When researching the history of a watch or the life/work of a watchmaker, I am always hopeful that movement numbers are apparent – and now the difficult aspect – and accurate! Very often they are not. Incremental sequences of numbers frequently come into doubt when trying to verify against the supposed date of manufacture based on case hallmarkings, (which themselves are not always clear and may be on a later re-case). Sometimes the numbers themselves are just too ‘big’ to be believable given the size of the maker’s business/the length of time for which it was operational. Then there is the little matter of deliberate alteration. As an example of this, here is an account of the activities of Andrew Springhalter, as reported in The Times, 7 April 1865:
Police-sergeant Evans 22G, an active plain-clothes officer, said that a few days since he saw the prisoner coming down Spencer-street, Clerkenwell, and, suspecting that all was not correct, he followed him and saw him go into a pawnbroker’s shop. He went in and asked the prisoner what he had got there, and he said, “Nothing,” and the pawnbroker at that moment said he was making out a duplicate for a watch that the prisoner had offered in pawn. He then took the prisoner into custody, and on going to the prisoner’s residence he found a number of duplicates relating to watches and other jewelry, and on a bench a number of watch cases quite new, and some plates of watches. All the numbers of the watches were altered by the addition of a number, the alteration of some of some of the original numbers, and the names on some of the plates had been changed, and in some cases names had been added. A large number of the watches had been stolen from a jeweller’s at Dudley.
Mr. Hamilton, of Southampton-street, Pentonville, said,- I am an engraver, and do a large business for watchmakers. I altered the figures on the seven watches produced at the direction of the prisoner. Some of the watches have had figures added, and others have been altered. The numbers on the silver watches 13684 have been altered to 136846, 49086 to 490861, 15237 to 452571, 15385 to 145383, 15978 to 459781 and 15962 to 459641. On one the name of “Neal, Wandsworth,” has been added, and on the others the following names have been added, “Alfred Gold, Islington;” “S. Morris, Notting-hill, London;” “John Jones, 338, Strand;” and “Henshaw, High Holborn.” Some of the names belong to legitimate makers, and the others are mere fancy names. The prisoner has not before engaged me in similar work.
Cross-examined by Mr. Pater. – I did not think that it was unusual when I was asked to alter these numbers. I do not know that it is usual to put a good name in bad watches so that they may sell better. I have been an engraver for 20 years. I have often put names on watches where there have not been any before. I received all the watches together, and altered them the same day. I altered them the day previous to the police sergeant calling for them. I have known the prisoner as a working jeweller for the past six months, and I have always found him an honest, respectable man.
Whilst high-end wristwatches seem to hold their value quite well nowadays, many expensive motor cars certainly do not. But there’s nothing new under sun. From The Times, 9 December 1826, an eye watering 41% depreciation rate on a watch for which you’d be paying a fortune in 2015:
A BARGAIN. – GOLD REPEATER, by an eminent London maker, the real property of a Gentleman. – A GOLD REPEATER, strikes the hours, quarters, and half quarters, has a rich chased double bottomed gold case, gold dial, the movement duplex, with seconds, and jewelled in 5 holes, ruby cylinder, cost 85 guineas, to be SOLD for 50 guineas, nearly new. Apply to Mr. Jarman, dealer in articles of curiosity, 30, St.James-street.
There is a substantial entry in Baillie for Wagstaffe: London (Carey St. and Gracechurch St.) 1756-93. Livery Merchant Taylors Co. Watches M.M.A. and Den. Coll. cyl. watches Ilbert coll. l.c. clock Virginia M. and br. Clock
Looking at the quality of this example of his products, it’s not surprising that he had ‘visitors’, as related in The Public Advertiser in March 1758:
Thomas Wagstaffe, London, No. 6526. Circa 1760
Silver quarter repeating pair-cased pocket watch
Courtesy of Lacote des Montres.com
A Gold Watch, STOLEN on Tuesday Night or early Yesterday Morning, the 15th instant, out of the Shop of Thomas Wagstaffe, Watch-maker at the Ship and Crown in Gracechurch-street, the following Watches, viz.
