Monday, 1 October 2018

The Great Exhibition

At the same time as the decline of the English watchmaking trade was progressing, two major exhibitions were mounted in London extolling the quality of British commercial enterprise.  This was certainly appropriate in regard to the manufacture of chronometers in London, but, as far as more mundane pocket watches were concerned, the wares displayed by many of the exhibitors had been made on the continental mainland.  Thus the Great Exhibition of 1851 and the International Exhibition of 1862, tended to represent British horological excellence increasingly in the form of retailing, rather than of manufacturing, expertise.

The Great Exhibition, 1851, (Crystal Palace):

© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The event is well summarised in the V&A’s website, here

Horological exhibits are listed in the Catalogue in the section, ‘Class 10. Philosophical, Musical, Horological, and Surgical Instruments.’  47 entries relate to makers/vendors of pocket watches/chronometers, including:

1. Bennett, J. 65 Cheapside, Inv and Manu. . . . Marine chronometer.  Bennett’s model watch, on a magnified scale; constructed to show the most compact form of the modern watch, with all the recent improvements.  For more on Bennett, see The Old Watchword, post November 2015, here

John Bennett was born in 1814.  His parents, John and Elizabeth were watchmakers, living and working in Greenwich.  John Jnr carried on after their deaths, moving to the City in 1846 with premises at 65 Cheapside.  He eventually expanded these by taking over no. 64 and also had a presence at 62 Cornhill.  The business was successful and Bennett further elevated his status by becoming a councillor in the 1860s and a sheriff in 1871.  He was knighted in 1872.

Bennett’s business was attuned to the prevailing conditions with considerable savvy.  He sought to cut manufacturing costs as a response to the erosion of English makers’ market share resulting from the price competitiveness of Swiss imports, (which he decried), yet he had no compunction about utilising Swiss movements himself in his products.  Equally, he was energetic in his approach to marketing, his press advertising being especially prolific, for example: 

19. Delolme, H. 48 Rathbone Pl. Oxford St. Des. And Manu. – Gold watches, manufactured entirely in England.  Stethometer.  Marine chronometer.  I completed a study of Delolme’s life and work in February 2018.  Notice the difference in approach to the imports issue from that of Bennett whereby Delolme seeks to make an unconditional virtue of the fact that his products are, ‘manufactured entirely in England.’

Delolme did not however create his watches in London from scratch.  He utilised rough movements sourced from the Prescot (Lancashire) manufactories.  The London Daily News, 15 September 1851, reported Delolme’s exhibits as follows:

Mr. Delom (sic), of 48 Rathbone-place, exhibits a handsome collection of watches, containing many improvements in construction, the result of his long scientific experience.  By dispensing with the fusee he obtains more room for the other works, and is thus enabled to comply with the present taste for flat watches without any sacrifice of strength or durability.  The duty of the fusee in regulating the inequality of the mainspring is performed by an ingenious contrivance which he very learnedly calls an ‘isochrone pendulum spring’ – this sonorous epithet being the only part of his work which is not entirely of English manufacture.

Notice that Delolme lacked Bennett’s assertive marketing instinct – with modesty he refers to his prices as being, ‘comparatively moderate.’  His work though could be superlative, as seen, for example, in this Marine chronometer, #850, (c-1857):

Courtesy of Ben Wright Clocks

34. Barraud & Lund, 41 Cornhill, Inv and Manu – Marine chronometer with a model of a newly-invented compensation–balance.  Common marine chronometer.  Small gold pocket chronometer.

A fully illustrated overview of the firms involving members of the Barraud family over their long period of commercial activity – from c1840 through to the twentieth century – is provided here

Barraud Marine chronometers were of especially good quality and a considerable number were purchased by the Admiralty.  The auxiliary compensation invention referred to in the Exhibition Catalogue text was unusual in that it was based simply on a weight affecting the balance wheel.

Shown below is a pocket chronometer, #3/127, (1869):

Courtesy of Sotheby’s

35. Parkinson & Frodsham, 4 Change Alley, Cornhill, Manu – Astronomical clock, with mercurial pendulum, eight-day chronometer, lever watches, pocket chronometers, &c.

The highly respected partnership of William Parkinson and William Frodsham was established at 4 Change Alley in 1801 and was located there until 1842.  The business remained active, at Budge Row until 1947 – now that is longevity!

William Frodsham became an eminent spokesman for the English watchmaking trade – a natural development from his fulfilment of the role of Master of the Worshipful Company of Clockmakers in 1837/8.  In 1842 Frodsham was a leading opponent of the proposed British Watch and Clockmaking Company, by which Pierre Frederic Ingold intended to establish modern factory-model manufacturing as a means of making English products price-competitive with Swiss imports.

