Monday, 24 October 2016

The Price of a Museum Piece?

My previous post here, Small is Beautiful, April 2016, and my articles in Clocks Magazine, April and May 2016, referred to the beautiful small gold chronometer made by Alexander Watkins for the Great Exhibition of 1851.  Given the unique nature of this timepiece, I’m surprised to see today that it is up for sale at an auction-estimated price which I would consider to be very modest. 

The auctioneers are VAN HAM Kunstauktionen, and the sale dates are 17th and 18th November.  An estimate of 25,000 EUR - 30,000 EUR has been posted.  When last subject to public sale, at Sotheby’s in 2004, it made £51,000.  It will be interesting to see the hammer price achieved next month, and, if this is close to the current estimate, I will be trying to understand what has caused such an apparently high degree of devaluation.

Sunday, 11 September 2016

Fathers and Sons, Wealth and Insolvency

I recently completed a research project and consequent narrative article on a family of watchmakers stretching over 5 generations and covering the period 1738-1921.  The more I look into the lives of English Georgian/Victorian horologists, the greater I am impressed by their resilience.  Quite often bankruptcies occurred repeatedly, often by sons who inherited a father’s tendency towards impecuniosity as well as a liking/facility for working with wheels and springs.  I might be kidding myself, but I like to think that failures were usually the result of a maker’s over-concentration on innovation at the expense of revenue-generating productivity.  There is certainly some correlation in several instances between the taking out of a patent and the posting of a bankruptcy petition.  In this regard I immediately think of Ralph Gout – see my post . 

Another is Charles Haley (& Son) described by Baillie as ‘A famous maker,’ whose patent, #2132, for a Marine Chronometer, was dated 17th August 1796, but who also was the subject of a bankruptcy notice printed in the London Gazette in August 1812.  Haley’s work does indeed look elegant, as evident in this circa 1804 Pocket Chronometer:
Courtesy of Calibre X
Haley sometimes used a letter code instead of a conventional movement number; examples seen include: M/CEC; FFA and PAM: difficult to figure to say the least.

Also worth a look is a circa-1813 gold-cased Pocket Watch with an unusual and attractive bezel:  

Related to another Haley movement in The British Museum, Anthony G. Randall/Richard Good note:

Charles Haley, 7 Wigmore Street, was made a Freeman of the Clockmakers Company in 1781 and died in 1825.   He was a pioneer chronometer maker and was granted a patent, No. 2132, in 1796 for a constant force escapement. A watch fitted with this device is preserved in the Guildhall Museum, London*. He was appointed by the Select Committee of the House of Commons to report on Mudge’s timekeepers and application for a reward. 

* This collection now installed at The Science Museum. 

Incidentally, Thomas Mudge received a total of £3,000 as a reward from the Board of Longitude, largely as a result of the persistence of his son.  (Poor old Mudge Snr had little opportunity to enjoy the bulk of the grant, dying the following year.)  How grateful would Gout or Haley have been for such munificence - £279,500.00 in terms of purchasing power at current rates: no more selling off stock in a hurry with that much under the mattress! 

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 -  - 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  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