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Sylvester Samuel the watchmaker - his lathe.



Sylvester Lewis Samuel was a watchmaker in Liverpool, England. Liverpool Museum's "Records of makers involved in the scientific instrument and horology trades" has him listed as a watch manufacturer  from at least 1847 to 1862.

He was born in 1823 and died in 1882. In 1850 he married Cecilia Wolff and the couple were blessed with six children. Although not appearing in a pedigree of the Samuel family published at the manfamily.org website, I believe that Sylvester may have been the son of a Louis Samuel who had left London for Liverpool and continued in the family business of watch making. The father of Louis was Menachem Samuel who had left Posen (in modern day Poland) for London in the late 18th century.

Sylvester Samuel was, therefore, possibly of the family which was to become a dominant force in the British retail watch and jewellery business. H. Samuel shops were eventually to be found on high streets throughout the land. Perhaps an expert on the history of the Samuel families in England will be good enough to comment on the above.

Watchmakers rarely engraved their most important tool, the lathe, but here we have a lathe headstock which bears the legend "Sylvr L. Samuel,  2 York St".

Sylvester Samuel watchmaker, his lathe.

Samuel seems to have maintained premises at 2 York Street, Liverpool from at least 1851 and his lathe could have been made slightly before that date. A complete lathe of this type is to be found at the Gold Machinery International antique machinery exhibition, Pawtucket, RI, USA and appears in the small picture.  The headstock seems to be secured in a cast-iron plate, itself screwed to a mahogany base.  

The picture above shows the reverse of the headstock (or the obverse if Sylvester Samuel worked with the headstock to his right, a fashion common in parts of Europe in the 19th century). The spindle runs in a steel bearing at the left and ends in a cone supported by a dead centre on the right of the picture.   The workholder would have been held on the projection of the spindle at the left. This is internally threaded and would presumably accept brass "wax chucks". The work would have been held to these by shellac or perhaps a mixture of shellac and pitch. The work was centred while the shellac was still warm after being heated with a little lamp.

The lathe would have been powered by a bow, the catgut string of which would have been wrapped around the single brass pulley on the spindle. 

These old European watchmaker lathes were soon to be rendered obsolete by the ingenuity of American engineers. In 1857 Charles S. Moseley invented the collet (known to watchmakers as the split chuck) and soon combined this with his design for a hollow live spindle to produce what might be called the first modern lathe.


1851 UK Census record:

16, Bedford Street, Liverpool, Lancashire, England.

Household Members:

Sylvester S.? Samuel, Head, Married Male 28, b. 1823, Watch Manufacturer, Liverpool, Lancashire, England.
Cecilia L. Samuel, Wife, Married Female 21, b. 1830,  London, Middlesex, England.
Mary McClean, Servant, Unmarried Female 28, b. 1823, Servant, Scotland.
Anne Johnson, Servant, Married Female 35, b. 1816, Servant, Montgomeryshire, Wales.





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