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Chester Gold Hallmarks

Rich Newman

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I don’t know if this is any help to you. This watch was sold by Patton & Jones who were in business together from 1798 to 1814 in Baltimore & Philadelphia. They dealt with some of the best movement makers and were selling Massey Escapement watches as early as 1815. Don’t know when this watch was converted but likely mid 19[SUP]th[/SUP] century. Case is original. Chester hallmarks (1806 - 1822), but missing the date. Philip Priestley thought E.I. perhaps Edward Jones (1800-1827). Marked 18K but perhaps lower carat as seen before on Chester gold cases.

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John Matthews

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Rich

Does the dome have any hallmarks and are there any maker's marks on the cap?

The absence of the date letter on the back is a little worrying to me, as is the un-recorded mark that Philip inferred might be that of Edward Jones; his recorded Chester mark had a mid-point period between the letters, and was surrounded by an oval cartouche.

If they are genuine marks, the shape of the leopard's head ran from 5 July 1909 to 7 September, 1819. I say 'if' guardedly, because I assume Philip believed the marks to be genuine. However, I have checked through my photographic records of Chester gold marks and all genuine examples, between those dates, have the 18 & crown as separate punches and in every example I can find, both gold and silver, the leopards head is on the left and the town mark is on the right, like so ...

1607382477639.png

The single punch with the crown above the 18, I have only found in later examples, post 1819, but again in that later cycle the leopard's head is on the left and the town mark on the right. It is not until ~1834 that I find, in my examples, the town mark on the left. After the leopard's head was dropped, the town mark remains on the left and the date letter replaces the leopard's head on the right.

I accept that my sample size is relatively small, but, in the examples that I believe to be genuine, the disposition of the elements of hallmarks is remarkably consistent, so when I see a divergence I perhaps unduly, question whether the marks are genuine. I have no doubt, that having stated 'my rules', complete sets of genuine Chester hallmarks will reign down on me that negate them - such is life, but that is the way we learn.

John
 
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Rich Newman

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I asked the moderator to move this part of a previous thread to this new thread. Thank you moderator!

John, here is one that is similar to the example that you posted above. This has an early Massey 1 escapement (and Massey's patent stamp on the bottom of the balance cock) retailed by Baldwin & Jones of Boston (top notch jewelers in Boston at this time), movement serial number 735. It has a heavy gold pair case with Chester marks on each of the cases showing a date mark "T" for 1815, 18K gold mark, and makers’ mark “HH” incuse in script for Hannah Howard of Liverpool according to Priestley's book.

However, these cases test to 14K, not 18K, according to the auction catalog. It came from Tom McIntyre's collection and is a watch that I've appreciated for a very long time because of the very early escapement. Its only recently that I started to think more about fraudulent gold cases that appear to have English Chester hallmarks, and why more research hasn't been done on this issue.

What is going on? Please post your pictures of Chester Gold cases.

Baldwin Case 2.jpg Baldwin Case.JPG
Baldwin Movement.jpg Baldwin Watch.jpeg
 
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John Matthews

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Rich

I am really pleased that you posted the above, for two reasons.

Firstly, the Hannah Howard mark in what is described by Ridgway & Priestley as 'unique font style similar to WH of her late husband William Howard'. I had not seen an actual example of this mark before. In the side column of the entry in R&P, it is noted that a similar mark was entered at the Birmingham office on 29 May, 1816. I would love to know whether that mark was in the same font style, as it is relevant to another recent post on this European forum.

Secondly, the watch in relation to the issue of 18K hallmarked Chester cases testing as 14K. I have a recollection of this point being raised in an earlier post. I should start by admitting that I have not been convinced by what appears to be a not uncommonly held view, that the activities of the Chester assay office and/or the hallmarks that it produced, were at sometimes not up to standard. While it is true that the records are incomplete and perhaps this is, in part, due to administrative failures, I have not been convinced that they ever systematically hallmarked silver or gold items that was not up to standard. Yes, a few sub-standard items may have been passed, but my starting point is that there would be relatively rare.

As I have gradually become more conversant with the Chester hallmarks, and have collected and logged any examples that I can find, I have been surprised by how many Lancashire movements in gold cases that found their way to America, have Chester hallmarks, that 'just don't seem quite right'. There are some which have errors that are glaringly obvious, e.g. having elements of both gold and silver assay marks, but there are others where the jury is still out, such as the your original post, that commenced this thread.

