An Early Experimental E. Howard & Company Watch

By Clint B. Geller, FNAWCC (PA) and Chris Abell (TX)

Contemporary watch collectors who might have begun to despair that any new horological gems are still out there waiting to be discovered can take heart from the E. Howard & Company watch pictured in Figures 1 through 6. This intriguing, extraordinarily well preserved watch, with movement S/N 3,208, recently was discovered by Mr. Chris Abell. It features a Breguet overcoil hairspring, a balance pivoted below the center wheel, a separate bridge for the pallet lever and escape wheel, a second separate bridge for the hairspring stud, and screwed down jewel settings on the train plate [a scarce feature in this period]. Prior to it's discovery, only one example like it had been recorded, S/N 3,202, previously discussed in Reference [1].  S/N's 3,202 and 3,208 are the only movements equipped with Breguet overcoil hairsprings known to have been produced by the Howard firm during Edward Howard's period of stewardship (which ended in 1881). These two movements also share an otherwise unique half-plate layout. Furthermore, while it is known that Howard was adjusting watches to isochronism, temperature and six positions at least as early as S/N 3,301 [2], and to isochronism and temperature at least as early as S/N 1,287[3], the two early overcoil hairspring movements are the only Howard movements known to have been engraved "Adjusted" prior to S/N 10,964.  Except for the K Size and I Size movements at S/N's 3,001 through 3,090 and 3,401 through 3,499, respectively, nearly all N Size movements prior to approximately S/N 8,200 had their balance wheels pivoted above, rather than below their center wheels.  Known exceptions, other than S/N 1,198, are experimental movements with either a Breguet overcoil or a helical hairspring.  An example of a Howard helical hairspring movement with a nearby serial number, S/N 3,120, is shown in Figure 7.

It is likely no coincidence that both Howard's overcoil and helical hairspring movements, and at the time, only those N Size movements, had balances pivoted under, rather than above their center wheels, and were engraved "Adjusted." Greater clearance between the balance and the balance cock is needed for a nonplanar hairspring. Similarly, the "Adjusted" markings on these movements may have been intended to remind jewelers, who sold most of the Howard firm's watch production, that an overcoil hairspring facilitates positional adjustments. It is interesting that the "Adjusted" markings appear on the main train plates in this early experimental movement run. Some time shortly before S/N 11,000 standard production Model 1862-N movements began appearing with "Adjusted" markings on their pillar plates adjacent to their balance wheels.  However, after only a few movements were so engraved, the "Adjusted" marking was moved to it's now familiar position along the edge of the balance cock facing the mainspring barrel.

Both known surviving overcoil hairspring escapement movements feature lever escapements in which the two stationary banking pins usually found in the pillar plate are eschewed in favor of a single pin that hangs down from the bottom side of one arm of the pallet lever. This pin banks off the edges of a circular hole in the pillar plate.  This form of lever escapement, which was used roughly contemporaneously by Adolph Lange and other Glashutte watchmakers, was Howard's earliest experiment aimed at eliminating the "overbanking" problem with conventional lever escapements.  It is found on many Howard watch movements in the serial number range between approximately 3,000 and 7,500.  In movement S/N's 3,202 and 3,208, the escapements are implemented with escape wheels featuring  "toe-ended" teeth (which have a profile somewhere between simple blunt-ended and full club-footed teeth.), and compensated balance wheels featuring unslotted, countersunk gold alloy screws.

