Thursday, 8 June 2017

Rentzsch and Berrollas

Since my last post here, I have finalised an article on Rentzsch.  This includes some interesting new information which has come to light as a result of contact from Michel Reymond as he researched an article on the Australian watchmaker, John Forrester.  Forrester emigrated from England in 1837 and set-up in business in Sydney the following year.  In an advertisement he includes the boast, “Twelve years Foreman to Sigismund Rentzsch, Watch Maker to the Queen and Royal Family, St. James Square, London.”  My thanks to Michel and I look forward to seeing his piece on Forrester.

I am also publishing a new article on Joseph Anthony Berrollas.  Possibly born in the same year as Rentzsch and also an immigrant to nineteenth century England, Berrollas was highly innovative though not very successful in commercial terms.

Both Rentzsch and Berrollas worked on distinctive versions of keyless winding and they are associated with some of the most significant watchmaking names of the early nineteenth century: Rentzsch employed a young Peter Ingold and Berrollas worked with the London retailer, Viner, and the leading Liverpool makers, Robert Roskell and Peter Litherland.

Here are examples of Continental craftsmen who were instrumental in providing a dynamic within English watchmaking whilst the Trade’s very future was so intensely threatened by the cheap products being imported from Switzerland and France.

Berrollas Alarm Movement, courtesy of Worthpoint

Thursday, 18 May 2017

Another Innovator

A recurring interest of mine is in watchmakers who acquired the expensive habit of wanting to innovate rather than manufacture readily marketable conventional timepieces.  Time and again this led to the maker having more substantial references in the Bankruptcy Notices section of such as The Gazette than in the horological records published by Britten, Baillie and Loomes.  Sigismund Rentzsch is a bit different: the novelty of some of his technology was a factor in his achieving the accolade, ‘King’s Clock and Watch-maker in ordinary’, and his business was sufficiently profitable to support a personal ‘productivity’ which resulted in a family that included no less than fifteen children!  However, his second wife, Mary, who bore eleven of the offspring, continuing the business (at 13 Regent’s Street) after Sigismund’s death, did find herself obliged to make a bankruptcy assignment in September 1848.

After a good deal of research I am finalising a full article on Rentzsch’s life and work.  Meanwhile, I notice that David Penney has a nice-looking cylinder for sale on his Antique Watch Store website:

Thursday, 27 April 2017

Sanderson's Calendar Watch Key

Clocks Magazine published my article on George Sanderson’s ingenious watch key in its March 2017 issue.

The key is not only fascinating in its functionality, but looks good too:

Courtesy of the Trustees of the British Museum

It’s a small device, just 36mm in length.  The concept is elegant and simple: the motion induced in the key by the act of using it to wind a watch daily was also used to drive an internal train of toothed wheels such that information values displayed are updated by relevant 24 hours units.  The implementation of the concept is a little more complex!  The patent is number 777, dated 5th October 1762, referring to:

New-invented machine, called a Lunar and Calendar Watch Key, constructed upon mechanical principles, and adapted to every watch hitherto made, and acts thereon no otherwise than a common key; but, by means of a screw and wheels of a curious construction, is capable of shewing (sic), in the most accurate manner, the age of the Moon, the Day of the month, the revolution of the tides and several other motions; which said machine is also constructed to answer all the above-mentioned purposes independant (sic) of any watch whatsoever, and that in the most plain and easy manner, and will be of great benefit to His Majestie’s subjects, and more especially to those using the sea.

My article also reviews later (19 century) implementations of the same idea, most notably by Etienne Tavernier.  Some very attractive examples emerged from his Paris workshop, including this, from circa 1810:

Courtesy of Sotheby’s

Etienne Tavernier was born in 1756 and died in 1839.  His brothers – Louis and Pierre Benjamin – both worked in the watch trade, as had his father, Jean Pierre.  Pierre Benjamin was famous as a casemaker supplier to Abraham-Louis Breguet, with whom Etienne also collaborated.

