Friday, 29 July 2016

John Poole - Chronometer Maker

John Poole was an English Marine Chronometer Maker rated a little below the elite makers such as Arnold, Earnshaw, Frodsham, Kullberg and Dent.  One reason why he didn’t quite reach the highest echelon was his relatively short working life – he died aged just 49.  Nowadays, when Poole chronometers come on the market any brief biographical details added to the watch’s description almost always include this or something similar: John Poole took his own life in 1867, shortly after winning the gold medal at the Paris Exhibition. 
 
Much as I’m fascinated by old clocks and watches, I’m even more intrigued by the people who made them, and I’m always surprised to see it when a note of this type is merely copied/pasted and no attempt has been made to understand the ‘why’ behind the factoid.  After all, in the more straightforward society of Victorian England, what on earth would induce a prize-winning man with a successful business and thriving family to commit suicide? 
 
Having found no indication of the circumstances of Poole’s death in existing horological research resources/writings, I set about solving this mystery myself.  I’m pleased that I’ve been able to provide answers, but saddened by Poole’s situation, even at this distance in time.  My findings are reported in my article on John Poole, published in the August 2016 issue of Clocks Magazine. 
 
The Marine Chronometer is an especially attractive type of timekeeper.  The style of the instrument itself and the wooden storage box seem to me quintessentially English and singularly evocative of the nineteenth century.  Their aesthetic merits were underpinned by functional integrity – however good one looked, it would be useless (for its primary purpose) if it didn’t perform with supreme accuracy.  And the accuracy was measured stringently, at the Greenwich Trials for instance.  At these, in 1845 and again in 1854, Poole chronometers were the outright winners. 
 
Since writing the article I came across this excellent example, representative of Poole’s output:

 

Courtesy of Charles Miller 

Eight day Marine Chronometer, circa 1855 with silvered dial signed John Poole, 57 Fenchurch Street, London, 2702, Maker to the Admiralty, gold hands with blued-steel subsidiaries, Earnshaw Escapement with Poole's auxiliary compensation set within a counterweighted and gimbal-mounted bowl within three-tier wooden box with tipsy key, with numbered maker's plate and inset handles.  Offered at auction in May 2016 with an estimate of £3-5,000.

Friday, 15 July 2016

Updated - Decimal Time - The Statters

This is an updated version of the article I posted here on 26 June 2016.  The update features photographs of the Statters' watch – No 1 – which have kindly been made available to me by Sir George White Bt., F.S.A., Keeper, The Clockmakers' Museum at The Science Museum.

Richard Dover Statter was born in 1825 in Liverpool.  His father, Edward, was a physician and Richard followed in his footsteps, noted on the 1861 Census as a General Practitioner and Member of the College of Surgeons of England.  He is not, however, remembered for any medical advances, but for a 38 page pamphlet promoting the concept of decimalisation.  This was complemented by a ‘decimal’ watch made by his brother, Thomas. 

Richard’s approach to decimalisation was in keeping with today’s medical outlook in that it was holistic, as can be gathered from the pamphlet’s title: The Decimal System as a Whole, in its relation to Time, Measure, Weight, Capacity and Money, in Unison with each other. 

An attempt to introduce decimalised timekeeping had been made in the wake of the French Revolution.  A revised, ‘Republican Calendar’, in which there were twelve 30 day months, with each month divided by 3 decades, (replacing ‘weeks’), lasted from 1793 to 1805.  The related daily timekeeping model, with each day divided into 10 parts, these parts divided by one hundred, (a decimal minute) and each ‘minute’ by one hundred, (a decimal second), lasted only from 24 November 1793 to 7 April 1795.
 
The British Museum holds nine examples of decimal pocket watches made in France/Switzerland during the Revolutionary era.  The dials of eight of these are shown in the collage below:

© Trustees of the British Museum
 
Whilst the new physical units of measure – metre – litre – gram – became established, the proposed new time metrics did not, primarily because: 
 

·         It would have a cost a great deal to replace all existing clocks and watches
 

·         There was ‘comfort’ for the ordinary person in the old, familiar model and confusion is assimilating the new, especially when so much change was taking place over such a short period of time
 

·         There was no ‘natural’ or commercially logical motivation for people to voluntarily adopt the new model – enforcing its uptake would have required a ‘policing’ approach 
 

However, some half a century later, Statter’s pamphlet sought to resurrect the idea of decimal time and is especially interesting when considered in relation to his brother’s watch.  Thomas is recorded as a watchmaker in the 1861 Census – aged 22, he was still living at home with his mother and father.  The case of his decimal watch is hallmarked for 1862 and is now in the Clockmakers Museum within the Science Museum, London.  

