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Litherland Whiteside rack-lever movement 1810

Lychnobius

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Aug 5, 2015
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My latest acquisition is a rack-lever movement by Litherland, Whiteside & Co. of Liverpool, No. 7207. David Penney, from whom I bought it, suggests a date of about 1810, which seems consistent with the summary graph of serial numbers given by David Evans* and with the fact that the name of the firm became Litherland, Davies & Co. somewhere between 1813 (Evans) and 1816 (Britten). Obviously this fairly late example, made several years after Peter Litherland's death, does not compare with the fine pre-1800 specimens posted last summer by John Pavlik and Jerry Treiman; nonetheless I think it is worth a glance as a complete and reasonably well preserved example of a four-wheel-train rack lever from the workshop, albeit not from the hand, of the inventor.

The dial (with non-original hands) looks very like that of a typical English watch of twenty or so years later, apart from the fact that the white enamel still has a gloss finish rather than the matt surface favoured by British makers from the 1820s onwards. Similarly, the backplate has exactly the layout followed in most British full-plate watches for the rest of the century, with detachable barrel-bridge (was Litherland the first to use this?) and Bosley regulator; only the bell-shaped table shows that this is not a movement from the 1830s. The fusee has maintaining-power and the 'hack' mechanism is still present, although the brass-wire detent which originally bore against the pallet-arm of the lever has been bent out of the way. The cock is an early example of the three-dimensional style of decoration especially associated with Liverpool in the second quarter of the century. Easily noticeable is the adjustment-slide for the lever, secured by a large bright-headed screw and allowing both longitudinal and lateral movement. This is at almost a right angle to the lever; its purpose, evidently, is to modify the depth of engagement between lever and escape-wheel rather than between lever and pinion.

Unfortunately the watch does not run; it will tick unevenly for five seconds, and that is all. Pivots, mainspring and fusee-chain are all intact, but the balance-spring seems to be distorted and there is no free end projecting beyond the stud-pin. My guess is that the end of the spring has broken off in the past and somebody has tried to resuscitate the movement by re-pinning the shortened spring without correcting its alignment. I suspect that the movement will not run again unless the whole spring is replaced, but that there is nothing else preventing it from doing so. The gilding is still very bright and I cannot see any trace of rust on the steel parts.

I have discovered that there is a peculiar difficulty when removing and replacing the balance of a rack-lever. With most levers, there is only one position in which the impulse-pin and the fork of the lever will engage; the pin (or, in a Savage escapement, the pair of pins) is either between the prongs of the fork (right) or outside them (wrong, and instantly recognisable as such). In the rack-lever, by contrast, the rack has twelve teeth and the pinion on the balance-staff has six leaves; any of the six leaves will engage happily in any of the eleven slots between the rack teeth, so that there are (I think) sixty-six possible permutations, but only one of these will allow the watch to run! Not realising this at first, I lost the alignment so that the escapement would not tick at all, and it needed several hours of trial and error to bring rack and pinion back into what I think is the correct relationship.

I must apologise for the poor image of the dial; suddenly my elbows decided to remind me that Nature did not intend them to function as a tripod! Also, it will be noticed that the balance-spring is disengaged from the regulator pins; I corrected this afterwards.

Oliver Mundy.

*'Peter Litherland, Liverpool, and the Rack Lever', in Antiquarian Horology, March 2010.

litherland_7207_00.jpg litherland_7207_01.jpg litherland_7207_02.jpg litherland_7207_03.jpg litherland_7207_04.jpg litherland_7207_05.jpg litherland_7207_06.jpg litherland_7207_07.jpg
 

gmorse

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Jan 7, 2011
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Hi Oliver,

Thanks for posting this, we don't often get to see a rack lever in as much detail as this.

The stud appears to be slightly twisted, is it a little loose in the plate? This could account in part for the distortion in the hairspring.

You would be right about the adjuster if it only moves in one dimension relative to the balance wheel, but if it has freedom to move in two dimensions it could also affect the depthing into the balance pinion.