The Frodsham family became one of the very most important in British horological history.  William’s son, Charles, was already a successful maker in his own right by the time of the Great Exhibition, at which he was awarded a first class medal, his entry in the Catalogue reading:

57. Frodsham, C. 84 Strand, Manu. – Astronomical clock.  Marine chronometers.  Gold pocket chronometers and lever watches. The double rotary escapement.  Day of the month watch.  Specimen of gold lever watches, with the split-centre second’s-hand movement.  Railway watches.  Portable chime and other clocks, &c.

Charles Frodsham & Co Ltd trades contemporarily and on its website claims to be ‘the longest continuously trading firm of chronometer manufacturers in the world . . .’  Charles became every bit as influential as his father, and followed him as Master of the Worshipful Company of Clockmakers.

Charles was just one of William’s four sons, the others being, Henry, George and John, and they, and their descendants, forged careers in the Trade, helping to establish several firms: Frodsham & Co., G. E. Frodsham, Frodsham & Baker, Frodsham & Keen, Arnold & Frodsham.

This a typically fine deck watch by Parkinson & Frodsham, #4436, (c-1856):

Courtesy of Auktionen Dr. Crott

55. Dent, E. J. 61 Strand, 33 Cockspur St. and 34 Royal Exchange, Manu. – Large assortment of ladies and gentlemen’s superior watches.  Marine chronometer, with a glass balance-spring, glass balance, and compensation, for variation of temperature, of platina and silver.  Azimuth and altitude compass.  Dipleidscope.  Astronomical and other clocks, &c.

Edward John Dent, though not its original inventor, developed the dipleidoscope for practical use and patented it in 1843.  It is a device which supports the accurate setting of timepieces by observation of the position of the sun or moon.  As might readily be imagined, complex instructions were necessary, and Dent wrote a detailed user’s manual:

Dent’s business and more conventional – and very fine – products are covered in the 2015 post here, and here. His Marine chronometers were considered to be first class.  This example, dating from c-1850 is #2254:

Courtesy of FJ & RD Story Antique Clocks

5. Watkins, A. Inv. And Manu. – Eight day self-acting repeating chronometer, comprising 200 pieces of mechanism.  Small three-quarter plate chronometers, with hard cylindrical springs, jewelled in every hole.

My study of Watkins was published in the April and May 2016 issues of Clocks Magazine.  I have also featured his work here in the 2016 posts, here, and here

In a future post here I will look at some of the watchmakers represented at the 1862 International Exhibition.

Friday, 14 September 2018

William Cribb

William Eardley Cribb was a maker of watches, chronometers and clocks of above-average quality.  His good reputation was especially justified by the excellent performance of his chronometers – such that, according to Mercer, he became a supplier to the Admiralty.  His was a business which could have grown and continued through successive generations, but, having had no children, it ceased with his death at the relatively early age of sixty*.

William had been born in London on Christmas Eve, 1814, and grew up at 58 Theobalds Road, Bloomsbury, between Chancery Lane and Russell Square.  From the early 1820s he lived and traded from premises on Southampton Row, successively at numbers 17, 30 and 146 – the latter nowadays being an Indian Restaurant.

Around 1853-55 Cribb developed his business by taking over that of Birchall & Appleton at 30 Southampton Row following Appleton’s death in September 1852.  The partners had consolidated their own good standing by acquiring in 1830 the business/premises of Robert Molyneux & Son – Molyneux having been especially notable for his work on auxiliary compensation for marine chronometers, as discussed in my article on James Eiffe.

The British Museum holds two examples of Cribb’s work.  One of these, with movement number 3715, circa-1860, features an escapement of the type known as Cole's Resilient – invented in 1830 by James Ferguson Cole.  This obviates the banking pins normally used to constrain movement of the lever by the utilisation of specific shaping of the escape wheel teeth and angularity of the pallets.

© Trustees of the British Museum

This is another of Cribb’s movements, number 3824, which is a free sprung chronometer, the quality of which appears first rate in this photograph, for which thanks are due to ‘radger’ who posts on the Watchuseek forum:

* I have seen a contention that Gibbs had a son named Arthur, but I have been unable to confirm this.  A person with this name is mentioned as an executor of William’s will, but he was an upholsterer born the same year (1814) – so was perhaps a cousin.  William’s estate amounted to ‘under £1,500,’ so his commercial success should probably be considered as having been moderate only.