The watch movement/cuvette bears two inscriptions:  

Richd. Dover Statter & Thos. Statter, Liverpool No.1  

The true basis of a universal Decimal system 
 
Courtesy of Sir George White Bt 
 
An alternative dial design – drawn seven years in advance of production of the watch – shown below is reproduced in the Pamphlet:
 
 
 
It would seem to be a remarkable piece given its two register functionality and elegance relative to the youthfulness of its maker, (aged just 23).  No other examples – of this decimal timepiece or indeed any other watches signed by him – of Thomas’s work are known to exist, partly accounted for no doubt by his short life – he was dead only 3 years later.  It would also be logical to view this as a prototype – perhaps ‘No. 1’ is the actual movement number.
 
After the Statters’ time, late in the nineteenth century, the ever-increasing influence of railways and the advent of the electric telegraph gave rise to renewed consideration of decimal time, since it could provide a model for a new global time standard.  Although no practical initiative emerged then, a similar communications revolution occurred as the twentieth century closed, with the establishment and rapid development of the Internet.  Stemming from this, 1998 saw the introduction of Swatch Internet Time, (also known as ‘beat time’).  The objective was to provide a common global time for people communicating over the Internet, from/to anywhere in the world, without the complication of any geographically-related ‘time zones’.  It divides the day into 1000 beats, midday occurring at 500 beats, (@500).  A beat is therefore equal to 1.44 minutes.  A dual function Swatch is shown below:
 
Courtesy Getty Images
 
And, coming right up to date, Chanson David Watches - http://www.chansondavid.com  - are currently offering a range of watches – called the Comparative - which indicate conventional and decimal time on a single analogue dial layout, where, as illustrated below, the hour hand (green tipped) points to the decimal value, against the outer scale.  This divides the average calendar day into 2 x 10 units is in accordance with the International System of Units (SI).  The conventional time showing in this illustration is 10 hrs 8 mins 24 seconds:
 
 
Courtesy of Chanson David



Friday, 3 June 2016

Ralph Gout - Man or Brand?

The June 2016 issue of Antiquarian Horology includes my article on Ralph Gout.  My study of Gout’s life and work was initially inspired by the acquisition of verge #21915.  I then became interested in Gout as an example of ‘brand marketing’, something that sounds very 21st century, but which was being exploited by English watchmakers two hundred years ago – the original working title for the article was ‘Ralph Gout – Man or Brand?’ 

Existing horological reference sources were muddled on Gout.  My Third Edition Baillie refers only to Ralph, with the dates 1770-1836.  Loomes (First Edition) added David Ralph 1832-57 and Ralph (?II) 1863.  Britten’s included Ralph 1858-67.  Most of the watches I was able to trace – usually signed Ralph Gout, London – appeared to stem from dates after Ralph’s death in 1828.
 
Ralph was an innovator.  He didn’t just make easily saleable watches for the English market.  He experimented with dual-functionality, took out relevant patents and created beautifully cased timepieces for the Ottoman market.  In so doing he found himself made bankrupt, but he also established a fine reputation for quality in Turkey.  As a result, his name on watches, made after his own lifetime by his son and an associate, guaranteed their marketability in Constantinople and Smyrna.  Thus, a brand was established that was so powerful that even a name of the stature of Frodsham was found to be ‘borrowing’ it illicitly! 

This is the verge, #21915:
 





 

Sunday, 22 May 2016

Coach Watch Series - 5: William Carpenter

I featured William Carpenter in a post here, ‘Soho Sophistication’, 29 January 2016 http://theoldwatchword.blogspot.co.uk/2016/01/soho-sophistication.html.  On 14 May another of his watches was sold at the Dr. Crott auction at Frankfurt Airport – it’s an especially nice one too! 

Movement #4552 is quite small at 68 mm.  A particularly attractive feature is the visible escapement.
 
Courtesy of Auktionen Dr. Crott, Germany

 
Courtesy of Auktionen Dr. Crott, Germany
 

This very desirable watch sold for €13100, (£10,274).