Balance brakes seem to have been disabled in this way more often than not!

Regards,

Graham
 

Lychnobius

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Aug 5, 2015
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Redruth, Cornwall, UK
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Thank you, Graham. - I must admit to having cautiously tweaked the balance-spring stud (which, while not actually loose, can be rotated) in an attempt to persuade the spring to lie flatter and more centrally. When I first saw it it was even more 'all on one side' than it appears in the images.

I find that there is an old thread (https://mb.nawcc.org/showthread.php?99535-Rack-lever-1835-by-Litherland-design-refiner) in which Art Bissell posted a complete rack-lever signed 'Litherland Davies & Co' but otherwise almost identical to mine and with a serial number only a couple of hundred further on. The gold case (probably by Thomas Helsby, although this was not identified at the time) had hallmarks for 1813. This seems to confirm, if confirmation is needed, that the change of name occurred in 1813 as David Evans states, rather than three years later.

Oliver Mundy.
 
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John Pavlik

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Very nice example Oliver !! I agree with you on aligning the rack and pinion.. Remember though, that the lever still needs to be centered between the banking pins.. One issue that I have run onto is the
pin holding the hairspring.. When inserting , it appears to distort the hairspring.. I have had some luck with chaining the pin. with either a thinner or thicker one.. sometimes filing a flat side on the pin helps
with the distortion..
 

gmorse

NAWCC Member
Jan 7, 2011
12,837
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Breamore, Hampshire, UK
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Hi John,

... One issue that I have run onto is the pin holding the hairspring.. When inserting , it appears to distort the hairspring.. I have had some luck with chaining the pin. with either a thinner or thicker one.. sometimes filing a flat side on the pin helps with the distortion...
Filing a flat is exactly the right thing to do. The flat also helps if you need to rotate the pin in the stud to level the spring slightly. All taper pins should be thrown out when dismantling a watch and replaced with new ones when re-assembling, nicely rounded off at both ends after being cut to the correct length.

Regards,

Graham
 

Omexa

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Feb 28, 2010
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Hi Graham, "The flat also helps if you need to rotate the pin in the stud to level the spring slightly." I worked this out for myself a while back. Regards Ray
 
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Lychnobius

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Aug 5, 2015
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Redruth, Cornwall, UK
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This movement has come to life!

Although I described the balance-spring as distorted, I also thought it possible that the spring had simply been pinned at the wrong point; the bulging of the outermost turn suggested that much more of it should project beyond the stud. Yesterday I took courage to act on this theory. I fed the spring through the stud until it looked right (I had no other means of judging), fitted a new pin, re-centred the lever (I shall describe the method presently) and replaced the cock. When I cautiously applied clockwise pressure to the winding-square I found for the first time that the watch was ticking more or less evenly. I released the pressure, and to my delight the watch continued to run. It has now kept going for sixteen hours. It runs very fast, but given that I was working entirely by eye and ear I do not think I could possibly expect a better result; further improvement would almost certainly involve changing the position of the spring on the balance-staff, and this is really too delicate a manoeuvre for my limited skills and equipment.

As for the centring of the lever: - I mentioned some of the difficulties of this in my first posting, and I might have added that in the absence of the balance the lever tends to spring to one or the other end of its travel; unlike most detached levers, it will not stay at its mid-point unless it is held there. The banking-pins are no help (see John Pavlik's posting), since they are a long way from the edge of the plate, being placed inboard of the lever pivot, and are unusually far apart; I could barely see them between the plates, not to mention estimating the position of the lever relative to them. My answer, which I do not for a moment recommend as legitimate workshop practice, was to cut a pointer about an inch long from a piece of cardboard and attach it to the outer end of the lever with a tiny spot of glue. I could then use this as a handle by which to move the lever to its half-way point (which again I had to gauge by eye alone) and hold it there while using the other hand to reinstate the balance. Afterwards it was easy enough to pull the cardboard pointer away and to chip the glue off the polished surface of the lever.

Oliver Mundy.
 
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