It would be easy to assume that all of the faux examples were on American cases that were used to finish imported uncased movements. Indeed that might be so for the glaringly obvious examples. However, with little evidence, I suspect that some of the 'good forgeries' may have been produced on this side of the pond and been exported without ever passing through an assay office. So when I read that there have been a number of examples of 18K cases with Chester hallmarks, being tested as 14K, I suspected that these might fall into this latter category, i.e. cases that had been made in England in 14K gold, and exported with faux 18K Chester hallmarks.

Just a hypothesis, but I would like see the data to test it.

John
 
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Dr. Jon

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Another possibility is that the casemakers cheated. The knew where metal woudl be taken for assay so they could punnch and plug withb18K where they expected to metal to be taken. Much later an auction house testing would test in a different place an get a lower reading. A friend of mine scrapped a hallmarked London 18 case, which after melt tested enough lower that the refiner asked and got a moeny back for the underage.
 
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Rich Newman

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Jon, I hadn't considered that a casemaker would plug 18K where the assay office tested the alloy. Jones & Horan has given me permission to post pictures of another important American-retailed watch with an English verge movement having full Chester hallmarks that also tested 14K, not 18K as stamped. Retailer is Davis Brown & Co. of Boston. Case maker is Thomas & John Helsby.

Relatively few early gold cases survived the melt, and collectors have not tested gold cases marked 18K because English hallmarks are assumed to be reliable information. Also, a quick perusal of auction catalogs show that precious metal cases are not tested and provided in catalog descriptions - - they just repeat what the hallmarks show. An exception is Jones & Horan who have been validating and sharing this information in their auction descriptions. Frankly, this thread would not exist without their help, although there has been "talk" among collectors of sub-standard Chester marked cases for years.

What we know is that some number of English casemakers were fraudulently marking watches destined for America. What we don't know is:
1) How it happened and whether Chester assay employees were involved
2) What years this took place
3) Whether only export watches were targeted
4) Whether American watchcase makers were also fraudulently marking gold cases 18K (these may or may not have other fraudulent marks such as Chester assay)

What we need is collectors to test and post their 18K marked cases, and help finding documented fraudulent examples in auction records, or other references to this issue.

img (3).jpg img (5).jpg
img (2).jpg img.jpg
 

gmorse

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Hi Rich,

Do you happen to know whether this Davis Brown watch has a double back case? I can't see a joint on the back. The fact that an English watch has front winding is often an indication that it has been re-cased, (together with the fitting of a replacement fusee), although in these circumstances the replacement cases are usually silver or even plated base metal, so a gold case such as this is unusual.

14 carat was only a legally valid purity in the UK between 1932 and 1974.

Regards,

Graham
 

Allan C. Purcell

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Rich, this is getting interesting, up til now I never gave it a thought I should test gold English watch cases. Get this Brockbank I bought (Still here on my table) could it have hallmarks that were not true? At auction (see photograph) the house must have tested the box (inner case) and came up with 18K, and they claimed 22K for the outer-case. I never got to see that outer case, so I don´t know if it was hallmarked, and I wonder did they test it. If hallmarked, probably? My point here is if the outer case is hallmarked 22K the box should also be 22K? So why was the box not hallmarked? I think Jones & Horan are doing the right thing, but getting the others to do that, will be an uphill task. Thanks though for making us aware of this.

Photographs of the watch are on the thread " Strange Brockbank Conversion".

While we are talking about, these old gold watches, thanks too for Graham's remark about front wound English watches, I had not seen that before.

Allan.

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Allan C. Purcell

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Found this on the net. Interesting?


18th Century






1720
By a statue to 1719 the old sterling standard was restored, but the Britannia standard remained as an alternative. (6 Geo. I c.11)
However a tax on silver plate introduced at this time meant that many goldsmiths – the ‘duty dodgers’ – went to great lengths to avoid getting their work properly hallmarked.
1739
The reintroduction of the sterling standard had led to confusion over the correct format of the maker’s mark, with some goldsmiths using their initials, and some using the first two letters of their surname. To remedy this, a statue ordered that all goldsmiths destroy their marks and register new ones at the Hall, using their initials and a new style of lettering. It was hoped that this move would also help to detect counterfeit marks.
1757
Counterfeiting hallmarks becomes a felony, punishable by death. (31 Geo. II c.32)
1773
The growth of large scale manufacturing and the use of machines for silver production in Birmingham and Sheffield led to a call for new assay offices in these cities. The Goldsmiths’ Company was opposed to this proposal, however a Special Committee of Inquiry set up by the House of Commons found in its favour. An act of May 1773 established assay offices in Birmingham and Sheffield, and the Goldsmiths’ Company (whose own assay office was found to have committed some errors) was left to pay the not only its own legal fees, but those for the London trade as well.