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Charles Hanson - Part 2

During the 1830s Charles also worked alongside his brother, John.  Both are cited in The London Journal of Arts and Sciences, and Repertory of Patents, Vol II in respect of a patent sealed 31 August 1837, ‘for their invention of certain improvements in machinery or apparatus for making or manufacturing pipes, tubes, and various other articles, from metallic and other substances.' For whatever it was that John utilised pipework, Charles will have been interested in its role as the fundamental component (barrel) of a gun.

For Charles Hanson had already been recorded as an Air Gun Maker at 1 King Street, Huddersfield in 1829.  Here we come to the beginning of my uncertainty about Charles’s possible dual career as both a gunmaker and a watchmaker.  From this point I am basing this narrative on the premise that various references to the two crafts relate to the same person.  Perhaps the strongest indication is the following 1843 newspaper report in which Hanson’s trade is referred to as a horological one, but records a gun incident, all the more notable since it implies that the gun involved was of his own design/manufacture:

Wednesday last Mr Charles Hanson, watch & clock maker, Buxton Road, trying a newly invented air pistol, the air pump burst and shattered his right hand -2 fingers amputated. A most ingenious mechanic, lately obtained with another a patent for important improvements in guns and other fire arms.

I believe that as a result of the accident and loss of fingers, Hanson’s facility for working with smaller mechanisms was greatly reduced.  He therefore reordered his craft and business activities, devoting more time and attention to gun making.  But in the immediate aftermath of the maiming of his hand, there was the first (1845) horological patent to be registered.  Ten years on and his innovative nature and increasing involvement in gun making led to his application for another patent, this time to protect his invention of improvements to the revolving mechanism of firearms.  The patent is numbered 2497, dated 7 November 1855.  It is outlined in this description of one of his guns recently offered for sale:

A rare 28 bore Charles Hanson Patent ten shot revolving percussion rifle, serial no. 2120, with 23 in. octagonal re-browned sighted barrel rifled with three grooves (rear-sight missing), large border engraved cylinder, scroll engraved action with indistinct signature on the top-strap and marked 'C. HANSON'S PATENT NO. 100' on the right side, patent rammer, the lower tang with safety-catch locking the trigger-mechanism, walnut butt with chequered grip, and scroll engraved butt-plate (heavily pitted and cleaned throughout), London proof marks to the cylinder. Other Notes: This revolving rifle is made using Charles Hanson's patent No. 2497 of 7th November 1855 for an improved revolving firearm. The firing mechanism requires a lever to be raised and the trigger pulled at the same time. The patent also incorporated the reciprocating rammer present on this piece.

During the period of Hanson’s presence in London, he formed a brief partnership with Theophilus Murcott, a well-established gunmaker with premises at 68 Haymarket in central London.  Murcott became famous for his ‘Mousetrap’ sidelock gun.  This was highly innovative, being hammerless, a unique feature, protected by patent #1003, April 1871.  But ten years previously Hanson and Murcott had jointly taken out a patent for a novel hinged chamber and, Hanson alone, a patent for improvements to firearms ignition processes.  In 1862 Murcott and Hanson participated in the International Exhibition in London.  The catalogue indicates that the Partnership exhibited samples related to four patents for breech-loaders and the firing of explosive compounds.  It would appear that at this time Murcott provided considerable stimulus to Hanson’s creativity in gunmaking.  However, the partnership seems to have lapsed by 1866.

After the Murcott partnership, Hanson apparently ‘rediscovered’ his interest in horological innovation and, recognising the United States as both a now-significant maker/exporter of watches and a rapidly expanding consumer market, sought patent protection there for his simplified version of the English-traditional fusee.  In outline it was summarised:

United States Patent Office.  Charles Hanson, of Huddersfield, England. 
Specification forming part of Letters Patent No. 161,957, dated April 13, 1875; application filed February 24, 1875.  To all whom it may concern, be it known that I, CHARLES HANSON, of Huddersfield, Yorkshire, England, have invented an Improvement in Watch Spring Equalizing Mechanism, of which the following is a specification:

When a watch-spring is wound up its power is the greatest, and as the same runs down its power lessens.  Efforts have been made to equalize the action of the spring, and for this purpose a chain and conical fusee have been employed.

