Bliss & Creighton Marine Chronometer No. 561

Discussion in 'Chronometers' started by NickW27, Jan 15, 2020.

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  1. NickW27

    NickW27 Registered User

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    Hi, I have recently bought the above chronometer sold as "for spares or repair". The movement was probably made in Lancashire, England between 1842 and 1845. I have found that the spring detent has broken off and is missing. Please, are any of you able to make a new one, know of a suitable replacement or know of someone who can here in the UK? Any suggestions should be gratefully appreciated. I cannot be the first person in 180 years to need one.

    Bliss Chronometer 2.jpg Bliss 8.jpg
     
  2. Ralph

    Ralph Registered User
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    There is a separate category dedicated to chronometers. There might be better luck, asking there.

    Ralph
     
  3. musicguy

    musicguy Moderator
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    Moved to the Chronometer section(thank you Ralph).


    Rob
     
  4. gmorse

    gmorse Registered User
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    Hi Nick, and welcome to the forum,

    I do know of an excellent restorer here in the UK, if you send me a Conversation (private message) I'll let you have his contact details. I hope you realise that making a new spring detent will cost somewhere in the region of £800?

    Regards,

    Graham
     
  5. Paul Regan

    Paul Regan Registered User
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    Hello Nick, it appears to have been subjected to intense heat. If so there may be other problems with it.
    Paul
     
  6. gmorse

    gmorse Registered User
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    Hi Nick,

    Yes, it does look that way, although the worst staining seems localised either side of the balance, just where the wedges would be put for transportation. In that case the balance spring may have been badly affected as well as potentially many other parts. If nothing else, the finish will be degraded.

    Regards,

    Graham
     
  7. NickW27

    NickW27 Registered User

    Aug 19, 2019
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    Hi Graham and Paul.
    I have the outer case and gimbal ring. I don't think that it has been exposed to excessive heat but possibly damp although all steel parts including the chain appear in good condition and the balance wheel turns effortlessly. The hour and minute hand had seized on the shaft but when I freed them the shaft was spotless. I am braced for the cost of a new spring detent and full overhaul! I have re-silvered the face and bezel, sent the bezel away to have new glass fitted and am expecting a key being sent from Chicago. I also need a nice case for it.
    Thank you for your interest.
    Regards
    Nick

    Bliss Chronometer 1.jpg
     
  8. Paul Regan

    Paul Regan Registered User
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    That is good news Nick. B & C of that period likely came in a Rosewood Box. Of course American manufacturers of that period did use Mahogany. Both the top and center section would have had double hinges with the very top being stop hinges. Later boxes would have a single broad hinge at the center. Your B & C predates 1864.
    Normally there is an alignment pin that positions the movement in the tub. I see that your movement is not positioned properly in the tub. Either yours is missing or :???:
    Paul
     
  9. NickW27

    NickW27 Registered User

    Aug 19, 2019
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    Hi Paul, Thank you for your advice about cases. Its a pity we did not make contact earlier as I saw what looked like a nice dark wood case on ebay which I bought. When it arrived it was stained softwood and Russian (the catches have peaks on the top edges) so I overpaid for it. Rather than waste more money on return postage I thought it preferable to buy a Russian chronometer to put in it (yes, my wife fell for that one!). After many emails I bought one from Latvia. When it arrived I found that the balance wheel axle was broken. Many more emails and the seller is replacing it with an agreed replacement which is currently in Poland.
    The B&C does have the pin, the photo was taken by the seller. It would have been made before August 1845 as they took out a patent altering the balance wheel and the faces were then marked "Patent". I have the details from Antiquarian Horology, Autumn 1977. I could send a scanned copy but it is quite a large file. Nr 501 and 506 were made and tested in 1840.
    I suspect that it will take a long time to find a suitable case for it but, if I have it mended, which I hope to do, I will have a long time. If all else fails I could get another cheap Russian one to use as protection as I carry on looking. My wife's friend's husband is a modern furniture maker so perhaps an obviously modern case would be preferable to an incorrect case. His name is Adrian Parfitt and has his own website.
    Regards
    Nick
    Plymouth, where the Pilgrim Fathers set sail from in 1620!
    Also, No Philips / Pozidrive screws!
     
