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a Leplastrier pocket chronometer

pwrudy

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Nov 7, 2002
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Dear friends,
after several experiments with web hosting sites I have found a wonderful way to post images which is preliminary to my question that I would like to confront you with.
Almost a decade ago, a fellow watch collector bought the following piece:
http://img359.imageshack.us/img359/3980/leplastrier16wx.th.jpg
A rather ordinary looking pocket chronometer made by a master called Leplastrier in London. The movement looks very similar to the 'ordinary' Earnshaw type (wedged balance weights without those later holding arms):
http://img359.imageshack.us/img359/1858/leplastrier34jy.th.jpg
But now, If you look closer, you will find a lot of peculiarities:
1) It is jewelled up to the fussee with Liverpool windows
2) It has a very costly device for regulating the position of the hair spring stud.
http://img359.imageshack.us/img359/3933/leplastrier53ff.th.jpg
3) The scape wheel is made from polished steel and not, as usual, from brass

Well, all of this points to a very high quality chronometer made in the late 1820s - for export to the U.S.
This watch is housed in a solid gold 18k (?) consular case which fits so well that I cannot think of a later replacement.
Inside the case, you will find the following marks:
http://img359.imageshack.us/img359/1355/leplastrier47wm.jpg
My question is: can anyone say what the coat of arms means? It looks to me like an early american flag. Furtheron, the case number is 1776, the year of american constitution. Just a coincidence? Is this just wishful thinking on my side?
I am pretty sure that the movement was made in London, maybe by taking an Earnshaw raw movement and 'upgrading' it. But - what about the case?
Any comments are welcome.
p.s.: my collector friend knows of this post and approves it
 

Michael Harrold

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Hello,

Just time for a quick response. I certainly know nothing about the case. The complicated stud and steel escape wheel are common to Brockbanks Brothers, where Earnshaw once worked, and were perhaps used by other high grade makers.
 
R

Roland Ranfft

Hi pwrudy,

no idea about the case hallmarks, but the movement can be easily dated:

After Britten's directory, Isaac Leplastrier worked as chronometer- and watchmaker beween 1813 and 1842. The address "125 Minories, London" engraved on the plate was only valid between 1815 and 1818 - pretty precisely for dating such an old watch.

Regards, Roland Ranfft
 

Dr. Jon

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Nice chronometer thanks for posting it.

I think the movement was indeed made in Liverpool. I have a much later high grade Liverpool item and it too has a Liverpool window on the Fusee.

I think teh case was made in or for export to the US. It could not have been so marked for DOmestic production and several chronometers of English origin have shown up here in the US.

I have also seen the hairspring stud device before.

One thing I have seen in chronometers of this period is screw adjustements for fine setting up of the detent. I can't see those in the pictures. DOes this one have them?


Another oddity is that the Balance cap jewel is a ruby instead of a diamond.
 

pwrudy

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Nov 7, 2002
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Dear Dr. Jon,
thanks for your helpful post.
I did not supply a detailed view of the escapement which of course sports such a fine adjusting screw for the locking pallet of the detent. I will try to post another picture later.
As for the balance jewel, it indeed is a flat polished white sapphire rahter than the usual diamond, quite nicely executed.
An argument against the Liverpool theory is the missing 'Liverpool runner', i.e. a ratchet wheel + click on top of the mainspring bridge.
I especially like the way they jewelled the fussee arbor and put a brass tube for winding on top of it (there are not many pocket chronometers with a jewelled fussee!).

Anyway, does '1776', or j.H or the crest in the case ring a bell to anyone? I would just be very curious to know...
 

Dr. Jon

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The "Crest" is a fairly common symbol for the US flag. It also looks a similar to the logo for the Union Pacific railroad. That is is struck twice suggests it may be decorative rather than informative.

As I wrote this it occurred to me that the Union Pacific was participant in the US transcontinental rail line. The US West and East Coasts were joined in the famous "Driving the golden Spike" This occurred in Oct of 1869. Its a bit late for this style but it is possible that this watch was made as part of that celebration or ordered in celebration of what was a very big event.

Here is a link "The Last Spike"

This ties in well with 1776 the year associated with the American Revolution. We often refer to the spirit of "76" and the year by itself carries that meaning.

Here is a link to a Union Pacific Site with the logo

Union Pacific Index page

There are a lot of differences in the symbols and this is a stretch. It also leasve open the question of why the date of thea event is not stamped.