My invention is made for equalizing the action of the spring without the use of a chain; and consists in a detaining-lever acting against the spring-barrel to lessen the effective force thereof, said detaining-lever being operated by the force of the spring itself, acting through the arbor of the spring-barrel and the ratchet wheel and pawl upon a spring arm that yields more or less according to the force exerted by the mainspring, and in so doing causes the detaining-lever to press upon the spring barrel and neutralize the excess of the power thereof, so as to render the action of the spring barrel as nearly uniform as possible.

I claim as my invention- The detaining-lever, acting against the spring barrel, in combination with the spring arm, pawl, and stud, substantially as set forth.

Signed by me this 28th day of January, A. D. 1875.

There is no evidence of the commercial success of this invention.  Its prospects would always have been limited since the mass market, as satisfied so successfully by the Swiss and American makers, readily accepted watches equipped with the simple going-barrel, and the incorporation of a fusee progressively declined.

The last ten years of Hanson’s life, during which he fell back on his watchmaking business, were challenging.  There was plenty of competition in a town of Huddersfield’s modest size, for example:

J N E Hardy             8 King Street.  Watch and Clock Manufacturer, Goldsmith and Jeweller

A J Hoyle                 10 Kirkgate.  Watchmaker, Silversmith and working Jeweller

Alfred Smith            Kirkgate.  Gold and Silver watches, guards, Alberts

James Sykes           50 New Street.  Practical Watchmaker.  Gold and Silver watches made on the most improved principles at the lowest possible prices

George Russell         Watchmaker, Jeweller etc.  Corner of Cross Church Street and King Street.

No records have been found relating to Alfred (son) after the death of Charles and it is likely that he never carried on a watchmaking business in his own name as had his father.  With no legacy in terms of business continuance and a relative lack of information available currently, Charles Hanson’s considerable inventiveness across two technological crafts is today little recognised.

Sunday, 29 January 2017

Charles Hanson - Part 1

In researching watchmakers of the Georgian and early Victorian era, threads of information often come to a shuddering halt, especially because of the lack/non-comprehensiveness of information in publicly accessible records, censuses for example.  As a result I sometimes discover horological ‘stories’ in which something previously unknown can be inferred, but not substantiated.  This of course is true for anyone researching and writing about any historical subject.

Here I thought I’d let my imagination run free and, rather than avoid speculation, positively indulge in it.  The resulting account satisfies my preference for a narrative in which ‘human interest’ calls the tune rather than certainty of fact.  Primarily I hope it will engage readers’ keen interest, but I’d also stress my willingness to accept informed feedback: if any of my deductions/inferences are known to be incorrect, I’m very ready to edit and update the ‘story’.

My first knowledge of Charles Hanson was an entry in an excellent and quirky book, ‘The Watch Collection of Stanley H Burton; Warts and all’.  On pages 110 – 111 a watch is illustrated and described:

Hanson, Huddersfield. B. 1859.  Hallmark Chester 1860.  Spring detent escapement, 3.2mm between plates. No.134.

Milled & engine turned silver case, 48mm diam.  Lunette glass.  White enamel dial, 44.6mm diam. Marked ‘Patent Chronometer’.  Roman chapters, gilt fleur de lys hands, secs. 10-60. 3-arm, flat, steel balance.  Straight stepped wedge cock.  Turned pillars.  Diamond endplate, hinged dome.  Key size 6.  Regulator: S-F on cock.  Going.  Rapid beat.

Charles Hanson was born in Huddersfield in 1801.  With his wife, Mary Ann, Charles had three sons, William, Alfred and Charles.  The family lived at Buxton Road in the 1840s, Chapel Hill in the 1850/60s and Stables Street subsequently.  Alfred – ‘Fred’ – followed his father’s trade, working as a watchmaker.  Charles died in 1880.

