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Joseph Johnson Pocket Watch

David Haubrich

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Jan 16, 2018
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Hello,

My father gave me a Joseph Johnson pocket watch. Apparently my great grandfather used it on the rail roads in the US. I can have it repaired for $1900 as follows:

Replace Mainspring, Fabricate Missing Secondary Winding Click (this part is missing from movement), Fabricate Winding Key (existing key is worn, does not work).


I am not sure if it is worth fixing. Does anyone know how to assess the value of a Joseph Johnson watch?

Thanks,
Dave

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gmorse

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Jan 7, 2011
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Hi Dave, and welcome,

...I can have it repaired for $1900 as follows:

Replace Mainspring, Fabricate Missing Secondary Winding Click (this part is missing from movement), Fabricate Winding Key (existing key is worn, does not work)...
This looks like a genuine Johnson movement that's been exported from Liverpool to the US and cased locally, as many were in the 19th century.

I have to say that the price you've been quoted for the work you describe is 4 to 6 times what I'd regard as reasonable. Whoever you went to for this doesn't even know the correct names for the parts, and possibly didn't want to do the work, (or maybe couldn't do it . . .).

The clean and overhaul should be around $200-250, mainsprings for these are around $20 or $30, fitting it would roughly double that, the click would certainly have to be made, say $100 tops, and the winding key isn't even a part of the watch, so even if a really nice period one were to be supplied, the total comes out nowhere near that figure of $1900.

Whilst I know that people who will undertake a watch like this are few and far between in the US, (I'm assuming that's your location), I suggest that you search again!

By the way, we can't offer valuations in this Forum, as the rules preclude that, but I think the watch is well worth having these quite minor repairs carried out if you can achieve a more reasonable estimate.

Regards,

Graham
 

David Haubrich

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Hi Graham, Thanks for your message. I'm living in Switzerland nowadays so if you know of a place around Europe that can make a good, affordable repair I am all ears. Ideally I would like a service to make a repair that is in tune with the style of the watch, but I think finding someone with Joseph Johnson watch repair experience will be nearly impossible. Regards, Dave
 

gmorse

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Hi Dave,

...but I think finding someone with Joseph Johnson watch repair experience will be nearly impossible...
There's no essential difference between a Johnson and any other English watch of the same period as far as repairs are concerned. Practically all necessary replacement parts have to be made from scratch now.

The watches were made largely by hand on a 'putting out' system involving a large number of specialist craftspeople each making a particular part which was then assembled by finishers. The Liverpool area of the UK, particularly the town of Prescot, was a major centre for the manufacture of watch movements, from raw movements, (or 'frames'), to complete watches, and Johnson would have used these small workshops to source these frames which he then finished.

The problem is not simply finding a 'Johnson' part because there's no such thing now, but is broader, in that finding anyone who's willing and competent to repair these fusee levers or verges commercially is becoming very hard.

Please have a look at your 'Conversations' tab in your profile.

Regards,

Graham
 

MartyR

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Dec 16, 2008
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Welcome to the board, David :)

It's a fine looking watch, and if you search "joseph johnson" in this forum you'll find much discussion on this highly regarded maker and of his sons ... and see many other examples of his work. I blinked several times at the repair quote you were given o_O and you can be confident in heeding Graham Morse's advice!

I cannot make out any case marks in your photos, but I suspepct that the case is American and probably solid gold. That would be common for Johnson watches, a large proportion of which were exported to America as complete movements and cased in there, as a means of avoiding import duties on the case, and perhaps also because of style preferences. We could tell you more about this if you could post some phots which clearly show the case markings-

Although your great-grandfather may have used the watch on the railroads, I'm not sure if the watch would have been officially accepted by the railroads as being of "railroad grade". If you're interested in finding out more about that, I would suggest you post the question in the American Pocket Watches forum where there are very many experts on the subject.

Finally, I assume that you know that your watch is in about the 1820-1850 period - it would be interesting to know when your great-grandfather was working on the railroads. There is an interesting thread in this forum entitled "Joseph Johnson database" which has been created by one of our members and in which you might be able to date your watch from the serial number on the movement.
 

MartyR

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Dec 16, 2008
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Hello again David.