Theg more important point is that these symbols are very much a part of the US culture and were likely put there at the request of an American who ordered it.


Related to that, when I was in the USSR in 1975 we had some "Bicentenial Quarters" $0.25 coins with a specil strike with 1778-1976 which we gave out as gifts and souveniers. The locals were very impressed that the US had made a special coin to celebrate the founding of the Bolshoi Ballet.

The J.H Incised corresponds to Joseph and James Hirst who were active from 1847 to 1878 and this mark was used in several intervals including 1866-1878. This is from Priestly "Watch Case Makers of England" NAWCC Supplement 20, 1994
 
D

D.H. Grace

PWRudy,

Thanks for sharing the pictures. This is a nice pocket chronometer that was probably intended for use as a top-end gentleman’s pocket watch, rather than service as a longitude timekeeper. The case might be later than the movement, and is almost certainly American.

There were several Leplastriers working in London during the period when this watch was manufactured. Isaac Leplastrier appeared in the city directories for 1815-18 at the Minories address, but Britten’s also associates John Leplastrier with that address. It might be worth doing some investigating to see if you can find out more. Oh, and do I see a small letter “Q” above the maker’s name on the barrel bar?

The balance spring stud seems typical of the era. Lots of London makers, including Miles and John Brockbank, used it. I don’t know of any instances, however, where Thomas Earnshaw used it, so I think it is highly unlikely that this watch is an “up-graded” Earnshaw rough movement.

The jewelling, with large sapphires all the way to the fusee, is not uncommon, but it does suggest that this watch was intended for “show” rather than scientific service, as does the steel scape wheel.

Modern collectors associate large clear jewels with Liverpool watches and call them “Liverpool windows”, but their presence does not indicate Liverpool manufacture. Liverpudlians weren’t the only ones who knew how to market their wares, and there are plenty of good “London” chronometers that were jeweled to attract wealthy consumers. On a similar note, the term “Liverpool runner” comes from the 1960’s. It’s never been a very useful or clear tag, but it generally refers to the escapement layout favored by many Liverpool makers, where the train is “wrong-handed”, placing the escape wheel in a position that makes it possible to see the locking depth of the entry pallet. It has nothing to do with the presence or absence of barrel set-up furniture on the barrel bar. As far as I know, that just reflected the maker’s preference.

If you want to know where the rough movement came from, I'd suggest looking at the front plate of the movement for framemaker's marks. Like most “Liverpool” and “London” watches, this one probably started life as a raw movement produced in Prescot, Lancashire. Most of the Prescot makers seemed to have marked their frames.

One of your follow-up messages suggest that the watch has the Brockbanks’ style of adjustable detent block. If so, do you think it is original to the watch, or do you think it is a later addition. One way of telling is to check the top plate. Does it have a rectangular hole for a traditional detent planting screw? Also, on the current detent mounting block, is there a second screw for adjusting the passing spring, or just the single screw for moving the cylindrical foot of the detent in and out?

Regarding the case, it was probably made c. 1830-1850 in either New York or Philadelphia. At that period it wouldn’t have left England with only a maker’s touch, and patriotic pseudo-hallmarks were popular among American silversmiths during the second quarter of the century. Of the American pseudo-hallmark devices, Eagles were the most common. Flag shields had been associated with American Eagles on US coinage since the 1790’s, so they appear too, although less frequently--it was a well-recognized icon long before the creation of any railroads, let alone the UP. Using the marks alone to further narrow the region of manufacture is difficult. Only a very few pseudo hallmarks were regional—the letter D accompanying an eagle, for instance, is most commonly found on New York silver, and beavers appear most often on silver from around the Great Lakes.

Without a location stamp or defining regional mark, the best bet would be either New York or Philadelphia, since they had the greatest numbers of resident specialists in watchcase making before 1850. So, if you want to find the maker, I’d start looking in those two cities to try to identify people who might have used the “T.H.” touch. I don’t know of any easily accessible lists of watchcase makers in antebellum New York. The New York city directories often listed them separately, though, so that would be a good place to start if you felt up for some sleuthing. For Philadelphia, Brix’s list suggests Thomas E. Harpur (directories 1847-1850) and Thomas Helm (directories 1835-1850) as possible candidates. Both men specialized in watchcase making. The number 1776, while the same as the date for the Declaration of Independence, is probably just a serial number. Who knows though, maybe the owner was a fan of the Russian ballet?

