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Discussion in 'European & Other Pocket Watches' started by Robert Stroud, Sep 8, 2019.
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These photos show a watch that has been in my family for at least 180 years. I’m new to this, obviously. Any information will be greatly appreciated. Very interested in whether I can be, or should be, refurbished with crystal, hands, fusee chains, etc.
Hi Robert, and welcome to the forum,
We await the next instalment with interest and expectation . . .
From your picture, the hallmarks in the case appear to show that the case was assayed in the Chester assay office in 1837/8, and was made by Thomas & John Helsby in Liverpool, but this particular combination of marks has appeared before and perhaps isn't everything it seems, so some more pictures of the case and movement will be most helpful.
Before you begin any further threads for your watch, I've asked a moderator to merge your existing threads together, to avoid future confusion.
You can add posts to your initial thread by using the Reply function, but please wait until your threads have been merged.
Robert - welcome to the forum
This is the thread, with the full set of photographs that needs to be replied to ...
My first impression is that you have a genuine Helsby case housing a relatively early Johnson movement. As Graham indicated care is needed when interpreting Chester hallmarked Helsby cases - see here. I think it is possible that date letter 'T' is 1815/1816 which is a date compatible with the working dates of the Helsbys. You will note that the makers mark is T.H over J.H; the periods are important as there are examples without the periods that need to be viewed with caution, in my opinion. I believe this earlier date is also compatible with the serial number of the Johnson movement. The date depends upon whether the leopards head carries a crown and the shape of the cartouche. I believe the head is crowned, together with the more rounded shape of the base of the cartouche and the serial number of the movement, I favour the 1815 rather than 1837. 'Patent Lever' on the cock foot, I would infer that you may have an early Massey escapement - possibly a Massey I.
Graham & Oliver Munday need to confirm/correct my observations.
Most definitely I would restore it Robert.
Mine from 1826 at 17J.
Following on from my earlier (very) late night post, I must, this morning, add the caveat that I made in the Helsby post ...
On overnight reflection, I would have to say that my certainty that the case is a genuine Liverpool product has lessened and this may be a fine American case with a particularly good set of faux Chester hallmarks.
It will be interesting to hear from gmorse and Lychnobius.
Your separate posts still haven't been merged, but John is right, this is the one to go with. I'm sure one of the moderators will pick this up.
Having seen the full set of pictures now, I'm still inclined to some suspicion about their veracity, because although they appear to be consistent with the earlier date that John has proposed, there's still the question mark over the leopard's head and whether he has a crown. If he does, then it is before 1821/2, (and he disappeared from the Chester marks completely after 1838). The T.H over J.H mark for the Helsbys, is listed as being used from 1820, but that shouldn't be taken too seriously because the Chester records are notoriously incomplete. If these marks are genuine, then you probably do have a quite early example of a Massey lever escapement, which was patented in 1814. Incidentally, the word 'Patent' is often seen on watches from this period, but many examples don't contain any patented features; it was just a marketing ploy.
The question of faux English hallmarks is often raised with watches from this period, because the Liverpool watch trade did a brisk business in exporting uncased movements to the US to avoid the US customs duties on complete watches in precious metal cases. The movements were cased when they arrived, and this type of ornate case is often seen on them, some with more or less plausible 'English' hallmarks. We must be grateful that this has survived with its gold case intact and not succumbed to the scrappers. It's in no way inferior in quality to its English made counterparts, although I can see that there's some unfortunate damage to the back lid.
The style of your movement is very typical of Liverpool work of the period, with the engraved details on the balance cock, (the 'piecrust' edging, the floral pattern around the jewel and the scalloped cock foot), and the very large jewels on the top plate known for obvious reasons as 'Liverpool Windows'. These are probably made of rock crystal, (quartz), but were sometimes other stones.
Lychnobius, (Oliver Mundy) is the acknowledged Johnson specialist here and he's compiled a reference list of Johnson's watches, available here.