Friday, 1 June 2018

John Cashmore

Earlier this year I became interested in John Cashmore, a later-nineteenth century London watchmaker.  Although not especially innovative, Cashmore's quality was consistently  good and he achieved a reputation for excellence.  Here, below, is an example of his output:

Described as follows:

A Minute Repeater in 18ct. Gold Hunter case and with keyless, lever movement. Signed John Cashmore, London, no.5955, 1881.  A frosted gilt three-quarter plate movement jewelled to the centre with screwed chatons, free sprung bimetallic compensation balance with diamond endstone, gold cuvette, white enamel dial with roman numerals, subsidiary seconds, gold hour and minute hands, polished case with engraved monogram and repeat slide in the band, casemaker's initials GAP,  diameter 56mm. (Description and photograph courtesy of Christie's.)

Over time 'John Cashmore' became a brand, watches by this name being marketed for some time after his retirement in 1899.

My illustrated article on John Cashmore features in the June issue of 'Clocks' magazine.

Wednesday, 23 May 2018

Richard Thorneloe

Anyone looking for a straightforward late-nineteenth century English pocket watch will inevitably, sooner or later, encounter one bearing the maker’s name of John Forrest.  Most will be found to have nothing to do with the man himself and many will be of mediocre quality.  But that is not to say, despite Mr Forrest’s own, spurious claim to be, “Chronometer maker to the Admiralty,” that they are necessarily any less well made than those he did make.  And, after Forrest’s death, ironically, some made by the man – arguably the only one - who had a right to use the name, were actually purchased by the Admiralty because of their very high quality.

After Forrest’s death (in 1871) the brand was sold to Richard Thorneloe for £20 in 1891.  However, in the meantime another Coventry maker, Charles John Hill (Russel House, Chapel Fields), had taken to marketing watches inscribed with the Forrest name.

Thorneloe was determined to affirm and secure the rights he believed his outlay should have brought him.  Accordingly, in 1893, he instigated an action in the High Court.  This, however, failed and ‘John Forrest’ watches continued to be made by Hill and others.

Prior to his difficulties with the John Forrest brand Thorneloe had established and developed a successful business within the Coventry watchmaking community; it was of sufficient size in 1871 to be employing 6 men and 7 boys.

Whilst the ‘original’ Forrest established a marketability based on a perception of quality and a false claim, Thorneloe achieved a reputation founded on actual quality which was verifiably endorsed by Admiralty purchase.  This is evidenced by a deck watch sold by Sotheby’s in 2016:

Courtesy of Sotheby’s

It was entered in the 1904-05 trial at Greenwich Observatory, and its accuracy was not bettered by any of the other instruments tested at the same time.  This was attributable to its well-made movement which featured a spring detent chronometer escapement and compensated balance.  Thorneloe had however gone one step further with this instrument by incorporating a karrusel, as developed and patented by the Danish maker, Bahne Bonniksen.

I have recently completed a comprehensive article on Thorneloe and anticipate publishing it later this year or in 2019.

Tuesday, 3 April 2018

The Brockbanks

Currently on offer at Pieces of Time is this beautiful multiple dial verge by Brockbank.  The subsidiary dials provide Hours, Seconds, Moon-age and Day of Month.  This degree of complexity and the case decoration are typical of a watch made in the late eighteenth century for export to the Far East.  From the movement number it is safe to attribute a making date of 1786-90.

 Courtesy of Pieces of Time

The Brockbank business was started by John in 1769 in Old Jewry, London.  He took on his younger brother, Miles as his apprentice that same year.

The lives and work of the Brockbanks – including notable productivity, involvement in the Arnold/Earnshaw dispute, bankruptcy, sons and a nephew aspiring to maintain the name in watchmaking, etc. – are covered in an excellent article by A. D. Stewart, published in Antiquarian Horology, December 2015.

Courtesy of Pieces of Time

Access to this sort of in-depth (19 pages and many illustrations) article underpins the very good value for money provided by membership of the Antiquarian Horological Society.  This is further enhanced by the addition to the resources available to members of the digitised archive of the Horological Journal from its first issue in 1858 to 2000.  It’s well worth a visit to here for details of membership.

Friday, 19 January 2018

In Print

In response to an e-mail enquiry - thanks for your interest in my work Johann - here's a list of my recent print-published horology articles:

Issue Date
Grant of Fleet Street
John Grant and his son
Clocks Magazine
February 2016
Alexander Watkins 1
Watkins and his family
Clocks Magazine
April 2016
Alexander Watkins 2
Watkins and his family
Clocks Magazine
May 2016
Man or Brand?
Ralph and David Gout
Antiquarian Horology
June 2016
John Poole
John Poole
Clocks Magazine
August 2016
Ahead of its Time
George Sanderson
Clocks Magazine
March 2017
Impoverished Innovator
Joseph Berrollas
Antiquarian Horology
June 2017
The Circumvoluting Brand
Sigismund Rentzsch
Clocks Magazine
September 2017
George Margetts
Clocks Magazine
December 2017