1784
Although the tax on silver imposed earlier in the century had proved difficult to collect and had been abandoned, a need to raise money prompted Parliament to not only re-impose duty on silver, but also introduce a new duty to gold. This necessitated a new hallmark, the sovereign’s head or ‘duty mark’. (24. Geo. III c.53) The direction the head faced changed from left to right in 1786.
Goldsmiths were allowed to reclaim the duty paid when the plate was exported, known as ‘draw-back’. To indicate that the draw-back had been paid, another mark, the standing figure of Britannia was introduced. However as it was stamped on finished goods there were complaints that it caused damage, and it was withdrawn in July 1785.
1798
18 carat gold was reintroduced as an additional standard and given the marks of a crown and the figure 18. (38 Geo. III c.69) No marks were designated for the higher 22 carat standard, which continued to be struck with the same marks as silver. A remark found in an assay officer’s notebook indicates that from 29 May 1816 an additional mark of the ‘sun in splendour’ was also struck on 22 carat gold.

Historic Date Letters
 

John Matthews

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Rich,

This far we have
  • two examples that both have apparently genuine Chester hallmarks for 1815/1816;
  • two different case makers, the Helsby's & Hannah Howard;
  • both cases tested by the same auction house.
The same size is very small to draw any firm conclusions and we first need to be as certain, as we can, that we are dealing with genuine hallmarks (not easy).

We definitely need more examples and we need to understand the method testing by the auction houses. The original assay will have been performed by sampling, i.e. by taking a scraping of all elements of the case that were hallmarked and then performing wet analysis. The modern method at assay offices is by X-ray fluorescence.

John
 

John Matthews

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the original assay method used cupellation, which was a heat-based process.
Sorry - for the mistake, I guess extractive titration would not have been used in the C19th.

Fire Assay Collection: the most usual process for gold is traditional Fire Assay by cupellation (following ISO 11426). This test is
accredited to UKAS 17025. This requires small samples of gold to be carefully weighed before being wrapped in lead foil together
with a pre-determined quantity of silver. The samples are placed on porous “cupels” and subjected to a furnace firing at 1100 degrees
Celsius during which the lead, plus any base metals, are absorbed into the cupel as oxides. This leaves sample beads of pure gold and
silver which are boiled in nitric acid to dissolve out the silver and then annealed to complete the process, leaving just fine gold. A
comparison of the weight of the pure gold with the weight of the original sample provides the degree of purity. An alternative method
may be used depending upon the concentration of gold.

John
 

Rich Newman

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Hi Rich,

Do you happen to know whether this Davis Brown watch has a double back case? I can't see a joint on the back. The fact that an English watch has front winding is often an indication that it has been re-cased, (together with the fitting of a replacement fusee), although in these circumstances the replacement cases are usually silver or even plated base metal, so a gold case such as this is unusual.
------------------------------------------------------------------------------

The Davis Brown (sn 54) does not have a double back. I know of several movements and complete watches from this retailer and some have winding from the front and some from the back. Regarding winding from the front, I know of one silver cased example and two gold cased examples. Here are pictures of the other gold one (not tested) that is serial number 1000. It has a Hannah Howard case marked 18K (not tested). I own this example (its on my research website www.colonialwatches.com). The one I posted already is serial number 54 with a Thomas & John Helsby case (tested by Jones & Horan, 14K not 18K).


Davis Brown 1.jpg Davis Brown Bow.JPG Davis Brown Case Mark 2.JPG Davis Brown Case Mark.jpg Davis Brown Case.jpg Davis Brown Movement 2.JPG Davis Brown Movement.jpg
 

gmorse

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Hi Rich,

The comparison of numbers 54, (which, by the way, I read as 548), and 1000 is interesting. Both balance cocks show sufficient similarities of style and execution to make me suspect that they're both by the same hand; this would not be surprising if they both originated in the same workshop. The earlier number has the later style of regulator, but by 1815 both styles were still in use, also we know how misleading serial numbers can be; however, both cases bear the same date letter, and, as far as I can see, the rest of the marks for which the assay office was responsible are also identical. Would this maker have been signing ~500 watches a year?

If both watches were fitted with their cases in the UK, the question arises as to whether one or other of the cases or movements were held in stock for some time before being matched up. This was not normal practice in the English trade I believe, at least not at this end of the market.

