Pocket Horology
National Research Chapter 174
National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors
June, 2005

Clint Geller - "Reed" Serial # 4

 

It is in the ironic nature of horological research that no sooner is an important and comprehensive new article on George P. Reed published1 than another very interesting Reed watch should come to the attention of the research community. Early this year a gentleman from New Jersey who had found a record of the 2002 NAWCC seminar on the Internet contacted me about an interesting watch he had inherited from his grandfather some 60 years ago and had recently rediscovered while looking through his attic. On hearing this preamble, the reader can imagine that my heart did not exactly skip a beat. After all, rare is rare, and most old forgotten watches were forgotten for a reason. However, when the gentleman described the unusual dial of this watch and its markings, it indeed elicited a cardiovascular response. The entire watch is most unusual, from the peculiar dial, to the unique movement, to the intriguing case. A detailed description of the watch follows, based in part on photographs taken by fellow Pocket Horology member, watch restorer Tim Flower:   

 

The dial (see figure A): The inscription reads, "Patented May 7, 1862, Reed's Chronomentor." The hour and minute hands, in the Breguet style, appear in a small subsidiary dial above the center post. These are complimented by two seconds hands, one a sweep hand running off the center post, and the other a smaller conventional hand within the seconds bit at six o'clock . There is no obvious reason for the redundant seconds hands on this movement, as it is not equipped with either hack or fly-back features.

 

Click picture for larger view.

                    Figure A. Dial of Reed #4

 

The dial exhibits a striking resemblance to that of a Waltham chronodrometer (Figure B), a Waltham experiment only slightly earlier than the patent date on Reed #4. The principal difference between the two dials is that both seconds hands of Reed #4 complete one revolution every 60 seconds, whereas the subsidiary seconds hand on a Waltham chronodrometer revolves every four seconds.

 

Click picture for larger view.

 

Figure B. Dial of Appleton, Tracy & Co. S# 14,575, circa 1859.
(Image from the 2002 NAWCC Seminar On-Line Exhibit)

 

Despite this significant difference, the similarity between fanciful names, "chronodrometer," and "chronomentor," leaves little doubt that Reed had chronodrometers in mind when he designed his #4. Reed had some purpose in mind when he endowed #4 with two seconds hands. That he had a stopwatch in mind might be inferred from the fact that an English patent granted to Reed on July 7, 18631 for his form of "duplex escapement" (Nijssen, Reference 1, aptly calls it a "lever escapement with a duplex escape wheel"), depicts the escapement implemented in a stopwatch. Indeed, the intent for Reed #4 to have been a stopwatch is entirely consistent with the notion that it was meant to emulate a Waltham chronodrometer, which was itself a crude stopwatch lacking a flyback mechanism. Furthermore, the outer track of the Reed Chronomentor #4 dial is marked in half seconds, similarly to Reed's stopwatch dial shown in Figure 7 of Reference 1.

 

The movement (see Figures C and D): Like the dial, the movement of Reed #4 is engraved "Patented May 7, 1862, Reed's Chronomentor." The train plate, carrying all the train wheels except for the escape wheel, is cut back in the center  almost to the  edge  of  the  movement, thus presenting an appearance vaguely reminiscent of a later split plate movement. The escape wheel and lever share an unusual common bridge configured with a figure eight in the middle, apparently for viewing Reed's patented duplex escapement. The peculiarly located setting arbor is situated in a separate bridge adjacent to Reed's patented mainspring barrel familiar to Howard watch collectors. The plates are gilded brass with a simple form of sunburst line damascening, easiest seen in Figure E, that is familiar from Reed's other work. (Damascening was quite rare on American watches circa 1862.) However, other finishing features are relatively crude, including the sparse jewelling limited only to the balance wheel. and also the engraving quality. The rather clunky hairspring stud, in the shape roughly of a question mark, is attached to the outward facing vertical side of the balance cock, in the manner of some English movements.

 

 
Figure C. The movement of Reed #4
(click pictures for larger views)
 
Figure D. The movement of Reed #4 with the train plate removed to show details of the wheel train.
 

The crude finish of #4 leads research colleague Gerit Nijssen to the opinion that this movement likely was finished by Reed's early collaborator, Andrew Holden Potter. (The business relationship between these two men was discussed for the first time in print in Gerit's groundbreaking NAWCC BULLETIN article.) Indeed, the fact that the dial and movement are marked "Reed's chronomentor," rather than "G. P. Reed," is likely a clue signifying that Reed was claiming only the design, but not the workmanship of the watch.


Click picture for larger view.

Figure E. The pillar plate of Reed #4          

However, while Reed #4 may actually have been executed by another hand, Reed's formative influence is abundantly evident as well. Apart from Reed's characteristic damascening style, the movement features Reed's barrel with the patent prominently marked and both the cut of the train plate and the damascening pattern (which is centered on Reed's barrel, rather than the center wheel) in a manner to draw the eye to Reed's invention. Equally obvious is the E. Howard & Co. origin of the Reed #4 ebauche. The ebauche is a "Series III" (Model 1862) sub-variety with a high balance cock accommodating a balance wheel pivoted above the center wheel, and case screws down on the pillar plate similar to Howard's preceding "Series II" (Model 1858, Type E) movements. These features mark the ebauche as being a short-lived early Model 1862 variant that went out of production shortly after 1862. This fact, together with the patent dates, the crude finish of the movement, and various case features (see below) lends great credence to the conclusion that Reed #4 was indeed Reed's fourth watch. (Indeed, Reed would have had little incentive to experiment further with duplex escapements once his chronometer escapement had been patented a few years later.) The high grade balance wheel, perhaps the only well finished part on the movement, is loaded with Howard's signature countersunk, unslotted screws and exhibits characteristic Howard finishing touches on the ends of the flared balance arms.