Directory listings for Charles’s Huddersfield clock and watchmaking business include Cloth Hall Street (1830) and 100 Northgate (1834/5).  Such was Hanson's ambition and success that he also maintained premises in High Holborn, London, 1835-42.  Later, in the early 1860s, Hanson was in partnership with Theophilus Murcott at 68 Haymarket, London.

Hanson’s main claim to horological eminence stems from his acquisition of three patents in 1845, 1859 and 1875.  The first of these, #10876, has three elements, summarised as follows:

A new type of cylindrical detent vertically housed between the top and bottom plates

A flat plate detent with central notch and pivots with support bearings

A spring bearing on the verge shaft in place of a rigid pallet

Chronometer Movement #28©
 Trustees of the British Museum

Shown above is an example of Hanson’s pivoted detent in the collection of The British Museum.  This is an uncased movement, numbered 28 and dated to 1839-45; but note that within the same catalogue description a later date of circa 1860 is attributed by Anthony Randall; he also relates this movement to patent # 1950, (27 August 1859).  In the introduction to this patent, Hanson says, (with some tautology):

This invention is intended to simplify the chronometer escapement of a watch, and to dispense with the two springs usually employed at that part of the movement.  The Invention consists in the employment of a pivoted detent acting upon the escape wheel, which is made elastic in such a manner and with such power as to dispense with the use of the two springs ordinarily employed as above mentioned in chronometers of the usual construction.

The patent is illustrated with the diagram below:

The third horological patent, registered in the United States in 1875, was concerned with a means of equalising mainspring power by means alternative to the more troublesome fusee.

To be continued. . .

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

The Bracebridges

The Bracebridges were watchmakers active in the late eighteenth and throughout the nineteenth centuries.  Traditional horological reference resources – Britten’s , Baillie’s and Loomes – list three makers with this name, but I have identified five, in three generations.

The line begins with Edward.  Britten’s records working dates of 1799–1818, with the address, 8 Red Lion Street, Clerkenwell.  Baillie adds that Edward was in partnership with William Pleace.  There is little more than can be said about Edward.  The earliest possible reference to him is October 1766, when an Edward Bracebridge gave evidence in an Old Bailey trial concerning a larceny in Clerkenwell.  Given the locality and that the profession of a fellow witness, James Upjohn, is given as a watchmaker, it is likely that this is ‘our’ Bracebridge.  Certainly relevant is a Sun Life Insurance record from 1787 which refers to cover for the beer copper of one Alex. Ruff, ‘at Mr Bracebridge’s Watchmaker opp., the small pox hospital in Cold Bath Fields’, (an area close to the Mount Pleasant Royal Mail centre).  The Hospital was demolished and replaced by a prison which opened in 1794.  This institution, incidentally, represents a link to one of Edward’s sons in the early nineteenth century.

I believe Edward had two sons, James and Edward Charles.  James would have been born circa 1788-92 and died circa 1849.  This documentary reference to James is from the Sussex Advertiser, 27 March 1826:

Cornelius Muzzell’s Affairs: Notice is hereby Given, that Cornelius Muzzell, of Horsham, in the county of Sussex, Clock and Silversmith, hath, by indenture bearing date the 5th day of November, 1825, assigned all his Estate and Effects to James Troup, of Cheapside, in the city of London, Silversmith; James Bracebridge of Red Lion Street, Clerkenwell, in the county of Middlesex, Watchmaker and Edward Walker, of Red Lion Street, Clerkenwell aforesaid, Ironmonger, in trust for themselves, and such other Creditors of the said Cornelius Muzzell, as shall, on or before the 5th day of May next, agree to accept the Dividend or Composition arising under the trusts of the said Assignment, in full of their respective debts, - And further Notice is hereby given, that the said Deed of Assignment is left at our Office for the inspection and signature of the Creditors.  Sheppard, Thomas and Lepard.  Cloak Lane, London, 18th March 1826.

