Leigh Extence
Fine Antique Clocks

Factory Production - Inc the Truck System of Payment

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The Formation of Factory Production Up until the early 1800’s watchmaking was very much a hand-built business with most makers working alongside their  workmen and apprentices in small workshops, buying-in the necessary parts such as balance cocks, fusees and plates etc.  But a change was coming over the industry as the need for timekeepers increased amongst the populace along with the  ability of toolmakers to set-up machinery for mass-production.   This era of change was probably Dennis Bacon’s favourite topic with the vast majority of the movements in his collection  coming from the various factories that were set-up in the Lancashire, Coventry and London areas. Within the collection is a  selection of blanks as supplied by the movement makers such as John Wycherley & James Berry. That these blanks are  stamped by such influential makers allows us to follow the time-line comparing the original blanks, to fully finished  movements bearing these stamps alongside the signatures of the watchmaker or retailer on the backplate and dial.  Many top makers of the day used blanks supplied by the Lancashire trade including Dent, Arnold and Barraud, often  utilising them to attach their own form of escapement.  As an engineer Dennis Bacon’s first interest was in the machinery that was constructed to make mass-production a  possibility, his study of lathes used in watchmaking is particularly insightful, but he soon started a study of the watches  produced under these new methods and ended with a large collection of samples, of which only a small proportion are  exhibited and discussed here.  It took some time for the English watchmaking industry to change it’s stance on mechanisation, many traditionalists feeling  that these machines making hundreds of watch movements a week would put many skilled workers out of a job.  Watchmaking was a fairly low-paid trade for those on the lower rungs of the ladder as the Truck System shows. It was a  practice very much frowned upon and summed up best by an article in the Birmingham Daily Post dated 2nd January 1871. In  summary a Government Commission sat on this day in Birmingham to consider the implications of this practice, having  passed a Parliamentary Act in 1831, where, amongst others, the watch makers of Prescot would pay their out-workers not in  money, but in goods. Often this would be a completed watch that the worker would have to put in many hours of toil to  obtain and would be at a price fixed by the maker and to refuse this arrangement would  often mean no contract being  offered. The problem with this was that with so many watches coming on to the market, and many being ‘paid’ in this  method, the recepient would struggle to move the watch on at a fair price so therefore losing out on his true worth. Another  method used was to give coupons for the workforce to spend in a local grocers, the argument being that this was to protect  the breadwinner from gambling or drinking his wages away and meant he had to provide for the family. But these grocers  shops where often owned by the watchmaker and goods were sold at inflated prices.  A number of Prescot makers attended the sitting, along with some of the outworkers, and the practices described are most  interesting. John Wycherley was one who was praised for not allowing this practice in his firm, although other known  makers, James Berry for one, where known to use it.  Another reason for the resistance to change in watch making practices was that English watches used the fusee, and had  done since the inception of watchmaking in the country, and making a machine to make a fusee in this new method was  proving almost impossible. It therefore required the Continental system of having just a going-barrel for the system to work  and this was frowned upon by many. The first real attempt to change was the arrival of Pierre-Frédéric Ingold from Switzerland in circa 1840. Trained by Brequet,  he had the idea of using machinery, basically an adapted lathe requiring some skill by its operator, to manufacture  movement plates. He had already failed to convince both the Swiss and the French of his system and so it was to prove the  same in London. He set up a workshop at 75 Dean Street, complete with equipment, and set about forming the British Watch  and Clockmaking Company for which there were three prospectuses in 1842 and three patents, including one in December  1843 for the plate machine and a wheel press with an important four-pillar guide system for the punch and die.  The company was to be established by an Act of Parliament, but failed on the second reading of the Bill on the 31st of March  1843. Ingol argued that the usual division of labour was wasteful and that the application of his machinery would revitalise  the industry, whereas the opposition, mainly those traditionalists, argued that Ingold was somewhat of a speculator and  nothing concrete had as yet been established and that the machines set-up by him didn’t have the capacity to produce as he  asserted and needed far more skilled use than this method should require. There are, though, a very few watch movements  and watches known to have been made using his methods so the machinery must’ve been up and running in Dean Street  and it is known that one found its way, in 1863, to the workshops of Gillet & Bland in Croydon.  Ingold left England and moved to America where machine manufacturing was about to take off with the methods used by,  amongst other, Aaron Dennison.  But the seed had been sown and it was to Dennison himself having moved to England, Ehrhardt and others to take forward  the machine-making of watches, over-coming a number of fears, for instance the fusee was replaced by a dummy fusee  which allowed the continuation of anti-clockwise winding, but may well have been too late as the country was now seeing  large imports of the mass-produced watches of America and Switzerland.