What do I have here?

Aug 9, 2022
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A family member passed away and I pulled this from what they had piled for the garage sale. It caught my eye and I have been diving deep trying to figure out what I have here. I've dated it back to 1794 because of the stamped hallmarks in the silver (I'll post photos). The maker, my research lead me to think, could be a P. Edmond or John Ellicott and the location between London or Scotland. The watch papers I found (will also post those photos) two were dated. The first was Feb 12th, 1852, and the second Oct 9th, 1838 and the locations were Alford, Aberdeen, Rhynie. I need your educated input here. Any info would be greatly appreciated.
Danaca Flores

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gmorse

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Hi Danaca, and welcome to the forum,
Any info would be greatly appreciated.
You're spot on with the case date letter, it's 1794/5, (the London assay office changed the letter in May each year, so it can represent part of two years). The mark at the bottom is the monarch's head, (George III), and signifies that duty has been paid on the silver cases. This was only applied in watch cases between 1784 and 1798. The crowned leopard's head is the mark for London. Unfortunately the case maker's/sponsor's mark is very indistinct, but it appears to be incuse; are the marks in the inner case any clearer?

To clarify, the maker of the cases didn't make the movement, case making was a separate specialised craft and each case would have been made for a specific movement, there was no standardisation then.

I see that you haven't posted any pictures of the inner case or the movement. If you're unsure of how to see the movement, the front bezel with the glass and the movement itself are both hinged to the bowl of the inner case at the top, (XII, next to the pendant). The bezel will click open if you gently pry under the lip at VI, and then you'll see a small steel part peeping out from under the dial at VI. Press that in and the movement will swing open and you may see a plain dust cap or the movement itself. If it has a cap, slide the blue steel crescent shaped piece clockwise and it will lift off, revealing the movement. Pictures of the inside of the case, the dial and the movement will be very helpful.

The collection of watch papers is great, but it's important to appreciate that being ephemera they can get shuffled about and may be swapped into different watches, so they may not all refer to this watch, but the majority being for the same repairer, Lumsden in Alford, suggests that they do belong to this watch. There are two Alfords in the UK, one in Lincolnshire and one in Aberdeen, Scotland, so the latter would seem the most likely. When you open the inner case and see the movement, it will most probably have a signature and location engraved on the top plate. This is not who made it or indeed where it was made, but is usually the jeweller or shop that commissioned it from one of the workshops in the Northwest of England, or possibly in the Midlands or even London.

The London hallmark doesn't necessarily mean that the movement was made there, many case makers in other cities registered their marks in London as well as more local assay offices because of the great prestige of London as a watch and clock making centre at the time.

Looking again at your first picture, I can see enough of the dial and hands to say that they're typical of the 1790s; the dial is white vitreous enamel on a copper substrate and the hands are the correct steel 'beetle and poker' pattern, and because they properly fit the dimensions of the dial, they could well be original.

Regards,

Graham
 
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Aug 9, 2022
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Hi Danaca, and welcome to the forum,


You're spot on with the case date letter, it's 1794/5, (the London assay office changed the letter in May each year, so it can represent part of two years). The mark at the bottom is the monarch's head, (George III), and signifies that duty has been paid on the silver cases. This was only applied in watch cases between 1784 and 1798. The crowned leopard's head is the mark for London. Unfortunately the case maker's/sponsor's mark is very indistinct, but it appears to be incuse; are the marks in the inner case any clearer?

To clarify, the maker of the cases didn't make the movement, case making was a separate specialised craft and each case would have been made for a specific movement, there was no standardisation then.

I see that you haven't posted any pictures of the inner case or the movement. If you're unsure of how to see the movement, the front bezel with the glass and the movement itself are both hinged to the bowl of the inner case at the top, (XII, next to the pendant). The bezel will click open if you gently pry under the lip at VI, and then you'll see a small steel part peeping out from under the dial at VI. Press that in and the movement will swing open and you may see a plain dust cap or the movement itself. If it has a cap, slide the blue steel crescent shaped piece clockwise and it will lift off, revealing the movement. Pictures of the inside of the case, the dial and the movement will be very helpful.