Another reference is of much greater horological significance.  When Pierre-Frederick Ingold attempted to set up industrialised watch production in 1842 he encountered staunch opposition from London’s traditional watchmaking trade.  Rather than seeing Ingold’s British Watch & Clock Company as an important element in combating the insurgent Swiss and American industries, the Trade perceived it as a further threat and petitioned Parliament for legislation to deny Ingold’s right to raise capital for the new company.

Edward Charles was born circa 1790, evidenced by a record of admission to St Paul’s School in 1800, his age being shown as ten.  At the age of twenty Edward Charles attained the Freedom of London, a privilege passed on to him by convention as a result of his father’s entitlement to the honour.

Edward Charles’s name appears on a list of jurors for a very significant London trial in 1820.  His suitability to sit on the jury was successfully challenged by the Crown and he therefore took no part in the proceedings.  However, this trial, (of the ‘Cato Street conspirators’), is of general interest as it resulted in the last instance of men found guilty of treason being subject to an execution in which they were hanged and beheaded, (a diminution of the ‘hanged, drawn and quartered’ punishment which had originated in the reign of Henry III).  They had been confined in the Cold Bath prison mentioned above in connection with Edward.

That Edward Charles – in partnership with brother James - was occupying the familiar Red Lion Street premises is confirmed by an entry in the 1825 issue of Pigot’s Directory.  That he was prospering is perhaps suggested by his having his – and his wife, Philippa’s – portrait painted in 1839 by John Samuel Agar, an artist of moderate repute and for a time President of the Society of Engravers.

The business, styled as Edward Charles Bracebridge & Co is evident in various directories with the dates 1851-81.  The primary address remained 8 Red Lion Street, in 1862 a shop was trading at 119 New Bond Street, managed by Charles Roe.  The family residence was 6 Barnsbury Villas, Liverpool Road, Islington.

Edward Charles and Philippa had two sons, James (James II), circa 1823-92, and Edward Gilbert, 1822-99.  James II proved to be the more high profile outside the family business itself – he served as Treasurer to the Watch and Clockmakers Benevolent Institute and was this body’s representative at the funeral of Charles Frodsham in 1871.

James himself eventually found his health failing and in the 1 August 1891 issue of The Watchmaker, Jeweller and Silversmith it was reported:

. . . Mr. James Bracebridge is retiring from the business which he has carried on for many years as watch manufacturer in Clerkenwell, under the style of E. C. Bracebridge and Co.  Mr. Bracebridge has appointed his nephew, Mr. F. Bracebridge Mills, to settle his affairs. There is, we believe, some likelihood that Mr. T. D. Wright, who for many years has held the post of manager to Mr. Bracebridge, will continue the business, and in this event there is no doubt that the reputation the firm has long enjoyed will be fully maintained in Mr. Wright's hands.

Edward Gilbert’s role in the business is not clear.  One of the few references to him is a record of a donation of £10.10s. to the North London Consumption Hospital in 1896, so one might conclude that he, or a close family member suffered with this condition which was all too prevalent in late nineteenth century London.

Thomas Wright formed a partnership with William Craighead to carry on the business at Red Lion Street from 1891.  Wright became very well known in wider horological circles and it was his proposal for the format of British Summer Time clocks adjustment that we use to this day.

I have traced eleven extant Bracebridge watches.  Attribution to specific members of the family is difficult because of some missing movement numbers, some re-cases and un hallmarked cases.  At least three sets of 4 digit movement numbers seem to have been used, with an apparently relatively consistent range between 1823 - #5882 and 1850 - #8935.  A five digit #38931 is dated to 1865 and another, #12741, is in a silver case hallmarked for 1892.

Perhaps the most attractive is #5882, a repeater in 18ct Gold Case made by Louis Comtesse:

Courtesy of Matthew Barton Ltd

The British Museum holds a Bracebridge movement.  Circa1865, this features a Savage-two-pin lever escapement and utilises a keyless winding mechanism:

© Trustees of the British Museum

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Thomas Earnshaw 1749-c1914 (!)

