Alphabetic Posting of Private Label Pocket Watches, Starting with "B"

Discussion in 'European & Other Pocket Watches' started by Ethan Lipsig, May 1, 2020.

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  1. Ethan Lipsig

    Ethan Lipsig Registered User
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    So far, no one has posted a non-U.S. private label pocket watch to Alphabetic Posting of Private Label Pocket Watches, Starting with "A". Because I do not have one to post, I have started this new thread for "B" non-U.S. private labels. Feel free to post "A" private labels if you have any. Perhaps that shouldn't be surprising. I believe that private labels were more common in the U.S. than in Europe. My collection may not be representative but only 12 of the 55 private labels that are or were in it were non-U.S.despite my collection being 2/3ds European.

    With that preface, the only non-U.S. "B" private label I have is from Henry Birks, a major Canadian jeweler that is still in existence. See Maison Birks : Canada’s Diamond & Fine Jewellery Leader | Maison Birks. It sold a wide range of pocket watches, as this old ad evidences.

    2.jpg

    My watch appears to be the 18k rattrapante, #240 in the top center of the ad. It is a circa 1912, 16-size Agassiz, #254,988. It is interesting that a rattrapante cost almost as much as a minute repeater in those days, $300 vs. $315.

    Aggasiz Birk.jpg IMG_4873.JPG IMG_4574.JPG IMG_2787.JPG IMG_2791.JPG IMG_2794.JPG IMG_2795_edited.JPG

    The watch was presented to R.G. Chamberlain "by a few of his Vancouver friends." Chamberlain was Vancouver's police chief before becoming head of investigations for the Canadian Pacific Railroad.

    img.jpg
     
  2. John Matthews

    John Matthews Registered User
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    #2 John Matthews, May 2, 2020
    Last edited: May 2, 2020
    Ethan

    Your collection is, in my opinion, definitely not typical of collection held by those of us who collect English watches. My collection is dominated by English finished watches. I would say that more that 60% of the watches in my collection could be described as private labels. In my database I am trying to record, movement maker, watch finisher, case maker, pendant maker, cap maker, dial maker and finally the 'signature' on the movement/dial. It is not surprising that I am yet to have a complete list for any of my ~200 watches. Predominantly, the signature on my watches is that of the retailer, in some rare cases the original owner, often with pre 1800 watches it is difficult to be certain of the signature status and in other cases the watch finisher. Some of the signatures are fictitious and are there purely as a attempt to improve sales - as with the Bullingford signed watches produced by Vale & Rotherham.

    20200117 004.jpg 20200117 009.jpg 20200117 010.jpg

    This is an example where the signature is of particularly interest to me, but for many of my watches the signature is simply a record of where the watch was sold. The number of unique signatures on English watches is huge, particularly watches of 'average quality', the number is a significant subset of the names listed as so called 'watch and clock makers' in the trade directories.

    John
     
  3. jboger

    jboger Registered User

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    This is an interesting topic and raises the question, What is a private label? I have illustratedmany English-made fusees with US signatures and locations on the movement and sometimes dials. Are these private labels? I want to answer my own question in the negative. Are all those English fusees with name of English retialers on them, are those private labels? Again I would respond no.

    Le me take a stab at a definition of private label. In the US, following the American Civil War a number of major manufacturers emerged: Waltham, Elgin Illinois, New York, Hampden, and so on. These watches were mass produced and are easily identified by simply looking at the layout of the watches; no need to examine what's enscribed on the plates. When one of these watches possesses the name of a retailer, then we call it a private label watch. This is a practice that seems to have been done predominantly on my side of the Atlantic.

    That last statement induces me to ask, Are their European watches made and sold in Europe that may be called private label by this definition? It seems to me that most Swiss watches--or at least the ones I've seen--bear the names of the maker, that is, if they bear any name at all.

    John B.
     
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  4. musicguy

    musicguy Moderator
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    Using the definition, "if the name on the movement is not the watchmaker"(that would need multiple names on it for English watches)
    but the retailer or owner that makes me categorize these as Private label watches.


