Blog: English Watch CompanyCopyright © David Boettcher 2005 - 2023 all rights reserved.
I make additions and corrections to this web site frequently, but because they are buried somewhere on one of the pages the changes are not very noticeable, so I decided to create this blog section to highlight new material. Here below you will find part of one of the pages that I have either changed or added to significantly.
This blog entry is part of my page about British Hallmarks
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The Anglo-American and English Watch Company
The history of the Anglo-American and English Watch Company is a story of one factory under two sets of management and two different names.
The Anglo-American Watch Company Limited was set up by Aaron Dennison and a group of investors in Birmingham in 1871. After the company failed to achieve sufficient sales of its watches in America, Dennison left in 1874 and the company was renamed the English Watch Company. In 1875 the board of directors decided that the company was not viable and it was liquidated. The factory and machinery was sold to William Bragge who ran it under the same name of the English Watch Company, although this had no legal connection with the dissolved limited company of the same name. Bragge's company was itself incorporated and became the second English Watch Company Limited in 1882.
Anglo-American Watch Company
The Anglo-American Watch Company was one of the first companies in England to use mass production machinery to manufacture finished watches in any significant quantity. William Ehrhardt set up a company in Birmingham in 1856 to make finished watches by machinery. John Wycherley also started earlier, in 1866, but made only rough movements sold to watch finishers in London, Liverpool and Coventry.
Aaron Dennison left the American Watch Company of Waltham in 1861 after a disagreements with Royal E. Robbins. He came to England in late 1863 as an agent selling patented American machinery to the iron trade in Birmingham, England. On a trip to America in 1864 in conjunction with this agency he was approached by A. O. Bigelow to help set up a new watchmaking company in Tremont. Bigelow's idea was to make the larger parts of the movement such as the plates and barrels in America by machine, and import the small fine parts, such as the train wheels, balance and escapement from Switzerland, where wages were lower than in America. Bigelow and Dennison founded the Tremont Watch Company in Boston, and Dennison went to Zurich to supervise the ordering and delivery of parts to America.
The strategy was initially successful. In 1866 the company relocated to Melrose, Massachusetts, and was renamed the Melrose Watch Company. At the same time, Bigelow decided to make all the parts of the movements, and to increase production to 100 watches per week. Dennison disagreed with this and left the company. The new strategy was not a success; the Melrose Watch Company ran out of money and failed in 1868. Dennison returned to Boston and tried to form a new company to purchase the machinery and factory but failed.
After failing to find a buyer for the Melrose machinery, Dennison decided to take it on himself; he had previously given up his shares for an interest in the Melrose factory machinery and work-in-progress. He found investors in Birmingham who were prepared to give financial backing to the venture and a limited liability company called the Anglo-American Watch Company Limited was formed in October 1871. The Melrose machinery was brought to Birmingham and erected at 45 Villa Street, Aston-juxta-Birmingham, which later became known as Hockley.
The articles of agreement between the Anglo-American Watch Company Limited and Dennison, dated 1 January 1872, state that he was to be manager at a salary of £350 per year, subject to dismissal on three months’ notice. At the end of five years Dennison was to receive shares in the company, and a share of the profits if they exceeded 5 per cent for the first year, 10 per cent for the second, 15 per cent for the third, 20 per cent for the fourth, and 25 per cent for the fifth year.
First Liquidation and Sale
The initial products of the Anglo-American Watch Company, uncased movements, were sent to America for sale, but there was little demand because of severe economic depression after the financial crisis of 1873 and the market was over supplied.
In Watches: 1850-1980, Cutmore says that the Anglo-American Watch Company was wound up “late in 1874” and sold for £5,500 to William Bragge, who “renamed it the English Watch Company.” However, this date is wrong, and the name of the company had already been changed to the English Watch Company before it went into liquidation.
In his history of Aaron Dennison and the Dennison watch case company, Philip Priestley records a special resolution of the Anglo-American Watch Company passed on 11 February 1874 that changed the name of the company to the English Watch Company. It appears that Dennison left the company at this time, probably because the investors had become disillusioned due to his inability to turn his ideas into profits. The change of name was in recognition that its watches had not sold well in America and that the company was shifting its focus to the home market, adopting a name that would be more appealing to British buyers.
Unfortunately, the change of focus did not succeed and, less than a year and a half later, another special resolution initiated the voluntary winding up and sale of the English Watch Company. The London Gazette report reproduced here shows that the initial resolution that the English Watch Company Limited of Villa Street, Aston-juxta-Birmingham, be wound up voluntarily was made on 9 June 1875. This resolution was confirmed at a second Extraordinary General Meeting on 24 June when Liquidators were appointed. This shows that the date of 1874 given by Cutmore is wrong.
