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Blog: Stockwell & Company

Date: 9 May 2019

Copyright © David Boettcher 2006 - 2019 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.

The section below is from my page about Sponsor's Marks. Before sending an item to be assayed and hallmarked at a British assay office a person must first register their details with the assay office they want to use. This person is called the ‘sponsor’, which in this context means the person who takes responsibility for the items submitted. An item will not be hallmarked unless it carries a sponsor's mark, this is a legal requirement. The details registered must include at least one punch mark. The punch is used to mark items that are submitted to the assay office with the sponsor's mark so that the items they submit can be easily identified. The sponsor does not need to be someone involved in making the items that they submit for hallmarking, and often they are not.

If you have any questions or comments, please don't hesitate to contact me via my Contact Me page.


GS: George Stockwell for Stockwell & Company.

George Stockwell
GS: Stockwell & Co.

Stockwell & Company were carriers and shipping agents with offices at 16/18 Finsbury Street, London, and many depots around the UK and on the continent. The company began in the nineteenth century and only moved into the hallmarking of gold and silver wares when the British law changed to require that all imported gold and silver items be assayed and hallmarked athey did not have title to the goods and were therefore not importers in the strict sense of the word.

Since the middle ages British law required that all gold and silver items be assayed and hallmarked before they could be sold, but this law was not strictly enforced for items of foreign manufacture until during the nineteenth century when imports became significant and British manufacturers started complaining. The first area where the law was tightened was for watch cases. The British Merchandise Marks Act of 1887 required that foreign gold and silver watch cases be given special British import hallmarks, but also madse such hallmarking optional. The next area to be given attention was imported gold and silver items in general, other than watch cases. In 1904 a new law required that all imported gold and silver items, apart from watch cases, must be assayed and hallmarked in a British assay office. This did not override the provisions of the 1887 Act so it did not apply to imported watch cases.

The law regarding foreign watch cases was amended in 1907 so that from 1 June 1907 all imported foreign gold and silver watch cases had to be assayed and hallmarked in a British assay office and, to ensure that this was done, watch case importers were required to lodge a bond with customs until the cases had been hallmarked. Many importers of foreign gold and silver watches did not have branches or offices in Britain that could organise this, so Stockwell & Company registered with several assay offices in order that they could arrange for their customer's watch cases to be hallmarked.

Stockwell & Company never manufactured any gold or silver items, and never made watch cases or assembled watches. Watches are often advertised with the description saying something like this example; The movement is Swiss and the case is silver, the watch was assembled and made by George Stockwell for Stockwell and Co Ltd in 1914. This error is caused by the mistake of calling the sponsor's mark a ‘maker's mark’, which naturally leads to the assumption that it identifies who actually made the item, which is often far from the truth. Watch cases such as this one were made in Switzerland, but not by, or for, George Stockwell, but the cases were stamped with Stockwell & Company's registered sponsor's mark before being sent in to a British assay office to be hallmarked.

Origins of Stockwell & Company

Stockwell & Company was founded in 1878 by Henry Stockwell. In 1900 the firm was incorporated as a limited liability company Stockwell & Co. Ltd. George Stockwell was a nephew of Henry Stockwell. George had over twelve years experience when he succeeded Henry Stockwell to the management of the company.

Stockwell & Company were the sole agent for Great Britain for the Messageries Nationales, the leading continental carriers with representatives in almost every European country.

Kelly's Post Office London Directory for 1882 lists Henry Stockwell as agent for Messageries Nationales de France at 15 King St. The Business Directory of London for 1884, published by Morris, records Henry Stockwell as a shipping agent at 15 King St, Cheapside, London EC. The Post Office London Trades Directory for 1891 lists Messageries Nationales Limited, 15 King Street, Cheapside EC.

Kelly's Post Office London Directory for 1910 lists "Messageries Nationales, shipping & forwarding agents (George Stockwell, manager), 16 & 18 Finsbury st EC (TA "Messageries" ; TN 6134 London Wall); 15 King street, Cheapside EC (TN 5487 London Wall) & 8 & 10 Beak st. Regent st W - TN 1721 Gerrard". Note the inclusion of telephone numbers, shown by TN and the number and district to be quoted to the telephone switchboard operator.

Stockwell were part of a continent wide network of shipping agents including Messageries Nationales Express and the Messageries Anglo-Suisses, the Swiss end operated by Danzas & Co. of Basel under convention with the Swiss Federal Post. Louis Danzas had fought at Waterloo on the side of Napoleon. After the battle he joined a transport company which he eventually came to head. The Danzas company was acquired in 2000 by Deutsche Post World Net and is now part of DHL Global Forwarding. The Danzas name was dropped in 2005, which seems rather a shame for a company that could trace its history back to the battle of Waterloo.