Anyone who studies English watchmaking in the period 1750-1850 will soon come across multiple references to Thomas Earnshaw.  Though born in Lancashire, Earnshaw was for many years a prominent figure in London horological circles, noted both for technical brilliance and for a chaotic lifestyle, especially in regard to his finances.  He particularly came to my attention when I was researching the post here, A Watch to Die For, and for an article on George Margetts. 

Earnshaw is well known for his contribution to the refinement of Marine Chronometers with his spring detent escapement, (1783 patent in the name of Thomas Wright) and for his dispute with Arnold to which that invention gave rise.  Speculating on his disposition, the word ‘disgruntled’ comes to mind and not only with Arnold, but also with the Board of Longitude, (leading to his Appeal to the Public, 1808), and, persistently, with various creditors who , not unreasonably, sought his imprisonment on grounds of insolvency. 

The standard horological reference works – Baillie, Loomes, Mercer - tend to dwell on Thomas himself, 1749-1829, and his son, also Thomas, b1784.  Britten’s does go further, recording two more generations, but I believe that I have identified no less than five Thomas Earnshaw fathers-and-sons, born successively in 1749 – 1784 – 1809 or 1811 – 1835 – 1862. 

Thomas II (b1784) carried on the business at 119 High Holborn, according to the ‘brand’s’ current website, until 1854.  Mercer suggests that latterly he moved the business to 87 Fenchurch Street.  At the time of the 1851 Census he was living at 12 Union Road, Clapham.  Although there is some doubt about dates/locations, an important milestone is recorded around the years 1841-2.  In the 1820s/1830s the production of top quality Earnshaw chronometers declined.  Anthony Randall has observed that Thomas II possibly lacked his father’s technical ability and interest in chronometry and was content to be the maker of more ordinary watches, ‘for purely civil use’.1  The latest movement number with hallmark-verified date is #7131/1841.  The date is significant in that it was in 1842 that Thomas II’s name appeared on a list of Directors for the nascent British Watch and Clockmaking Company.  Although Thomas’s name – as did John Barwise’s and John Frodsham’s – lent credibility to the prospects of the industrial-model company, the traditional trade’s opposition won the day, and the business was defunct before it had ever really got going.2 

The third Thomas was born around 1810.  Whilst next to nothing is documented about his watchmaking, numerous pieces of paper were required to record the fecund nature of Thomas III’s marriage to Jane Cunningham: they had nine children, born across the years 1835 to 1848.  The first-born was Thomas IV.  The household must have been a lively, crowded milieu at the time of the 1851 Census since Thomas had two apprentices – James Dean and James Bacon – also living-in, at 48 St John’s Street, Clerkenwell. 

It’s a shame not more is known about this Thomas – he was, I suspect, a ‘colourful’ character.  When only 15 he was involved in a dispute over the affections for one Miss Dowler.  It was alleged that Thomas had issued to a rival a challenge to a duel, but this evidently was ultimately found to be a hoax. 

As noted above, Thomas IV grew up in a fully occupied dwelling from which the business was conducted in Clerkenwell, the traditional centre of the London watchmaking trade.  But, as the nineteenth century progressed into its second half, that Trade was in decline, watches from Switzerland and America taking ever higher market share.  Although there had been failure in London itself to introduce a more efficient/cost-competitive manufacturing model, semi-industrialisation was established in Lancashire and Coventry.  There was a degree of migration of watchmaking individuals and families from London to these areas.  Thus Thomas was to be found for the 1891 Census in Solihull and in Coventry for those of 1901 and 1911. 

The ‘last’ watchmaking Thomas Earnshaw, son of Thomas IV, was born in 1862.  He was still living at home with his father and mother, Annie, in 1891, but is untraceable after that date.  Thomas IV, though by then 75 years of age, was still recorded as working when the 1911 Census was conducted. 

For a good overview of extant Earnshaw timepieces, I’d recommend a visit to David Penney’s Antique Watch Store

1              A G Randall, Thomas Earnshaw’s Numbering Sequence, Antiquarian Horology, Vol17 No4,                 Summer 1988

2              Alun C Davies, The Ingold Episode Revisited, Antiquarian Horology, Vol31 No5, Sept 2009