Introduction and Question

Discussion in 'European & Other Pocket Watches' started by markk900, Oct 29, 2007.

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  1. markk900

    markk900 Registered User

    Oct 29, 2007
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    Hello: I am new to this forum, though I have lurked on and off for some time. I have a great interest in the history of clocks and watches, and have a couple of items I would appreciate this group's help in identifying.

    I have what might be a Tompion pocket watch that I would like to present for the forum's consideration. This watch came via my wife's family along with a number of other old pocket watches.

    The photo hopefully shows the watch clearly enough - however the serial number is buried under one of the balance guards - it shows as O399.

    Is there any way to tell if this is a genuine Tompion or a counterfeit? The face is of no help as it was replaced with ceramic long ago.

    Anyway, hello and I hope you can help!

    Mark
     

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  2. Ansomnia

    Ansomnia Registered User

    Sep 11, 2005
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    Mark, your photo isn't as clear as it should be.

    Remove all the surrounding background in your photos. It isn't of any help for ID. Close in just on the movement and make sure the signature is sharp, well-lit and clear.

    BTW, what does the dial look like and can you provide a side shot or two of the movement?


    Michael
     
  3. markk900

    markk900 Registered User

    Oct 29, 2007
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    Michael: sorry for the poor photos....I hope these look better. If not, I may have reached the limit of my camera (snapshot digital).....
     

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  4. Ansomnia

    Ansomnia Registered User

    Sep 11, 2005
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    Mark, thanks for the new photos. They help a lot. You should also take one just of the signature on the plate. It would be very useful.

    I should also say I am just a novice at analyzing old verge fusée watches.

    Tompion used 3 series of numbers for his numbered watches and he started numbering in 1680. Which series a number belongs to depends on the nature of the watch. Before I pick a series can you tell me what functions this watch provides? Is it just a timepiece or does it have other functions as well?

    I would be interested to see a detailed photo of just the signature. The style of script is different from his later watches but may be similar to his earlier ones. As the photos are not detailed enough I can't quite say.

    The tulip pillars are consistent with 1675-1700. The style of piercing of the cock and foot and mask around the regulator is consistent with ca. 1680-1685. Similar motifs in the piercing appear in some of his later watches.

    The dial and hands are obviously much later replacements as you have noted. However, the winding hole and winding arbor between 1 and 2 o'clock are a bit confusing. On the movement would appear to be a winding arbor to the right of the foot of the balance cock. So is the winding hole and arbor on the dial non-functional and not part of the movement?

    My understanding is that winding from the dial was primarily a French preference. It is true that many of Tompion's more complex watches, repeaters, alarm watches did have their arbors on their dials but none of the photos of his simpler timepieces I have come across shows winders on their dials.

    So tell me, do you actually wind from the back of the watch and ignore the arbor on the dial? And is the movement purely that of a timepiece?

    Well, that's all I can say for now. I have to get up early.


    Michael
     
  5. RON in PA

    RON in PA Registered User
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    May 18, 2005
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    Like Ansomnia I'm puzzled by the dial side winding arbor, but the shape of the balance cock looks very similar to a picture I have of a Tompian watch. Does the city location under the name say London, it's not clear when I blow the picture up.
     
  6. markk900

    markk900 Registered User

    Oct 29, 2007
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    Thanks Ansomnia and Ron....

    To your questions: it is wound from the dial. The really wonderful thing (to me anyway) is that the watch is running well and keeps good time....needs to be cleaned (by whom?) but that's another question!

    I'll try to get a better shot (having trouble with glare and focal point) of the signature but it says "Thos Tompion" and "London". As I noted earlier the serial number is O399.

    The watch has no other functions I am aware of. How would I identify other functions?

    I agree that the balance cock looks very similar (identical to my untrained eyes) to a watch I found in H G Harris' Collecting and Identifying Old Watches - the one in the book (p.48/49) is shown as Tompion # 424, but that one had a silver case and this one is gold.

