Case Maker "NL"

Ethan Lipsig

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I have been using my circa 1815 Tobias rack lever fusee for the last few days. It is in an 18k pair case with what I understand to be Chester hallmarks for 1815. It also has what I understand to be a case maker mark "NL." See photo below. Who was NL? Is there an on-line source for looking up case maker marks? 86089.jpg
 

DaveyG

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Hi Ethan,

The best source of information about English case makers that I know of is Philip Priestley's 'Watch Case Makers of England 1720 -1920'. I've just looked in my copy and there is no maker listed, Chester or anywhere else, with the stamp 'NL'.

There is no on line reference that I am aware of.
 

Frank Menez

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It appears that the type of Leopard's head shown on this case and the Shield were used from 1823 to 1838. See Guide to British & Irish Silver Assay Office Marks 1544-1963 Compiled by Frederick Bradbury Sheffield England
 

MartyR

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Ethan the date mark is for 1837, given the uncrowned leopard. If the leopard had been crowned it would have been for 1815.

Chester makers' marks are often tricky because many records for Chester were kept in what Priestly describes as a "haphazard" way, his euphemism for total lack of procedural organisation :D So often we have to use a nearest fit for Chester makers. Priestley therefore divides his Chester marks into three sections - Almost certainly identified, "Reasonable Attributions" and a list of makers who apparently were registered but for whom no mark has been identified.

In the second group he shows an incused N.L (note the period) for Nathaniel Lee of Liverpool, with the mark registered in 1818 and 1829. He adds the note "only name to fit the mark". The only problem with this attribution for your watch is the period, but given the general problems around Chester marks I would be inclined to accept that Lee was your man!
 

DaveyG

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Well done Marty, I completely overlooked the 'Reasonable Attributions'.

However, with regards to dating I think I will stick with Ethan's assessment of 1815 and I'll do that for a variety of reasons. I understand that the 1815 & 1837 date stamps are, lets say, very similar but the difference that forms the basis of your judgement, i.e. the 'crowned leopard's head' is not valid, at least according to my Jackson's which indicates that this stamp was discontinued in 1809. I also think that 1837 is very late for the production of a rack lever and whilst, I suppose, not impossible I think highly unlikely that someone of the calibre of M I Tobias (assumption as Ethan doesn't say) would use a frictional rest escapement when a variety of detached escapements were available and widely understood. My (old) copy of Baillie has M I Tobias as 1805 - 1829. So, was he still around in 1837?
 

Frank Menez

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Chronometer Makers of the World by Tony Mercer Page 244

Tobias, Michael Isaac 22 Lord Street Liverpool 1805-1834 Dorans Lane Liverpool 1848-1851
 

Ethan Lipsig

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Thanks all. I am no expert on hallmarks, but my Tobias rack lever fusee is itself circa 1815, based on its serial number (2700) and Micahel Edidin's excellent two-part article on Tobias in the October and December 1992 NAWCC Bulletin.
 

MartyR

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This is the problem with Chester marks :( Beautiful city, but it must have had a rubbish assay office :D

My source for my leopard's head information was also Priestley, who I know wasn't a hallmark expert, and who does occasionally show errors. I still don't have a Jackson - I've been looking for the big version for ages. I would certainly take Jackson's data on hallmarks before Priestley's.

I bow to your judgement on the technical details of the watch, of course :)

An 1815 date does increase the problem with the Nathaniel Lee attirbution, since the N.L mark is shown as being first registered in 1819. Nevertheless it is possible that a mark of NL preceded N.L but has got lost in the Chester Shambles :D

For the benefit of our American readers, a "shambles" in mediaeval times was a narrow street with unorganised rows of buildings on both sides, all of different heights and styles, and with no straight line of the frontages. Chester actually has many such streets.
 

Frank Menez

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British & Irish Clock & Watch Makers 1600-1940

Tobias was working 1804-1860 Historical Clock & Watch Research

Does this watch have a Serial Number:???:

Found the following in my library- Tobias Liverpool HM 1815 Verge Escapement No 6007

MI Tobias Liverpool HM 1846 Patent Lever Escapement No 109598
 
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MartyR

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Wonderful looking movement, Ethan. It looks like moulding on the balance cock. Is that a Massey escapement?
 

Ethan Lipsig

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The watch is a rack lever fusee. See the photos below. The second photo shows the watch partly disassembled with the balance wheel upside down resting on the movement. You can see the pinion on the balance wheel shaft that meshes with the rack (the geared segment at the end of the arm on which the side lever sits about halfway, at the other end of which is a counterweight). 86151.jpg 86152.jpg
 

DaveyG

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Just to add to the core of information (and perhaps glean a little too), I have two M I Tobias watches in my collection:

Massey 2 #8269 Silver Pair Case Birmingham ?

This, I feel, sure is a recase and the date stamp doesn't fit any of the styles listed, it is a lower case 'a' in a shield shape with 'wavey' top. The closest I can see is 1798/99 which can't be right.

Massey 3 #29485 18K Gold case Not English Marked D&Co

My rack lever is by Robert Roskell (#8751) and dates to 1811.