S/N 3,208 employs three pillars in its construction, similar to the six pillars employed in Howards' earlier divided plate keywind (Model 1158) movements with S/Ns between 132 and 2,999. The reduced number of pillars relative to the Model 1858 movements results from there being only one, rather than  two principal movement plates on S/N 3,208, the separate bridges or cocks for the hairspring stud and escape wheel and pallet lever being fastened by screws. One of the three cylindrical pillars of S/N 3,208 is evident in Figure 4. Pillar construction was discontinued in favor of more economical designs in which the plates were "hogged out," rather than sitting on separate screwed pillars, on the Howard Model 1862 three quarter plate models in N, I and K size. [The hogged-out construction style actually was debuted on Howard's very limited production of helical hairspring movements, the earliest example of which is S# 1,105[1]]. Thus, the construction of S/N 3,208 appears as a transitional hybrid between the older and later construction styles.  Reed's patented protective barrel, which employed the principal of reverse motion to protect the wheel train from damage in the event of a mainspring failure, is implemented on S/N 3,208 in a manner reminiscent of Howard's K Size movement layout, except that S/N 3,208 is not provided with an access hole to the winding click in order to take power off the escapement. The counterpoise on the pallet lever, shown in Figure 3, is also quite unusual and distinctive, and is similar in style, though not in dimensions, to that used on Howard's helical hairspring movements. [It is noted, however, that the lever cannot truly be "poised" in such a manner, since the hanging pin makes it asymmetric.] Like all Howard keywind movements, S/N 3,208 is equipped with a Geneva stopwork.

The only known finishing difference between the two half plate overcoil watches is the simple, straight-line damascening on S# 3,202 (now partly effaced by a combination of natural wear and refinishing) which is absent on S/N 3,208.  Movement S# 3,208 carries the assembly number "8" under it's plates and bridges, as shown in Figure 3, suggesting that a run of at least eight, and probably ten similar movements was initiated.  (Other than S/N 3,202, the closest known S/N within the experimental run of Howard movements is S/N 3,126, which has a different plate layout and shows no indication of having an overcoil hairspring.) The first and earliest movement listed in the surviving factory records[3], S/N 3,301, was finished in February of 1862.  Similarly the " December 25, 1862 " presentation date inscribed on the cuvette of the apparently original case of movement S# 3,208 is also most consistent with a movement production date in or shortly before 1862.

The discovery of movement S/N 3,208 proves that S/N 3,202 was not a one-off, but part of a run that perhaps was intended to parallel a short run of helical hairspring movements of which S/N 3,120 is a surviving example.  [Although movement S/N 3,120 is the only reported helical hairspring movement confirmed by direct visual observation in the serial number range between 3,101 and 3,301, the Extended Townsend Database, described in [1], lists movement S/N 3,122 as having a "right angle escapement." Thus, since all known Howard helical hairspring movements and only helical hairspring movements among Howard's production are known to feature a right angle escapement configuration, it is safe to assume that S/N 3,122 possesses a helical hairspring as well. Thus it appears that S/N's 3,120 and 3,122 were part of a "run."]

It is tempting to speculate on what might have caused the Howard company's sudden burst of exuberance for hairspring experimentation. The 1862 presentation date on the cuvette of S/N 3,208 (Figure 7) may have some implications in that regard. Writing in 1885-87, Charles S. Crossman states, "…They [i.e., E. Howard & Co.] had commenced making fine tempered hairsprings as early as 1865 as the result of experiments by Mr. E. Howard, Mr. Edward Todd and Mr. John Logan, now of Waltham; the two last named having done much to bring this about while they were in the employ of the company previous to the above date [that is, 1865]. This left but little to be desired in the manner of hairsprings."[4] One is moved to speculate that Todd and/or Logan already were at Howard in 1862, and were behind these developments. In fact, a reasonable interpretation of Crossman's remark that "…This [i.e., Todd and Logan 's work] left little to be desired in the manner of hairsprings," would be that their early work included successful development of the advanced, non-planar hairspring forms. Indeed, Logan 's later accomplishments in the forming and tempering of Breguet overcoils are well known. It would stand to reason that in 1862 special hairspring production at Howard was likely Todd's and Logan's province and that these special overcoil and helical hairsprings were early fruits of their forming and tempering experiments. If so, the 1862 presentation date associated with movement S/N 3,208 indicates that one or both of the aforementioned individuals had arrived at Howard in, or likely before 1862. While fully consistent with Crossman's remark quoted above, this deduction would add some additional specificity to the timeframe of Todd's and Logan's hairspring development endeavors at Howard.