I agree that it's certainly worth having restored, although the case damage may prove expensive to correct.
I too think John is right about the early date of your watch, forgetting the case for a moment, the number on the watch 1072 (According to the lists by Lychnobius, indicate a date of c1815) At the moment I would stay with the Helsby case as original till some substantive information comes to light. It would help of course if we knew for sure what type of escapement is in there, a Massey for the date of 1815 would be very, very early. I think you should find a restorer, you can trust, it would be worth every penny.
Best wishes, Allan.
Graham - I think you are referring to Priestley where he has 'G1820-1830' I believe this means the date range for gold cases known to Priestley. However, in his earlier publication with Ridgeway (RP 8319/20) the comment for the mark is 'Seen on cases 1815, 1819, 1821 and 1822'. So my hesitation is not reconciling the date of the maker's mark with the the date letter being for 1815/16.
Like you, I do have some reservations. While I do think the leopard's head, the date letter and the town mark correspond to those published in Ridgeway & Priestley (which I favour as the most accurate) and also Bradbury, for the early date, I am not sure about the gold assay mark. In R&P there is a photograph of the Chester 'first copper plate of makers' marks', this shows actual gold assay punch marks and the crown over 18 is a single punch, not two separate punches. When separate punches are shown, they are side by side.
Now this may or may not be significant. All of the 18K assay marks I can recall, on undisputed English gold cases, are in the form of the crown above 18 formed by a single punch, so I am inferring that this is the way the assay mark was punched on gold cases. My knowledge of such cases is very very limited. MartyR is likely to be able to confirm whether my inference is mistaken and down to my small sample size and bad memory.
With regard to the 'crowning' of the leopard on Chester marks of the period in question I offer the following quote from Jackson's Silver & Gold Marks pg 387:
"The crowned leopard's head introduced on the return of the sterling standard in 1720 went through several changes becoming very worn from 1735 to about 1778, by which time it hardly resembled a crowned leopard. A new punch re-established an unmistakable crown. For a short while an elongated mark came into use in 1806 but the punch by 1822 again had a very blurred crown so that by the time Chester omitted the crown (1823) it was difficult to tell whether there was one"
The descriptions of the changes are clearly illustrated in Jackson's lists and I believe, worth taking into consideration during discussion about the veracity of the marks on this case. For my money, I see no reason to doubt them unless and until someone can make a clear case for them being faked/forged.
I forgot to add that the gold marks for Chester followed the changes of the London assay and, again from Jackson, a crown over 18 punch was supplied to Chester in January 1799. However, a separate crown + 18, usually stamped side by side, were authorised alternatives to the officially issued punches.
Thanks for clarifying this. Another factor in favour of their being genuine is the presence of the 'JJ' mark, not part of the legal hallmark set but commonly seen in Johnsons.
I've seen this in later 18 carat cases, a Dent from 1874 springs to mind.
Dave - also my thanks, I did check Jackson's English Goldsmiths and their Marks, but your reference provides more detailed information. Before Graham's post I was going to ask whether the side by side version had been seen on gold watch cases?
Graham - was it a Chester case?
It would be helpful, subject to copyright, to see (photographs or links) examples of Chester gold assay marks from undisputed English cases.
No, unfortunately it was London. I don't get to handle too many hallmarked gold cases . . .
Thanks for all the input and scholarship behind it!
I can only add context. The smaller newspaper “news of other days” clipping has been located with the watch since the mid- 1940’s. The larger one is an unedited version from the 1844 Gazette, the “oldest newspaper west of the Mississippi.” I copied it this year. The reward Notice refers to the neat patch ( pictured) on the cracked case of the “quite ... old watch.” I would have no intention of repairing the case, and thus the provenance, but might consider getting the movement back in working condition.
Robert - that is an excellent piece of history to be retained with the watch and offers the opportunity for further research regarding the owner at the time. Thank-you for sharing. As others have encouraged definitely worth getting the movement back to working condition.