Ethan, that is a lovely watch which has, quite rightly, attracted much attention. Are there any maker's marks on the back of the dial that you recall? Because that, in itself, is a wonderful piece of work.
 

Ethan Lipsig

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Davey, your examples sound very impressive. I don't know if the dial on my Tobias is signed or marked. I have no watchmaking skills, so I cannot remove the dial. My watchmaker sent me many photos of the innards of the watch when he last serviced it, but he did not send me a photo of the back of the dial.
 

DaveyG

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Not as nice as yours Ethan!

The reason that I asked about the dial was that there is a bulletin article (Feb 2004) about English Metal Watch Dial Makers which I thought may be an interesting line of enquiry to follow.
 

Frank Menez

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Is there anyone who has been following this thread who is an expert on Chester Hall Marks ?

I am still not convinced that the Hall mark date letter on this watch case is 1815. I found a site on the internet that has the following information.

British Silver Marks Chester 1701-1961

1797-1818 Crowned Leopards Head

1818-1839 Uncrowned Leopards /Crowned Leopards head
 

Jerry Freedman

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DaveyG: I have a list of rack lever numbers by Roskell. It came from the BHI publication. The numbers don't progress in an orderly manner. I can only guess when a particular watch was made. Very confusing.
 

MartyR

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Frank Menez;537467 said:
I am still not convinced that the Hall mark date letter on this watch case is 1815. I found a site on the internet that has the following information.

1797-1818 Crowned Leopards Head

1818-1839 Uncrowned Leopards /Crowned Leopards head
Priestley publishes a chart "by kind permission of F Bradbury Publications Ltd" and this shows the crowned leopard head up to1822 and the uncrowned head from 1823 to 1838.

I assume the book is "Bradbury's Book of Hallmarks" and I know nothing of this book, or of its author Frederick Bradbury.

By contrast, Davey has quoted from Jackson's Hallmarks, which I think is the most widely used of all the books, and is the de facto indistry standard. I am more inclined to believe Jackson's over an "unknown" source.

Further, Ethan has confirmed that 1815 is the date of his watch (presumably on the basis of its serial number).
 

DaveyG

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Jerry Freedman;537475 said:
DaveyG: I have a list of rack lever numbers by Roskell. It came from the BHI publication. The numbers don't progress in an orderly manner. I can only guess when a particular watch was made. Very confusing.
Thanks for that heads up Jerry. I have often wondered about Roskell's numbering system as I have seen examples over the years - but with no real evidence to go by wonder is all I did. I don't suppose that you have a reference for the Journal article do you? Or even better a scan that would e-mail?

My example is dated by the case hallmarks.
 

Frank Menez

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The information I gave in my last post is not from the Marks compiled by Frederick Bradbury. There are numerous sources petaining to Hall Marks. I am not disputing the date of the movement. One question that has not been asked- Is the movement in its original case? How do you explain that some HM sites on the internet have the info I previously posted.

1797-1818 Chester Crowned Leopards Head

1818-1839 Chester Uncrowned Leopards head

PS the watch case clearly shows an uncrowned Leopards Head. Is Jackson's the bible of Hall marks. If that is the case we must assume that all other Hall Marks lists/books are incorrect. I think we need an expert to confirm which list is the correct one.
 
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DaveyG

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Frank, every body that places information in the public domain is an 'expert' and they all do so in good faith. Marty has already alluded to the fact that the Chester assay office had/has a reputation for poor record keeping and maybe having the Cycle VI & Cycle VII date stamp fonts the same is more evidence of that 'shambolic' behaviour. In my experience the Birmingham assay office also has its problems with a catalogue of punching inconsistencies with shield shapes and even font types - or perhaps all the references are wrong. It may be apposite to point out that we're talking about a time some 200 years ago, before computers, when 'standardisation' was more a concept than a reality and the object of the exercise was to collect taxes just as much as to identify material specs.

Here in the UK Jackson's Silver & Gold Marks of England, Scotland & Ireland is considered to be the most reliable reference but those of us who use it don't really know whether it ultimately always right.

I think that you always have to take the evidence in the round. In this instance we have a watch that is most likely to be pre 1837 as evidenced by the escapement type, we have the evidence that Marty demonstrated of the case maker information albeit a somewhat tenuous link. Additional hallmarking evidence may be drawn from the shape of the leopard's head and the shape of the punch cameo where that for 1837 is shown as a square sided shield that for 1815 is shown as the curved sided shield. The shape of the pendant on the case is of the period up to c1820 when the pendants started to become shorter and more globular in shape and the stirrup bow became less in evidence

The fact that the date letter for 1815 and 1837 are effectively identical opens the debate up, but what evidence is there to support a date of 1837? What evidence is there to support the view that the watch is a recase?
 