Sunday, 1 May 2016

Coach Watch Series - 4: The Brockbanks

The brothers John and Miles Brockbank were watchmakers active from the mid eighteenth to the early nineteenth centuries.  An excellent, highly detailed account of the business by Dr Alexander Stewart was published in Antiquarian Horology, volume 34, no. 6, December 2015.  Briefly, in summary: 

·         Main premises location, (from 1777), was 7 Cowper’s Court

·         The firm was initially noted for its musical Coach Watches

·         John, the dominant partner, became bankrupt in 1783, probably as a result of losses incurred in the hazardous export trade with the Far East

·         The firm’s most famous employee was Thomas Earnshaw

·         In the Earnshaw-Arnold disputed claim for credit for the ‘invention’ of the spring detent escapement, both sides argued that the Brockbanks had been guilty of leaking details of the escapement to their opponent

·         From 1789 the Brockbanks became best known for their Chronometers

·         After John’s death in 1806, Miles was briefly in partnership with John’s sons, John E and William, together with James Beck and William Grove

·         The firm became Brockbank & Atkins in 1815 and continued until 1835 in this guise 

According to Dr Stewart, eleven Coach Watches are known, made between 1780-95, within a number range, 1 – 11 and in varying sizes between 100 and 160mm.  This is number 8, a gilt hour repeater with music played on 6 bells.  It has a cylinder escapement and a lever operated mechanism to stop the centre seconds hand.  Diameter is 132mm.  How elegant is that?
 
Courtesy of La Cote des Montres
 
 
 
 

Thursday, 14 April 2016

Small is Beautiful

Clocks’ Magazine in its April 2016 issue has published the first part of my article on Alexander Watkins.  Watkins was making fine chronometers in the mid-nineteenth century, trading from a prestigious London address: 67 Strand. 

For students of horology, Watkins is best known for his ‘miniaturised’ chronometer made for the 1851 Great Exhibition.  With its unusually small movement and gold, delicately ornamented case, it is a very fine aesthetic and technical achievement.  However, as I often find, there’s as much interest in a watchmaker’s personal story and the social/commercial setting in which he worked as in his design and manufacturing activities. 

So my article, whilst detailing some of Watkins’s watches and movements and his ideas for simpler watches to combat the influx of Swiss timepieces, also explores the circumstances of an attempted murder and the very marked divide in Victorian society between an affluent family and an ‘ordinary’ one.
 
1851 Great Exhibition gold chronometer
Courtesy of Sotheby’s
 
Watkins left a legacy of innovation and quality of work confirmed by the examples held in the collections of The British Museum and The Worshipful Company of Clockmakers.

Monday, 28 March 2016

Coach Watch Series - 3: Timothy Williamson

In the late eighteenth century some notable export businesses were built in London, clocks and watches often being the stock-in-trade.  There was considerable demand from the Ottoman Empire, China and India for highly decorative pieces of a quality standard not met by local craftsmen.  Perhaps the best known English entrepreneur was James Cox, to whom I referred in my post, ‘Soho Sophistication.’  Timothy Williamson, like Cox, was not a horologist himself, his own craft skills being those of the goldsmith.

Britten’s dates/locations are: 1768-88; 196 Fleet Street (1769-75); 59 Fleet Street (1777-83); 90 Great Russell Street (1785-88). 

Roger Smith, writing in Antiquarian Horology, says:  ‘The goldsmith Timothy Williamson may have organised the making of his own distinctive cases, but their movements could well have been supplied by the well-known clockmaker, William Hughes, with whom Williamson has close links.’ 

Working dates for Hughes according to Britten’s were 1766-94.  He worked at 119 High Holborn, an address which became famous as being that of Thomas Earnshaw, who took over Hughes’s business.  Earnshaw, though already time-served when he arrived in London, looked upon Hughes as his mentor. 

This Coach Watch ‘by’ Williamson was made for China.  Diameter is 85mm and the movement number is 3416, probably 1785-90.  It is a twin train verge with Grand Sonnerie strike, moon-age and centre seconds complication.  The case is gilt with paste stone decoration: 

Courtesy Ashland Investments

A similar style watch by Williamson, number 2780, was offered, but not sold by Antiquorum at a Geneva sale in October 2000, with estimate of $14,000 - $17,000.  That one’s diameter was no less than 140mm.

Hughes’s own watches tended to be plainer, though of high quality, and he signed the dial:

Courtesy of artclock.nl