Mysterious London-made pocket watch found in wall

gonzers

New Member
Feb 8, 2021
3
2
3
42
Country
We're having some work done on our house (in northern California) and my Goonies-inspired dreams have come true -- the crew found treasure inside one of our walls! Amongst some other items that had been squirreled away at some point in the past was this very neat pocket watch that I can't seem to find any clues about online.
Key wound. Movement, inner back cover, and face all read "Chas Stevenson London" (Chas = Charles?). Serial number is 35420. Movement also says "William St. Knightsbridge London."
Case appears to be Keystone coin silver, serial no. 1252156 and has a great heavy feel to it. Someone has inscribed on the inside of the rear of the case "General Sherman Atlanta, GA 1865" [drawing of mountains?? big shrug on that!] However it seems Keystone wasn't making cases yet in 1865 so not sure what that's about.
We love history, and discovering the past of old objects. Any clues or resources I can dive into are very welcome! Thanks in advance!

IMG_0538.jpeg IMG_0579.jpeg IMG_0578.jpeg IMG_0650.jpeg IMG_0653.jpeg IMG_0580.jpeg IMG_0656.jpeg IMG_0654.jpeg IMG_0655.jpeg IMG_0652.jpeg IMG_0657.jpeg
 

gmorse

NAWCC Member
Jan 7, 2011
12,622
2,212
113
Breamore, Hampshire, UK
Country
Region
Hi gonzers, and welcome to the forum,

Any clues or resources I can dive into are very welcome! Thanks in advance!
Well, you've already found this forum, so that's a good start!

This English movement was made around the 1860s and the signature on the top plate is most probably for the retailer; I can't find any reference in Loomes, ('Watchmakers and Clockmakers of the World'), to a Charles Stevenson at this address in London, although Knightsbridge was, and still is, a rather up-market area. This was common practice in the UK at the time, and the movement itself was probably made in one of the major watchmaking areas in the UK, the Liverpool area of the North-west, or Coventry in the Midlands. Both these centres may have been involved with this movement, as well as possible finishing work mostly done in the Clerkenwell district of London, but at this date, Coventry was increasing in importance. Since around 40 or 50 specialist trades were engaged in making a watch, using the retailer's name was a common compromise. The factory system of manufacture as we would understand it today was still some way off in the UK. Retailers and jewellers could order watches in various states of completion from makers in one of these centres, most often completely finished with all the engraved details including their names and addresses.

It will have a lever escapement with 13 jewels, although there may be endstones on the escape, which would make the count 15, so a reasonably good quality watch of its period. The winding system is a fusee, which is a conical structure intended to even out the pull of the mainspring and has a fine chain connecting the groove around it to the mainspring barrel. The watch is wound by a key fitting on the square end of the fusee arbor and must be turned anti-clockwise. There's a mechanism in the fusee which keeps the watch running whilst it's being wound, as it would otherwise stop during that process. It has a temperature-compensated balance, a feature which also indicates better quality.

It's unclear whether this movement would have been exported to the US without a case to be cased locally on arrival, as happened earlier in the 19th century, or, more likely, that the original case was replaced for some reason. English cases were made for each specific movement and watches were normally sold complete with cases.

If you intend to run it at all, I recommend that you have it serviced, since it's likely to have old, dried up lubrication which can become abrasive when combined with dust.

Regards,

Graham
 
Last edited:
  • Like
Reactions: gonzers

John Matthews

NAWCC Member
Sep 22, 2015
2,948
1,355
113
France
Country
Region
The Keystone Watch Case Company history can be found here giving ~1885 for its establishment. Others will be able to confirm from the case serial number, but I would expect that this case was made sometime later.

As Graham has said, Stevenson is not listed in the standard references and he may have been the retailer. The other possibility is that this watch, that was probably finished in Coventry, was engraved with a fictitious name and an upmarket address, solely for the purpose of attempting to achieve a marketing advantage when the watch was exported to America, cased or uncased, most likely through Liverpool. I have quickly looked through a few London trade directories (1860s, 1880s & 1890s) with no hits. A more extensive search would be required to reach a firm conclusion, but I am leaning towards the possibility that the name may be fictitious.

I would be interested to know whether the cap has any initials on the underside. If it has, I would be grateful if you could post a photograph, it may help to determine the date of manufacture and where the watch was finished.

John
 
  • Like
Reactions: gonzers

Dr. Jon

Moderator
NAWCC Member
Dec 14, 2001
6,537
929
113
New Hampshire
Country
Region
Whether the watch came to the US cased or not, this watch is very likely in its second case. As noted the case is 1880's and the movement pretty likely 1860's. The inscription of its US Civil war use is not original but it is possible that it was on teh original case.

Possible but very unlikely. If this been applied when the watch was recased it would have been done in a professional manner. This was done in the hand engraving with a rotary hand tool frequently by "clever" collectors in the 1970's.

The marking, "Railway Timekeeper," is usually on fairly good watches but it had no legal definition or significance.
 
  • Like
Reactions: gonzers

gonzers

New Member
Feb 8, 2021
3
2
3
42
Country
I would be interested to know whether the cap has any initials on the underside. If it has, I would be grateful if you could post a photograph, it may help to determine the date of manufacture and where the watch was finished.

John
Wow, super interesting and insightful knowledge — thank you Graham, John, Jon, and everyone else! I do love a good mystery... but one without an answer at the end is a bit annoying... and especially when you can’t tell if you’re dealing with a Good Guy or a Bad Guy!