Stockwell & Company Assay Agents

When the British law regarding foreign watch cases was amended so that from 1 June 1907 all imported foreign gold and silver watch cases had to be assayed and hallmarked in a British assay office, many importers of foreign gold and silver did not have offices in Britain that could organise this so Stockwell & Company registered with several assay offices in order that they could arrange for their customer's watch cases to be hallmarked.

George Stockwell's sponsor's mark was first registered with the London Assay Office on 15 June 1907, following the 1907 Act "Assay of Imported Watch-Cases (Existing Stocks Exemption)" which came into force on 1 June 1907, requiring all imported gold and silver watch cases to be assayed and hallmarked in a British assay office. George Stockwell also registered punches with the Birmingham Assay Office on 8 November 1917, and with the Glasgow Assay Office, although the date of registration in Glasgow is not recorded.

Stockwell Letter 1914
Stockwell Letter 1914

Before 1 June 1907 it was possible for watches to be sent direct from suppliers in Switzerland to customers in the UK, but after 1 June 1907 the requirement for watches to be hallmarked in the UK complicated things.

The assay offices would only accept empty watch cases for hallmarking, and after hallmarking the cases required at least final polishing. In order for a watch case imported as part of a complete watch to be sent for assay, a person or company with a "registered mark" had to remove the movement from the case and stamp the case with his registered mark. The watch case could then be sent to the assay office, where it would be tested (assayed) and if found to be of the proper standard it would be hallmarked and returned to be reunited with its movement. Obviously this required a premises where the movements could be removed and stored while the cases were being assayed, and staff to remove the movements and replace them once the cases were hallmarked. Some of the larger Swiss companies already had permanent agents in the UK and these were able to process watches for hallmarking, but many smaller Swiss companies only had travelling sales representatives and did not have UK offices or premises.

An alternative was to send over to Britain unfinished watch cases to be hallmarked, which would afterwards be returned to Switzerland to be finished and fitted with movements to make watches. Although this seems a lot of effort, it was in fact what as done. Arrangements were made whereby packages of cases were sent from the case maker in Switzerland to the UK where they were bonded to the customs authorities, which means that the person or agent responsible for handling the cases in Britain deposited a sum of money with the customs as a bond. The cases under bond were then sent to an assay office to be assayed and hallmarked, and then were returned to Switzerland. A certificate showing that they had been exported allowed the agent to recover his deposit from the customs authorities. The Swiss cases maker then finished the cases before sending them on the watchmaker to have the movements inserted.

In order to assay the case the assay office took a small sample of metal by a process called ‘drawing’, which required scraping a sliver of metal from each separate part of the case. Punching the hallmarks into the back of the case distorted the metal. So after cases had been hallmarked they required ‘rectifying’; straightening and polishing. Also, if there was any engraving on the outside of the case, such as on the back of a pocket watch, this had to be done after hallmarking. So cases were sent over from Switzerland part way through the manufacturing process when they were still ‘rough’ and, once back in Switzerland, finished before being sent on to the watch manufacturer.

From June 1907 some of these smaller Swiss watch manufacturers arranged for Assay Agents in the UK to handle the hallmarking process for them. One of these agents was George Stockwell & Co., who before 1907 were purely shipping agents and had not registered a mark to send items for assay. Stockwell's "GS" mark is one of the most common sponsor's marks seen on imported Swiss watches from this period that still exist, and appears on many hundreds, probably thousands, of watches that come up for sale every year.

In 1914 George Stockwell announced via a letter in the Swiss watch trade press reproduced here that he had secured a reduction in the cost of hallmarking gold watch cases from 5d to 2½d, that Stockwell & Co. were reducing their handling fee rates, and that as a result of new special arrangements, return of shipments will be accelerated. Parcels of watch cases for hallmarking were to be sent to Care Of: Stockwell & Co., at Customs, Holborn Viaduct station.

Holborn Viaduct and Holborn Circus were the home of many importers of Swiss watches in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Holborn Viaduct railway station opened on 2 March 1874 as an additional terminus for the London, Chatham and Dover Railway so had a good connection to the continent via the Calais to Dover ferry. This line also carried the Royal Mail service to and from the Dover, and therefore to the continent. Holborn Viaduct station also had a hotel and, with its good connection to the continent, must have been very popular with foreign business people visiting London.

