Thursday, 20 July 2017

George Margetts (1748-1804)

I wrote an extensive article last year on George Margetts. His life and work are intriguing – with technical/craft skills contradictions, biographical uncertainties, business vicissitudes, possible deceptions, but, nevertheless, endeavour across a range of horological and scientific disciplines.

Margetts’s output includes decorative, multi-function watches, Marine Chronometers, clocks and watches with astronomical functions, calculating instruments and published writing based on complex arithmetical calculations.

Here is an example of an extant verge:

© Trustees of the British Museum

Number
Date
Description
Notes
Unknown
c1778
Astronomical, gold-consular cased verge.  Diameter – 55.2mm.


The dial shows the positions of the sun and the moon in the zodiac throughout the year, the stars visible each night, the age of the moon and the times of high tide at various ports around Great Britain. The whole dial rotates clockwise once per day, together with the solar and lunar indicators, but over the course of a year both solar and lunar hands regress at different rates to show the position of the sun and moon in the zodiac. Effectively, the dial rotates once in a sidereal day - 23 hours, 56 minutes, 4 seconds - and the solar and lunar hands rotate once in a solar and lunar day.  In the collection of The British Museum 

The article includes a table with details/illustrations of 27 extant horological pieces attributed to Margetts.

Margetts’s story involves innovation contrasting with the more mundane.  His ultimate potential seems to have been unfulfilled and I wonder if his lack of success stemmed from technical shortcomings, lack of commercial focus or a paucity of ability to present himself and his ideas effectively - for example in his dealings with the Board of Longitude.  But, whatever might have been possible, there can be no denying that his Astronomical Watches were very expertly designed, are nicely evocative of his period and remain aesthetically triumphant.

Friday, 30 June 2017

Fathers and Sons - Again

My latest research project has disclosed yet another instance of an enterprising, industrious father who built a business and reputation over several decades, and a son who presided over the rapid decline of that business and the loss of the family’s wealth.  I don’t go looking for such sagas and must conclude that the scenario was not so uncommon in the English horology trades of the nineteenth century.  See also

With this maker – as with Ralph Gout, about whom I wrote in Antiquarian Horology, June 2016 – the son lacked the father’s craft skills as well as business acumen.  As a result it was under the father’s name that the business was carried on after his death.  This assured a maintenance of reputation for a while and demonstrates that the concept of a trusted, quality ‘Brand’ was as commercially important in Victorian times as it is today.

My new subject managed to get through a seven figure (in current value terms) legacy in just 11 years.  There are indications that this came about through overtrading with a reliance on high sales volumes with small profit margins, the carrying of excessive amounts of stock and a move to high-overheads premises.  There is however also a strand which is all too typical of late Victorian urban society – chronic ill health brought about by environmental factors.  The son contracted TB and was forced to relocate to the coast, where he nevertheless died decades short of his three-score-and-ten and no longer a well-known watchmaker/retailer and jeweller, but a humble boarding house keeper.


I am aiming to publish a substantial article on this watchmaking family in the autumn/winter.

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. . .