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J. Johnstone & Co watch, Liverpool, multicolor gold face, no assay marks, HT&Co case

Annen

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Aug 17, 2015
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Hello all! I've inherited a family watch and am trying to find out what I can about it. I've appreciated the knowledge shared on this forum very much.

The watch face is heavily decorated with multicolor gold floral motif and wavy background texture, with applied gold roman numerals. It has an inset dial for seconds, with ten-second marks set within the ring of one-second marks. Both the main and inset dials have thin black hands.

The watchcase is gold color, 107gm, but has no assay marks. It has the letters HT & Co, and the stamped numerals 1819, on the inside back cover and on the inside of the cuvette. The number matches the serial number engraved on the movement.

The movement has engraved in script:
J. Johnstone & Co., Liverpool, No. 1819
and in block letters on the decorated balance cock (?):
DETACH'D

We don't have the key to wind it, but the spring that's visible from the back responds nicely to a gentle push and the second hand will tick for a few seconds.
Looking at the side view, I can see it's a fusee, but I don't know enough to describe more.

History - We're not sure whose it was, but one part of the family immigrated to the US from the Dundee Scotland area around the 1840s, and then later some of them worked on US railroads around the 1880s, and even later became well-off in the early 1900s. Not sure if it would have been purchased in the US or Britain, although they were very much working-class in Scotland - what social classes would have been able to afford a piece like this during that time?

So, my questions are, does anyone have any leads or info on J. Johnston and Co, or HT&Co the casemaker? (I found one "HT & Co" -- Hy (Henry) Tudor & Co, in Sheffield in broadly the right era, but a silver maker.)

Why would there be no assay marks? Does this tell us it's not gold, and a lower-quality item, or is there some other reason not to have the marks?

Can we tell anything about its period/geography/class from the look of the face? (Any of the three might help narrow down who in the family bought it.)

What's the movement, or what terms describe it? I'm a complete novice but this is fascinating.

Can we easily get a new key that will work with this watch, or will it be a tricky custom job?

Any recommendations for a knowledgable shop or person I could take it to in the Maryland/DC area for servicing?

Thank you for any help!
 

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gmorse

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Re: J. Johnstone & Co watch, Liverpool, multicolor gold face, no assay marks, HT&Co c

Hi Annen, and welcome to the Forum,

The movement of your watch was indeed made in the UK, in or near Liverpool, and was exported to the US where it was cased locally. This was often done to reduce customs duties and explains the lack of UK hallmarks. Whether the case is indeed gold, and of what quality, could only be determined by non-destructive testing. Joseph Johnson, (if this is he), was a well-known maker and did export a considerable number of movements to the US in the middle of the 19th century.

This has several of the characteristics of Liverpool work, including the small "crow's feet" marks on the regulator scale, and the large jewels visible on the top plate.

The movement is powered by a mainspring in a barrel, and the power is transmitted via a tiny chain to a cone-shaped part, (the fusee), which evens out the variations in the "pull" between fully wound and unwound. The word "Detach'd" on the balance cock foot is usually found on escapements of the Massey type, which was a precursor to the English lever, initially patented in 1814, although this one was probably made around 1830-50. The great technical advantage of this type of escapement over its earlier predecessors such as the verge and the cylinder was that the balance was able to swing freely for most of its rotation without interference from the mechanisms which impulsed it, hence the emphasis on "Detach'd" and its prominence in the engraving. This type of watch is usually described as a "fusee lever".

The movement plates and many of the wheels are brass which has been gilt by the mercury process, a highly dangerous procedure which is now very largely abandoned.

The dial is gold, and was probably supplied with the movement; I'm not sure that all the hands are original, since they are vulnerable to damage when being set.

You can buy sets of watch keys very cheaply online, but it's not a good idea to run the watch very much until it's been cleaned and serviced, as old oil and dirt can be quite abrasive. When you do wind it, be careful to do so anti-clockwise, unlike more modern mechanical watches. The same key will fit the square on the centre of the hands for setting the time, but care is needed to avoid damage to that handsome dial.

It's not a good idea to try and move anything in the movement with your fingers, as damage to delicate components such as the hairspring or fine pivots can easily result, and repair costs for these watches can quickly mount up. On the subject of repairers who will undertake this type of work, I fear you may have to look further afield, as people who are competent and willing in this field are not common now.

Please ask anything else here if more questions occur to you.

Regards,

Graham
 
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MartyR

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Re: J. Johnstone & Co watch, Liverpool, multicolor gold face, no assay marks, HT&Co c

Welcome to the board, Annen :)

As Graham has said, yours is a very typical Liverpool watch movement exported to the USA in the early 19th century.
I think Graham has misread the name on the movement ;) It's not Johnson, but Johnstone! Loomes (a standard reference book for "watchmakers") does list a J H Johnstone & Co operating in New York in around 1820, and that date and location could be a good match for your "maker". The name of that company suggests that it was an operating company set up in New York to act simply as a broker who brought in movements from J Johnstone in Liverpool and had them cased in America - that is almost exactly the business model adopted by M I Tobias who were the most famous watchmaking company in the American market.

Loomes also lists a James Johnstone working in Liverpool in 1789, and he could be the real maker of the movement,

H.T&Co are the initials of the American casemaker, but I can't identify the company - you might like to post your photos of the case in the American Pocket Watches forum here to see if anyone there can identify them. I would instinctively assume that the case is 18K gold, because I have never seen an Anglo-American Liverpool watch in anything else ... and especially given the expensive dial! It is unusual, but not unknown, for an Aemrican case not to show an assay mark - if the maker is a known high quality maker then they may also be known for making only solid gold cases.
 

gmorse

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Re: J. Johnstone & Co watch, Liverpool, multicolor gold face, no assay marks, HT&Co c

Yes indeed, too early in the morning!:glasses:
 

Keith R...

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Re: J. Johnstone & Co watch, Liverpool, multicolor gold face, no assay marks, HT&Co c

Marty & Graham can tell you about these dials. One must take precautions
cleaning them. Nice watch. Here is a Johnson. Keith

103_6771 (800x600).jpg
 
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Annen

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Aug 17, 2015
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Re: J. Johnstone & Co watch, Liverpool, multicolor gold face, no assay marks, HT&Co c

Thank you all so much for your wonderfully detailed and helpful replies! I will post the case in the American watch forum, thank you for that suggestion too.

(So it sounds like the date is probably early-mid 1800s, say 1825 give or take? Or is it impossible to narrow it down that far?)

I may be back as I do a bit more digging on this; thank you for the excellent leads and info!

Edit: oh dear, I missed out your date estimate of 1830-50 based on the balance cock foot. So, 1840 give or take. :glasses:
 

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