 

Gerit Nijssen reports that only one other movement with Reed's patented duplex escapement is known, the movement illustrated in Figures 7 through 12 of Reference 1. It too was made circa 1862, but bears no serial number. Curiously, this invention was awarded US patent # 35,389 on May 27, 1862 , and a UK patent on July 7, 1863 , whereas both the dial and movement of Reed #4 are marked with a May 7, 1862 patent date. Indeed, the US patent office, which at that time only issued patents on certain days of the week, issued no patents on May 7, 1862 whatsoever, making it over- whelmingly likely that the May 7 date is some erroneous combination of the domestic and foreign patent dates. A line drawing of Reed's patented duplex escapement, compliments of Gerit Nijssen, is provided as Figure F. Actual escapement parts from Reed #4 are shown in close-up in Figure G.

Figure F. Line drawing of Reed's patented escapement, patent # 35,389 issued May 27, 1862. (click pictures for larger view) Figure G. Escapement parts from Reed #4.
The escape wheel has suffered damage.
 
Inexplicably, Reed reused the moniker "chronomentor" much later in his watchmaking career on at least two other watches, one being S# 341, around 1893 or thereafter1. Gerit provided the following image of S# 341, Figure 40 in Ref. 1, shown here as Figure H. However, these two later named watches share little in common either with #4 or with Waltham's chronodrometer, except perhaps a very superficial resemblance in plate cut. By then, Waltham's chronodrometer experiment would have been largely forgotten, so it is not clear what Reed's motivation might have been behind the name of these later watches. (Conversely, #4 likely solves the mystery behind the origin of the chronomentor name.)

Figure H. G. P. Reed "Chrono-Mentor," S# 341, circa 1893 or thereafter. (click picture for larger view)

Figure I. Front of case of Reed #4

Figure J. Inside rear of Reed #4 case, showing P.A. Giannini's markings and date, 1862


 


(click pictures for larger view)

The case: If the dial and movement of Reed #4 pose intriguing questions, the case, shown in Figures I, J and K, certainly does not disappoint. This handsome silver engine turned hunting case with gold hinges bears the maker's mark of P. A. Giannini of San Francisco, CA, who advertised himself in the period as the only watch case maker working west of the Mississippi. The insides of both lids carry the number "1862."

Experienced collectors of early Howard keywind watches often can spot a case made for a Howard N Size movement from ten feet away, solely from its flatter contours compared with cases of contemporary American watches. The case shown above clearly was made for an N Size Howard ebauche. Indeed other Giannini cases made for Howard ebauches are docu- mented (see Geller, NAWCC BULLETIN, April 1995), although both previous examples seen by the author were gold, rather than silver. The style of the "1862" case is also highly consistent with a production date around 1862. Furthermore, it is highly unlikely that Giannini's output ever even approached 1,800 watch cases. Thus, given the patent markings on the movement and dial, the number 1862 almost certainly refers to the case's year of production, rather than a serial number.

Thus, all things considered, including the watch's known provenance (having been in the same family for over 60 years), the current case is overwhelmingly likely to be original. That said, one must note that the case cuvette, shown in Figure J, has dissimilar engraving around the winding and setting key holes, and that there is even a very small misalignment (that does not interfere with winding or setting) between the key arbors and the holes. However, if any other N Size Howard case had been modified for use with Reed #4, it would have a filled key hole in the center of the cuvette, as all standard Howard N Size keywind movements have their setting arbors at center, whereas the cuvette of Giannini case 1862 shows no signs of having been modified. Thus, given the unique location of the setting arbor on Reed #4, unless its present case is indeed original, there is no other satisfactory explanation for the it's existence.

How then, did a Reed movement find its way into a case made in San Francisco? Both the case and movement were apparently made circa 1862. Thus, it is not reasonable that the Giannini case could have been made for Reed #4 when an earlier case had worn out. Rather, I am moved to speculate that Giannini may have retailed complete watches as well as making cases for the trade. He is known to have made cases for Howard movements circa 1862, and thus may have ordered movements from Howard to sell in them. If he had been a Howard factory customer, it is not hard to imagine that Giannini might have become acquainted with George P. Reed, Howard's factory superintendent in the period.

Figure K. Cuvette of P. A. Giannini case housing Reed #4

 

The likelihood of Giannini having come to Reed's attention would have been high if, for example, Giannini had needed some technical information relevant to making his cases to fit Howard movements. It is thus entirely plausible that Giannini could have special ordered a movement directly from Reed. Given the crude, developmental nature of Reed #4, it is not hard to imagine that Giannini might have had less than accurate information regarding the movement's layout when he made the case, resulting in the very small misalignment visible on the cuvette. There is no way to prove this or most other explanations. However, no other satisfactory explanation for the existence of  Giannini case "1862" is apparent to the author.  

 

Conclusions: The evidence strongly suggests that Reed's chronomentor #4 is indeed Reed's fourth watch, and thus the earliest Reed watch thus far documented in the horological literature1, It is also only the second known example of Reed's patented "duplex" escapement. While Reed clearly was associated with the watch's design and layout, various finishing attributes, including the manner of Reed's signature, suggest that another person, most likely Andrew Holden Potter (not to be confused with the celebrated Albert Henry Potter), may have executed the design for Reed.  Reed #4 also explains the origin of the name "chronomentor," that occurs on two later Reed watches. The apparently original case of #4, by a rare California maker, raises many intriguing questions that currently have no answers which can be proven.

 

Reference: Gerit A. Nijssen, "George P. Reed & Hiram W. Smith, Two of Greater Boston's Individual Watchmakers," pp. 3-24, NAWCC BULLETIN Vol. 47/1, No. 354, February 2005.