The collection of watch papers is great, but it's important to appreciate that being ephemera they can get shuffled about and may be swapped into different watches, so they may not all refer to this watch, but the majority being for the same repairer, Lumsden in Alford, suggests that they do belong to this watch. There are two Alfords in the UK, one in Lincolnshire and one in Aberdeen, Scotland, so the latter would seem the most likely. When you open the inner case and see the movement, it will most probably have a signature and location engraved on the top plate. This is not who made it or indeed where it was made, but is usually the jeweller or shop that commissioned it from one of the workshops in the Northwest of England, or possibly in the Midlands or even London.

The London hallmark doesn't necessarily mean that the movement was made there, many case makers in other cities registered their marks in London as well as more local assay offices because of the great prestige of London as a watch and clock making centre at the time.

Looking again at your first picture, I can see enough of the dial and hands to say that they're typical of the 1790s; the dial is white vitreous enamel on a copper substrate and the hands are the correct steel 'beetle and poker' pattern, and because they properly fit the dimensions of the dial, they could well be original.

Regards,

Graham
Wow, Graham thank you so much for all that information. My head is still spinning I’m holding something with so much history. I wish I could go back to then. I was able to get the watch itself open. What do you think?

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gmorse

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Hi Danaca,
I was able to get the watch itself open. What do you think?
Thanks for the pictures, there are no unpleasant surprises there.

The case maker, ('IR'), is probably James Richards at 9 Bridgewater Square, London, who registered this mark on 26th February 1790. The use of 'I' for initials instead of 'J', as you might expect, was quite common, and was probably because the Latin alphabet had no 'J'.

Everything about the movement is consistent with the case date. All the elements you can see on the movement which appear to be gold are actually gilt brass, a process involving mercury which was extremely hazardous to the health of the practitioners of the gilding craft. The blue screws are steel which has been coloured by carefully controlled heating. The silver disc near the top of the picture is the means of regulating the rate of the movement; the hand engraved on the plate at the edge of it is the pointer against which it's set, turning the disk with a key to a lower number will make the watch run slower, and vice versa with a higher number. It alters the effective length of the balance spring attached to the balance, hiding away under the circular decorated balance cock.

The watch is wound with a key on the steel square sitting in the cut out in the edge of the balance cock foot on the left of the picture. This is part of the mechanism called the fusee, a device which evens out the pull of the mainspring over the 30 or so hours it will run the watch from fully wound, and consists of a roughly conical piece with a continuous groove running round it, connected to the spring barrel by a very fine chain, not unlike a bicycle chain. Most English watches with this arrangement have to be wound anti-clockwise; only the minority which are wound from the front through a hole in the dial are wound clockwise. Winding pulls all the chain onto the fusee and it's pulled back onto the barrel as the watch runs, providing the power to move all the wheels and the hands.

The balance is an oscillating mechanism which controls the release of the mainspring power; without it the mainspring would unwind very quickly and it would be useless as a timekeeper. There are several types of mechanism which provide this control, and your watch has one of the earliest types of these 'escapements', known as a verge, whose inventor is unknown but which was in use in timepieces from late medieval times.

If the watch hasn't been cleaned and lubricated for some years, as seems very probable from what you describe, it shouldn't be run until that's been done.

Regards,

Graham
 
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John Matthews

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Danaca - I add my welcome to that of Graham's.

Graham has provided significant information regarding the case maker and the general characteristics of the watch movement.

It is clear that the watch was made in England - do you have any information of how and when it may have arrived in America? Does your family history have any connections to the place names shown on the watch papers?

As Graham has indicated, caution is needed in making the assumption that watch papers relate to the watch where they are now found. This is particularly the situation with watches that have changed hands in the last 20 years or so. Some collectors are known to collect watch papers to add to items in their collections. Although this is less likely to be the situation with 'sets' of papers, it can happen, and it is always preferable to have collaborative evidence from the provenance of the watch before drawing any inferences.

You will probably be aware that the signature will not be that of the 'watch maker' who made the watch. English watches were traditionally made by many nameless artisans with individual skill-sets who separately, contributed specific components. The artisans will have been based in different locations, often spacially dispersed. The frame, for example, was probably made in Lancashire, in and around the village of Prescot (now in Greater Liverpool). This would have been shipped to either London or Coventry, where the other components would have been, brought in/hand made and fitted. The work would have been organised by a 'watch maker', anonymous in this case, who would have engaged 'in-house' or 'out' workers to perform the tasks. This so called maker may have contribute very little to the actual work, other than managing the process and final inspection. Estimates vary, but 20+ individuals will have worked to complete a watch before it could be retailed.