None of this addresses the anomaly in the metal purity, and the suggestion that there was some sort of collusion at the assay office is a real concern, because normal practice was to break articles which did not come up to the required assay. I don't know whether the Birmingham assay office could assist with an investigation into the way the defunct Chester office was run, as they hold the Chester records.

Regards,

Graham
 

John Matthews

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Rich forgive me for pressing - how did the auction house test the cases? The fact that they say 14K rather than an exact purity causes me to believe that they were using a method that could only register 14K or 18K rather than the actual purity. If this is the case, I would suggest we need to know the exact purity level before to draw any conclusions. I believe C19th silver and gold cases had to reach the minimum standard to be so marked, not that they were exactly 925, 14K 18k or 22K.

I am almost certain that these are genuine hallmarks. I think the Hannah Howard maker's mark is unlikely to be the target of someone forging a set of hallmarks. However, I am worried that all of the examples have the 1815/1816 date letter.

John
 
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Allan C. Purcell

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I do realise that this thread is called Chester Hallmarks, but it started with a question about the purity of the gold used by the Chester office. This then made me think if Chester were doing that, so, wear the other centres too? The information on post 10, gives the impression that from 1784 watch cases no matter which city, were to be made of 22K gold. Plus the use of 18k was not introduced till 1798. So by all accounts, my Brockbank watch should have been hallmarked for 22k, plus the head of Geroge the III was there as the duty mark, paid on 22k Gold. if the outer cover was so hallmarked has thought, there was something wrong. I would have thought this was a question not to be ignored.

Allan.
 

Rich Newman

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Rich forgive me for pressing - how did the auction house test the cases? The fact that they say 14K rather than an exact purity causes me to believe that they were using a method that could only register 14K or 18K rather than the actual purity. If this is the case, I would suggest we need to know the exact purity level before to draw any conclusions. I believe C19th silver and gold cases had to reach the minimum standard to be so marked, not that they were exactly 925, 14K 18k or 22K.
--------------------------------------
John, I don't know what technology or method was used for testing cases but have asked and will report back what is learned. A further perusal for Chester gold cases found a number of others with English engraved retailers that may or may not have been destined abroad that also tested sub-standard. They are listed below. These can be found on the J&H website archive search. I looked for keywords that included 18K and tested. Also thinking that gold cases from this rough timeframe all seem to be assayed in Chester over London. Priestley (p. 75) records Goldsmiths' company minutes in 1815 stating that "Chester has no defined district and goods can be sent there from any part of the Kingdom; Birmingham and Sheffield of course being excepted". So perhaps it was cheaper for casemakers to assay there. All I know is that we see Chester assay but none (?) or few(?) London assay gold cases at this time.

M.I. Tobias & Co. sn. 1795 with Chester hallmarks “S” for 1814 tested 14 to 16K.
Casemaker incuse T H with 18K stamp.

R. Roskell sn. 7695 with Chester hallmarks for 1832 tested 14K.
Casemaker T. H. with 18K stamp.

Litherland Davies & Co. sn. 10489 with Chester hallmarks for 1821 tested 14 to 18K.
Casemaker T.H J.H with 18K stamp

M.I. Tobias & Co. sn. 4528 with Chester hallmarks for 1818 tested 16K.
Casemaker Thomas & John Helsby with 18K stamp
 

gmorse

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Hi John,

I am almost certain that these are genuine hallmarks. I think the Hannah Howard maker's mark is unlikely to be the target of someone forging a set of hallmarks. However, I am worried that all of the examples have the 1815/1816 date letter.
My feelings exactly. Also, many seem to be from the Helsbys.

Regards,

Graham
 

Rich Newman

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Allan (post #17), I understand your point. The same London hallmarks were used for the gold standard or the silver standard when the Brockbank movement was cased in 1784 (for that matter, gilded silver cases also have the same) so one would expect sterling if silver and 22K if gold (unless gilded sterling silver). BTW, I think your case has the rarest duty mark, King George looking to the left that was only used for 2 years.
 

John Matthews

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In order to investigate/research this issue, so that the conclusions stand up to 'scrutiny',we need to approach it from 'two ends'.

