Online Encyclopedia of Silver Marks, Hallmarks & Makers' Marks
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James Watts ~ Philadelphia Silversmith

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The Flatware Patterns of James Watts

Stanley Hayes
San Francisco, CA

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Figure 1
When I was last in Philadelphia, I got lost on my way somewhere and found myself in a rather seedy neighborhood facing a street sign that read "Watts Ave." It was a short, mean little street with trash blowing about its curbs. I sincerely hope that this street wasn't named for James Watts, because he deserves a much nicer memorial.
At any rate, his name lives on in the beautiful flatware his firm produced.


Figure 2
For as prolific a silver manufacturer as was his firm, not very much is known about its founder's working career. Although it is believed that James Watts, like George Sharp, originally came from Ireland, it is unknown if he did his apprenticeship there or in America. Philadelphia directories tell us that Watts, his firm, or partnerships were in operation from the 1830's into the 1880's--a venerable amount of time for a silversmithing concern of that period. De Silvers' "Philadelphia City Directory" listed Watts as a silversmith as early as 1835, with an address of "Federal n 2nd." Forty-six years and eight addresses later, Watts was still listed as a smith in a Philadelphia city directory--Gopsill's this time--at 32 Hudson St. James A. Watts was listed as a smith with his father that year (1881). According to the "Philadelphia Public Ledger", James Watts died on 1 June, 1888.1

Figure 3


The Watts firm retailed as well as manufactured flatware, since some Watts pieces are struck with a "James Watts" incuse mark as well as the more familiar "horsehead over chevron" manufacturing mark. (An anomaly is the ARUM LEAF in Fig.6 marked with both "James Watts" and the retailer mark of "J. Peters & Co." as well as the horsehead.) One would in any case suppose that some sort of brochure or catalogue would be shown to prospective wholesale or retail customers. Yet as far as I know, not one Watts manufacturer's or retailer's catalogue showing the flatware patterns the firm produced has ever turned up.


Figure 4
First some notes about marks. I believe that, as in the case of Albert Coles, there were several iterations of the Watts mark. Probably an early mark is #1 in Fig.1. The top part of the mark has the look of the English Britannia standard's "lion's head erased," although I see the head as that of an eagle; and there is a curved bar (used in heraldry) between the head and the shield. The shield on the right seems to contain a pellet or dot. With magnification, however, the pellet appears to be part of a chevron, so this mark is simply a worn example of what I call the "heraldic" mark. The right-hand mark was found on a PLAIN TIPT ENGRAVED salt shovel. Of course, the engraving could have been added at a later time. If I had to estimate the dates for this mark, I would put it at the beginning of Watts' solo career through at least the 1840's, although it appears on engine-turned patterns of the 1860's as well.

Figure 5


The second mark in Fig.1 is rarely found and looks as if it has been struck and then engraved, although this is doubtful. The eagle is facing right instead of left, and in some examples there is no curved bar. These two marks seem to have been used simultaneously during the 1850's and early-to-mid-1860's. Finally #3 shows the standard Watts mark, which is found not only on patterns of the 1860's, but also on those which place themselves stylistically in the post-1875 era.

Figure 6


There are variations within in these three main groups as well. As one punch wore out, it would have to be replaced. One has to remember that an early pattern can carry the #3 mark, since we do not know if or when a particular pattern was retired.

Questions have been raised about the 4th mark in Fig.1: an arrow facing right, a W, and a shield. Was it another Watts mark, having been found next to his italicized incuse mark? A friend has postulated that the different marks could have been associated with different Watts partnerships. We know that at various times Watts did enter into partnership with other silversmiths or jewelers/watchmakers. However, at least one did have its own manufacturing mark, shown as number 5 in Fig.1: that of Watts & Harper (Henry Harper, partnership working ca. 1859-62). Other partnerships included J. & W. (William) Watts (ca. 1839-52)2, Watts & Butler (James P. Butler, ca. 1867), Watts & Son (James A. Watts, ca. 1881-3 or beyond) and Watts & Moxley or Moseley (Geo. W., 1883; this was Watts' son's partnership).

Figure 7


The #6 mark in Fig.1 is not a Watts mark at all, but that of a fellow Philadelphia silversmithing firm: either that of James P. Butler or of Butler and McCarty. The mark is frequently mistaken for a Watts mark, but the animal's head (eagle?) differs from the Watts eagle in mark #2, and in place of the chevron there is a shield with a 5-pointed star in its center. Although some stampings make the animal head look solidly dark instead of an outline, I believe that there are no variations to this mark.

