• The NAWCC Museum and Library & Research Center will reopen starting Wednesday, January 6, 2021 as per Governor Wolf's reopening mandate.

Richard Kevitt Rotherham's apprentice watch?

John Matthews

Registered User
NAWCC Member
Sep 22, 2015
2,671
1,207
113
France
Country
Region
I recently purchased this Coventry made verge fusee, signed by Richard Kevitt Rotherham: I believe there is sufficient evidence to infer that it was probably made while he was an apprentice. As such, it may be unique. I know of no other watches carrying his signature.

20201105 001.jpg 12.jpg

The firm that became Rotherhams, can be traced back to a number of C18th Coventry watch makers, some of whom had family connections, through marriage, to the Liverpool trade. The earliest, Samuel Vale (snr), formed the partnership, Vale & Howlett, with a former apprentice. The latter subsequently formed a partnership with the son, Samuel Vale (jnr), and John Carr. Separately, John Rotherham, a Coventry watch maker born ~1758 joined the partnership to form Vale, Howlett, Carr and Rotherham. I believe this was shortly after 1810.

However, this was not the first relationship between the Vale and Rotherham lines.

Richard Kevitt Rotherham was one of seven? sons resulting from the marriage of John to Bridget Kevitt, a widow from her earlier marriage with Thomas Platt. Richard was baptised on 28 March, 1789. As was normal, he left school when he was 14. The Coventry apprentice records show that on 16 May, 1803 he was apprenticed to Vale & Howlett, presumably for a period of seven years. Interestingly, the Coventry Apprentice Register records more than 60 apprentices assigned to Vale & Howlett over a ~30 year period.

20201105 003.jpg 20201105 008.jpg

As can be seen in the photographs, the watch is clearly signed Richard Hewitt Rotherham, both on the back plate and the unusual brass, spring-loaded dome. On the back plate the signature is followed by AD1807; this form is normally taken to imply the date when the engraving was done. I believe this is a reasonable assumption here, despite the implication that Richard would have only been four years into his apprenticeship at the time. My current thoughts are that the rather unique features of the watch, are an expression of Richard practicing various skills as part of learning his trade.

I have tried to show these unique features in the photographs, which I believe speak for themselves.

20201105 012.jpg 20201105 011.jpg 20201105 009.jpg

The dial is not original and at this stage I am not absolutely certain of the exact nature of what appears to be a transfer print.

20201105 005-3.jpg

The open face silver case carries a set of rather worn London hallmarks that I have interpreted as for 1805/06 {K} with the inverted incuse maker's mark of James Richards {IR}, who at that date was operating from City Road in London.

The watch works, but is in need of service & repairs to the case and dome.

Comments on its unique features and my inferences would be appreciated.

John
 
Last edited:

gmorse

Registered User
NAWCC Member
Jan 7, 2011
11,983
1,875
113
Breamore, Hampshire, UK
Country
Region
Hi John,

The hinged dome is signed for Kevitt, not Hewitt.

This movement fitting design is most unusual in an English watch of this age, especially the hinged sprung dome and the securing of the movement by screws in an extended brass edge rather than swinging out on a joint. Extended brass edges are usually indicative of a re-case, but in those circumstances, the new case is usually rather later in date than the movement, but here it appears to be older. If we take the 'AD 1807' on the top plate to be a date, the style of the movement seems quite early. I'd like to see some pictures of the movement out of the case, because I suspect you'd see evidence that it was originally made as a swing-out. If the movement and case are roughly contemporary, I still doubt that they've always been together.

The dial shows clear signs that the image is a half-tone with a fairly coarse screen pattern, and the drawing style points to a relatively modern (1930s?) addition.

Regards,

Graham
 

John Matthews

Registered User
NAWCC Member
Sep 22, 2015
2,671
1,207
113
France
Country
Region
Last edited:

John Matthews

Registered User
NAWCC Member
Sep 22, 2015
2,671
1,207
113
France
Country
Region
Graham

It may well be a re-case, and for that matter the movement might have been originally a swing out.

My thoughts are that Richard Kevitt Rotherham, working as an apprentice at Vale & Howlett, took an existing movement and an existing case, to produce what we see now (apart from the dial!).

The signature on both the dome and back plate and its form on the latter, I take as evidence that R K Rotherham worked on this movement at the time he was an apprentice.

John
 

gmorse

Registered User
NAWCC Member
Jan 7, 2011
11,983
1,875
113
Breamore, Hampshire, UK
Country
Region
Hi John,

The signature on both the dome and back plate and its form on the latter, I take as evidence that R K Rotherham worked on this movement at the time he was an apprentice.
I think that's quite plausible. The engraving is certainly lively but does show some evidence that the technique is still being developed. His grasp of equine anatomy is a little vague as well!