  10. Paul Regan

    Paul Regan Registered User
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    Hello Nick, I do agree with you that your B & C would date prior to 1845. My reference to 1864 was for the dissolution of the Company B & C. I do have that Antiquarian Horology article of 1977. I have two B & C chronometers in my collection, No's 1645 and 2108. #1645 is in it's original box and #2108 was(I believe) re-boxed around the late 1800 when it was remarketed by the firm of Henry Birks & Son of Montreal Canada as its original ivory plaque states. This was common practice when a chronometer was traded in and refurbished for re-sale. #2108 retains it original Patented B & C balance while #1645 was been re-sprung at some time. #2108 has a beautiful original (I believe) numbered key. Both run.
    Paul
     
  11. NickW27

    NickW27 Registered User

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    Hi Paul,
    I based my dates on an email I received from Norman Bliss in America and the magazine article. The email follows:-

    Norman Bliss <blisschron@blisschron.org>
    To:Nick White
    27 Dec 2019 at 04:12
    Hi Nick

    Thanks for the pictures. The movement is definitely not Mercer since, as you say, they started in 1858, and Bliss & Creighton dissolved their partnership in 1853. Your chronometer is quite early. The earliest B&C serial number I have record of is 501. Chronometer makers typically did not start with no. 1, as who would buy a new maker's first try? I strongly suspect they started with no. 501, which is dated to at least 1840, perhaps earlier.

    John Bliss had experience repairing chronometers, which would have entailed making parts, since each instrument was unique, and there were no spares. Frederick Creighton was a trained chronometer maker, so they were quite capable of making instruments themselves. Almost certainly, however, their early instruments used parts made in Lancashire, England. This was common practice for nearly all makers in England as well. Why pay expensive chronometer makers to do basic clockwork when you could buy rough movements (eubaches) and then finish them to the required standard. Mercer certainly bought eubaches and finished them; Tony Mercer in his book says that Mercer didn't bring all aspects of production under one roof until 1914.

    Bliss & Creighton claimed in 1848 to be able to make all parts of chronometers from scratch in their shop, and I see no reason to doubt that. I think your chronometer is much earlier than 1848, however, and probably used an English frame, so it's no surprise it resembles English instruments.

    As for repair, a Google search should turn up people who offer those services. One is Dewey Clark, of Historic Timekeepers, https://www.historictimekeepers.com. Another is Ray Bates, The British Clockmaker, Newfane, VT, http://thebritishclockmaker.com. I don't know if Mr. Bates still does chronometers, but I believe he has in the past. The only shop that I have any experience with is the Chronometer Shop, 444 East Ave. Unit C, Elizabethton TN 37643. ‭(423) 543-5611‬. I have talked to them once about Bliss chronometers, and I know they serviced my Bliss & Son chronometer before I acquired it, and it runs fine. I have no idea if they are still in business, however.

    Good luck, and I'd appreciate hearing how it works out, and anything you find out.

    Norman Bliss
    Curator
    The John Bliss Virtual Museum

    If you can let me know your email address I could send you the article about the patent. It is probably too big to post here.
    I have now been given the names of 2 possible restorers here so things are looking up.
    Regards
    Nick
     
  12. Tom McIntyre

    Tom McIntyre Technical Admin
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    John Huber and his son still run their shop in Elizabethton TN. Sean now owns the shop. John has just gotten a new set of eyes to help with the work. :)
     
  13. NickW27

    NickW27 Registered User

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    Hi Tom,
    Many thanks for the information but I live in the UK and it would be a bit too far to go, especially as I have a chronometer which doesn't work!
    Thank you for your interest and I hope that others might find the information useful.
    Regards
    Nick
     
  14. Paul Regan

    Paul Regan Registered User
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    Hi Nick, I'm way off on the dissolving of the B&C company. I'm getting too old I guess. Ha, ha. I should re-read the Antiquarian Horology article. I have been to John Huber's shop many times and it is an amazing environment to be in. He showed me the tooling which he makes springs for detents. Very labor intensive.
    And thanks for offering to send the Article however I do have it. My email is "pwatches@gmail.com" if you wanted anything else.
    Paul
     
  15. Ralph

    Ralph Registered User
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    NickW27,

    A friend of mine who I consider an authority on chronometers, and who has studied the Max Low sale, and it's inventory, noticed your posting. He sent an informative note to me, that he said I could share with you.

