English 18th and 19th century pocket watches can be classified into several basic types, and this short guide aims to guide you through the many types available and the various pitfalls and mistakes to avoid when selecting a watch to buy either as a present or as a new or well seasoned collector.
1. The VERGE watch, nearly always with a fusee and chain, although there are exceptions, is the simplest and oldest form of watch escapement which goes back to the 15th century. Generally most watches encountered will have a double or pair-case and be from the late 18th century or any time in the 19th century. A traditional design even seen as late as 1901. Take care to differentiate between the foreign made verge paircases, often of poor quality, with English sounding names to movements and double footed balance cocks, often known as Dutch Forgeries.
2. The FUSEE LEVER, generally made by English watch makers from ca. 1820 through to ca. 1910. This escapement was the development in the search for time-keeping and longtitude. A well cleaned and looked after English fusee table lever is an ideal everyday watch capable of excellent performance. The English lever pair case watch can often be found as late as 1905, showing the traditional watchmakers still carrying on a centuries old tradition, but of course the battle had been lost to the Swiss and the USA.
3. The MASSEY LEVER, an interesting and reasonably scare variant on the standard table-lever. Edward Massey born in 1772, and settled in London at 28 King Street, Clerkenwell. He invented the Massey lever escapement and this was patented on November 6th 1814. He went on to develop and improve his escapement with the Massey No 1, 2, 3, and 5. The Massey lever was preferred to the Rack lever at this time and used extensively by the better quality Liverpool watch-makers. Generally found with hall-marks in the period 1820-1845. There are also subtle variations, some with limited draw and also those with different profiles to the pallet shape. See for examples by the bookes by Britten, Bailey, Loomes, and most importantly the key document by Alan Treherne who classified these escapements into the series 1-5. In terms of rarity, the Massey 3 is the most common of these escapements; next up in the uncommon category is the Massey 2; followed by the rare Massey 1 and then the very rare Massey 5 escapement. The Massey 4 is exceptionally rare, and today unless you are prepared to pay around 3500 to 4000 pounds it is unlikely you will ever see or find one. In 10 years of dealing with watches I have only ever seen a single example of a Massey 4 watch, and that is in my personal collection.
4. The FUSEE CYLINDER, a rarer English escapement, possibly invented by the famous George Graham in the 1720s or earlier. Another frictional escapement, requiring great skill to make and finish. Reasonably uncommon and well worth including in any general collection of English watches. Often seen on cheaper and near mass produced Swiss and French watches.
5. The FUSEE DUPLEX, a much rarer English escapement, with a unique double toothed escape-wheel. The highest quality examples have a ruby balance staff and often fully jewelled train. Fascinating to watch and highly recommended in any collection.
MORE TO COME ON OTHER RARER ESCAPEMENTS, SUGGESTIONS WELCOMED!
a. Working and Non-Working - unless you are a capable restorer avoid watches which need work or cleaning. There are always gremlins and further problems the seller may not have seen or even known about.
b. The Case - try to ensure that the case is in good condition with no holes or major damage. Hinges can easily be repaired by any competent silver/gold smith. However, avoid watches with cases where previous repairers have bodged the repair and used a soft electrical solder. This is a nghtmare to remove and often causes major problems.
c. The Dial - if the watch is rare, buy the watch no matter how bad the condition of the dial, chances are you may never see another example. If it is an average example, leave it, plenty more of the same come up on EBay everyday.
d. Overall Condition - do try to assess condition of gilding to plates, how well looked after, whether screw heads botched and general state of movement and then take same view to case and the dial. Make sure that the seller has dated the watch correctly, many, many watches listed on EBay are dated incorrectly, check hall-marks for the Assay Office where stamped and then the date letter.
More to Come
English Pocket Watches from the 18th &19th Centuries
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