Regards,

Graham
 

SKennedy

Registered User
Jan 5, 2017
218
107
43
Country
With the movement saying 1807 and the case marked as 1805/06 they might have always been together. I see no reason to doubt your suggestion of the apprentice taking some existing pieces to create something his own. It might have been an unusual activity for a normal apprentice but with the strong family ties that seemed to be about perhaps that made it more feasible?

If the case does not have an opening bezel it must have only ever housed a movement that could be set from the back which is very unusual in itself. I wonder if there are any signs on your movement that would suggest the back hand set was a modification (perhaps by Kevitt) to make this movement suit the case?

I have seen another movement of this sort of era with a similar mounting and very similar sprung dome, with back hand setting and even the horse engraving. The balance cock engraving had been done taking into account the extra hole for the hand set square. With that one I pondered if it was originally intended to be fitted up as a small clock rather than a watch.
 

John Pavlik

Registered User
NAWCC Member
Dec 30, 2001
2,203
377
83
Green Bay, Wi
Country
Region
An example of this type of case which I feel is very original to the movement.. The front bezel is not hinged and does not open .. The case is clearly marked With a C in the proper cartouche.. for 1818 and case maker Charles and Jeremiah Mince 59 Banner Sq St. Lukes.. Richard Powis is listed as working London 1809-1828.. Rosamond St Clerkenwell.. The escapement is a cylinder...The cannon pinion has a square for minute hand but it is flush with hand ..

FCF3A34B-26BD-477C-BA3C-4FD037AEB6D1.jpeg 8709F957-E2E3-4B51-80C5-D1B32BC3C1BE.jpeg 76F7BDBB-60C0-486B-90B2-EE911E52BB5C.jpeg 655BCEDF-78D7-410D-A4F6-EB452305D173.jpeg 93AFCA48-CAB7-4CFB-A3C7-80BE420080AD.jpeg
 
Last edited:
  • Like
Reactions: Jerry Treiman

John Matthews

Registered User
NAWCC Member
Sep 22, 2015
2,671
1,207
113
France
Country
Region
John - thank-you for posting this watch.

The construction of the case is most interesting in its resemblance to the Rotherham. Do you have a photographs of the hallmarks, maker's mark and one to show the hinge of the dome.

John
 

John Pavlik

Registered User
NAWCC Member
Dec 30, 2001
2,203
377
83
Green Bay, Wi
Country
Region
Here you go... I have a couple more examples of winding and setting full plate watches from the 1830’s...The rear inside dome is spring loaded, and a small lever on the inside band is used to release the catch ..

EC6C8736-C4B4-4CC5-94D0-38580CDFFC9F.jpeg C9A20C8F-6EEB-43F1-9820-80E1FDDEE226.jpeg
 

John Matthews

Registered User
NAWCC Member
Sep 22, 2015
2,671
1,207
113
France
Country
Region
John - again my thanks for your quick response.

I agree with your interpretation of the year 1818/19 (it has the distinctive 'lobe' at the upper end of the character which is absent from the capital 'C' of 1798/99). However, according to all the references I have, I believe the CM incuse mark is that of Charles Muston. He registered the mark on 6 February, 1816, while working from 13 St James Street, Clerkenwell (I checked Grimwald p291 as referenced in Priestley)

Is your spring loaded dome (or should we call it a dust cover?) gilded brass?

John
 

John Pavlik

Registered User
NAWCC Member
Dec 30, 2001
2,203
377
83
Green Bay, Wi
Country
Region
John,
I will defer to your more through research on the case maker... I was reading my interpretation as I had it
written on the hang tag many years ago...
The inner dome (dust cover) is gilded brass, in pretty nice condition for all the years.... I would guess it has never
been exposed to cleaning solution as it appears to be part of the case..
 
  • Like
Reactions: John Matthews

gmorse

Registered User
NAWCC Member
Jan 7, 2011
11,983
1,875
113
Breamore, Hampshire, UK
Country
Region
Hi John,

I was reading my interpretation as I had it
written on the hang tag many years ago...
The inner dome (dust cover) is gilded brass, in pretty nice condition for all the years.... I would guess it has never
been exposed to cleaning solution as it appears to be part of the case
I have an identical Muston mark, down to the wear in the first stroke of the 'M', in an 1825/6 silver case.

DSCF3609.JPG

The later mark for the Minces was CM over JM, and Charles' earlier single marks were indeed CM incuse, but in an italic script font. Muston registered the first of a series of different marks in a cartouche in 1824. (With acknowledgements to Philip Priestley).

The joint and fly spring for the dome do appear to be part of the brass edge and not the movement itself.

