Victorian Frog Loving Cup

Victorian Frog Loving Cup

Rachel Denyer (Penrose Antiques Ltd)

A loving cup is a large, two-handled mug usually associated with a wedding. However, in the mid nineteenth century loving cups were used for other purposes. For example there was a tradition of giving loving cups as a christening gift.

Elsmere & Forster Frog Loving Cup 1This loving cup (fig 1) is a particularly unusual one because it gives us an insight into a family of potters and the company Elsmore & Forster, based at Tunstall Staffordshire. Elsmore & Forster was a quality manufacturer of pottery goods, whose production ran from 1851 – 1873[1], One side the cup is painted with a traditional floral decoration (Fig 1) and on the other it is inscribed “A present for William Venables, 25 December 1860 (Fig 2). However, there is a surprise waiting for the user of this cup, because lurking within are three quite charming pottery frogs (Fig 3).

The most probable recipient of this cup was a William Venables born in Wolstanton, Staffordshire, in 1860. His family were an established Potteries family, going back to his grandfather, John Venables (b1806). The 1841 census shows John Venables resisident in Tunstall, a sub-district of Walstanton, with his wife Emma (b1806) and their 4 children.[2] By 1851, John had become an earthenware painter, and his oldest son William (b1831) had become a potter.[3] Another 2 of his children went on to become potters – by 1861, his second son John (b1832) and daugher Sarah (b1839) were both potters.[4] By 1861, William Venables had married, and was living in Burslem with his wife Emma and 2 sons – Alfred and newborn son William[5] who had been born in 1860.

Figure 2Christmas Day fell on a Tuesday that year. 1860 was a very cold December, with Lord Hatherton of Teddesley Park near Penkridge (26 miles from Burslem) recording in his diary that the Figure 3temperature had dropped to minus 10 degrees killing a number of magnolia plants, some of which were 30 years old. [6] Perhaps the loving cup was filled with hot drinks and passed to unsuspecting visitors. William himself entered the pottery industry. The 1881 census shows he was living at home with his widowed mother, and working as a clerk in an earthenware factory.[7] Beyond that date, he is difficult to identify in the censuses with any certainty. It is possible he moved away from the Staffordshire area after the death of his mother.

We will never know if the cup was made or decorated by one of the family, or if a similar one had been given 4 years earlier to his elder brother Alfred. Nevertheless, it represents a fragment of the family’s history, and the loving cup was preserved and handed down through the generations, its inscription bearing witness to its original owner. This cup is currently for sale via the Penrose Antiques Ltd Ruby Lane web site.


[2]  1841 UK Census: Class: HO107; Piece: 993; Book: 20; GSU roll: 474622

[3] 1851 UK Census. Class: HO107; Piece: 2002; Folio: 412; Page: 27; GSU roll: 87404.

[4] 1861 UK Census Class: RG 9; Piece: 1925; Folio: 36; Page: 29; GSU roll: 542888.

[5] 1861 UK Census Class: RG 9; Piece: 1928; Folio: 16; Page: 25; GSU roll: 542889

[7] 1881 UK Census Class Rg11; Piece: 2714: Folio:87; Page: 49; GSU roll: 1341650

The Bulova Watch Company

by Morgan Denyer  (Penrose Antiques Ltd)