Good tip John, I did find some teeny tiny initials stamped on the underside of the cap (J•S) and what appears to be “20” and “IV” (?) separately, in a more rudimentary engraving as well. Photos through a loupe are attached! Thank you again!

Cheryl

1ED99129-13B5-41E6-9423-F95564CC8DF1.jpeg CA020F89-C903-4DD3-B10E-F3E0E6065E5F.jpeg C7AB15CA-D0A4-4668-9A78-00DFBC962923.jpeg DDC9FF79-8847-46CA-9E23-58136D3164D1.jpeg
 

John Matthews

NAWCC Member
Sep 22, 2015
2,948
1,355
113
France
Country
Region
Cheryl - thank you for posting the photographs of the inside of the cap.

I know of two other caps with the initials JS Both date from ~1860, the one contained in an English hallmarked case for 1858. Unfortunately I do not have photographs and I cannot confirm whether the mark is identical. Specifically, your mark is J·S and I am not certain whether the two for which I have descriptions , are the same, or J.S.

The date corresponds to Graham's assessment and in support the use of of the 'f' for 's' in Fast at the end of the regulation scale, was little used after the middle of the C19th.

As to identifying the cap maker from the initials is next to impossible all we can do is attempt to find a match to makers who were active at that time, for which we need to known the date of the watch and the place where it was made. Many caps where made to fit the original frame upon which the watch was built, traditionally many of these were made in Lancashire, but by the middle of the C19th, examples made in Coventry had started to become more common. Other caps where made later to fit a completed movement and even those that where made with the frame, will also have been finished later in the manufacturing process. I suspect it is at this time, when the movement was close to completion, that the cap maker's mark was added.

If, as I believe the movement was finished in Coventry, there was a maker, John Stanley, who is reported to be active at that time, but I have no further information regarding his activities and the mark that he used.

The other two marks, I cannot help with, other than to say that they appear to have been added fairly early in the life of the cap and may have either been their to assist in the manufacture of the cap, or to identify the cap to a specific movement in the workshop.

John
 
Last edited:

gonzers

New Member
Feb 8, 2021
3
2
3
42
Country
The other two marks, I cannot help with, other than to say that they appear to have been added fairly early in the life of the cap and may have either been their to assist in the manufacture of the cap, or to identify the cap to a specific movement in the workshop.
Sorry I disappeared -- this is still very fascinating to me! I am likely grabbing at straws, but to me, the marks on the inside of the cap seem to read 20 and IV (4)? And the serial number of the movement ends in 420. If their order wasn't backwards (if it read IV and then 20, left to right) I'd guess that it might indeed have been meant to relate the cap to the movement? As it is, it's a fun theory.

I am curious now about the potential value of the watch vs. any risk I'd possibly be introducing by having it serviced at the local watch repair shop? I'd like to keep it... I'd love to run it, ideally, if I can. Or would repairs cost more than the value? Thanks!

Cheryl
 

gmorse

NAWCC Member
Jan 7, 2011
12,622
2,212
113
Breamore, Hampshire, UK
Country
Region
Hi Cheryl,

I am curious now about the potential value of the watch vs. any risk I'd possibly be introducing by having it serviced at the local watch repair shop? I'd like to keep it... I'd love to run it, ideally, if I can. Or would repairs cost more than the value? Thanks!
Unless you're lucky enough to have a local repair shop with the proven competence and experience to work on watches of this type, I think that you would be taking a risk, judging by some of the things I've seen perpetrated. I suggest that you ask here for recommendations, which may well involve sending the watch away. There are comparatively few people in the US who can provide this service but they do exist.

If all it needs is proper dismantling, cleaning and lubrication, without any more involved interventions, the cost should not be prohibitive and is worthwhile having done.

Regards,

Graham
 
  • Like
Reactions: gonzers

Dr. Jon

Moderator
NAWCC Member
Dec 14, 2001
6,537
929
113
New Hampshire
Country
Region
Yuor watch has a good English fusee lever movement which is difficult to service. The fusee includes a very small chain which adds to the complexity or dismantling and servicing the watch.

Yours is a very good one and they are not common but not rare either. With what you have the value of the watch is a lot less than a going rate reputable service and overhaul, not including making replacement parts, costs.

I think the watch was imported cased, and re-cased after the original case wore out or ws badly damaged. The owner may have served in the Civil War under Sherman and who ever re-cased it copied that information, very clumsily. If you can reliably tie the watch to this owner it could raise the value a bit nearer the cost of work.

You can learn more about Civil War watches in Clint Geller's book, The Appreciation and Authentication of Civil War Timepieces . We sell the book from our museum store accessible on-line. The movement of your watch is definiely of that era although the case is not. Collectors for the most part detest re-cases which clobbers value for resale.

The last to use the fusee system were English watch makers who finally gave it up in the early 20th century.

One other consideration is that recently very high end makers are re-introducing fusee and chain watches with starting prices at about $70,000. Compared to that, getting fusee watch going again for $500 to $1500 is great deal!
 
  • Like
Reactions: gonzers

gmorse

NAWCC Member
Jan 7, 2011
12,622
2,212
113
Breamore, Hampshire, UK
Country
Region
Hi Jon,

The last to use the fusee system were English watch makers who finally gave it up in the early 20th century.
Apart, that is, from all those marine chronometers . . .

Regards,

Graham
 

Forum statistics

Threads
167,007
Messages
1,455,407
Members
87,241
Latest member
UltraTitan
Encyclopedia Pages
1,057
Total wiki contributions
2,914
Last edit
E. Howard & Co. by Clint Geller