The notice to creditors posted by the liquidators in the London Gazette on 9 July 1875 required all creditors claims to be submitted before 1 August 1875. When the assets were sold is not recorded, but the liquidators would have wished to dispose of the assets as quickly as possible, so probably in the second half of 1875.
Purchase by Bragge
The assets of the company were sold to William Bragge, a son of a Birmingham jeweller, born in Birmingham on 31 May 1823, who had become a wealthy engineer. At the time of the purchase, William Bragge was manager at the works of John Brown and Co in Sheffield, which had a profitable line in the manufacture of armour-plate.
A sponsor's mark R.B in cameo was entered at the Birmingham Assay Office on 19 January 1876 for Robert Bragge, William Bragge's brother. The details in the register show that he was “Trading as English Watch Company, 45 Villa Street, Hockley, Birmingham & Rosherville Place, Heathfield Road, Birmingham.” This shows that the assets were bought from the liquidators some time after 1 August 1875 and before 19 January 1876. The entry of Robert Bragge's sponsor's mark at the Birmingham Assay Office implies that the company was preparing to send watch cases for hallmarking under the new ownership in January 1876, and the registration of Robert as the responsible person indicates that he was hands-on in the day to day running of the company.
William Bragge did not buy or take over the existing limited company, which went liquidation taking its debts and liabilities with it. Bragge purchased the buildings, machinery and stock-in-trade from the liquidators, in the process creating a new private company which was also called the English Watch Company. This was not a limited company, which might explain Cutmore's remark that he changed the name, it changing from the English Watch Company Limited to the English Watch Company, which was a different legal entity although ostensibly sharing the same name.
An Extraordinary General Meeting of the English Watch Company Limited was held on 20 December 1881 for the purposes of hearing from the liquidators how the winding up had been conducted and the assets of the company disposed of. The meeting marked the end of the first English Watch Company, although the name would have remained on the register at Companies House for some time after before it was struck off.
Bragge's English Watch Company
After the takeover by Bragge, the English Watch Company continued to use the Melrose machinery for making plates and barrels, but was still dependent on the import of parts from Switzerland. In 1880 it was reported that 200 men were employed and the machinery was little improved, the escapement and much of the material still being imported from Switzerland.
Second Limited Company
In February 1882, the Watchmaker, Jeweller and Silversmith reported that the English Watch Company of Birmingham was to become a limited company, The English Watch Company Limited. The capital of the Limited Company was £50,000 in £10 shares, although it appears that only half the amount was called up in the first applications. The freehold buildings, plant, machinery, stock in trade, goodwill, patents and trademarks had been valued on a going concern basis at £21,000. This was the second "English Watch Company Limited", a completely separate legal entity from the first limited company.
The works at Nos. 41 to 49 Villa Street, Lozells, Birmingham, were reported to have been in active operation under the present management for about six years, which would imply from late 1875 or early 1876. This ties in with the date of December 1875 to January 1876 for the purchase of the assets of the company by Bragge from the liquidators as discussed above. The works manager was Charles Haseler.
The workshops had been planned for the purpose of watchmaking by steam machinery, the lighting being especially good with windows on both sides of each workshop looking out onto gardens. It was said that in addition to making parts by costly high-class and automatic machinery, “the several parts of the same sizes are interchangeable.” Large orders were flowing in from the Indian, Colonial and Home markets with a revival in trade after the depression of the 1870s.
The prospectus for the share sale in 1882 said that the watches made were exclusively English levers. This might have been taken, might even have been intended, to imply that all the components were of English manufacture, suggesting a change from the earlier imported Swiss club tooth escape wheels to local manufacture of the pointed tooth escape wheels of an English lever escapement. However, that was not the case. Evidence from watches shows that the use of club tooth escape wheels continued for a number of years.
English Watch Company Production
The chart of English Watch Co. production from Antiquarian Horology Winter 1996 shows movements divided into three broad types or “zones”. Zone 1 are the oldest styles with clockwise winding. Zone 2 have anticlockwise winding, with an extra wheel inserted to make the movement wind in the same direction as a fusee movement although it had a going barrel.
Zones 1 and 2 have Swiss club tooth escape wheels whereas zone 3 have English pointed tooth escape wheels. Zone 3 begins around 1888, which suggests that the change to pointed tooth escape wheels might have been due to the Merchandise Marks Act 1887, which sought to eliminate the use of foreign parts in watches described as being of English make.
William Bragge died at his home in Handsworth on 7 June 1884. In 1885 at the 4th Annual General Meeting the shareholders were told of the death of the “founder”, an enlargement of the workshop costing £950 and a new and more powerful steam engine by which a 50% increase in production could be obtained.