I agree, that's the sensible decision; it's part of its history. Your ancestor was lucky to recover it. For the movement, you may be in for some searching to find someone willing, (and competent), to work on this watch where you are.
Lucky is right, and the sharp-eyed newspaper reader who found the clipping and knew it went with the watch a hundred years later was pretty lucky too, I think!
I’ve sort of patched the history and people together and now turning attention to the watch. At the time it was lost the owner was in his early twenties preparing for a career in the law, but obviously able only to repair the watch chain with a thread. He could have inherited the watch, or traded for it. That doesn’t shed a lot of light on where the case was made, and that appears to be the area of inquiry on this thread.
And yes, I have no idea where a watch restoration of this kind could be done in this area (Arkansas, Missouri, Tennessee, Texas, Oklahoma). Recommendations appreciated!
Many cased in the New England area circa 1800-1830. Many serviced in Philly
Shown, Josh Johnson, John Jonson, MI Tobias. All cases American with Faux
marks and 18K.
I think there's beginning to be a consensus that it is an English case; the origin of the movement, however, isn't in doubt. If you look carefully at Keith's second picture, you'll see some subtle differences from yours, and sometimes these tiny clues are all we have to go on. Whether it's an English case or not, it really doesn't diminish the quality or the significance of your watch, both from a personal point of view or that of horological history in general.
I suggest you send Keith R... a conversation, (aka a 'PM'), and ask him for some recommendations for trustworthy restorers in the US.
John, I have but one example, and not a very good one at that, but better than nowt . It houses a Penlington 1/2 plate, the only one I possess. The 18ct stamp on the outer case is the consolidated punch and then, on the inside of the dome the split 18 + crown stamps. I have never identified the casemaker.
Hi Dave, the sponsor's stamp is quite poor, but I have one like that for Henry Fishwick. When I find it, I will post it on a new thread I want to start today on Chester hallmarks, that could help in future research, 1800-1850 for starters. Clear photographs of the marks I think will be of great use. Best Allan.
I’ll try to get better photos of all the marks, with a better camera. My earlier research located Mr Mundy’s extensive database, and I’m hopeful to produce enough information to be of interest or usefulness in that research. It’s gratifying to get all your input.
Hi Dave - many thanks for posting these hallmarks which answers my question in the best possible manner. The combination of the two versions of the assay stamp on the same watch case, I would suspect, is not at all common and was a surprise to me. I was thinking that the side by side version would only be used were space was a premium on long thin items.
As far as the maker's mark is concerned, there are two possible Fishwicks, The assignment in the latest version of Priestley is Hugh Fishwick, 9 Tarlington Street Liverpool, on the basis of Jackson (your earlier reference) 1843-65, with gold cases known for the period 1830-65. I believe your case is 1845/6 so that is smack in the middle.
Priestley also refers to his publication with Ridgeway, where 'HF' is assigned to either Hugh Fishwick, a watch case maker, or Henry Fishwick a goldsmith. Hugh Fishwick is referenced back to Priestley's earlier publications and listed in Gores Trade Directories from 1830-65. Henry is recorded in the Plate Duty Book for 1838-40 (the last one that has survived) having submitted gold rings in 1838.
I assume that Henry was not included in Priestley's publications because he was not aware of any evidence that he made watch cases. However, rarely, marks in Ridgeway & Priestley as 'small workers', and not identified as watch case makers, are found on watch cases, so it would be a mistake to assume that maker's marks, not listed by Priestley, will never be found on watch cases.
Hi John- I must say that just for once that Mr Priestley got it wrong- if you look at page 189 in the old book you will see TE & HF 1825/29 Timothy Ellison & Henry Fishwick (or Huge Fishwick) 5, Tarlton Street, Liverpool. Henry Fishwick was and is a very well known watch-case maker in Liverpool. If you remember he was the executor of Richard Hornby´s last will and testiment. ( "Henry Fishwick watch-case maker") He was also best man to Richards son Gerard when he first married. Most of the early watches signed by the Hornby´s 1 & 2 are made by Henry Fishwick or TH & HF.