I have conducted a few searches for the signature on the movement which I read to be 'N Preston London 5049'. My searches of London directories for the period, have been unsuccessful. This was not a surprise. Although records are sparse, if N Preston had been a active in the watch trade, a merchant or retailer, I would expect to have found an entry. There are two further possibilities. One is that the name relates to the first owner, I think that this is unlikely.

At the end of the C18th there was a growing number of the middle class who were generating a demand for pocket watches. That demand was satisfied in the main, by watches which had their movements signed 'London' or 'Liverpool'. Generally those that were finished in Liverpool, were in cases hallmarked in Chester, those in London were retailed in London hallmarked cases. However, not all the movements signed 'London' and in London hallmarked cases, were finished in Clerkenwell, the London centre for watch making.

Coventry was also an active watch making centre at this time. The volume of movements that are found with a Coventry signature is relatively small, given the size of the industry. Evidence for the number of individuals involved, can be found in the Coventry apprentice records The small number of Coventry signatures is, in part, explained by the fact that much of the output was produced with the signature of the retailer - often a jeweller in a market town in rural England, Scotland and Wales. There is, however, also evidence that the Coventry makers took advantage of the demand for watches purporting to have been finished in Liverpool or London. They were not adverse to producing 'London' & 'Liverpool' watches that were signed with false names. I believe that many of these watches often found their way to America, particularly those with a 'Liverpool' signature. I also believe that some of them were distributed to the same market towns, together with those signed with the local retailer's name. Some of the 'makers' signed their own name followed by London or Liverpool, although there is no evidence of their presence on the ground in those centres.

The Coventry 'watch makers' were certainly active from the first quarter of the C18th. The manufacture of cases appears to have lagged that of the movements, again as evidenced from the apprentice records. While it is possible to find Coventry movements in Coventry cases, assayed in Birmingham, a significant portion of the output, until the end of the C18th, was cased in London.

That has been rather longer than I had anticipated.

My conclusion, given that background and the style of the movement and engraving, is that I believe your movement was assembled and engraved in Coventry, using Lancashire and local components, then cased in London, before distribution to a retail outlet. It is entirely possible that this was a the market town in Aberdeenshire or Aberdeen itself.

John
 
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gmorse

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Hi John,
...given that background and the style of the movement and engraving, is that I believe your movement was assembled and engraved in Coventry, using Lancashire and local components, then cased in London, before distribution to a retail outlet.
Do you know of any evidence that provincial case makers sent their cases for assay in London without having a physical address in the city?

Regards,

Graham
 

John Matthews

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Do you know of any evidence that provincial case makers sent their cases for assay in London without having a physical address in the city?
Graham,

Perhaps I don't understand the question.

There are a considerable number of case makers with Coventry only addresses that registered with the London assay office listed in Priestley.

Did you mean provincial watch makers? - you will remember this as one example.

John
 

gmorse

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Hi John,

Indeed, how could I have forgotten the saga of the 'Washington' watch? I wonder if it will spring to life again sometime!

Regards,

Graham
 
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VinSer

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In the Baille there is an entry for "N. Preston, London, an. 1808, watch N.Y University"

Also there is a movement signed N. Preston in the collection of the NAWCC

An exporter or importer to the US?

Ciao
 

John Matthews

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In the Baille there is an entry for "N. Preston, London, an. 1808, watch N.Y University"

Also there is a movement signed N. Preston in the collection of the NAWCC

An exporter or importer to the US?

Ciao
Yes, but that tells us nothing about who made the movements, nor where they were made.

Lists of English ‘makers’, consists not only those involved in watch making & retailers, but also ‘signatures’, whether they are genuine or false. Research ‘Edmunds, Liverpool’ & ‘Edmunds, London’ invariable found in Coventry cases, hallmarked in Birmingham. Multiple instances of watches that are not exactly what first impression would have you believe, are no less common than multiple instances of the genuine item.

John
 
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PatH

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This thread has pictures of a different style of N. Preston watch, along with some discussion of Massey. https://mb.nawcc.org/threads/n-preston-london-massey-2.116761/. Still doesn't seem to answer anything about Preston, but it does show a different example. It's amazing what you have been able to glean about this watch from the clues that are available. It's a very interesting process to see and learn from. Thank you!
 
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Tom McIntyre

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In the Baille there is an entry for "N. Preston, London, an. 1808, watch N.Y University"

Also there is a movement signed N. Preston in the collection of the NAWCC

An exporter or importer to the US?

