Samuel Bagnall

Early colonial watch containing the oldest watch paper known in America

Benjamin Bagnall was one of the first clock and watchmakers in America arriving by 1712. His two sons, Benjamin Jr. and Samuel worked in the trade. This is their only known surviving watch. It is signed Samuel Bagnall who worked from 1740-1760, and contains the earliest known American watch papers.

Bagnall Pocket Watch
Bagnall Pocket Watch

The nicely finished gilded movement has a fusee and verge escapement, square baluster pillars and pierced and broad symmetrical balance table and foot. It is signed "S. Bagnall Boston" and has no serial number. The silver champlevé dial is also signed "Bagnall Boston." The pair cases are a very early example of a sterling silver fully hallmarked case and is displayed in Priestley's book (Priestley, 16, 411). The inner pair case has a date letter “f” for 1741-42. Maker's mark partially distinct, possibly Abraham Ferron (thanks to Philip Priestley for investigating this makers' mark on the Bagnall watch).

The watch was likely ordered and imported by Bagnall to his desired quality finish for a wealthy customer; only the very wealthy could afford to buy a watch. It is possible that the watch was finished in America, but there is no evidence to support it. The Bagnall watch contains three watch papers. Two are his own that were put into the watch case when the watch was originally sold in 1741-42 or subsequently brought back to him for servicing. The Bagnall paper features a dog, laborer pulling a sled perhaps of hides, two colonists, sundials and tall case clock. Representations of early colonial craftsmen are very rare (Emlen, 39). The numbers around the circumference is an equation of time table used by the watch owner to compare (or set) the watch to a sundial.

Oldest American Watch Paper

Earliest Watch Paper

The paper states: "Sold by Samuel Bagnall, Watchmaker in Cornhill Boston New England". The instructions to set the watch faster or slower are printed on the inner-most ring and references the calendar and number of minutes on the outer. It reads:

Set W ☼ Slower then y Sun

Set Wat ☼ Fafter y (n over y) y (e over y) Sun

Set Watch ☼ Slo (r above o) y (n over y) Sun

Set W ☼ Fafter y Sun

Pocket Watch Paper
1740 Bagnall Watch Paper Showing Period Colonial Dress, Tall Case Clock, Sun Dial
Colonial Watch Papers
Circa 1760 Townsend Jr. Watch Paper Close-up. Obviously influenced by Bagnall's design.

A very similar rare surviving early American watch paper is one by Christopher Townsend, Jr. (born 1738) who apprenticed to Benjamin Bagnall (Fennimore 116). Townsend's design was apparently inspired by Bagnall with similar representations of a colonist, tall case clock & equation of time table.

Watch Papers

The third watch paper from the Bagnall watch is from John Wait of London. Notice the wording around the circumference, "Makes & Mends all Sorts of Watches, Clocks & Plate For Town, Country or Exportation" that indicates Wait was involved in the trans-Atlantic watch trade. It was likely put into the case when serviced in London after a transatlantic voyage. Read about American Watch Papers.

The Samuel Bagnall pocket watch first surfaced at a New York Christies auction in 1995 with a tag that included the placename "Abington," likely for Abington, Massachusetts. However, its provenance in Abington or anytime prior to the Christies sale is unconfirmed. It was acquired by the renowned horologist Ted Crom and sold upon his death in 2008. Crom featured this artifact in a number of articles. It was displayed in 2014 at the American Clock and Watch Museum (Bristol, Connecticut) and in 2019 at the National Convention of the NAWCC in Springfield, Massachusetts.

Additional References and recommended reading:

  • Theodore Crom, The Bagnall Family of Boston 1712 to 1782, NAWCC Bulletin, No. 305 (December 1996), pp. 765-777

  • Richard Newman, Colonial and Early American Watchmakers, NAWCC Watch & Clock Bulletin, No. 389 (December, 2010), pp. 692-706

  • Philip Priestley, British Watchcase Gold & Silver Marks 1670 to 1970, National Association of Watch & Clock Collectors, 2018

References on the Watch Paper:

  • Theodore Crom, Benjamin, Benjamin Jr. & Samuel: The First Watch Papers, NAWCC Bulletin, No. 316 (October 1998), pp. 575-578

  • Robert Emlen, A Close Look at the Trade Card of Christopher Townsend, Jr., Rhode Island History, Rhode Island Historical Society 40, no. 1, (February 1981), pp. 616-617

  • Robert Emlen, Christopher Townsend Jr.'s Watch Paper, NAWCC Watch & Clock Bulletin, No. 221 (December, 1982), pp. 26-38

  • Donald Fennimore and Frank Hohmann III, Claggett, Newport's Illustrious Clockmakers, Hohmann Holdings LLC, 2018, pp. 114-116