Here is the minimum that I believe needs to be determined:
  1. confirmation that the hallmarks are genuine;
  2. a accurate analysis of any cases which are reported to be 'below 18K - a full analysis of the composition of the alloy;
    • are the compositions of examples from the same year, identical? e.g.across different case makers;
  3. an understanding of the supply of gold used by the case makers;
    • who provided the gold - I assume they had suppliers - 'bullion dealers' did they exist ~1800
      • how many suppliers?
      • what choice of supplier & standard did the case makers have?
      • were there refiners and bullion dealers or did the refiners supply the gold direct?
      • where were they located? - Birmingham?
      • did they supply Lancashire, London, Coventry?
      • what was the accuracy with which they specified their product?
    • what did the suppliers offer?
      • did they sell 9K, 14K, 22K, 24K?
      • did they offer various 'colours' of 18K gold? - i.e.different gold alloys
    • did any of the case makers have the ability and 'equipment' to refine/modify the composition of the gold composition?
  4. what gold standards (not just cases) were being hallmarked by the Chester Office at the time?
    • what was the accepted accuracy of assaying at the time, across the range of gold alloys being presented?
    • what was the 'practical' cut-off for rejection? 0%, 0.5% 1%?
In my opinion, we cannot reach to any firm conclusions, unless we know the above facts.

If it is found that many cases with genuine hallmarks are significantly sub-standard, and that the analysis of the gold is similar across a number of makers, I suggest that not only the activities/relationship of the assay office and the case makers need to be considered, but also that of the gold suppliers and assay office. Would a case maker be able to tell if the gold supply was '16K'?

John
 

gmorse

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Hi John,

In answer to your question 3, I believe that most case makers since 1817, (when the modern sovereign coin was introduced), would have drawn enough gold sovereigns from the bank to provide their needs for the work in hand. I think that sovereigns were then, as they still are, 22 carat gold, and if aiming for 18 carat they would have added appropriate amounts of alloying metals to the melt, which would have been silver or copper mostly, according to the desired colour.

The guinea, which was the predecessor of the sovereign from 1663, varied slightly in its gold content in different reigns, averaging slightly lower than 22 carat, so the sources of gold for case making would have been bullion from various dealers.

I'm sure that assaying methods involving cupelling were not capable of accuracy to several decimal places.

Regards,

Graham
 

Allan C. Purcell

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I think this small article by the Goldsmiths assay office is very clear. The penalty for the misuse of the gold plate was death. Plus the period we are talking had only 22k Gold and Sterling 925 for Silver. !8K came in 1798. They did not have 9K & 14K. They also had Brittania silver, but only for a couple of years. It appears from the above, that the case makers did their best to comply with the regulations and any mistakes were down to the essay offices.

Allan :cool:
 

John Matthews

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In answer to your question 3, I believe that most case makers since 1817, (when the modern sovereign coin was introduced), would have drawn enough gold sovereigns from the bank to provide their needs for the work in hand
Graham - Priestley seems to me to leave open the possibility of direct supply and/or the supply by one watch case maker to another ...

(page 303)
'It seems throughout the 16th 17th and 18th centuries, the Government Mint was the main recipient of gold and silver to convert into coinage, but a few refiners provided gold for goldsmiths (ref 14.). A convenient source of gold for watch cases come from melted down sovereigns of 22-caret gold.'
(ref. 14) - Statute 37 George III Cap 108 19 July 1797 (Duties on Clocks and Watches Act 1797)

(but later page 304)
'the raw material, which for gold cases was normally achieved by melting down gold sovereigns'
So at this stage, I still feel that it would be wise have an open mind and considered that the possibility exists that some gold came from suppliers. If it were to be found, for example, that the accurate chemical analysis of the cases produced by various case makers in the same year, were identical or extremely similar, this would be one possible explanation. This hypothesis begs the who were these refiners?

Priestley continues with information that I believes gives some weight to the hypothesis ...

(page 332) - Sun Insurance Records
On the 11th November, 1797, Thomas (Helsby) is shown as a watchmaker in Vauxhall Road, Liverpool, in a brick house insured for £300. On 14 February 1821, he is listed as a case maker and has a dwelling house with workshops containing a steam engine, furnaces for refinig gold and silver, and glass grinding equipment. .... The last entry is for 20 November 1823, when his son John, is shown as a watch case maker at the Vauxhall Road address also manufacturing watch glasses and refining and assaying gold and silver - all insured for £2,200.

From this it would appear that the Helsbys were indeed gold refiners, more to the point, in the 1851 and 1861 census returns, John Helsby is listed as a watch case maker and gold assayer, From these descriptions, I infer that the Helsbys, in all probability, refined and sold gold to other manufacturers. I don't think we can rule out that refining of gold, in the Liverpool area, was done by a limited number of companies.