Regards,

Graham
 

John Pavlik

Registered User
NAWCC Member
Dec 30, 2001
2,203
377
83
Green Bay, Wi
Country
Region
Graham & John,
I assumed these full plates setting from the back were an attempt at reducing the overall
thickness of a watch ....With the cannon pinion flush with the minute hand, you reduce the height
of crystal needed ... Any thoughts on that ?
 

gmorse

Registered User
NAWCC Member
Jan 7, 2011
11,983
1,875
113
Breamore, Hampshire, UK
Country
Region
Hi John,

With the cannon pinion flush with the minute hand, you reduce the height of crystal needed ... Any thoughts on that ?
The centre arbor was often filed down when a replacement, lower crystal was fitted, or in some instances when a movement was fitted with a larger dial and case, influenced by the fashion for larger watches at the beginning of the 19th century.

Regards,

Graham
 

John Matthews

Registered User
NAWCC Member
Sep 22, 2015
2,671
1,207
113
France
Country
Region
Thanks to Allan for finding a past sale on our 'favourite auction site' which contains photographs of an identically cased example showing details of the case construction - worth a look here

John
 

John Matthews

Registered User
NAWCC Member
Sep 22, 2015
2,671
1,207
113
France
Country
Region
John Rotherham, a Coventry watch maker born ~1758 joined the partnership to form Vale, Howlett, Carr and Rotherham. I believe this was shortly after 1810.
I need to correct the above in the light of on-going research ...

An apprenticeship system existed in Coventry from the Middle Ages. In the C18th it was marked by significant corruption, which was exposed in the judgement of Lord Mansfield in 1769. His judgement was that the system was only legally satisfactory if certain conditions were met. Namely, that the term had to be of 7 years, the apprentice had to reside in the City of Coventry, and that only one trade was taught. The designation of freeman at the end of the apprenticeship, and thereby the right to vote, played an important role in requiring that the City's apprenticeship registers were accurately maintained. The first such register covered the period from 1781 to 1806, and contains records of 4373 boys. The period covers one in which the watch making industry in the City was developing rapidly and accounts for ~400 of the entries: of these 110 were allocated to founding companies that became Rotherhams.

It is said that the Coventry apprenticeship system was one of the factors that had a detrimental impact on the quality of a portion of Coventry finished watches in the first part of the C19th. It is suggested that it may have played a part in the demise of the wider English watch making industry. This is discussed in Chapter 15 of Weiss, Watch-making in England 1760-1820 , which includes excerpts from the Parliamentary Committee of 1818:

'to establish a novel system of apprenticeship, by taking an inordinate number upon a pecuniary modulus under the domination of out-door apprentices, to the number of thirty to forty at one and the same time, manifestly calculated for their own profit …'

The contrast being drawn between such a system of many lowly paid apprentices who developed skills of limited scope, opposed to the traditional apprentice system of just one or two individuals under the Master, who would obtain skills that would extend across a significant portion of the watch making process.

It is undoubtedly true that the system was abused. One of the abuses, the 'half-pay' system, also referred to as the Coventry system, flourished in trades which could absorb large numbers of low-skilled workers in mass-production, including watch making. However, I am not convinced that all criticism of the system is justified and I suspect that some, possibly many, of the contemporary commentaries, were authored by individuals who had vested interest.

I have spent a little time analysing those entries in the first register that relate to the Rotherhams founding companies. Here are a few initial observations:
  • Samuel Vale was apprenticed to John Vale of Coleshill, Warwickshire in Dec 1743
  • George Howlett was apprenticed to Samuel Vale in Sept 1760
  • Vale & Howlett signed watches are known to me from 1777
  • 68 apprentices assigned Vale & Howlett between Sept 1781 & Dec 1785
  • 4 apprentices assigned Howlett & Co. (Howlett & Carr) between May 1786 & Feb 1788
  • 24 apprentices assigned Howlett & Carr between Jun 1786 and Feb 1804
  • 1 apprentice assigned Vale, Howlett, Carr & Rotherham in May 1783 (probably 1793)
  • 13 apprentices assigned Vale, Howlett, Carr & Rotherham between Feb1793 & Sept 1805
  • Samuel Carr, son of John was apprenticed to Howlett & Carr in Jan 1792
  • John Platt, son-in law of John Rotherham (he married the widow Bridgett Platt in 1786) was apprenticed in Feb 1794
  • Richard Kevitt Rotherham was apprenticed in May 1803
  • John Rotherham appears to have joined the firm by 1793, which is earlier than I had previously thought (I believe the entry of 1783 is in error)
  • it would appear that the number of apprentices active in any one year would have been between 20 and 25, depending on the % of early terminations
  • if a significant number of the apprentices continued to be retained after 7 years, this could have resulted in a workforce of between 30-40 journeymen by 1800
John