Frank Menez

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DaveyG
Thanks for your response to my post. I never disputed the age of the movement. What you say makes a lot of sense. I know that hall marks do not always indicate the date the movement was made. I think this discussion will make us all more cautious about Hall Marks. In addition I think that we have all learned a great deal about MI Tobias . Frank
 

Frank Menez

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I just received a copy of Jackson's Hallmarks from England. I now agree that the date letter is T 1815. The type of Leopards head uncrowned is the main clue. The 1837 uncrowned leopards head is quite different from the 1815 one. The Jacksons Hallmarks book is much more comprehensive that the Hall Mark guide Compiled by Bradbury.
 

Jerry Treiman

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Just to add another data point to the "NL" case maker's mark discussion, here is the mark in a silver case that I believe is from 1800. The case is on a Litherland & Co. rack lever with the serial number 1625. I cannot see a dot between the initials.
View attachment 415904
 

Jerry Freedman

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I have a book of hallmarks published in 1913. It is called Chaffers' Handbook to hallmarks on gold and silver plate by C A Markham. It shows a script T for Chester 1815. Now we can all be confused.
 

PapaLouies

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Hi Ethan,

John Pavlik's M.I. Tobias & Co. rack lever #2238 is hallmarked 1815 and his M.I. Tobias & Co. rack lever #3959 is hallmarked 1818.

That pretty well brackets your #2700.

Regards,

PL
 

gmorse

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Hi Jerry,

I don't know where Mr. Markham got his information, (or his proof reader), but Chester 1815 is a serif Roman uppercase "T" . . . (Jacksons and Bradburys both confirm this).

Regards,

Graham
 

gmorse

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Hi Jerry,

This "NL" mark is certainly puzzling. The only mark anything like this in the Chester lists in Priestley or Jackson is "N.L" with a dot, for Nicholas Lee in Liverpool. The image in Jackson of Lee's punch is certainly very similar to yours, apart from the dot. However, Priestley does remark in his introduction to the Chester records that they have an "unstructured and exasperating nature", which leads him to divide them into three parts; those with definite attribution to a casemaker, those with a reasonable attribution, and those listed in directories but for whom no hallmark has been identified.

It seems that the Chester records are less precise and complete than we would wish, so it's not impossible that this mark is indeed Nicholas Lee, and also possible that this punch was rather worn. Punches were expensive, and tended to be "worked to death".

Regards,

Graham
 

Jerry Treiman

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Thank you, Graham. This is the case mark from my recently acquired Litherland. It is nice to fill in the pieces on the background and history of this watch.
 

gmorse

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Hi Jerry,

Bear in mind that this is "possible" rather than "probable"!

Regards,

Graham
 

John Matthews

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Ethan - I followed your link from the posting re Tobias #18103. It is the first time I have looked at this thread - your watch is a very fine example, I really like the photograph of the movement that you posted.

Assuming you still have the watch in your collection, I thought you might be interested in further information regarding the case maker.

These are the entries in Ridgeway and Priestley which show photographs of the actual Chester plate marks for the father and son, Nicholas and Nathaniel Lee. Your mark is clearly shown under the name of the son, but it may be of note that it is the father who is identified as the gold worker and a suggestion that at least one of the marks listed under his son, may have been used by his father for watch cases.

NL marks001.jpg

Here are the entries on the Liverpool database ...

upload_2019-5-13_15-8-56.png

upload_2019-5-13_15-9-43.png

As you can see they were both at the same address in 1818 according to these records, although there is a Leeds Street quoted by Ridgeway. When your case was made Nathaniel would have been 18 and it seems to me that either he or his father could have been the maker.

John
 
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Ethan Lipsig

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Thank you, John, for sending that information along. I still have the watch. It is my only rack lever. It's part of my small collection of non-lever escapements -- spring detent chronometers, pivot detent chronometers, cylinders, a virgule, and a Pouzait.
 

Allan C. Purcell

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Ethan-nice collection. I read this thread yesterday and enjoyed it, and the information sent by John Matthews to-day is very good. and I for one would agree your watch was made in 1815. After I read it again today, I got to thinking what would be the date, if it had no case. The first point for me would be the Signature on the watch, in the main using the J for the I was earlier, and later was M.I.Tobias & Co. The cock is also early with the deep engraving and pie crust edges, then, of course, the number 2700. I think one of our members might know where we can find a collection of the M.I.Tobias numbers?? My guess is 1815:rolleyes:
 

MartyR

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... what would be the date, if it had no case. The first point for me would be the Signature on the watch, in the main using the J for the I was earlier, and later was M.I.Tobias & Co.
Allan, I think that Ethan's watch to which he linked is signed M I Tobias. The script "I" with a closed loop at the top was a common usage (as late as the 20th century) for the upper case "I", although I grant that Ethan's example is very flourished.

I remind people that the "I" in the name is not for Isaac, it is for Isaacs - which was Meyer's birth surname. It was common for many people up to the 19th century to sign their name with an "I" for names such as Isaac and Joseph, simply because the Latin alphabet has no "J" and so Biblical names are spelled in Latin with an initial "I". But that was for forenames, and not (as in this case) for surnames.
 

Allan C. Purcell

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I agree in full Martin, I point it out that when the Swiss started to make M.I.Tobias fakes that they must have seen these early watches by the company, and copied them with the J. Best Wishes Allan.
 

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