References:

1.  Clint B. Geller, "A Study of E. Howard & Co. Watchmaking Innovations, 1858-1875," NAWCC BULLETIN Special Order Supplement #6, published December, 2005.

2.  E. Howard & Co. factory production records, Smithsonian Museum of American History Archive Center .  The relevant page is reprinted in reference 1.

3.  Information provided courtesy of Mr. Hans Dahlke, also cited in Reference 1.

4.  Charles S. Crossman, "The Complete History of Watchmaking in America ," reprinted from the Jeweler's Circular and Horological Review, 1885-87, page 63 of the Adams Brown edition.

5.  Clint B. Geller, "E. Howard & Co. Watch Dials," NAWCC BULLETIN No. 285 (August 1993).

6.  Gerit Nijssen, "The Watches of E. Howard & Co. ," transmitting a previously unknown original manuscript written probably in the 1950's by Dr. Percy Livingston Small, with additional information and annotation by Gerit Nijssen, and technical notes by Clint Geller. NAWCC BULLETIN, Vol. 36, No. 292, October 1994, pp. 563-593.

 

            Figures (All Photography is Chris Abell, unless otherwise noted.)

1. The movement of E. Howard & Co. S/N 3,208, key wound and set from the rear, featuring a unique half-plate design with Lange-style hanging pin lever escapement, fifteen jewels in screwed down settings, Reed's patented protective mainspring barrel (the patent engraved on the barrel circumference), a compensated balance wheel pivoted above the center wheel loaded with Howard's signature countersunk, unslotted gold alloy screws, and Breguet overcoil hairspring.  The hairspring stud is situated on it's own separate bridge.

                   

2.  A close-up of the escapement parts of S/N 3,208, showing the pallet lever with hanging banking pin, clear sapphire pallets and moon style counterpoise. Also shown is the unique bridge for the pallet lever and escape wheel, with the assembly number "8" on it's underside. The presence of the assembly number, which also appears on the undersides of the other plates and bridges of S/N 3,208, is confirmatory evidence of "batch lot" production, as these numbers were used in order to keep sets of matched parts together during the assembly and finishing process. Also shown is the escape wheel with toe ended teeth and trefoil spokes.

                   

3.  A view of the partly disassembled movement, showing the circular hole in the pillar plate in which the escapement's single moving pin banks. Also visible are two of three "pillars" employed in the movement's construction.

            

4.  Front view of E. Howard and Co. S/N 3,208, with dial of the block print Type 2 [5] style, with classic Howard keywind style "teardrop" hands featuring elegantly contoured spades with polished ends and bosses.

            

5.  Rear view of the high quality 18K gold engine turned open face case of E. Howard & Co. S/N 3,208 with mini-beaded rim. The exceptionally well preserved original case is embossed "E.H. & Co.," a relatively early appearance for this desirable case marking.

6. The cuvette of E. Howard & Co. S/N 3,208. The presentation reads, "Hobart Williams, December 25, 1862 ," matching the Gothic "H.W." monogram on the rear lid. Wouldn't we all like to have been on that giver's Christmas list!

               

7. Movement view of E. Howard & Co. S/N 3,120, previously illustrated in [1] and [6].  This movement features an unusual bar-style construction with a right angle lever escapement featuring a massive counterpoise stylistically similar to that on S/N 3,208,  and a helical hairspring escapement. This movement was evidently part of the run of helical hairspring movements including 3,120 and 3,122, which parallels the experimental run of Breguet overcoil hairspring movements at 3,201.  Movement S# 3,120 also features screwed down jewel settings and exceptional, decorative engraving. Unlike S/N 3,208, it has hogged out plates rather than pillar construction. (Photo by Clint Geller)