'Anomalous' Birmingham hallmarks in the latter part of the C19th (Cycle V)

Discussion in 'European & Other Pocket Watches' started by John Matthews, Oct 15, 2019.

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  1. John Matthews

    John Matthews Registered User
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    Sep 22, 2015
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    I am not sure whether 'my discovery' is common knowledge to some of you - to those that it is, my apology.

    This morning I have been adding some of my earlier purchases to a re-vamped database in which I record case hallmarks together with movement information. In the process I began to see, what I thought were anomalous cartouche shapes surrounding the lion town and date letter stamps. The apparent anomalies are confined to cycle V (1875 to 1899) and can be seen by comparing the case hallmarks for this period with all the standard references we use, viz. Bradbury, Priestley and Jackson. Not only is the anomaly apparent in the references, but also exists when making a comparison with those shown on the Birmingham Assay Office site.

    To illustrate here are so examples, showing the Birmingham site date letter followed by a case hallmark. The first and last examples are from cycle IV (1855/56) and cycle VI (1904/05) which are not anomalous.

    upload_2019-10-15_15-32-46.png 20171213 011.jpg
    upload_2019-10-15_15-36-55.png 20161003 004.jpg
    upload_2019-10-15_15-38-0.png 20161011 004.jpg
    upload_2019-10-15_15-38-53.png 03 edit.jpg
    upload_2019-10-15_15-39-43.png 20161014 004.jpg
    upload_2019-10-15_15-41-16.png 20180411 012.jpg
    upload_2019-10-15_15-42-14.png 20180911 002-2.jpg

    When I made the first comparison with Bradbury, I was a little concerned, as more and more I have been relying on the shape of the cartouche to confirm both maker's marks and the date letters. I checked all the reference sources and they were all the same. I then went to the Birmingham site and found the marks were as in the reference books and at odds with the marks on the case I was examining (the A.L.D example above).

    At this point I was mystified - so I went through all the cycle V cases I have; they all have the same 'anomalous' shapes. I then quickly scanned the references for a possible explanation - with no success. In doing so I flicked through Bradbury and spotted that I had put a cross through all the duty marks - 'not applicable to watch cases'. I realised all the references, other than Priestley, were not specific to watch cases. So I returned to the Birmingham chapter in Priestley. I found ...

    'In 1881/82 the assay office hallmark copper plates started to have a special section marked Watch Cases in which assay marks for watch cases were punched'

    Why would it be necessary to have a special section for watch cases?

    Unless I have missed it I cannot find any further information in Priestley. So I returned to the Birmingham Assay Office site - and there in black and white at the top of the page ...

    {For my fellow Brummies - background is to cartouche as hammer is to screwdriver :)}

    upload_2019-10-15_16-1-24.png

    So my problem is solved - but I thought it worth a post as a reminder that most of the references we commonly use to identify UK hallmarks are not specific to watch cases.

    John

    Afterthought
    (possibly also of interest to American watch collectors) - the Dennison case (1875/1876) carries the first registered mark by Aaron Lufkin Dennison on 20 April 1876. So this case was actually assayed between that date and July when the Birmingham date letter changes. The case houses Elgin export grade 15 movement serial number #418775 - the watch I was adding to the database when I first noticed the apparent anomaly.
     
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  2. John Matthews

    John Matthews Registered User
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    In the initial post I neglected to mention a note in Bradley which relates to cycle V. This is as follows (bottom of page 59 in both the 2014 & 2018 editions) ...

    ' From 1872 to 1894 date letters on silver are also found in a rectangle with cut corners'

    At the time I didn't believe that this was particularly relevant to watch cases, I believed it to be relevant to other general silver items as I had not seen it in the cases from my collection. However, as I was replacing the watches I had examined back into storage, I inspected the Dennison cased watch a little more closely, to assess its condition. In doing so I opened the dome (English watch - dome not cuvette Dave Green please note with Graham's help I remembered ;)) - this is what I discovered ...

    20191016 001.jpg 20191016 002.jpg

    So it does appear that the alternative cartouche was used on watch cases. This is the only example I have found this far and I would be interested to hear of any other examples.

    John
     
  3. John Matthews

    John Matthews Registered User
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    Sep 22, 2015
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    Graham has pointed out to me that David Boettcher contributed to the research that supported the publication of Bradbury. Graham suggested I drop a note to David for his comments. Now David's site is crammed full of information and I knew I needed to check the site first - we both thought it unlikely that David had missed these 'anomalous' marks completely. Sure enough he hadn't - so with credit to David from here ...

    Some Birmingham town mark and date letter shields for silver are also not the same shape as shown in the published tables but instead are triangular with a point at the base, and sometimes cut top corners. The Birmingham Assay Office told me that the outline around hallmarks for watch cases are not shown in Bradbury and that the marks shown are those used for silver wares and that watch cases often have different shield shapes. However, I have at least one example of Birmingham hallmarks with the "k" of 1909/1910 that does have the same shield shapes as shown in Bradbury, so I think this was principally a nineteenth century practice. (Copyright © David Boettcher)

    I have sent a note to David and he may wish to add a comment.

    John
     
  4. Allan C. Purcell

    Allan C. Purcell Registered User
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    h-24.JPG Birmingham 1832 John. Sponsors marks CR for Charles Reed, Spon Street, Coventry. Allan
     
  5. John Matthews

    John Matthews Registered User
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    Thanks for posting this example, Allan. It is from an earlier cycle (Cycle III - 1824 to 1849), which also appears to show cartouches that are different from those in Bradbury. I have noted similar in 1826, 1831 & 1844, but a gold case from 1827 and silver from 1847 are as shown in Bradbury.

    John
     
  6. DavidBoettcher

    DavidBoettcher Registered User
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    Philip visited all the UK assay offices to get new data for the extended date range of his latest book. I drew this to his attention before he visited the Birmingham Assay Office. Consequently his new book says

    In 1845, perhaps linked to the Customs Act of 1842, Birmingham started to use different shield outlines for town mark and date letter associated with watchcases. These are different to those shown in the Bradbury Tables of Hallmarks and have a flat top with cut corners over a pointed-shield base. In 1881/82, the assay office hallmark copper plates started to have a specially section marked Watch Cases, in which assay marks for watchcases were punched.​

    The shield shapes around date letters on small articles often differ from those tabled in the references that John mentions, see for instance the note in Bradbury underneath the date letter for 1855 (I am not sure what edition John is using, his page numbers seem to be different to mine.)

    I would also point out that the shield shapes on gold are often different from those on silver, which are the only ones listed in Bradbury and other references. Jackson's illustrates these - the "Pocket Edition" edited by Ian Pickford is worth getting.

    John is clearly aware of what I am about to say, but for the benefit of others I will point out that date letter punches, originally called the 'warden's mark' or 'assayer's mark', show who was responsible for the assay and therefore were changed each year when new Wardens were elected. This was part way through the calendar year, the end of May since the Restoration for the London Assay Office, the end of June for most other assay offices. The new punches were first used in June in London, July at other offices, so a hallmark date letter refers to parts of two calendar years. For brevity most tables of hallmark date letters apart from Jackson's show only the first year in which the punch was used, but you need to remember that could equally well have been applied in the first part of the following year.
     
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  7. John Matthews

    John Matthews Registered User
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    David - my thanks for your comments and clarification.

    John
     
  8. Allan C. Purcell

    Allan C. Purcell Registered User
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    Hello David,
    Clear and precise as usual, but could you please explain the de-formed marks on the pre-1842 marks. See post 4 above.

    Regards,

    Allan
     

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