Regards,

David Grace
 

pwrudy

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Dear Dr Jon, dear David
I utterly enjoyed your most interesting and helpful remarks. Thank you so much for bringing light into a mysterious matter. I will try to visit my friend, the owner of the watch, to answer some of your special questions regading the construction of the detent.

I agree in all points with D.H. Grace whose vast knowledge I cannot but admire.

I always suspected that this piece was made for show rather than as a hack watch/navigation instrument (hence the very heavy gold case - most deck watches were cased in silver because of the costs and efficiency).

What strikes me is the relative simplicity of the typical early Earnshaw balance in comparison to the clear jewels (by no means typical Earnshaw) and the costly balance spring stud (just to show off?) - which also is NOT typical for Earnshaw (as the previous post correctly states).

I am very grateful for the hints to the early New York/Philadelphia case makers and all the toher remarks, thanks to you both!!!
 

Jerry Freedman

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Loomes shows Leplastriers working into the 1850s. Also, Mercer shows Leplastrier & Son. No dates given buy a chronometer number of 3118. We keep refering to this piece as a chronometer, but has anyone seen if it has a detent escapement?

Jerry Freedman
 

pwrudy

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Nov 7, 2002
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Thanks, Ralph, for those interesting links.

May I just reply to Jerry that I definitely can assure that this watch has a spring detent escapement (Earnshaw type), with a replaced detent as can easily be seen on the third picture I have posted.
 

Jerry Freedman

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I must admit I don't see anything in the third image that shows a detent. Where should I be looking?

Jerry Freedman
 

Ralph

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I think the screw and locating pins at the 3:30 position, picture 3, suggests a detent foot....maybe.

Ralph
 

pwrudy

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Ralph,
that's exactly what I mean. You can even see that the blued screw holding this detent foot is not the original one.
Thanks again to you all,
Rudolf
 
D

D.H. Grace

Rudolf,

Thank you for the kind compliment, but it's not all my knowledge--I'm lucky to have smart friends who help me out a lot.

I thought the following image might be of interest to you. I looked through my silver collection and found a piece of Philadelphia silver from 1831 that has a very nice set of pseudo hallmarks that are typical of the era. The flag shields look pretty similar to those on the watch case. It doesn't prove anything, but it certainly doesn't rule out the Philadelphia makers mentioned earlier.

http://www.astro5.com/DHG/Philadelphi%20pseudo%20hallmarks.jpg ]

Regards,

David Grace

(edited to make picture link active)
 
L

Leplastrier

Hi Guys

Isaac Leplastrier was my great great great great grandfather, so just wanted to say thank you for this post - nice to see a piece of his work (do let me know if your friend ever wishes to sell)
 

pwrudy

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Nov 7, 2002
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Dear Mr Leplastrier,
after so many years, I checked my old posts and saw your attachment. I had not yet read the last remark from D.H.Grace for which I am very thankful as ever. This watch remains to me a most mysterious peice even if most of its mysteries seem to be uncovered by this thred. If you as a memeber of the Leplastrier family could give me a few hints what happened after they closed down their watch buxiness, I would be extremely grateful either.
All the best,
Rudolf
 
L

Leplastrier

Hi Rudolf
Most of the family emigrated to Australia where there are seveal Leplastriers alive and well today. Vincent Le Plastrier appears to be the expert to contact, a google search will locate him. My paternal grandmother's maiden name was Leplastrier and as far as I know the surname no longer survives in the UK. Since posting I have managed to obtain two leplastrier movements, but nothing complete or working.
Kind regards, and happy new year to all

Mark
 

Fredbasset

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Hi Rudolf
Most of the family emigrated to Australia where there are seveal Leplastriers alive and well today. Vincent Le Plastrier appears to be the expert to contact, a google search will locate him. My paternal grandmother's maiden name was Leplastrier and as far as I know the surname no longer survives in the UK. Since posting I have managed to obtain two leplastrier movements, but nothing complete or working.
Kind regards, and happy new year to all

Mark
I'm also a descendent. My line went from London to Tobago to South Africa.
And now I live in Texas, but would still really like to own one of these amazing pocket watches. Let me know any time you would like to exchange that for currency :).
 

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