    Thanks for your help so far!
    Mark
     
  7. Jerry Matthews

    Jerry Matthews Registered User

    Sep 20, 2005
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    Mark,

    Are you sure the serial number is 0399? Use of a zero as the first digit in a number was almost unheard of before the computer age. Since you say the number is partially hidden could it be something else? Another digit or the "o" in "No", possibly?

    Jerry
     
  8. John Pavlik

    John Pavlik Registered User
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    Dec 30, 2001
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    Very interesting watch... One issue that you need to realize is the movement is hinged at the 9 not the typical 12.. That is why the winding does not seem to line up..to what we expect.. I woud like to see how the movement is mounted to the piece that is hinged.. as it appears to be different..The movement case lock is visable in the 3rd picture but I can not see it in the others?? The case looks like it has a covering rivited to the outside.., and can we tell if case material is gold or a gilted case.. Does the case have hallmarks ?? Do not discount the dial Yet..

     
  9. Ansomnia

    Ansomnia Registered User

    Sep 11, 2005
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    OK, this one's for the experts but here's a theory about the winding arbor.

    I suspect this movement was originally wound from the back. The configuration of the arbors from the rear plate clearly shows a winding arbor on top of the fusée. Mark can confirm this by checking if the arbor actually turns when he winds from the front. If it does, then the movement can also be wound from the back.

    I suspect someone married a French dial to the watch and somehow grafted or replaced the winding arbor so that it protruded from the dial as well as from the back. This can be confirmed when the dial is removed for inspection.

    They are not sharp photos but I have illustrated my theory on copies of Mark's photos. See below.

    This theory would make the watch more consistent as an English watch but it does not necessarily mean it is a Tompion. There were numerous forgeries of Tompion watches made during his working life. There's an anecdote of Tompion putting his hammer to a forgery to illustrate his displeasure on the occasion when the unfortunate owner showed him the offending watch.

    I have to say it would be very unwise for someone to marry a French dial to a real Tompion watch. But there is always the possibility of ignorance.

    I also agree the 0 (zero) should not appear before the other numbers. That needs to be clarified along with the signature. Ultimately, I think the watch's ID can only be confirmed by an expert watchmaker who has handled many Tompion watches from that period. Tompion was apparently very fussy about the quality of watches bearing his name and I suspect close examination by an experienced watchmaker would provide an answer.


    Michael
     

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  10. markk900

    markk900 Registered User

    Oct 29, 2007
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    Thanks everyone for the comments....I've tried to get better pictures of the signature and the hinge to help out (I've taken dozens of shots using a tripod and various settings and this is the best I can do - sorry!)

    Anyway to the specific questions: yes, winding the front causes the back winder to turn, as you would expect.

    I don't believe there is an "N" before the "O" - and I think it might be the letter O rather than the numeral zero - in Symonds book about Tompion he did state there were a number of watches produced (under 1000) with a letter O to start.

    Also the position of the serial number is irritating - its under the balance guard so I have to carefully lift the guard even to see the numbers. The "O" is right beside the post, and the "399" follows under the sweep of the guard.

    Any suggestions for someone in SW Ontario Canada that could be classified as qualified to look at this watch?

    Here are some hopefully better shots of the hinge and signature....there are no hallmarks on the case that I can find. however there are the following numbers scratched by hand into the case that covers the movement: variously 4104, 1158 and what looks like the greek letter Pi with a small curve superimposed on it... won't try to photograph it because they are very hard to see by eye and my skills with the camera won't do it justice....

    Thanks again everyone - Mark
     

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  11. John Pavlik

    John Pavlik Registered User
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    Dec 30, 2001
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    When investigating English watches remember many things are possible.. Here is an example of an English, hinged at the 12, watch by a listed maker Grayhurst & Harvey... Strand.. When a single case was used winding thru the dial was used by English makers.. While they were not very popular in the 1700's, they were made..Winding thru the dial was only natural.. Using a modified fusee with key squares on both ends.. if I am not mistaken the subject watch is in a single case..

    I may be missing it, where exactly is the serial number located..


     

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  12. markk900

    markk900 Registered User

    Oct 29, 2007
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    John: the serial number is located under the balance "guard" that surround 3/4 of the balance around its edge. THe number starts right beside the pin that holds the movement together right after the "Tompion" in the pictures - but its under the guard.