Despite the fact that Watts' firm lasted well into the sterling era, I have never seen a "sterling" mark on his flatware. Did he continue to produce .900 fine silver his entire working career, or did he switch over to the sterling standard and simply not bother with stamping a standard mark? If an inexpensive, non-invasive technique becomes available, it would be interesting to analyze the silver content of later Watts pieces.


Figure 8
Although the firm's existence covered fifty years or more, the patterns for which Watts is most noted are his engine-turned, engraved patterns of the 1860's. A selection of these is shown in Fig.2. I have given them names for ease of identification. The patterns in Fig.2 are: BELMONT, BERKELEY, BIJOU, BUCKLE & SHIELD, GRANVILLE, GRASSMERE, LELAND and OVAL SHIELD. Watts' firm made a myriad of other blanks with engine-turned backgrounds. Engine-turning of the kind exhibited in these patterns seems to be a moribund art. The machine for making these repetitive designs is illustrated on p. 87 of Charles Venable's Silver in America3, and at least one modern book4 has been written on the subject, but the market for flatware pieces made with this process died out in the 1870's and was never resurrected, at least not in the United States.

Figure 9


However Watts did make several die-struck patterns, and these are shown in Figs.3 through 8. With the exception of SHELL they are all double dies, with the reverse almost always being a simplified design of the obverse. The pattern shown in Fig.3, similar to Gorham's patented JOSEPHINE, is the most commonly seen, and would date from around the same time as the Gorham patent, 1855. The reverse does not carry the leaf form except on the flat-handled knives.

Like many other American coin manufacturers, Watts made the English-originated PRINCE ALBERT pattern (Fig.4). In Watts' variation, the classic KINGS shape of, say, Gale & Hayden (shown in the figure) is modified to a more rounded shape at the top.

Figure 10


MAYFLOWER (not to be confused with the Baltimore or the William Gale/Theodore Evans designs of the same name) was another pattern which was made by several silversmiths, notably Albert Coles. Watts' version differs slightly in its details. (Fig.5). Both MAYFLFOWER and PRINCE ALBERT were probably introduced in the 1850's.

The most common Watts-only pattern is ARUM LEAF (Fig.6), probably introduced in the mid-to-late 1850's. As in JOSEPHINE the reverse omits the large top leaf on spoons and forks. This pattern has also been seen with the mark of Watts & Harper. FANCY LEAF, a rarer pattern (Fig.7), was produced in two variations, but the difference is hardly noticeable. In one variant the thread at the top curves down into the leaf form, whilst in the other (and on both backs) the thread continues unbroken across the top. The reverse's scroll designs differ slightly from the obverse's on spoons and forks. Most of the examples of this pattern are unmarked, but I have seen the #1 Watts mark on 6 flat-handled knives. SHELL (Fig.8) is a combination of a die-struck shell design and roulettework with feather-edging.


Figure 11
In addition to engine-turned patterns, Watts made many other engraved patterns which did not make use of the technique. These include: DOUBLE HELIX (#1 mark), CLEMENTESQUE BAR (#3 mark), LONG OVAL ENGRAVED (#3 mark), METROPOLE (#2 mark), OVALS & TREFOILS (#3 mark), PIQUET (#3 mark), SONATA (#3 mark), SCALLOPED EDGE ENGRAVED (OLD ROSE) (#1 mark) SONOMA (#3 mark), which can be seen in Fig.9. I have no doubt that many more engraved Watts blanks will turn up in the future. It is doubtful if any of these were full-line patterns, but I'd guess that variations of the OLD ROSE engraved design were used by Watts fairly frequently, since there are several different blanks which display variations of this motif.

Figure 12


Watts was a manufacturer who liked to utilize interesting shapes for his blanks. More pieces with these fanciful outlines carry the Watts mark than those of other silversmiths of the period, although Joseph Seymour of Syracuse, NY, used them as well. STOWE (Fig.10) is an extreme example of Watts' delight in these outlines.


Figure 13
The example of FLAT END TIPT in Fig.11 is a curiosity in that the manufacturing marks of both James Watts and George Sharp appear on it. I assume that one firm made the spoon and the other one later embellished it, but I'd be curious to hear if readers have other explanations. Since the style is that of the late 1870's/early 1880's and Sharp's firm closed its doors in 1874, the assumption is that Watts was the engraver, having bought up some of the Sharp stock.

Another example of the possibility of Watts buying up Sharp stock is shown in Fig.12. The pattern is clearly Sharp's blank for his BULL'S HEAD pattern. Watts chose not to attach the bull's head and merely engraved the blank.