    Rob
     
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  5. Ethan Lipsig

    Ethan Lipsig Registered User
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    John, you are undoubtedly correct. I only have about a dozen watches with English movements in my collection. I reviewed them to see how many movements could be considered private labels. Here is what I found. Let me know if you agree with my conclusions.
    1. Free-sprung minute repeater, probably Swiss in an English style, in a Swiss 18k case, unsigned -- not PL
    2. Lever movement, probably English but with at least some Swiss parts, in English 18k case, movement signed Sir John Bennett -- PL
    3. Bonniksen Karussel in English 18k case, movement signed Sharman D. Neill -- PL
    4. Charles Frodsham WI in American 18k case -- not PL
    5. Charles Frodsham with Daniel Buckney free-sprung movement in 18k HMF case -- is this a PL?
    6. Arnold, Charles Frodsham full-plate fusee in 18k English case -- not PL
    7. Charles Frodsham calendar chronograph with Nicole Nielsen movement in 18k English case -- is this a PL?
    8. Frodsham, Gracechurch Street detent chronometer with unsigned movement likely by Pennington, likely recased in silver or nickel likely German case -- is this a PL?
    9. Victor Kullberg "curiosity bridge" free-sprung movement in 18k English case, signed Gabriel -- PL
    10. James Poole free-sprung WI lever fusee in 18k English case -- not PL
    11. William Reid detent chronometer in 18k English case -- not PL
    12. M.I. Tobias rack lever in 18k English pair case -- not PL
    13. Usher & Cole free-sprung lever movement in 18k English case -- not PL
    Thus, I consider 3 of these 13 watches to be PLs, 7 of them not to be PLs, and I am unsure about the remaining 3.

    As you can see, I regard any movement signed by a retailer to be a PL, such as my Bennett, Bonniksen, or Gabriel. Where I am unsure is principally with respect to movements supplied to actual makers such as Charles Frodsham, If those watches are considered PLs, then many Swiss watches would be PLs since most of them were based on third ebauches or movements.
     
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  6. John Matthews

    John Matthews Registered User
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    John - this is precisely why I said 'could'

    It really depends on your definition - some would say they are & some they are not.

    I am not convinced of the merit in listing 'private labels' alphabetically simply because, if you take the broadest definition the potential number would be huge and I think would tell us very little about the English trade (sorry Ethan). I do collect private labels (using the broad definition) that were signed by 'signatories' in specific places with which I have had a connection and I am aware of others who do similar.

    John
     
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  7. Ethan Lipsig

    Ethan Lipsig Registered User
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    John B., I understand you to have defined U.S. private labels as watches clearly made by a manufacturer but signed by a retailer. You asked whether there are "European watches made and sold in Europe that may be called private label by this definition?" The answer clearly is that there are such watches. In my collection, I have examples signed by the following

    1. Cartier, Paris
    2. Amédée Charpentier, Paris
    3. Dunhill, London
    4. Eridano, Porto?
    5. Gubelin, Lucerne
    7. H. Haefeli, Geneva
    8. Mappin & Webb, London
    10. A. Maurer, Barcelona
    11. Sharman D. Neill, Belfast
    12. James Ritchie, Edinburgh

    I have a few "brands" in my collection that might be considered PLs, such as Poitevin.
     
  8. musicguy

    musicguy Moderator
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    An excel spread sheet with multiple variables like maker, PL, year, style, etc etc
    would be the only way to be able to use the data that we collect efficiently in order to search it.
    Also this forum needs Tags to search efficiently as well.
    Otherwise its just another list of watches.


    Rob
     
  9. John Matthews

    John Matthews Registered User
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    #9 John Matthews, May 2, 2020
    Last edited: May 2, 2020
    Ethan - in response to your post #5 - I am afraid I do not feel competent to make a judgement on your watches - for two reasons.

    It depends so much on the definition you wish to apply and more importantly a detailed knowledge of all who contributed to the manufacture of the watch and the role they played.

    I think I can best demonstrate this by using a movement for which I have the record of the work undertaken - which is rarely available for English watches ....

    20171112 001.jpg 20171112 003.jpg Usher & Cole 26745 001.jpg

    With a movement/watch that is accompanied by a record of the work undertaken, we are in a position to decide whether or not we should describe it as a 'private label' - according to the definition to be applied.

    The record is that of Usher & Cole and they 'managed the manufacture' of the watch. When sold it was in a gold case, which was by far the most costly element of its manufacture. The initials, I was informed, are probably a mix of in-house and out workers. The watch was sold to the retailers and it is their name that is engraved on the movement. Gilding and engraving is an itemised activity, I imagine the watch was delivered to Reynoldson & Son in Hull already engraved.

    I have a similar record for another watch which was sold directly to a private buyer - in that case it is engraved with the name of the company that 'managed the manufacture'.

    In both these examples the movement was sold already signed, however, I believe many 'trade sales' may have been completed without an engraved signature. Some of those were then retailed without signature, to others a signature was added by the retailer and in some cases, to special order, the signature engraved was that of the original owner.

    John
     
  10. jboger

    jboger Registered User

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    It seems one definition, a very broad definition, of a private label watch is any movement and/or dial that has a name thereon other than the actual manufacturer. Under this definition my Anglo-American fusees would all be private label watches. In fact, nearly all English fusees up through the late 19th C would be "private label" watches as this was the general practice, i.e to inscribe the name and location of the retailer on the plates. (Am I wrong to claim that it was only the first generation or so of English watchmakers (Tompion et al) that were both maker and seller?)