Whatever we conclude (if we ever do) about the case, I feel confident that this is a genuine Johnson movement. So far it is the earliest, or at least the lowest-numbered, to have the maker's name in roman characters rather than script. It may also be the earliest to have been made with a true detached-lever escapement (probably, as Allan and John have said, one of the Massey types) rather than a rack-lever; the only competitor in this respect is No. 709 which I believe to have been converted from a rack. I have tried to illustrate the Massey escapements in my database; it may be possible to match one of these with the assembly on the balance-wheel as seen through the side of the movement.
Personally I believe the case is genuine too. It does not show the broad flattened pendant which is typical of early American practice, the sponsors' mark is well-defined, and most American cases seem to have date-letters which purport to be from the 1820s rather than the previous decade; besides, there is (as Graham has observed) the extra 'JJ' mark which I have also seen on early silver-cased Johnsons assayed in the Chester office.
Allan - yes, you are correct.
I had made the fatal mistake of not going back to the primary sources and assumed that both Priestley and Ridgeway had quoted their sources correctly.
I have now checked Gores trade directory - here's the 1853 entry ...
and the Liverpool Museum ...
Thank you all for the information about the case maker Fishwick, much appreciated. I should have known that as I have come across the maker before (Hugh or Henry ) .
I think the case is authentic English ca. 1837-38 and likely a re-case.
The following a Rack Lever ca. 1818-19.
On second thought your watch case ca. 1815-16.
I do not believe it can be 1837/38. The mark [T.H/J.H], to the best of my knowledge was not used after 1830. I infer from all the evidence I have seen and the opinions expressed by others, that Robert watch is in its original case carrying a genuine set of hallmarks and maker's mark.
My family and I thank all contributors! I will get better pictures posted soon. The 1815-16 dates fit the timeline I know of the early life of the watch. My up-close inspection of the watch matches more with the characteristics I'm reading about genuine English hallmarks. I appreciate Mr Mundy's comments especially, but all of you have taught me something about looking at the watch as a watch and not a prop in an old family story.
Nice Pair-case there PL-do you think you could post the third pic-on thread "Chester hall-makes - photographed. Allan
1820...............My 1816 London, My 1811 is Chester, forgot my...........1818 Johnson (Same
as PL's, but different case).
Graham and or John M. always our best at recall, most of our gold American cases
are post 1820.
***Edit ............Repair guy I sent you to Robert, restored my Johnson in post #7. If you
move to the UK, I'd go with Graham.
I should have said first thought ca. 1815-16.
Robert does your watch have a Massey escapement and if so which one?
Given how hard it is to see between the plates on these full-plate movements, I think that's a big ask for Robert!
For Robert's benefit, Edward Massey developed several variants of a detached lever escapement following his patents of 1812 and 1814, and subsequent research, (by Alan Treherne in the UK, whose description of these varieties are below), has identified five distinct types, classified as types I to V, only four of which are likely to be met with, the type IV being extremely rare. They're distinguished by the shape and configuration of the roller on the balance staff, which is the part which engages with the fork on the end of the lever, and hence difficult to see without removing the balance, (don't try this at home kids ...).
I have no idea about the mechanical details of this watch except what I’ve learned in the last few days from the nice folks contributing to this forum. Most say it’s a Massey made around 1815/16. If I can get excellent photos of the inner workings maybe that will help, but it’s hard to see in there! Stay tuned.
Indeed it is difficult, one problem is getting the camera to focus on the precise area of the balance staff between the plates, which is compounded by lack of light in there.
Robert - this may help using a Johnson Massey III example.