In 1886 the company was reported to be very busy.
R·B: Robert Bragge
Robert Bragge of the English Watch Company registered the mark R•B in cameo within a rectangular surround with the Birmingham Assay Office in 1878.
The trademark of the English Watch Co. is reproduced here from Cutmore. The larger image with this trademark is from a watch case that has Birmingham Assay Office hallmarks for sterling silver with the date letter "d" for 1878 to 1879. The sponsor's mark R and B in separate cameos must therefore be RB for Robert Bragge, but the mark with the letters separated like this is not recorded in Priestley.
The sponsor's mark E.W.Co in cameo within a rectangular surround was entered at the Birmingham Assay Office on 16 Mar 1885 by the English Watch Company Limited. The case has Birmingham Assay Office (anchor) hallmarks for sterling silver (walking lion). The date letter is the "i" of the Birmingham hallmarking year from July 1885 to June 1886. Assay office date letter punches were changed when new wardens were elected, which took place in Birmingham at the end of June, so each date letter was used over two calendar years.
The words “Haseler's Patent” on the dial plate or “Patent” on the ratchet wheel click refer to Patent No. 646 granted to Charles Haseler on 16 February 1877 for a recoiling click. In Haseler's design the click has a slot in it which, at the end of winding, allows a small reversal of the barrel to relax the mainspring spring tension slightly. This prevents the excessive balance amplitude which is caused if the spring is left tightly wound at the end of winding and removes the need for stop work on the barrel.
A patent was purchased from Mr Douglas of Stourbridge for his double chronograph and his stock of finished and unfinished movements and materials. The patent was No 4,164 of 27 September 1881 which allows the fitting of a centre seconds hand and minute counter to a normal watch, either on the conventional dial at the front or a back dial. The chronograph part was operated by a three-push button. The English Watch Company proposed to produce a combined repeating and chronograph watch known as the 'Chrono-micrometer' and one was exhibited at the 1885 Inventions Exhibition in South Kensington. The watch was a minute repeater with the chronograph showing minutes, seconds and fifths. This was an ambitious project in a different class of watchmaking to those previously made.
In 1890, on 22 Februrary, Robert Bragge was granted British patent 2,856 for 'Improvements in chrono-micrometer watches'.
Despite the promising reports, all was not well with the company's production.
In September 1888 it was reported rather ominously that, for the third year in succession, the English Watch Company was unable to pay a dividend. Mr. Haseler, who had been manager for some time, resigned his position.
In April 1889 it was reported that the London Watchmakers' Protection Society had prosecuted Kendal & Dent, of Cheapside, under the Merchandise Marks Act for selling a watch marked as English manufacture, some of the parts of which were of foreign production. The watch had been manufactured by the English Watch Company. This would have been a serious blow to the company's strategy of appealing to the British market. Faced with the possibility of further such prosecutions, they had to either cease describing their watches as being of English make, or invest in the capacity to make more of their parts in England.
The data reported in Antiquarian Horology Winter 1996 about the Zone 2 watches with pointed tooth escape wheels suggests that the company might have started to make more of the parts locally, and that perhaps the watch that Kendal & Dent were prosecuted over was from older stock. The absence of a dividend for three years in a row together with expensive investment in the capability to manufacture more parts of the movement was not a happy story for the share holders.
However, it was reported in 1891 that the workmen of the English Watch Company dined together, at the White Horse Hotel, Birmingham, on Saturday, January 10th, under the presidency of Mr. J. J. Gardner [sic, actually F J Gardner], the manager. In the course of the evening reference was made to a contemplated enlargement of the premises of the Company, to meet increasing demand.
On 11 February 1895, meeting in the very splendid setting of the Grand Hotel on Colmore Row in Birmingham, an Extraordinary General Meeting of the English Watch Company Limited passed a resolution that the company should be wound up voluntarily. This time it was not resurrected. In December 1897 a General Meeting of the English Watch Company Limited was was called for 25 January 1898 for the purposes of hearing from the liquidators how the winding up had been conducted and the assets of the company disposed of.
Bacon estimated that the total output of the English Watch Company, in all its guises, was circa 200,000 watches. That is roughly 40,000 watches for each year of the company's approximately 25 years of existence, or about 800 per week. This was a large output for an English manufacturer, but during the same period, the American Watch Company of Waltham was producing about half a million watches each year.
The company H Williamson of Coventry bought some of the assets, including the machinery to make watch movement plates.
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Copyright © David Boettcher 2005 - 2023 all rights reserved. This page updated June 2018. W3CMVS. Back to the top of the page.