I remember reading a discussion of a similar case in Silver Magazine--an article by V. Stephen Vaughan in the May-June, 1988, issue1 with additions/corrections by D. Albert Soeffing in the September-October issue5. Dr. Soeffing proposed the buy-up idea at that time.

Figure 14


Only four engraved patterns have come to my notice whose design is characteristic of the mid-1870's or later. These are BIRD ENGRAVED (Fig.13), POINTED END ENGRAVED (CROSSED BANDS), ANTIQUE ENGRAVED (SPRIG) and WARBLER (Fig.14 a, b & c). The first seems to have been Watts' entry in the "battle of the birds," as Dr. Soeffing has termed the 1870's craze to produce patterns incorporating bird designs6. Unlike many of the others, this was not a multi-motif pattern. (Incidentally, Fig.13 shows a piece of this exact pattern marked with the [lion] [S] [lion] of George Sharp, lending credence to Dr. Soeffing's theory of a Watts' buy-up of Sharp stock. Of course, Watts could have bought pieces of this pattern already engraved by Sharp; the engraving is quite similar.) The second resembles Whiting's die-struck pattern NEW HONEYSUCKLE, although different flowers and grasses replace that flower. On both of these pieces, the engraved surface has a satin finish--another signpost that they were made later in Watts' career. The third is a rather generic 1875-85 pattern composed of floral and geometric design elements, as is the forth, with the addition of an engraved bird.

Figure 15


Now we come to patterns marked with backstamps of Watts' partnerships. FEATHER EDGE TIPT (Fig.15a), marked with a "Watts & Butler" backstamp as well as a #3 mark, is a pattern very similar to one made by the Philadelphia maker whose manufacturing mark was "animal head over shield with star" (Fig.15b). As has been mentioned above, I've come to believe that this Philadelphia maker was either the firm of James P. Butler or of Butler & McCarty, since both of those incuse name stamps appear so frequently on "animal head" patterns. The resemblance to the Watts mark suggests a close connection to him, and James P. Butler was in partnership with Watts in 1867. Also, an extensive comparison of Watts and "animal head" pattern designs reveals more than a few similarities. Two variants of a ROUNDED END TIPT, also marked like Fig.15a, are shown in Fig.16.

Figure 16


The Watts & Butler partnership may have been only as a retailer, since a Watts manufacturing mark always appears with the partnership's backstamp. However, the Watts & Harper mark (W&H) in my experience never appears with any other manufacturing mark and in fact is seen with other retailer backstamps (Fig.17), leading me to believe that this was a manufacturing partnership. The first of the two examples is very similar in shape to Watts' BERKELEY; I have named it SATHER. A gravy ladle example of the second pattern, called POINTED END TIPT TWIST, exhibits a different iteration of the W&H mark.

Figure 17


Whilst not identical with other Watts blanks, the unmarked pattern in Fig.18 so resembles GRANVILLE that I have tentatively attributed it to Watts. The danger in doing this is that other Philadelphia silversmiths also made patterns in this style. Peter Krider, Peter Perdriaux, and George Lindner, for example, were fully capable of creating this salt spoon. And George Sharp was another very skilled smith, although fewer engine-turned pieces of his work for Bailey & Co. have come to light than his straight engraved patterns. Sharp's creativity, once he started working under his own mark, took his work in other directions.

Figure 18


I am not an original researcher, and so this article is based only on Watts pieces I have seen and articles I have read about him and his firm. It is hoped that readers will contribute more information and patterns on this prolific nineteenth century manufacturer as they become available.

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ACKNOWLEDGEMENT: I would like to give credit to V. Stephen Vaughan and D. Albert Soeffing for their original research on Watts.

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Sources:
1 Vaughan, V. Stephen
James Watts, Silversmith of Philadelphia
Silver Magazine, May-June, 1988, pp. 9-11.

2 Rainwater, Dorothy T. & Judy Redfield
Encyclopedia of American Silver Manufacturers (4th ed.)
Atglen, PA: Schiffer Pub. Ltd., c1998, p. 358

3 Venable, Charles L.
Silver in America, 1840-1940: a Century of Splendor
Dallas: Dallas Museum of Art; dist. by H.N. Abrams, 1995. 365p.

4 Matthews, Martin
Engine Turning, 1680-1980 : the Tools and Technique
England: M. Martin, 1982, 175p.

5 Soeffing, D. Albert
Comments on the James Watts Article
Silver Magazine, September-October, 1988, pp. 36-37

6 Soeffing, D. Albert
The Battle of the Birds: An Investigation of the Bird/Japanese Patterns of the 1870's
Silver Magazine, May-June, 1993, pp. 18-23



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Reed & Barton Dates
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