Sunday, 16 July 2017

Researching a 1787 Double-Pair Cased Pocket Watch


A Double-Pair Cased Pocket Watch by P. Edmond, Dublin, 1787,
together with Chain and Wax Sealer
[From my own collection]

As my regular readers will probably attest, I delight in researching old family owned items in my possession, usually with quite some success. This example, being a 230 year old double-pair cased sterling silver pocket watch with a one day fusee chain drive and verge escarpment has proven no exception. I know who made it (or at least the case) and when, who sold it, who owned it, and even, quite surprisingly, who repaired it!


The Theory of the Fusee Drive
[Source : Wikipedia]

But first, the basics. By "double-pair", this simply refers to the pocket watch having an outer case which helped to protect the inner case and movement. The fusee chain drive is an ingenious system whereby the power exerted by the spring is applied to the watch movement by means of a spiral cone. When the watch is fully would the chain pulls from the narrowest part of the cone and when the spring winds down the chain is increasingly pulled from the wider part of the spiral cone. Thus a reasonably even "pull" is applied to the watch movement in order to maintain consistent timekeeping.

The Action of the Verge Escarpment

By the 1850's the simple but ingenious verge escarpment system, having been in common use since the 13th century, had been superseded by the more precise lever escarpment found in later watches. The speed of the verge escarpment watch was difficult to accurately regulate, friction and wear was excessive, and over time, due to wear, the movement would tend to speed up. The verge escarpment, being vertically placed within the movement along with the fusee drive, also made these watches unfashionably thick. Technology slowly advanced to make both of these regulation systems obsolete thus leading to the modern and virtually self regulating mechanical wrist watch which is still made and sought after today.  


Silver Marks on Pocket Watch by
P. Edmond, Dublin, 1787

The inner and outer cases carry five hallmarks, firstly the manufacturer of the sterling silver case being "R.R", secondly the Lion's Head (with coronet) London City Assay office hallmark denoting the place of manufacture, thirdly the Lion Passant guardant certifying the silver quality, fourthly the Sovereign's Head Duty Mark (being of King George III which certifies the payment of duty for Sterling Silver), and fiftly, the date letter "M" for 1787 in a cartouche matched to this period.


Double-Pair Cased Pocket Watch by P. Edmond, Dublin, 1787,
showing the outer case open

The case maker, "R.R" is Richard Rowney, then having his premises on the corner of King Street, St Giles, London and trading as a Jeweller and Silversmith. In 1793 Rowney, now of Broad street, advertised that he was selling up his stock in trade and going into the wholesale perfumery business at 95 Holborn Hill with his brother Thomas Rowney, thereafter trading at "T&R Rowney". The business was dissolved in 1801 with both then going their separate ways. Richard Rowney became a "hair merchant and perfumer" while Thomas Rowney became a "colourman", preparing and retailing artists' colours. The well-known name of Rowney is still associated with artist's supplies today. Unfortunately, Richard Rowney and then still in business in the wholesale perfumery business along with his son, was made bankrupt in 1811. He died in 1824 aged 69 years and is buried at Elim Baptist Chapel, Fetter Lane, London.


Double-Pair Cased Pocket Watch by P. Edmond, Dublin, 1787,
showing the movement with finely pierced balance wheel cover.

The name engraved on the movement, perhaps surprisingly, was "P. Edmond, Dublin", and being numbered 7142. Very little is known about Mr Edmond and all I can establish from published sources is that he ceased business in 1797. But I tend to doubt that Mr Edmond himself manufactured the movement. Over most of the 19th century watch and clock retailers would normally add their names to what they sold even though they were not the actual manufacturer. So the mechanism or at least the parts may very well be a generic London manufacturer which would make more sense. Intriguingly, I have noted one other watch sold by Mr Edmond, apparently dated 1790 but rather oddly numbered 3446. having been sold on EBay but am unable to obtain an image of it. If anyone can add additional information about Mr Edmond or has an Edmond watch I would be pleased to hear from you.

The watch itself includes a finely pierced and quite beautiful balance wheel cover typical of this period along with a numbered regulation wheel to increase or decrease the 'recoil' of the balance spring, thus at least having some control over the speed of the verge escarpment. The balance wheel is simply a piece of round flat steel with no temperature compensation. The back of the watch is truly a thing of beauty although almost permanently encased away from view. The inner case did not need to be opened to wind the watch, being achieved with a key suspended from the accompanying watch chain. The dial is of enamel with blackened steel hands. While the watch will go, the ratchet click (to stop the fusee cog uncontrollably spinning round) is broken with worn cog wheels and the repair to it is at best temporary. At some stage the small handle has been re-soldered onto the inner case. The original bulbous crystal (glass cover over the dial) is also missing.