Ciao
It might be worth checking if the two references are to the same watch. A substantial number of the NAWCC watch collection were transferred to the NAWCC with the James Arthur collection that was divided between the Smithsonian and the NAWCC.
 
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John Matthews

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Pat - well found.

Ray's Massey II example was identified as a Liverpool finished movement simply on the basis of the crow's feet ornament on the regulation scale, but it was as identified somewhat unusual example of Liverpool finisheing. I am not convinced it was finished in Liverpool. I have checked again the London directories, extending my search to the mid 1830's, the latest time that I know when Massey IIs were made. There are no entries to Preston.

Side note - Graham do you still have the Massey V you described? Are you certain it was finished in Liverpool?

John
 
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DaveyG

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It seems to me that this, very interesting, thread has taken a twist away from the OP's watch to the rather esoteric attribution of manufacturing centres. Many of these attributions are derived from personal opinion - so I will add mine, for what it's worth, with respect to Danaca's watch.

There is absolutely nothing about this watch, to me, that evidences production in Coventry. In the 1790's Coventry was a relatively minor watchmaking centre with the main trade in the town being silk ribbon making, carried out largely with the use of Huguenot migrant skills and labour. Because of the Napoleonic wars there was a significant tax placed on imported ribbon, which had earlier been a significant import from France. It was not until this tax was lifted some time after the end of the Napoleonic wars that the ribbon industry started to decline as relations between Great Britain and France improved and the imports started to flow again. There were 'ribbon' riots in Coventry as late as the 1830's when pay rates were cut and more mechanisation of production was introduced. So, although there was a watchmaking presence in Coventry in the 18thC, it wasn't until the 1820's that it started to expand and it did so quite rapidly. It was around this time that the migration of tradesmen from Liverpool, to satisfy the skills gap created by speed of the expansion, started to influence the style of watches produced there. It was this migration and the desires of unscrupulous traders to profit from the respect that the American market had for the Liverpool product that led to the incorporation of what had been the SW Lancashire 'identifiers' into the Coventry made product.

So, in the 1790's the major watchmaking centres in Great Britain were SW Lancashire (Prescott) and London (Clerkenwell) it is therefore my belief that Danaca's watch, whilst one can not absolutely rule out Coventry from its DNA, is most likely to have been born in London, possibly with a frame created in Prescott (covered all the bases there ;)) . As has been said both here and in many, many other threads about English made watches, the name on the plate is almost an irrelevance so, whatever is listed in the various refence books can never be guaranteed to identify any particular watch to a particular maker, but is it interesting that there is an Edward Preston, London listed in Britten (a. 1713, CC 1721) and N Preston in Baillie before 1808? The timeline there could indicate a relationship between the two men.
 
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gmorse

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Hi John,
...do you still have the Massey V you described? Are you certain it was finished in Liverpool?
No, I'm no longer certain that it was, but I must confess that until today I still hadn't taken the dial off, in fact I'd never dismantled it other than removing the balance cock to look at the stamp underneath it, ('WN', probably for William Naylor). There are two numbers scratched there as well, 520 is the movement serial and 225 is possibly the finisher's number. Disappointingly, nothing on the pillar plate except the size, but the dial is by Weston.

DSCF3615.JPG DSCF3759.JPG DSC02142.JPG DSC02143.JPG DSC02141.JPG

Regards,

Graham
 
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John Matthews

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In the 1790's Coventry was a relatively minor watchmaking centre with the main trade in the town being silk ribbon making, carried out largely with the use of Huguenot migrant skills and labour
Dave I was expecting you to challenge my inference that this was finished in Coventry.

In the background I have been slowly going through the Coventry apprentice records for the period 1781 to 1806. The numbers of apprentices engaged in the watch making trade over that period is significant. Many of the names of the 'masters' are unknown to me. They sit along the few that are known.

The total number of apprentice records (all trades) for that period is ~4800. Currently I have reached 2776 and that has yielded 302 apprentices who are listed with 'watch makers'. I then have the lists for 'watch manufacturers' & ancillary horological trades which will add a further 100 I estimate - so I expect the list will be 500-600.