I also believe the use of coloured gold on Liverpool cases at this time may be relevant. I have formed the impression that Liverpool made, Chester hallmarked, 'coloured' gold cases were exported to America in significant numbers, where they were admired and desired. Might this encourage the use of specialist suppliers, such as the Helsbys? I also wonder if it might present a further challenge at the time of assay. Priestley provides the analysis of coloured golds on page 309, with references numbered 21-25, unfortunately, these appear to have been missed from the list of chapter references at the end of the book.

Rather later, but of related interest, the exchange between Ralph Samuel (partner in Jacob Lewis Samuel & Co. watch case makers, Liverpool) and the 1856 Commons Select Committee to review hallmarking practices, is worthy of a read (page 333).
Chairman:
has the Act of 1854 lowering the standards of gold, enabled you to compete with the manufacturers of the United States in gold cases?
Ralph Samuel Esq:
No, the Americans come here and they offer me orders from one to 800 at a time, providing I will put 18 carat upon a 9 carat case, but I would never so do.

I make no comment on the politics, but I do wonder whether one might read 'Liverpool agents for the American market' rather than Americans.

So I reiterate that while I feel that this subject is one that can be discussed and enjoyed, at length on this forum, it would need a significant research effort to achieve a meaningful conclusion.

John
 
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Dr. Jon

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The problem with gold testing is that short of melting the entire case and assaying it, a test is a very small sample. Cupellation assay used in the UK, takes a small bit of the case probably where the hall marks are stamped and melts it. They do this on each major part of the case and almost always in the same place on the part.

Auction houses test either by touch stone or conduction, but both methods test on the surface. Conduction uses a gell that stains and has to be carerfully removed after the test. Touch stone rubs off some gold at the surface uor uses filings which produce those nasty marks.

The oldest test of an entire case is that of Archimedes. This is weighing the case in water and noting howm much water the case displaces. Since gold is denser than alloying metal the density will tell yo you can measure it well enough. I doubt anyone does this today.

Today we can use nuclear bombardment methods to test cases but this is very expensive.

Whatever the standard was or the penalties involved testing was the enforcement and it was limited to small well defined samples which a sufficiently motivated person could defeat. I suspect this occurred rarely. Anyone caught would face severe public scorn.
 

Rich Newman

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In my humble opinion, English laws that talk about death for debasing the standard were interpreted by casemakers as not being applicable to their craft. Not so for debasing the currency. We need to stop assuming that just because the maker worked in watches, he had some sort of moral fiber that always won out over an opportunity to make more profit. These craftsmen were businessmen first or went out of business. They had to earn as much profit as possible.

History, I think, evidences this to be true. Neale, in his great book on Joseph and Thomas Windmills wrote at length about how casemakers successfully circumvented the Britannia silver standard. There were lots of good reasons but the bottom line is that the consumer did not get 95.8 percent silver (vs. 92.5 for sterling) purity as the law stated. Indeed, the assay office supported casemakers continuing to work in sterling. Who knows how many consumers assumed they were getting something else.

I don’t know of a single example of any of the thousands of casemakers who were put to death or even imprisoned. There are records of a few casemakers who were fined for substandard silver wares but its clear that wasn’t a significant deterrent because they kept doing it. William Laithewaite is one maker that comes to mind. I also think that the power of the Clockmakers’ Company in London regarding quality work was significantly different than elsewhere. The London guild and London wares has a well-founded reputation for “quality”. How powerful was the guild in Chester, and who wielded that power? It probably took Neale many, many years to do his research into the “silver problem” (as he termed it). There has never to my knowledge been a similar effort into the “gold problem” (my words). But, it is a problem. This does not appear to be some one-off sort of unintended human error.

There is absolutely no question that gold and silversmiths knew the purity they were using, or knew how to comply with confidence within very close tolerances of one percent or so. That is a fact in my mind as evidenced by many studies on jewelry and all sorts of other precious metal content wares going back many hundreds of years. The regulations also evidence this - - for example, sterling was defined as 92.5 and Britannia as 95.8. No regulation would have that precision if there wasn’t a tried-and-true way to comply.

The conundrum, to sum it up in just a few words, is that gold cases produced in England during the 1700's have a reputation for being true. When I see a gold cased watch with London hallmarks, it is assumed to be 22K give or take a percent or so. That is not the case for gold watches in the early 1800's that happen to almost always have Chester hallmarks. When I see a gold cased watch with Chester hallmarks, whether the hallmarks are authentic or hallmarks are suspicious, I do not assume that the 18K mark is good. I think the opposite. So, my first question is whether other collectors & scholars reading this post have the same opinion. If so, years of research may be needed to figure out why.
 