A Gold Watch, Name Tho. Wagstaffe, London, No.969: a Gold Cylinder Watch, Name Fohn Frymelksham (John Fry, Melksham); a Silver Repeater, Name David Le Sturgeon; a Silver Repeater, Name Tho. Wagstaffe, London, No.1343; a Silver Horizontal with the Cylinder broke, No. 335 or 353, Name Tho. Wagstaffe, London; a Silver capped and jewelled Watch, Name Tho. Wagstaff, No. 1560; a Silver jewelled Watch, Name ditto No.1651; Ditto ditto, No. 1590; a plain Silver Watch, Name ditto, Number forgot; two ditto, Name ditto, No. 1714 and 1715; two ditto, Name ditto, No. 2 and 1692; one ditto Engine turned Case, Name ditto; two ditto, Name Tho. Wagstaffe, London, No. 1682 or 3, Number of the other forgot; one ditto, ditto, Name forgot; one ditto, Metal, green Shagreen, No. 16!8; one ditto, Name Tho. Wagstaffe, London, No. forgot; two ditto in Boxes without Cases; four ditto, Name James Cole, Norwich, No. forgot; one ditto, Name John Gilks, Shipston, No. 1760; one ditto, Name Charles Reynolds, London, No. 1681; one ditto, Name ditto, No. 1722; three ditto, Name Walbank, No.187, 188, 189; one ditto, Tompion, Gold Box, in a Tortoiseshell Case; four Silver ditto, Name Reynolds, No. forgot; one ditto, Name Finch, No. 1753; one Silver Chain, sundry Seals, Stone Buttons.
Whoever will give such Information to John Fielding, Esq; so that any Part of the Goods may be had again, and the Offender brought to Justice, shall receive twenty Guineas Reward on Conviction.
As can be seen from the subsequent notice, Wagstaffe’s loss is put at £250 – about £40,000 in current value:
Whitehall, March 21, 1758
House of Thomas Wagstaffe, Watchmaker, in GracechurchjWhereas it has been humbly represented to the King, that in the Night of the 14th and 15th instant, the Shop and Compting House of Thomas Wagstaffe, Watchmaker, in Gracechurch-street, London, were broke open and robbed of Watches and other Goods to the Value of £250 his Majesty, in order for the apprehending and brining to Justice the Person or Persons who committed the said Robbery, is pleased to promise his most gracious Pardon to any one who was concerned therein, who shall discover his or her Accomplice therein, so that he, she, or they may be apprehended and convicted thereof.
And as a farther Encouragement, I the said Thomas Wagstaffe do hereby promise to pay a Reward of Twenty Guineas, to any Person making such Discovery as aforesaid, to be paid upon the Conviction of any one or more of the said Robbers.
In the recent update – A Man of Contradictions - concerning Sir John Bennett, mention was made of the crucial watchmaking issue of the nineteenth century – the massive growth in the volume of watches imported from Switzerland at the expense of the English watchmaking industry.
Whilst far too many complacent English makers ignored the situation, unwilling to change their working practice, at least one enterprising man was ready to capitalise:This was his advertisement in The Times, 4 June 1879.
HENRY CAPT’S GENEVA WATCHES. Henry Capt is the only Watch Manufacturer of Geneva having a branch retail house in London, Specialist of Repeaters, Chronographs, and other high-class Watches. Workmen from Geneva fro repairs,- London Branch, 151, Regent-street.
He certainly was not complacent. Having established a market advantage, he continued to seek innovation, including, for instance, being the pioneer Swiss maker to submit his products to The King’s Observatory for validation as a ‘chronometer’.
A little extra care is needed when considering ‘Henry Capt’ watches/history. There are many references to the very high quality products of the early nineteenth century. These included all sorts of complication, including musical features and they were often beautifully decorative. By the time of the advertisement shown above, Capt’s products were much more mainstream, though still noted as being of good quality. By that time the firm was directed by the original Henry’s nephew, also ‘Henry’. Things are also complicated by variations in the spelling of the first name, Henry/Henri, and by the succession of partnerships. I have created this basic summary to provide, I hope, better clarity:
· Founder, Henry Daniel, born 1773, Chenit, Switzerland. (Baillie spells him ‘Henri’)
· Henry marries Henriette Piguet and is in partnership with her family’s firm (no children from the marriage)
· Working partnership with Piguet (Isaac) 1802-11
· Worked alone until 1830
· 1830-79 in partnership with Aubert & Son; (various Aubert firm iterations, 1820-67, listed in Britten’s, Baillie and Loomes and with premises at 252 Regent Street, but these do not record ‘Aubert & Capt’)
· Trading as Aubert & Capt until 1879
· Henry Daniel dies in 1841
· Henry Samuel takes over
· Company purchased in 1880 by Gallopin and named, ‘H.Capt Horologer, Maison Gallopin Successeurs’
· I believe that this Henry Capt ‘dynasty’ is unrelated to the Nicole & Capt partnership