Monday, 13 November 2017

The Luftwaffe B-Uhr

My aesthetic tastes remain greatly influenced by my boyhood experiences of the 1950s.  There was a cosiness to illustrators’ imagination of space travel, and the ‘look’ of rocket ships, spacesuits/helmets in the Eagle’s Dan Dare strip is still one I enjoy.  Science fiction themes were frequently encountered, very impressively so in the styling of American –and eventually, if in a rather diluted form – English cars.  Such things also began to feature as subject matter in the new Pop Art that emerged as the next decade was approached.  But while these things looked to the future, something from the recent past also loomed very large: World War II.  Our comics were full of depictions of the conflict and aerial warfare was a particular favourite.  Naturally, as the victors, the Brits were the good guys, the Jerries bad, and the Spitfire was the king of the skies.  The Airfix kit which was to blame for me accidentally squirting polystyrene cement all over a brand new school blazer was of the good old Lancaster – I was very conventional in revering the look and exploits of that great lumbering bomber.

But I was also a bit odd:  secretly, I studied everything I could about the German Luftwaffe.  Although at that stage not contesting the right and wrongs of the war, I was finding nearly all aspects of the Luftwaffe much more charismatic than the RAF versions – the planes, the insignia and badges, the uniforms, etc.  And that is still my take.  I like the menacing look and specification of such machines as the Ju87, the Do17 and the Me262.

And in the realms of horology, the watches issued to German flying personnel are prized collectibles today.  Foremost of the models was that primarily intended for the use of an aircraft’s Observer – usually the mission’s navigator.  Known as the Beobachtungsuhr – often abbreviated to B-Uhr – and specified by the Reichsluftfahrtministerium (Air Ministry), five makers supplied the watches to the Luftwaffe: A Lange & Sohne, IWC, Laco (Lacher & Co), Stowa and Wempe.  Their brief was to build instruments with a case diameter of 55mm, chronometer-quality movement with a Breguet type balance spring, a hackable seconds hand, a crown with enough protrusion to allow a glove hand to wind it, and a strap allowing wear over the sleeve of flight clothing.  The makers met the basic functional requirements by using modified variants of their pocket watch movements.

The best of the makers is A Lange & Sohne, then and now considered supreme amongst the manufacturing houses located in the German town of Glashutte.  The firm utilised its 48/1 movement for timepieces made between September 1940 and April 1945 for the Luftwaffe and the Kriegsmarine.  The Luft B-Uhr had two iterations – initially with a very simple dial (Type A), and, from 1942, with a more distinctive layout featuring a small, inner, concentric hours track (Type B):

Left: Lange & Sohne B-Uhr type A; Right: Lange & Sohne B-Uhr type B.  Courtesy of @TimeTitans

Left: Lange & Sohne B-Uhr Movement; Right: Lange & Sohne B-Uhr Inside Rear Cover.
 © The Swiss Watch Co. (UK) Ltd 1996-2017

The earlier, Type A, is today the less easy to find.  For both versions it is possible that data on the rear cover (inner face) reflects the fact that L&S sometimes lacked the capacity to assemble the complete timepiece.  As a result one of the following list of makers may appear in the Hersteller field: Huber (Munich), Felsing (Berlin), (Schieron) Stuttgart, Sch√§tzle & Tschudin (Pforzheim), Wempe (Hamburg).

Whilst there is general similarity of appearance between the watches produced by the five manufacturers, some subtle differences are to be seen in terms of the crowns, hands and dial numerals – comparison of the Type A versions made by IWC and Stowa, as below, (left, and right, respectively), illustrate this – especially notable is the style in which the numbers 6 and 9 are rendered on the IWC:

Left: IWC Type A. Courtesy; Right: Stowa Type A.
 Courtesy Lockdale Coins Ltd

The later, Type B, versions show similar small detail variances.  Here, below, left to right, are those by Laco, Stowa and Wempe:

Of these the most rare is the Stowa – on the company’s contemporary web-site it is stated that total production may have been as little as 42 pieces!

And here are the four movements not already shown, left to right: IWC; Laco; Wempe; Stowa

The stainless steel cases were often finished in grey paint/lacquer and the Reichsluftfahrtministerium reference number, FL 23883 was commonly stamped into the side of the case at the 9 o’clock position.  The serial number (Werk nr.) was stamped into the outer face of the rear cover.

These watches did not remain in the possession of the Luftwaffe flyers – they were issued to them, mission by mission, to be returned on safe arrival back at base. 

An impressive watch by virtue of the clarity of the dial layouts and the case size. In recent times there has been enough interest for all the original manufacturing houses/brand names, excepting A Lange & Sohne, to be offering ‘re-interpretations’ (of both the A and B Types) some of which look very much like the originals, but which are somewhat smaller in overall dimensions.