The Bulova’s story starts with the immigration of a certain Joseph Bulova to the United States. Joseph Bulova was born in 1851 and emigrated to the US towards the later quarter of the 19th century to establish a small New York jewellers, J Bulova Company. By 1911 Bulova had started to make small table clocks and pocket watches, a venture aided by the opening of Bulova’s first watch factory in Bienne, Switzerland in 1912. Bulova Figure 1This was very much a time of growth and innovation in the watch making industry, partially drivBulova Figure 2en by the needs of the military. The 1st World War, saw Bulova working towards meeting the need for the new fangled wristwatches, and by 1919 Bulova was the first watch manufacturer to launch a full range of men’s wristwatches. At this time Bulova’s business was growing fast and to facilitate continued growth, Bulova, in 1920, moved to 580 Fifth Avenue, where Bulova built the first ever Observatory on top of a skyscraper (Figure 1). Accuracy was everything, thus the observatory was apparently under the direction of a mathematician, whose calculations were reputed to guide the factory’s watchmakers in their efforts towards absolute accuracy. Ever the opportunistic advertiser, the move provided Bulova with an opportunity to re-brand itself in 1923 as the Bulova Watch Company Inc. At this time Bulova’s methods of mass production allowed the production of high precision interchangeable components allowing rapid repair and servicing. The Bulova’s were always ready to support risky projects with the aim of grabbing a headline. For example it was the Bulova Watch Company that made the first ever radio advertisement in 1926, and it was Ardé Bulova, Joseph’s son, who offered a $1000 prize to the pilot who could make the first non-stopBulova Blog Figure 3 single-handed flight across the Atlantic. It seems that those who attempted this feet were all given a Bulova before they took off, and it is reputed that the first pilot, Charles A. Lindberg, who managed the trip wore a Bulova during the flight. It is also believed that Lindberg actually earned himself two Bulova watches and of course a nice large cheque as a result of his efforts. The first watch was given to him before the flight, and the second as a presentation watch after the flight in a blaze of publicity. Not to miss a trick, Bulova capitalised on this my creating the Lone Eagle model, the first ever commemorative watch. This watch seemed to be rather fittingly based on what was called the Bulova Conqueror (Figure 2 – see http://www.watchophilia.com/general-information/bulova-lone-eagle-series/ for more details). Rather perversely, prior to the successful flight the Conqueror didn’t actually sell that well, but on touch down, sales rocketed with the Bulova records showing 5000 sales within the first 3 days of landing. There is still considerable debate as to whether these were actual sales of physical watches to individual customers, or orders from jewellers. The latter seems most likely. The company continued innovating, producing the very first electric clocks in 1931 and making the first ever television advertisement in 1941. During WW2 Bulova dedicated its time to producing timepieces for the US military. After the war Bulova produced some truly lovely watches combining stunningly creative designs with the small sleek look of the late 1940s and early 1950s. Many of these watches were very high quality watches consisting of high calibre movements within 14ct solid white or yellow gold cases (Figure 3). Bulova Figure 4The 50s also saw social changes, this was an era of steadily increasing wealth, and massive technological advances. In the watch industry the race was on to produce the first electric watch. This was perceived as an almost impossible task because it required the miniaturisation of electrical components. However, by 1960 Bulova had developed the Bulova Accutron. This watch was remarkable in that it basically contained a mechanical movement driven by a 360 hertz tuning fork. The concept was brilliant, very ingenious and beautifully simple. Basically what Bulova did was to fabricate a means of driving a 25mm long tuning fork with an electronic unit consisting of a couple of coils, a battery unit and a couple of transistors. The tuning fork was manufactured so that one arm possessed a post from which extended an arm like structure terminating in a jewelled square (Figure 4a-c see http://www.decadecounter.com/accutron/history.htm for further details). The vibrations of the tuning fork allowed the arm to drive a micro-toothed wheel, tBulova Figure 5ooth by tooth. It was this micro-toothed wheel, which drove the mechanical gear chain allowing the hands to move. These watches don’t tick they give of a faint high-pitched hum, and it is down to the micro-toothed drive wheel that in these watches the second hand seems to move with a mystical smoothness. The Accutron was the very first highly accurate electric watches, and this was recognised by the Bulova Accutron wristwatch being the first wristwatch to be awarded the US Railroad Certificate. The value of this accolade should be explained. In the early years of the US railroad, accidents tended to happen because train drivers and signallers had watches that were not terribly accurate. To try and circumvent this, strict standards were set for the accuracy of watches used on the US railways to insure the appropriate coordination of time dependent tasks. Thus Bulova, because of the accuracy of its Accutron wristwatches, could market their wristwatches to the rail industry. To market these new watches, Bulova produced versions without a formalised face, thus the all-new movement could be viewed. These watches were meant to be display items only. However, customers wanted to buy them, and thus the Accutron Spaceview watches were born. These were, and still are, highly popular and when combined with the asymmetrical watch designs of the 1960s resulted in some lovely timepieces (See http://oldfathertime.com/accutron_photo_gallery.htm for details of some of the designs). One of my particular favourites is the so called Tilty (or floppy) Football (Figure 5), which consisted of a tilted asymmetrical almost circular 14ct solid gold case combined with the space view – a real peach of a watch! The Space View versions are very collectable and unsurprisingly kits are available to convert a standard Accutron to a Spaceview Accutron. The 60s also saw the race to the moon. Bulova was heavily involved in the space race. Their main rival in this market was Omega. Both competed to have the first watch on the moon. Unfortunately for Bulova, Omega won that race race, on the basis that Bulova didn’t guarantee 100% dust proofing, whilst Omega did. So the Omega Speedmaster Professional became the official NASA astronauts watch. However, all of the timepieces for the spacecraft, were based around the Accutron 214 movement, because NASA couldn’t be certain how purely mechanical timepieces would function in a zero gravity environment. The Accutron based watches were made between 1960 and 1977. The demise of the tuning fork based movement was driven by the invention of the quartz based movement which could be made much more cheaply. Bulova is still a major force in the watch manufacturing industry. The company was bought by Citizen in 2008 and continues to make watches branded as Bulova, Caravelle, Wittnauer Swiss, Marine Star and Accutron (which are now quartz based, although 1000 50th anniversary true tuning fork based Accutrons were made in 2010).