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gmorse

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Hi Rich,

I agree, much research will be necessary to clarify what actually went on, complicated by the lack of living witnesses. We should remember that from the earliest times, public service was regarded by many as a way of lining their own pockets, and I see no reason that assay masters or their staff should be excluded!

...sterling was defined as 92.5 and Britannia as 94.8. No regulation would have that precision if there wasn’t a tried-and-true way to comply.
By the way, Britannia standard, introduced supposedly to preserve the integrity of the coinage, was 95.8%.

Regards,

Graham
 

Andrew Wilde

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Hi Rich,
I doubt that years of research will throw much more light on this. IMO, you have identified what was happening back then with Chester hallmarked gold, given your personal experience of lower-than-assayed levels of purity.
A combination of the Liverpool gateway to the US market, that Chester, the "local" assay office, was as far away from London (in assay office location terms) as possible, that in the US domestic market of the time UK hallmarks were probably accepted without, or with very little, question, and that watchmakers and casemakers outside London in most cases struggled to make a living, resulting in what was most likely deception, is hardly surprising.
Perhaps given the additional costs of supplying a market 3000 miles away, this was necessary compromise of standards for it to be viable. Easy to put it down to greed and perhaps corruption, though maybe simply viability and survival.
I doubt we'll ever know for sure.
 

Allan C. Purcell

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HI, Andrew, very nicely put and probably true, though it was not just Chester, as we have seen. I notice Birmingham seem to be put in the shadows, they too were hallmarking Gold & Silver cases from 1773. You are right to say we will probably never know for sure, but in the end, it is a story about the price of gold today, The pair-case of an 18K case today is worth about $ 3,500. So selling one today could be a problem if tested and found to be a lower grade, at least an embarrassing moment.

Allan
 

John Matthews

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I regard this simply as an academic exercise that is worthy of research.

Frankly, I really don't care, whether a case is 800, 925 or 935 silver, nor do I care if the case is 9K, 14K, 18K or 22K gold - I consider the quality and attributes of the complete watch. To me the case is but one part. The material that the case is made of, yet a smaller part, and whether a case is 18K or 14K, is minuscule in terms of the weight (sic) it carries when I make an informed decision as whether to purchase or pass.

Like most (all) collectors I limit the price I normally pay for a single item, and judging a potential acquisition in the purchase price range I operate in (up to ~$5000), I generally do not find gold cased watches desirable. This is often because the movement does not excite my interest. I do, however, see gold case watches that are appealing, but they are in a significantly higher price range. This explains why gold cased watches make up such a small percentage of my collection and why many of the items I treasure are uncased. My collection is not driven by investment considerations.

I understand that whether an item is 18K or 14K is more important to vendors, particularly auction houses, and that it carries importance to those collectors, who have genuine reasons to determine the value of their collection. Vendors need to describe items as accurately as possible; this applies particularly to auction houses, where a portion of their clients are interested in obtaining items as part of an investment portfolio. It seems to me that in order to avoid expensive litigation, they have at least two options. One approach is simply to describe the hallmarks and state that the precious metal content is nor guaranteed. Alternatively, they undertake to 'assay' the item and if there is any doubt in the results, they will sensibly take a pessimistic view. There is a choice to be made, and I can see that some houses will take the view that indicating that they cannot guarantee the precious metal content, will deter those of their clients that are particularly interested in the investment appeal of an object.

It goes without saying scrappers are particularly interested in precious metal content, which explains the ploy of 'E' vendors increasingly showing photographs of their items on digital scales!

John
 

Allan C. Purcell

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FOREWORD.

It is an honour and a pleasure to be asked to write an introduction to the description of the fine collection of such an erudite horologist as the author.

I came in clock and watch collecting by my buying from "Bumpus´ book shop in Oxford Street, at its publication price of thirty shillings
, a new copy of the 6th Edition of Britten´s Old Clocks and Watches and their Makers. This was when I was on leave from the army in 1941, and so far as it was possible, the book followed me around on my travels.

Immediately after the war one was too busy to be able to pay much attention to horology, but in about 1948, I. like the author, got to know Ilbert and Malcolm Gardner and all the other horological deities, and I also got to know the author himself. In those days, I think he limited himself to twelve watches, and his criterion then was that all his watches had to be capable of being worn and of performing a useful timekeeping function.

