Friday, 14 February 2014

Who really made the Benson “Bank” watch?

A horological who-done-it.

The history of J.W. Benson is a bit of a mystery partly because retailers, particularly those who also made their own movements frequently did not want to let on who was making their product, but primarily in this case because all of their records were destroyed by German bombing in 1942.

The accepted view, reported by Cutmore[i] and others, has been that Benson made the “Ludgate”, “Bank” and “Field” models in-house and bought in movements from the English trade, primarily from Rotherham and P & A Guye and from a number of Swiss makers.
However as Priestly[ii] reports a minority view suggests that the “Bank” was in fact made by P & A Guye.
I am rapidly coming to the conclusion that the minority are correct, at least for early versions! Here are the main reasons why:
  • Cutmore says that P & A Guye made for Benson but I have handled dozens of Benson signed English movements and I have identified almost all of them and none of those were made by Guye, most being made by Rotherham, principally their excellent 19 jewel ¾ plate.
  • P & A Guye were a medium sized company by English standards but I have only come across 2 or 3 identifiable Guye movements from over 400 English movements examined. So where are they all?
  • But I have, in the last couple of years, come across at least half a dozen movements in cases by John Woodman of Clerkenwell and all unsigned except by the retailer, that are identical to the “Bank” and on one occasion I put the top plate from a signed Bank onto one of these unidentified movement and it worked.

Cutmore speculates that Benson may have made for the trade but I now believe it was the other way about and that the “Bank” was made for Benson by P & A Guye who also sold the movement to small retailers to sell under their own name.

In a 1930s sale catalogue Benson claimed to be making the Bank in-house but the description does not match that of the early "Bank" so it is possible that as Guye moved out of watch production into related watch activity some time after 1905 Benson took over production, possibly with a revised model.

The Ludgate, Field and their derivatives I am sure were made by Benson.

Update Feb 2017: Two recent finds and subsequent analysis have enabled me to further tie down the relationship between Benson & Guye, explained in my post J.W. Benson and P & A Guye two London watchmakers, later effectively one?


[i] Watches 1850 – 1980 M. Cutmore, David & Charles, 1989
 
[ii] Watch Case Makers of England, Philip Priestley, NAWCC Bulletin Supplement #20 Spring 1994

2 comments:

  1. Very interesting blog. Perhaps you could help me with a Benson 9ct pocket watch which has the number M5235 on the movement and 5235 on the hallmarked case. The case markings are a '2' above a row consisting of an 'i' in circle, a '9' in a diamond, and a leopard's head. Below it it says .375. Judging by these marks it would appear to have been made in 1924 in London. However, the movement has a very large plate with the words 'Best London Make' and then 'J W Benson 62 - 64 Ludgate Hill London' in a fancy script around the circumference. From what I have read, I thought that by 1924 JWB were supplying only 15 jewel Swiss movements, and clearly this movement is neither that nor a Bank, Field or Ludgate. So what is it? Any light you can throw on this would be most welcome. Thank you.

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  2. Hi, thanks for the kind words. Its difficult to say who made it with out seeing (and probably taking it to bits!) and may be not then. My references shows the Bank etc was being made right up to WWII

    They were frequently reselling watches from a number of makers as "Best London Make" also movements by Rotherham and Williamson of Coventry till these two stopped production in the early 1930s.

    John

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