The Elgin Watch Company

The Elgin National Watch Company started its commercial life in 1864 when Philo Carpenter, Howard Z. Culver, Benjamin W. Raymond, George M. Wheeler, Thomas S. Dickerson, Edward H. Williams and W. Robbins established the National watch Company of Chicago, Illinois for the princely sum of $100,000. This new company poached a number of highly skilled machinists (the so called Seven Stars) from the newly founded Waltham watch company with what was considered as a considerable salary of $5000 a year plus $5000 bonus and an acre of land. The first watch movements were made in 1867 with each movement taking up to 6 months to build.  The early versions acknowledged their founders with their names, so for example some movements were signed H. Z Culver, etc.  In 1909 Elgin built an observatory so that their timepieces could be timed by the starts. Could this be said of many modern watch manufacturers, I think not!

14ct Lord Elgin wristwatch 1951During World War1 Elgin ceased civilian watch production and focused on the production of military watches, with the US Army having Elgin train more than 350 men to make repairs of precision time keeping instruments in the battlefields of Europe. Between the wars Elgin like many of its direct competitors made numerous beautiful watches including stunning art deco pieces incorporating a range of luxurious components, including white gold cases and jeweled faces. During the Second World War, Elgin dedicated their timepiece production to the development of military watches, chronometers and timed fuses.

After the war the company off course returned to the commercial market again producing a range of lovely watches and by the 1950s Elgin was producing highly fashionable watches, of which  the Lord Elgin watches were considered as the cream of the crop. Take for example the 14ct Gold Lord Elgin in Figure 1. This watch is typical of the quality produced by Elgin in the early 1950s, consisting of a very heavy 14ct gold lozenge shaped case encasing a lovely high grade 556 grade 21 Jeweled Elgin signed movement. What seems strange about this watch is that by modern standards tit seems a very small gentleman’s, watch, it only measures 36mm from lug to lug by 28mm (including the crown). This very much reflected the style of the time, in the 1950s small and sleek was very much the in look and this watch reflects that almost understated but very elegant fashion.

Elgin was a prolific American watch maker, however, the company steadily lost momentum until eventually Elgin made their last watch movement in 1968.

Avia Watches, the Digital Revolution and the Near Death of the Mechanical Watch

As collectors and dealers in vintage watches, we quite frequently come across the Swiss brand Avia. (Figure 1) However, not a great deal seems to be known about the Avia Watch Company, but a little bit of research has revealed that Avia had a very big impact on the watch manufacturing industry.