As a new member you may not be familiar with the "forum search" facility, so I thought it would help if I gave you a direct link to some other Johnson thread. Click this link and you will see some threads, including the database I mention - 5th thread in the list.
 

gmorse

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Hi Dave,

...There is an interesting thread in this forum entitled "Joseph Johnson database" which has been created by one of our members and in which you might be able to date your watch from the serial number on the movement...
This is a very comprehensive listing of Joseph Johnson watches, but unfortunately one factor which it does illustrate is that there's insufficient hard evidence so far for any coherent scheme of numbering relating to dates. It's also clear that Johnson watches were often copied and faked, both here in the UK and by Continental makers, mostly Swiss, although yours appears to be a genuine example.

This link should take you straight to the pdf file of the latest version of the listing.

Regards,

Graham
 

Lychnobius

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Aug 5, 2015
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May we see a more detailed image of the back of the movement, showing the serial number? As far as I can see* this does indeed appear to be a genuine product of the house of Johnson, probably not earlier than 1830 or later than 1850, but there are sometimes subtle clues in the style of lettering etc. which cannot be seen in a small-scale image. The engraved inscription should include the address '25 Church Street'. As Graham has said, the case is probably American; the broad flattened pendant and the chasing on the bezel are typical of U.S. practice. I think some or all the hands are later replacements.

Oliver Mundy.

*I am the compiler of the database mentioned above, with a great deal of help from other members.
 

David Haubrich

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Jan 16, 2018
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Hello Graham, Oliver, and Martin, Thanks very much for your comments and information. I've been really busy ramping up in a new job and only got back to this thread this morning. I've sent the watch to a shop on the East Coast of the US last November. It's still there and they are waiting for me to respond to their quotation for repair. I venture to say that based on your comments I may just tell them to ship it back to my parents place in Illinois, then bring it back to Europe on my next US trip which may be this coming December. I've attached the original photos I hastingly took some years back. They are the best photos I have of it for now but I plan to take better ones later. The serial number (60001) can be seen both on the back/inside of the casing and also on the back of the movement (I think I'm using the correct terminology?). I still need to check out your links. Dave

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Lychnobius

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Aug 5, 2015
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Dave, thank you for this further information. This is an unusually late example (I know of only four with higher serial numbers) but I continue to believe it is genuine; it looks very similar to Nos. 60286 and 60664, for both of which I have more detailed images. Incidentally, both of these omit the address just as this one apparently does. No. 60664 is said to show English hallmarks for the year 1850 in the case, but I cannot verify this.

Oliver Mundy.
 

David Haubrich

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Thanks Oliver, and all. The information provided on this message board has been the most helpful I have to date. I'm fairly certain this site/message board is the only place where I can useful information. I very much appreciate all the work that this group has done to pull a story together about the Joseph Johnson brand and its history. Please let me know if there is any further information I can provide to help with your database and I will try to do so...although it may take some time before the watch is in my hands again. Cheers, Dave
 

Keith R...

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Dave, I have a Johnson (genuine like this), 25 Church Street, and 55xxx. Our buddy Oliver has a pretty good
data base on this maker who actually died in March 1827. I forgot to say hey to Oliver on the American Board!!!

Keith R...
 

Keith R...

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For Oliver's data base.................found also in my drawer this morning was a Joseph Johnson coin silver English hallmark, (I'll
have to look it up), the serial number is 14,201 and is 17J with plain gold balance. My guess about 1835 ish. I can't message
you Oliver (for now).

PS, if you need my SN# for my 87 Brownlow Hill Johnson let me know, I'll open it up. As I recall it was
hallmarked for 1850 on the case.

Keith R...
 

Lychnobius

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Aug 5, 2015
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Keith, it is good to hear from you again! I already have details of Johnson No. 14201. The hallmark is unambiguously London 1877, although the movement (whose authenticity I see no reason to doubt) must be nearly forty years older. The case was clearly made specifically for this movement, despite the lapse in time; probably the movement is one which was somehow diverted from its usual destination in the hold of a ship and knocked about in a jeweller's storeroom until eventually somebody decided to fit it out for use.

I also have a record for a watch by Joseph of Brownlow Hill, No. 2165, in your possession. As you say, the case is hallmarked for 1850.

Oliver Mundy.
 

Keith R...

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Nov 27, 2012
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Thanks Oliver, I have just discovered how to access my old posts. Great knowledge from you
is always appreciated!. Thanks also for the revised data base via email.

Keith R...
 

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