You are correct that the largest being in the textile industries, weavers, silk weavers, ribbon weavers etc. However, by the 1790s Coventry had far more 'nameless' 'watch makers' than you might expect. To quote the preface to the records:

By the end of the 1780s Coventry's industries can be seen establishing their familiar nineteenth century pattern, with certain crafts (the silk industry and watchmaking) still developing prior to their later boom years. Both were already showing the many branches of the craft that were a distinctive feature a 100 years later ... Watchmaking alone absorbed 9.1% of all the boys enrolled in the register ...
9.1% equates to 440 which I believe is likely to be the number listed under watch makers.

It is interesting, but not altogether surprising, that the most common occupation of the apprentice's fathers is weaver, not silk weaver. I believe, although I am not familiar with the economic history of Coventry, that weaving had passed its peak by the 1790's and the silk weaving was yet to peak.

So I believe that the size of the Coventry watch making industry in the late C18th and early C19th has been significantly underestimated. I grow more wary of assuming that a London, or indeed a Liverpool, signature, particularly on a full plate verge movement, is an indication of where the majority of the work was carried out.

John
 

DaveyG

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Firstly John, I believe that we are off topic again and moving into non related subject matter, so I suggest that if you wish to pursue the discussion we open a new and specific thread. My final thoughts within this thread are that commendable as your research may be, unless you can add comparable data from S W Lancashire and the London centres, as well as identify the numbers of those individuals indentured who completed their time and were admitted to the Clockmaker's Company it is really apropos of nothing. It is documented in a variety of places that the taking on of apprentices was often done because it generated revenue (apprenticeships had to be paid for) and it was, for some, also just a source of cheap labour with the youngster living in his Master's house, prohibited by his Indenture Deeds from leaving and being required to carry out all sorts of non trade related tasks, ending their time with little or no skills at all.

There is some interesting information 'here' about both ribbon weaving and watchmaking in Coventry, which indicates that maybe my old information about the ribbon trade is not quite correct.
 

John Matthews

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WN', probably for William Naylor
Graham,

This follows the matched mark on the cock foot of the Thomas Porterhouse one day marine chronometer (1822~) as listed by Betts. Given the marks are in the same position and in the same font, I think we can be certain that they were made by the same person. This is first example I have seen apart from that in Betts. I believe these initials were assigned to be those of William Naylor by Mercer who lists him as a chronometer frame maker located in Prescot. I have never been able to locate a William Naylor in Prescot trade directories. I find it rather more of a concern that there was no entry under movement maker, nor frame maker in the old Liverpool (Prescot) Museum database. Unfortunately, I have no alternative suggestions, but I would really would like to find a listing for William Naylor.

Have you any information as to where 'Weston' the dial maker was located?

John
 

gmorse

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Hi John,
I have an image of another example of a 'WN' mark under a cock foot, on a Dutton watch, (unfortunately not sure now which member of the Dutton dynasty, William, Matthew I, Thomas, or Matthew II), from DP's old archive, sadly now no longer accessible online.
Have you any information as to where 'Weston' the dial maker was located?
No, I only deciphered it as 'Weston' after reading DP's booklet on enamel dials, although I'd come across an example some time ago on a verge from, I think, Ray Paige.

Regards,

Graham
 

Allan C. Purcell

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If you look at these two watches and imagine they were not engraved, most would say the verge on the right was made or finished in London (info from the case) around the years 1780-1790. The one on the left has no case, but does have Liverpool arrows and a Massey II escapement, and would be thought of has a Liverpool /Prescot watch. The date is around the years 1825-1830. There could be some forty years between these signatures.

1660572130147.png 1660572040741.png

Now let us go back to the Verge watch, it has a Tompion regulator and has been engraved with the name N. Preston. I would say it was a London-made watch and as they say in America "A Private Lable" for our chap in Scottland. The difference here is, that when looking at this type of watch made in Coventry it does not have a Tompion regulator, but a Boswell regulator. The use of false names on watches was not monopolised just by the Coventry makers. They were in fact making or doing, nothing illegal.

IMG_1417.JPG IMG_1418.JPG
Here we see two typical examples of Coventry watches, so-called fakes. Both with Boswell regulators, both with Birmingham cases. I have more in my collection. I also think the public would have known about these watches, especially those in the midlands, though many were for export, I have found it is easier to find these Coventry watches in America than here in Europe.

It all needs more research, as usual. Though credit, where credit is due, is to John Matthews who as looked deep into the Coventry story.

To finish, all four started as ebauche´ s from Prescot.

Allan.

1660571904439.png
 

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