Morphy-Time

Morphy-Time

batgirl
batgirl
May 3, 2017, 11:20 AM |
23 | Other

     Probably no timepiece with a connection to chess is more famous than Morphy's watch.

     Earlier this year, inspired by it's uniqueness and historic significance, the RGM Watch Co. of Mt. Joy, PA started creating a limited run of 25 commemorative replicas of this timepiece.  The piece is called "Chess in Enamel" and can be purchased for the somewhat prohibitive cost of $13,900 for stainless steel, $29,900 for gold (as was the original) and $39,900 for the platinum model. There are options that can be added for an additional cost. (more details)



nullMorphy's original watch dial on the left with the RGM replica on the right

    
 
   

      After his triumphant tour of Europe in 1858-9, Morphy returned to the States to much fanfare, becoming the guest of honor at various celebrations and testimonials.  One of these celebrations was hosted by the combined efforts and resources of New York (Charles Dillingham Mead, pres.) and Brooklyn (Frederick Perrin, pres.) Chess Clubs.
   In the April 1859 issue of "Chess Monthly," Willard Fiske wrote in anticipation:

One thousand dollars have been subscribed, in New York, towards the fund for presenting a kingly set of gold -and silver men to Paul Morphy, upon his return. The board to accompany these men will be of ivory and ebony; the sides of the board are of ebony, inlaid with beautiful designs, and an inscription in gold. Besides this splendid acknowledgement of his services to the cause of chess, several of his personal friends have ordered of the American Watch Company a gold watch to cost two hundred dollars. The hours, on the dial, will be denoted, not by the usual figures, but by representations of the chess pieces.


     The New York testimonial took place on May 25, 1859 in the Chapel of the New York University where a group of distinguished personages shared the platform while the hall filled to capacity with all standing room occupied. After the testimonial address was read, William James Appleton Fuller presented the watch.

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    The program spoke about the watch itself:

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Image courtesy of the National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors



     The watch was made by  American Watch Co. of Waltham, Mass.  The company had been just recently formed, on February 8, 1859, by a group of men after a long history of various ventures and failures.  The chief among these men was Aaron L. Dennison.
null      Dennison sometimes bears the burdensome sobriquet, "Father of American Mass-Production Watchmaking," but he was neither the first American watchmaker, nor the first person to use machinery to make watches.  However, after witnessing the productions of rifles at the Springfield Armory, Dennison appropriated the idea of using interchangeable parts and the American Watch co. was the first to apply this method while finishing all the parts completely by machinery (Dennison had been using interchangeable parts since 1850 under his American Horologe Company).

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      Later the American Watch Co. would become the the American Waltham Watch C., and finally the Waltham Watch Co.  but Dennison himself left the company in 1861.

      During his stay in New York in 1859, Morphy traveled to New England, visited the American Watch Co. and was given a personal tour of the large facility by Royal Elisha Robbins.

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     R.E. Robbins, as indicated in Morphy's endorsement below, was treasurer of the company, but in reality, he was much more, having financed the original site and building. He was very much the power behine the throne.  He was also a partner in Robbins & Appleton, who were the world-wide distributors for the American Watch Co. (also in the ad below).

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an ad  from "De Bow's Review,"  November, 1859




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this ad from "The Prairie Farmer" in 1861 shows Morphy's continued endorsement



     The watch dial itself was designed and created by 33 year old John Webb, Jr.  His last name appears on the back of the dial.  Webb learned the dial-making trade in his native England were he worked as an apprentice to his father from age 14. He took a management position in his father's Birmingham dial-making factory at age 16. He married, sold the business he inherited from his father and moved to the United States in 1848.  He settled in Peoria, Ill.  Later in the 1850s he moved to Grand Prairie, Ill.  But in 1858, he arrived in Waltham, Mass. to work as head dial maker for the newly-formed American Watch Co.  He used a painstaking, precarious process called enameling (an earlier version of the same process that RGM used in the reproduction watch) to fashion dials such as the one shown above.   Due to his wife's wife's illness he resigned his position there in 1866 and moved to Elgin, Ill where he took a position in the dial-department with the Elgin National  Watch Co. and soon became the department head.   He moved to San Jose, California in 1875 where he bought a ranch and lived out his days.

 

    While the original watch dial exists, the whereabouts of the rest of the watch remains a mystery. 
 

    Philip W. Sergeant relates W. J. A. Fuller's account of of running into Arnous de Rivière at the Café de la Régence in the summer of 1885. De Rivière told Fuller that Morphy had pawned his watch while engaged in some expensive legal matters (Morphy's suit against his brother-in-law John Darius Sybrant, the administrator of Alonzo's estate) and that Rivière had "loaned Morphy a large sum of upon it" and that "the pledge was never redeemed."
     Adding some substantiation to Fuller's account, Sergeant continues by relating how Augustus Mongredien's son, A. W. Mondgredien, saw the watch in Paris, 1921, at which time he could have bought it for 6,000 francs from the heirs of Arnous de Rivière but didn't have the funds.

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"Morphy Gleanings" 1932 by Philip W. Sergeant, p.23-4



     In "The Pride and Sorrow of Chess" (p.292) David Lawson adds :

His present circumstances suggested to him that his brother-in-law Sybrandt, the administrator of his father's estate, had defrauded him or mismanaged the estate and so Morphy started an absurd lawsuit against him which came to nothing - he had probably spent most of his available patrimony before his second trip to Europe, one reason why he had taken a large loan on his watch while there.

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