Of course, limiting oneself to only twelve watches meant that there was a great temptation to turn over one´s collection from time to time. and I well remember Malcolm Gardner once telling me how pleased he was to sell watches to the author because the latter was at great pains to have the watches carefully cleaned and put into good going order, and in due course, they would be offered back to Malcolm Gardner for resale in this state.

However, it is clear from the present account that the author has since widened his scope but he has adhered to the cardinal rule, that every good collection should be built up around a theme.

The author's theme is the development of precision time-keeping frem the invention of the balance spring to the karussel, and in ilölistrating his theme he has built up one of the finest small watch collections in existence. His interesting account takes one through the development of the lever and chronometer escapements, all told in his inimitable and engaging style. The book is no dry-as-dust catalogue. It is a gripping and indeed enthralling description of a superlative collection, and once picked up, it is a book which I confidently predict, the reader will be unable to put down until he has read it from start to finish. It is a book which I unhesitatingly commend to all those with any horological interest at all: whether beginners or experienced collectors.

Charles Drover.
Chairman,
Antiquarian Horological Society.

How things have changed, this from an author who though owning a Massey (Crank Lever ) Lever watch was not worth owning.

So never say never, and each to his own.

Allan.


a9.jpg a10 (2).jpg a11.jpg I bought this quite a few years ago from "Pieces of Time", I am so pleased I did, you can all see why.
 
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WB Guerrant

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Hi gentlemen.
I am the owner of a family heirloom gold pocket watch with the classic Chester hallmarks, "T" date stamp and initials of Hannah Howard - pretty much exactly the same as in Rich's photo of Dec. 10, 2020. The back of the case has the engraving, "H.E.G. MD" which stands for Henry Ellis Guerrant, MD, my g-g-g grandfather who lived 1808-1876. You will see it is missing the crystal and the key is also long gone, but the watch is in generally fair condition. The hallmarks are rather faint and I wonder if, at some time during the last century, some person in the family had a cupellation assay performed to verify the real gold metal content. Doesn't this melt down the surface layer and make the hallmarks appear worn? I will include some photos for your perusal.

06032021 859.JPG Henry Ellis Guerrant pocket watch with original pouch.JPG Close up of the watch face focused on the inner dial.JPG Close up of the outer mechanism.JPG Mechanism and key-wind of the Henry Ellis Guerrant pocket watch.JPG Initials H.E.G.  MD engraved on the back of pocket watch.JPG 06032021 1386.JPG 06032021 1396.JPG 06032021 1395.JPG
 

Dr. Jon

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I doubt the wear on teh amrks was for a cuppeltation test. It it were tested it more likely would have been a touch stone test. Hall marks ot wear but teh more likley explanation is that it near the end of the cycle and the punches were worn
 
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John Matthews

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No, the lack of definition in the leopard's head is not due to testing. It's original. This style of leopard's head was introduced in 1794 and continued through until 1822. Over that period the shape had poor definition and your example is typical of the shape for 1815. Often the shape of the head lacks detail and the rest of the hallmarks can be considerably sharper only showing signs of the wear to be expected for the age of the item - as with your watch case.

Here is a Helsby case from the same year for comparison.

1637908339862.png

John
 
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Allan C. Purcell

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I was wondering if you could show us a few photographs of the watch movement, especially the top plate with the sponsor's name. (Maker) Plus are you able to say what type of escapement the watch has? 1815 is a very interesting time in the Horological story of Liverpool.

Best wishes,

Allan.
 

WB Guerrant

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I was wondering if you could show us a few photographs of the watch movement, especially the top plate with the sponsor's name. (Maker) Plus are you able to say what type of escapement the watch has? 1815 is a very interesting time in the Horological story of Liverpool.

Best wishes,

Allan.
Well...I would if I knew how to get inside the back of the watch. The only screws I see are the set of 3 beside the jewel. If I remove those screws, will that allow me to remove the back cover?
 

John Pavlik

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Allen, just slid the semi circular blue ring on the dust cover until the larger hole at the end of the clip lines up with pin.. Then lift the brass cap off the movement … No screws need to be removed ..
 

WB Guerrant

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Allen, just slid the semi circular blue ring on the dust cover until the larger hole at the end of the clip lines up with pin.. Then lift the brass cap off the movement … No screws need to be removed ..
Oh great. Thanks! I would never have tried that.
 

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