    I think this is too to broad a definition. Let me try to refine what I wrote above with a few broad strokes. For most of English watch making history, production of watches was a very decentralized, cottage industry. In the US, around the time of the American Civil War, precision tool making had reached the point where factory-made watches with interchangeable parts could be realized. Instead of a plethora of makers, we now had relatively few. This fact changed retail end of things. Orders were placed for these watches, and they were sold through a network of jewelry and department stores. This situation describes modern business practices, not the sort of decentralized, local production and consumption of goods and services that dominated the first half of the 19th C, not just for watches but for nearly everything.

    So to summarize, a private label watch, under this (my?) definition, is a late arrival in terms of mechanical watch production. It assumes mass, centralized production by a few recognizable makers and an elaborate retail distribution chain, not the sort of situation that existed either in England or the US during the first half of the 19th C. Now I will stick my neck out. The term may only make sense in the context of how American watches were retailed, with a few exceptions here and there.

    John B
     
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  11. musicguy

    musicguy Moderator
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    I would agree and disagree. Many PL watches(and I would say most) in the US market were
    made in lots of less than 10 to local jewelers(in small towns and cities) all over the USA. There are many that
    you only find one example of.

    Rob
     
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  12. Ethan Lipsig

    Ethan Lipsig Registered User
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    This has been an interesting thread so far. The two most salient points are that there isn't a consensus among us as to what a "private label" is and that something akin to "an excel spread sheet with multiple variables like maker, PL, year, style, etc etc
    would be the only way to be able to use the data that we collect efficiently in order to search it. . . . Otherwise it's just another list of watches."

    In my own defense, at the outset, I defined what a private label watch is: "For purposes of this thread, treat any watch that has a retailer name on the dial, case, or movement to be a private label." I now see that that definition is imperfect. For example, if Charles Frodsham actually made a movement, cased it in a Charles Frodsham-made case, and sold it in his retail shop, is it a private label? Would it be a private label if the movement were cased in a bought-in case or if the movement were based on a bought-in ebauche or completely or nearly completely finished movement? Further, as John Matthews has pointed out, under my definition many, if not most, English watches would be private labels.

    Further in my own defense, I asked one of the message board moderators whether I ought to launch the U.S. and non-U.S. versions of this thread before doing so. He thought that I should, but I agree with Rob (musicguy) that there must be a more efficient way of compiling this information.

    So, perhaps we should let these private label threads peter out, and wait until we have a more efficient means for collecting private label information and a common understanding about what constitutes a private label watch.
     
  13. John Matthews

    John Matthews Registered User
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    Ethan - I do not believe there is any need at all to be defensive - on the contrary it is good to open up the proverbial 'can of worms' :)

    As you say it has initiated some interesting discussion - not only the specific relating to private labels, but questioning the essence of why we post and indeed the expectations of those who respond.

    So some questions -
    • what was in your mind when you initiated these threads?
    • what drives the interest in private labels on your side of the pond?
    • why do you believe, as it appears, the driver is not shared in Europe (my inference with little data, I accept)?
    It seems to me that there are a couple of alternative approaches to European private labels (defined in the broadest manner) that would add to our understanding of the watch trade ..
    1. a list of all the retailers (private labels) & their location by 'watch maker/watch finisher/wholesaler' to identify the geographical distribution;
    2. a list of 'watch maker/watch finisher/wholesaler' that were sold in a specific location as identified by 'private labels'.
    In fact, I note on the complementary 'A' thread 'tick talk' is, I believe, offering an example of '1.' for V&C.

    John
     
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  14. Ethan Lipsig

    Ethan Lipsig Registered User
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    John, I initiated the thread principally for the purpose of foster more discussions. After years of operation, there isn't much unplowed territory left on this message board. I thought I'd found something that might trigger a significant number of interesting postings.

    My second reason was that, if the information could be accessed in an organized fashion, knowing the range of movements a particular private label used might be helpful information.

    I believe it likely is novelty that mainly drives private label interest among collectors of U.S. pocket watches. Many of them seem to collect mass produced watches, leading them to seek fine distinctions among them, such as variants with different movement inscriptions. Private label versions of these mass produced watches are another area of distinction. High quality European pocket watches were not mass produced to the same extent. Collectors of them do not seem obsessed with accumulating variants of the same watch.

    Until a more organized way of amassing private label information is available to us, I continue to fear that I made a mistake launching this and its related threads.
     
  15. jboger

    jboger Registered User

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    Ethan: You have my sincerest apologies. I'm afraid I subverted your post. I did not realize until much later that you wanted to catalog European private label watches alphabetically and had actually created two threads, one for A and another for B, with the intention of adding more. I missed that and went off on a tangent.

    Is it possible to get back on course? I hope so. Perhaps others can post their watches here. Then this rough start and my transgression will (hopefully) be forgotten.

    John B
     
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