"John Watson, Burnhead, Dalserf",
first confirmed owner of the watch.
From a book dated 1812.
[From my own collection]

The provenance of an item adds so much to its intrinsic value, this information often being lost in the mists of time. The very old style of watch chain is probably original to my family ownership of the watch but how it came to be purchased in Dublin is not known. It could easily be that the watch, then an expensive purchase, had been bought second hand. Attached to the end of the brass watch is a carved crystal wax letter seal with the initials "JW" in intaglio. This is the clue as to the original confirmed owner in my family, being John Watson, a tenant farmer to the Duke of Hamilton at "Burnhead Farm" in Dalserf Parish, Lanarkshire, Scotland. As John was only born in 1777 a second-hand purchase is more likely. John died at "Burnhead" in 1872, then aged a commendable 94 years.

John Watson of Crossford,
second owner of the watch
Taken circa 1870's,
Bowman Photo, Glasgow.
[From my own collection]

The watch and chain then passed to his son John Watson, born 1818, a grocer of Crossford, who died in 1883. Although he almost certainly never used it John's ownership of this watch is fully supported by a note left by his great niece. As John had latterly been residing with my Grandmother's family they retained the watch and chain (even though Watson family cousins still resided at 'Burnhead'), bringing it with them to New Zealand in 1911. But the watch would return to Scotland in 1922 when the then owner, James Watson (a great nephew of John Watson of Crossford), returned to Scotland to live. But after his death in 1957 his New Zealand brother and sisters asked for the watch back so it returned once more to New Zealand. My late mother, a niece of James Watson, gifted it to me in 1978 due to my interest in horology and being a descendant of the original confirmed owner, my Gt. Gt. Gt. Grandfather.


Double-Pair Cased Pocket Watch by P. Edmond, Dublin, 1787,
showing the Fusee Drive gaduated cone.

As to who repaired the watch over the years, this can be seen by looking at the "watch papers" placed into the back of the double-pair case. When a watch was repaired, and assuming it was in a double-pair case, the watchmaker would place a paper in the back printed with his business name, sometimes writing the name of the owner, date and type of repair on the back. These watch papers also served the purpose of acting as cushioning. This watch includes no less than nine of these papers including an extra one of khaki coloured silk which may be original to the watch.

A Selection of Watch Papers
found in the back of my watch

The watch papers are printed with the various names of "William. Barr, Watch and Clockmaker, Hamilton" then later "Wm. Barr and Son...", "Morgan, Watch Maker, South Bridge Street, Edinburgh", "James Bennie, Watch and Clock Maker, Jeweller etc, 4 Townhead Street, Hamilton". Unfortunately none of the papers carry a date, those of Mr Barr only having a repair number. So we must look at other sources to try and ascertain when these Watchmakers were active.

"Old Scottish Clockmakers" by John Smith (2nd Edition) published in 1921 usefully states that William Barr of "Muir Wynd, Hamilton" was in business from at least 1808 (when nine pocket watches were stolen from his premises) up to at least 1837. "William Barr, Watchmaker" and listed as "Head of Family" appears in Church of Scotland rolls dated 1834, 1836 and 1839. Historical records also tell us that William Barr died around late 1847 to early 1848. His wife Margaret, whom he had married in 1840, continued the business until she "sold her inventory" in 1851. A Rootsweb message left by a descendant states that William Barr, Watchmaker, was born in 1780 and evidently married twice. So he must have been in business from prior to 1808 until his death, when the business was being run jointly with his son.  

Donald Whyte in "Clockmakers and Watchmakers of Scotland 1453 - 1900" published in 2005 notes James Bennie of 4 Townhead street as being in business from 1842 to 1852. I also note a James Bennie of Hamilton who appears in the 1861 census of Hamilton and who died in 1884 aged 54 years.

"Old Scottish Clockmakers from 1453 to 1850" records Thomas Morgan as being in business from 1767 to 1803. Period published sources also record him as a "watchmaker" in 1789 and additionally of "South Bridge Street" Edinburgh in 1800 and 1801. So this would appear to be the earliest watch paper with my watch. Although the first John Watson would have been 24 years of age by 1801 there is even the vague possibility that this watch paper relates to a previous owner.



These interesting watch papers certainly give a guide as to when the watch was in normal use but I believe the watch would have ceased being in use by the 1850's and certainly before the original confirmed owner died in 1883. The next owner was then an older man with a gold and a silver watch of his own. And in any case the Edmond watch is in a damaged state which indicates that upon the crystal cover breaking and / or the ratchet breaking it was put aside and then kept as a valued family keepsake. If you have read this far the very short video above shows the watch working.

Sources :

- Watson Family photographs and artefacts (held by the writer)
- "Old Scottish Clockmakers 1453 to 1850" by John Smith, 1921 [Google Books]
- Various Internet Sources
- Invercargill Public Library


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