    I tried to remove some of the pieces to get a better look but first I don't have the appropriate tools or skills to take too much apart, and frankly I almost had a heart attack as even as far as I went I accidently let the balance wheel almost fall out - as it was it took several heart wrenching minutes for me to get the verge escapement back into its proper place.....but I did and the watch continues to work fine.

    I didn't think the face on mine was original, since there is evidence of someone having worked on it (scrapes and newer screws in 3 places around the dial), but it seems to me that regardless the winder always went through to the face.

    Keep the interesting thoughts coming - this is very helpful so thanks everyone.

    Mark
     
  13. Ansomnia

    Ansomnia Registered User

    Sep 11, 2005
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    Mark, I've found some interesting information that may be helpful to you. I have the Symonds book on Tompion (Thomas Tompion his life and work) and the author says Tompion "…more than other makers…designed his watches to be wound through the dial instaed of at the back…".

    Now, having said this, I should repeat the only Tompion watches I have photos of with winding holes in the dial are non-timepieces - meaning repeaters and alarm movements. However, I have very few photos and Tompion made 4,500 timepieces. So it does look in your favour that your watch may be consistent with a Tompion in this manner. I'll say more on this later.

    The other interesting tidbit from Symonds is his mention that Tompion, after he started numbering his watches, used an unusual method of anchoring the balance spring to the balance staff in his "later watches" by means of square pins in square holes. The normal practice is a round pin in a round hole - which actually causes problems. The Tompion practice is an example of this maker's excellence. It is a lot of work to create tiny square pins and tiny square holes so no one except the best makers and perhaps only Tompion would do that.

    While the square pins and original balance may have been lost to your watch given its long life, you may want to examine the balance spring and staff under a microscope. If your watch has square pins and/or a square hole in the collet of the balance staff then IMO your watch is very likely a real Tompion.

    And at this point, if you are able to properly examine the winding arbor and discover it is original then again, this is positive evidence very consistent with a Tompion. But if the arbor is not original or is modified then it clouds the picture IMO.

    All in all, I think your watch is very interesting and is well worth further investigation with the experts. If the watch is even partially authentic it would be quite valuable because it looks like a fairly early piece, ca. 1683.

    I would suggest you make better photos of the watch. The ones you have shown in this thread are not adequate. You will need to use more even and brighter lighting and take at as high resolution as possible. You should consider buying the Symonds book (out of print) and also the recent publication (click)--->THOMAS TOMPION AT THE DIAL AND THREE CROWNS by Jeremy Evans

    This is a 2006 publication from The Antiquarian Horological Society in the UK.

    The Symonds books has more information but the Evans books has the latest references and you may want to contact the author as he is undoubtedly knowledgeable about Tompion. But before you do so, you should prepare proper photos and description otherwise you may not get the most out of the opportunity.

    As for watchmakers in SW Ontario, one horologist whom I suspect would be capable of servicing this watch is Abernethy & Son of Toronto. But be prepared to "…drop the watch off for a week before he will provide a quote". I haven't used their services before but judging from the clocks that go through his shop, he would seem a likely candidate to check out. His website shows clocks but he is a watchmaker as well. His photo shows him handling what appears to be a verge fusée watch.

    Good luck and please keep us appraised. I hope it turns out to be the real thing. It would be fantastic!

    P.S. Tompion did keep a 3rd set of watch serial numbers that started with the letter "O" but it was apparently for special watches or prototypes. It did nor exceed 1,000. If a Tompion expert spots something unusual in your movement it may well be consistent with this fact.


    Michael
     
  14. markk900

    markk900 Registered User

    Oct 29, 2007
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    Michael: thanks for the fantastic post - I appreciate your interest and effort very much.

    I do have the Symonds book - I found it in the used book shop at the Raleigh NC airport years ago and picked it up because I was interested in old clocks....who would have thought I would need it for reference.

    Also thanks for the tip about Abernathy....sounds like a lead I should follow.

