875. In 1874-76, Potter filed for six more patents, including a novel design for a compensation balance, two escapements, and a barrel arbor. Several of these patents appear to be used in a 12 second tourbillon featured (with photographs) in the 1987 Revue de L'Horlogerie Ancienne.

    In 1876, at what was approaching the height of his career, Albert Potter moved again, this time to Geneva, Switzerland. He continued to make high grade watches, including minute repeaters, minute repeaters with chronograph, and minute repeaters with perpetual calendar and moon phase, and he continued to experiment with escapement design. It's worth mentioning that Potter's watches cost $250.-$500. at a time when Vacheron & Constantin's lowest grade caliber sold for $25.

    The patents that Potter took out in 1887 provide some evidence that his high grade watches were not a business success. After 32 years of producing masterpieces of design and construction, Potter's seven patents of 1887 included such economical designs as a combined watch movement frame and case body, where the pillar plate and sides of the case were stamped from a single piece of metal, and a watch case pendant that snapped into a
    rectangular hole in the case body. These patents were used in the construction of a mass-produced, low-priced watch made in a suburb of Geneva called Charmilles, the watch going by that name. Although not entirely unsuccessful, the watch was a financial failure for Potter, and by 1895, Potter had given up watchmaking completely. Still the inventor, from 1892 through 1897, Potter worked on designs for a steam powered carriage, a high pressure steam boiler and a bicycle cyclometer. Each of these ended in failure for one reason or another. By 1900 he was ill with disease of the intestines and spine that caused partial paralysis, and he died in 1908.

    However, Potter's works live on. Many were acquired by Paul Chamberlain, and some found their way to the NAWCC museum, where we can still visit them and be reminded of one of the great masters of horology.


    References:

    Paul M. Chamberlain, "It's About Time",

    "Albert H. Potter, American Individualist", Revue de L'Horlogerie Ancienne,
    No. 22, 1987, pp. 64-71, Thanslated by T. L. Huguelet, April 1991 (NAWCC
    'Vertical Files')

    Kathleen Prichard, "Library News, Potter-Burger Letters," NAWCC Bulletin
    #290, P. 382, l994.

    Michael Edidin, "Timely Voices, A Watch of Broken Dreams," NAWCC Bulletin #
    ,pp. 516-7, 1996.

    Albert H. Potter, U.S. Patent Numbers 73646, 168581-3, 360474-8, US. Patent
    Office, NAWCC Library special section.



    [This message has been edited by Mike Kearney (edited 02-17-2001).]

  3. #3
    Technical Admin Tom McIntyre's Avatar
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    Default Albert Potter (RE: Mike Kearney)

    My friend Bradley Ross got curious about Potter and checked a lot of the census records to try to track down his travels. It seems like there is pretty good evidence that he left the US to avoid being drafted in the Civil War.

    As most know, the American Potters are extremely rare. He became probably the leading Swiss chronometer maker. The Potter levers with the characteristic "AP" plates are particularly attractive to me and he made a number of interesting odd escapements as well.

    The Potter repeaters are disappointing in that the watches are standard Swiss ebauche of the period and were likely only finished and engraved in the Potter shop.

    I have had a number of Charmilles watches over the years, but do not have one at the moment. I am very proud of my Potter lever that I managed to get at the National meeting in Portland.

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