The photograph was taken with the movement removed from the case - with the movement still in the case, it can be very difficult and often impossible. The case may block the view you need, and taking photographs of the escapement with the movement in the case, requires considerable care, even if the line of sight you need is not blocked. For your watch, looking at the last photograph in your second post, it is possible that the line of sight you need may be clear, but you will need to be very careful.
Ideally, you need the SLR camera with a macro lens mounted on a tripod, however, it is surprising what can be achieved with top of the range phones. As Graham has indicated you need focus very carefully on the precise area of interest and for that you need good light. I have had some success recently using an LED torch. I photograph in raw mode and do some minimal processing using Lightroom and then export to jpg before posting to the forum.
I took this with the movement mounted edgeways, the original photograph in raw form was ~26MB ...
The green arrow is the balance staff, the red arrow is the roller, (which looks blue in this picture), and the blue arrow is the impulse jewel pin, in this Massey type III held in the roller at its top end only. You can see how little depth of field there is, so the focus is critical.
The jewel in the type II is held at both ends and there's no jewel in a type I, just a single tooth cut into the steel. The type V is similar to a type III but the jewel is mounted in a disc rather than a small protrusion.
Robert - here's the photographs to go with Graham's descriptions - unfortunately, but not surprisingly I don't own a Massey IV - but at least one member struck it very very lucky see here.
These are the ones, together with the Massey III which mere mortals own ...
The Massey type IV was really an interesting blind alley and its lack of success has led to its rarity and the high prices achieved by the few examples which have survived. The other Massey types, in contrast to that, were instrumental in establishing the detached lever as a viable and robust escapement which was capable of being economically produced in large numbers. Although the detached lever was invented by Thomas Mudge in the 1750s, it remained an expensive and delicate novelty until Massey, (and to a lesser extent his contemporary George Savage), invented their versions which brought it into the mainstream and led to the predominance of the lever in mechanical watches right up to the present day.
Is this a word?
I'm working on getting much better photos tomorrow, and we will take a look. Thanks, Bob.
I’m afraid my photos are not much more revealing to my untrained eye, but I’ll post them here anyway. Perhaps people who know what they are looking at can describe what they see. These are no match for the ones posted by John Matthews and gmorse.
I did find interesting and intriguing inscriptions which may have been made by watch repair folks at one time or another, including one on the patch to the case and another group on the inside case which may be “Kl & Co.” above a column of numbers with lines scratched beneath each. The one on the patch looks like “A & D” above the numbers 327. I’m supposing these marks were made in the States, but really don’t know when the watch made it from England; if it’s an original case it could have been anytime from 1816 to 1844, and already very worn, and patched, in England. Did watch repairers typically mark their work in those times?
Regards to all,
PS to PL —- it’s not a word.
Your pictures are clear enough to see some detail, but unfortunately most of the critical part is hidden behind the escape wheel or the lever; the first picture comes closest but the viewpoint is a little too low to show all the roller on the balance staff. However, I think I can see part of a roller disc, which could be the top of a type V roller, which is the only one with such a disc, and although it's been given the highest number is believed to be one of the earlier variants, and less common than the types II and III.
What they do show is a very unusual doughnut-shaped collet on the escape wheel between the wheel and its pinion, what appears to be a rather short, straight-sided lever tail, (usually a sign of an earlier date), the pallet jewels in their slots, and the brass wire which acts on the back of the lever to stop the watch when the brake is applied.
Many watch repairers did indeed mark the insides of the cases with their own private codes, which are now largely undecipherable.
Robert - I agree with Graham. In the photograph your movement is on the left and my Johnson #2830 Massey V from ~1818 is on the right ...
Hopefully I am seeing as Graham ...
Red arrows - the top of the roller disc
Blue arrows - straight lever tail
Green arrow - doughnut shaped collet
Many thanks. I will eventually get better photos, but I don’t have the nerve or expertise to remove the case just yet. If I was 8 years old it would already be out!
What if it's an STR!
If it is, and it isn't a later conversion, and the date turns out to be 1815/16, that certainly will be a find!