Parcels of watches were received from Switzerland via the ferry from Calais to Dover, brought by train from the port of Dover under bond and examined by Customs Officers at Holborn Viaduct railway station. Goods could not be removed from customs until either a bond or customs duties, on finished watches, had been paid, so it was convenient for importers and agents to have an office near to the station.

Shipments of watch cases from Swiss case makers were carried by the Anglo-Swiss Courier Danzas & Co via Calais to Dover and delivered to the Customs Office at Holborn Viaduct railway station. Stockwell & Co. would deposit a bond with the customs authorities and transport the package to an assay office for hallmarking, and then ship them back to Switzerland. When Stockwell's sponsor's mark was struck onto the cases is not known, but it seems quite likely that this was done by the watch case maker in Switzerland as part of the manufacturing process. This would explain the large number of sponsor's mark punches registered to Stockwell & Company.

The whole process sounds like a logistical nightmare but the letter from Stockwell & Company shows how it was conducted. Watch cases from various Swiss watch case makers were shipped across the continent and channel, cleared through customs, sent to one of the several assay offices that Stockwell & Co. were registered at for hallmarking, then shipped back to the correct manufacturer in Switzerland for final finishing before they were supplied to watch manufacturers to be fitted with movements. The process was evidently handled quickly and efficiently in 1914 with the communications that were available, details sent by the usual notice, a postcard or letter sent to Stockwell the same day as the departure of the parcel.

Stockwell & Company Sponsor's Marks

Stockwell & Company first registered at the London Assay Office four punches with the initials GS for George Stockwell, the Managing Director, on 15 June 1907. The address given was 16/18 Finsbury Street, London, EC, and the company was stated to be a ‘Foreign Agent Importer of Foreign Gold and Silver Watches’.

The registration of these punches was no doubt a result of the change in British law that took effect on 1 June 1907 that all imported gold and silver watch cases had to be assayed and hallmarked in a British assay office. The fact that the punches were registered two weeks after the law had changed shows that Stockwell had not anticipated being asked to act as assay agents for their customers. The business evidently took off rapidly, because a further eight punches were registered only two weeks later, on 29 June 1907. These were followed by 32 more punches in 1907 and many other punches over the subsequent years. The need for so many punches indicates the large number of watch cases that Stockwell & Company were sending for hallmarking.

The requirement to assay and hallmark all imported gold and silver watch cases resulted not only in a lot of work for Stockwell & Company, but also for the assay offices which had to test and hallmarks all the cases. In ‘Hallmark: A History of the London Assay Office’, John Forbes records that there was a flood of imported watch cases at the London Assay Office. The total number of silver cases received in the twelve months to May 1908 was approximately 200,000 compared to only 3,000 English made cases that had been received during the corresponding period from 1906 to 1907. By 1912 this had increased to around 700,000, reaching a peak in 1918 of more than 1.25 million. There was also a spectacular increase in the number of gold watch cases, jumping from approximately 4,700 cases in the twelve months May 1906 to May 1907 to 78,500 in the following year and to almost 255,000 in 1912/13. Then owing to an import duty on gold watches during the war there was a sharp decline.

George Stockwell London 1915 Hallmark
London 1915/16
George Stockwell Birmingham 1918 Hallmark
Birmingham 1918/19

The picture to the right shows Stockwell & Company's sponsor's mark in a silver watch case with a London Assay Office import hallmark, the ‘.925’ mark for sterling standard silver, and date letter ‘u’ for 1915 to 1916.

Stockwell & Company registered a cameo GS punch at the Birmingham Assay Office on 8 November 1917. This was followed by two similar punches on 10 June 1918 and 15 July 1918. The second picture shows Stockwell & Company's sponsor's mark on a sterling silver watch case with a Birmingham Assay Office import hallmark (equilateral triangle) and date letter "t" for 1918 to 1919.

You can see that the block at the top of the GS shield varies considerably in width, from the narrow one on the London mark to the much wider one on the Birmingham mark. The difference between the London and Birmingham marks is of no significance in the light of the number of punches used by Stockwell's firm, but every punch used had to be first registered with the assay office.

Stockwell & Company registered a cameo GS punch at the Chester Assay Office on 5 May 1923.

Stockwell & Company registered an incuse GS punch at the Dublin Assay Office on 11 August 1927. This was to enable them to submit items for hallmarking in the republic of Ireland, which by that time no longer accepted British hallmarks.

Stockwell & Company registered an incuse GS punch at the Glasgow Assay Office import hallmarks but unfortunately the surviving records do not give a date for this.


If you have any questions or comments, please don't hesitate to contact me via my Contact Me page. Back to the top of the page.

Copyright © David Boettcher 2006 - 2019 all rights reserved. This page updated August 2019. W3CMVS.