The history of the Avia Watch Company goes way back to 1887 when HV Degoumois was established at La Chaux de Fonds. The company then moved to Neuchâtel in 1933 and and the Avia brand was formally registered by Degoumois on the 30th of January 1937 (See Mikrolisk – The horological trade mark index). Avia made good quality mechanical lever movement watches, in a range of cases from solid gold through to gold plated and stainless steel. During their history Degoumois provided watches and movements for a number of other brands including A. Wittnauer & Co., New York, and the Ball Watch Company. This is very much a testament to the quality of the Avia mechanical watches.Avia blog figures

In 1968 Avia became part of a consortium of 6 watch manufacturers, including Avia, Invicta and Sandoz, who then bought Waltham of Chicago USA. It was this consortium that developed the very first quartz digital watch with an LCD (liquid crystal display) and revealed it to the world on the 6th of March 1972 at the Basle Fair. The impact of this was tremendous, and meant that watches capable of unparalleled accuracy could be cheaply mass-produced. The invention took the market by storm and left competitors manufacturing traditional mechanical watches floundering. The popularity of the Avia digital watch (Figure 2) was so great that it was an Avia advert that made the cover of the July edition of the Horological Journal in 1975. Avia seemed to be one of the brands to keep an eye on, however, the technology was easily copied, and by the 1980s digital watches were no longer seen as luxury items and could be bought incredibly cheaply or even acquired free with a full tank of petrol! Thus the brand waned in popularity, eventually being bought by the Fossil group. To this day Fossil still manufacture and sell Avia quartz watches.

Diana Princess of Wales and the Victorian Silversmiths Cornelius Saunders and Francis Shepherd

History is a funny thing, simple actions can, by playing a part in big historical events at a later date have significCornelius Saunders and Francis Shepherd Blog Imageant implications in the long term. Take for example the jewelery company Saunders, Shepherd & Co Ltd.

Saunders, Shepherd & Co Ltd was established in 1869 by Cornelius Desormeaux Sanders Sr and James Francis Hollings Shepherd in 1869. Although a big event for them, in the grand scheme of things the registering of a company happens all the time and is really a pretty minor event. However, in this case the small event lead to great things. Cornelius Saunders and Francis Shepherd were silver smiths and jewelers who had quite an inventive turn of mind. In 1889 they invented the Krementz, a patent one piece shirt stud and also the self closing bracelet. In 1893 they registered their silver mark CS*FS (Figure 1) and used this to make high quality heavy grade silver items such as the the charming Stirling silver mustard pot shown in Figure 2. By 1899 they had become recognised as goldsmiths, jewelers, silversmiths, gem ring and gold chain makers, particularly specialising in silver, jet and onyx jewellery for the export market. They evenFigure 3 Diana's Bracelettually changed the company name to Saunders, Shepherd & Co Ltd in 1916, by which time they had established factories at 58-61 Fetter Lane, London, 94, Vyse Street, Birmingham and a branch at 62, Buchanan Street, Glasgow. Between then and the 1940s the company started to lead on jewellery design and also started to import and manufacture watches. However, Saunders, Shepherd & Co Ltd had a rough time during the depression of the 1930s and during WW2, with their London premises being badly bomb damaged in in 1941. By 1945 the company was down to just 30 employees, but it recovered eventually moving to 1 Bleeding Heart Yard, London in 1980.

In 1981 the future of Saunders, Shepherd & Co Ltd seemed secure, they were commissioned to make an 18ct gold bracelet for Lady Diana Spencer who wore it on the day of her wedding to Prince Charles on July 29th of that year (Figure 3). Since then the company has grown from strength to strength, they now  concentrate on the design of high quality jewelery. They were joined by Eterna watches in 1996. They are also the exclusive distributors for Fope Jewellery of Vicenza, Italy, they export to the USA and have launched watch brands such as Bergerie and SandS. They are now based at their new factory in Albion Street, Birmingham and are thriving.

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