    To all who have posted, one of my fears is that I'll start to take the watch apart to gather more details and then muck it up....I am just nervous about fiddling with this ancient piece! If I can get someone competent to even partially disassemble it I will definitely look at some of the more intricate details.

    I agree that my photos "are less than adequate"....I will look for someone with a proper digital SLR and then take some decent photos.....

    Thanks again for all the support.

    Mark
     
  15. Ansomnia

    Ansomnia Registered User

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    Mark, good luck with authenticating your Tompion watch.

    BTW, I was leafing through another reference book which I don't get to consult more often. It lists several Tompion watches, most are "movement only, no dial". One of them is interesting for you. It has no photo but it's dated ca. 1682, signed "T. Tompion London O598". Tulip pillars, 4-wheel train. Diameter 38 mm. It was presented by B.L. Villiamy, 1849. I wonder who owns it now.

    The authors, Clutton and Daniels, indicate the "O" series of numbers appears to have been reserved by Tompion for "special pieces (for reasons not always evident)". This would imply your watch could be part of the "O" series for no evident reason (to us).

    Tompion apparently made a lot of watches and many were almost identical. One can actually switch parts between his watches from the same period. Since this watch is close in serial number, you should compare the size - diameter of the movements. It's another clue.

    Finally, as regards your photos, I wasn't referring to your camera's ability. It may well be capable of producing very good photos. I was just referring to how the photos appear on this thread - the server for this forum limits the resolution of photos you upload. OTOH, photos you reference with URL links retain their actual resolution.

    The most important thing is good lighting. You can try to make a light box or use reflectors with natural lighting. The other thing is the focusing accuracy of your camera. Auto-focusing is handy but such cameras also focus on the wrong location just about every time you take a photo. It's the nature of the beast. Best to take straight-on so depth-of-field is not a big issue. Otherwise, switch to manual focus or hold the autofocus and move the object or camera until the object is sharp before snapping the photo. Some cameras also allow control of the f-stop.


    Michael
     
  16. markk900

    markk900 Registered User

    Oct 29, 2007
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    Well, to the best of my ability to count correctly and measure things, the maybe-Tompion has a 38mm movement and a 4-gear train, so that's a little promising, though from what I have been able to read 4-gear trains are pretty common (not sure about movement size though).

    Going to try to contact Abernethy & Sons - more of the mystery would be revealed by disassembly, good photos, and cleaning. I am not willing to try disassembly myself, so it might be a while before I can update this thread.

    To all that contributed - thanks - I belong to several forums of this type (classic bicycle, classic motorcycle, and now horology) and really enjoy this type of sharing and interaction.

    Mark

    ps. I will probably post some photos of the long case clock we bought many years ago....also not a mainstream maker!
     
  17. Doc Mark

    Doc Mark Registered User

    Mar 24, 2004
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    Evening, Mark,

    Unfortunately, for some reason, I cannot read all the responses to your query. Also, your post is quite wide, and requires a ton of scrolling to get through it, which makes it very hard to read. Though I am certainly not an expert on this, or any other topic, I do have quite a few books on the subject. It is very apparent, after reading many of them, that Thomas Tompion was one of the most counterfeited of the early watch makers. From my point of view, the fact that your fusee winds through the dial, would make me highly suspicious as to it actually having been made by Tompion. Of course, I could well be wrong. But, one must consider this, at the very least, when making such a judgment. Good luck, and I hope you learn more about your watch. Take care, and God Bless!

    Every Good Wish,
    Doc Mark
     
  18. Kevin W.

    Kevin W. Registered User
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    Yes mark, i would like to know also if your watch is authentic.I live in Ottawa and i know of no one who i would take a fuse watch to.We dont have many if any good watch repair people for old antique watches, at leat i do not know of any.
    Too bad your watch the dial is in rough shape.But these things happen to old watches and clocks too.
     
  19. markk900

    markk900 Registered User

    Oct 29, 2007
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    Doc Mark, Veritas: I will post what I find out once I find someone to help with the ID'ing. I will be trying Abernethy in Toronto but have to find the time to get out there.

    Don't worry - I'll be back with the end of this story (and maybe some better photos).

    Mark
     

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