    "......B&C 561 was one of 12 chronometers that sold in Lot 437 at Westport Auction's August 14, 2016 sale. Of those 12 instruments, 11 had gone through a warehouse fire. Because of some quirks unique to chronometers, fire damage often doesn't look too bad at first glance. Chronometer bowls are fairly air tight. When the temperatures inside the bowl approach 500 degrees, the oils and corking wedges burn. As they burn, they remove the oxygen from the closed environment. This minimizes heat oxidation. In the case of the Westport chronometers, when water was put on the pile, the thermal shock shattered the glass in all the bezels . Once the glasses went, hot instruments that continued to receive lots of brackish water were absolute toast. B&C 561 was among the ones that burned up. It clearly got hot enough to destroy the box and shatter the glass, but it seems to have escaped the worst effects of the radical cool down and introduction of water and oxygen. When sold at Westport, the most visible effects on No 561 were the charring from the balance wedges and the fact that all the steel had turned pale blue--which meant that it got hot enough to destroy the balance spring and the mainspring. Because the instrument was heated and cooled in a massive, multi-day fire, however, the heat treatment of the steel parts isn't the only problem. Heat anneals brass, which can only be re-hardened by being worked. That means that it's impossible to fix the heat-damaged brass parts. The brass in the train, for instance, will always be whatever hardness it is today. Sadly, it's a good bet that it's now dead soft. With a lot of work the chronometer might be made to tick again, but you won't be able to restore it to anything close to a functioning state. A great study piece, but a poor candidate for "restoration."

    If someone cleaned it up and removed the clues that it had been through a serious fire, then I'd be very annoyed as a buyer."

    Regards, Ralph
     
  16. gmorse

    gmorse Registered User
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    Hi Nick,

    Ralph's post explains a lot and must be rather a disappointment for you.

    Regards,

    Graham
     
  17. NickW27

    NickW27 Registered User

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    Hi Ralph and Graham,
    Many thanks for the very interesting information. That explains a lot as the hour and minute hands had seized together on their shaft and one of the dial fixing screws had rusted away. The second hand and wind indicator were in good condition,the balance spring still seems to be springy and the chain looks in good condition. Two clock makers have seen it and neither of them said anything about fire damage but one did notice rust on the mainspring, so clutching at straws here, perhaps it is not too bad. I have sent the bezel away to have new glass fitted so will have to decide soon if I ought to cancel that and a key is on its way from Chicago. I saw somewhere on the internet that somebody also had a Bliss & Creighton chronometer which had parts missing but was happy just to look at it so I shall have to do that, or, perhaps I ought to fit a qu***z movement into it!
    I shall try and see my friendly clock maker next Wednesday with your information and see what he can suggest.
    I shall stop looking for an antique case for it until I know what I am going to do.
    I don't think that somebody had deliberately tried to disguise fire damage as I cleaned the case and gimbal ring and they didn't appear to have been tampered with.
    Caveat emptor is alive and well and living on ebay!
    Regards
    Nick
     
  18. NickW27

    NickW27 Registered User

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    Hi Ralph,
    I have found a photo of the auction lot, mine looks suspiciously like the one at top left. I re-silvered the face and bezel and dark marks have started to appear where the rust colouring is. I have contacted the auction rooms to see if they can send me a higher resolution photo and any further details but have yet to receive a reply. I have been unable to contact my friendly clock makers yet but was wondering if anyone out there has experience of fitting, say, a Russian spring detent to a similar movement, if my movement is not too badly damaged. I will not want to sell it and my sons have said that everything is going into a skip when I die! I have seen several chronometers for sale which have had the detent changed as original screw holes are empty and new screws added. There is a Charles Frodsham one for sale on ebay now.
    Yes, it does look as though somebody has tried to disguise the damage but it might have changed hands many times since the auction so will probably never know who.
    Regards
    Nick

    Fire Damaged Chronometers.jpg
     

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