Moses Morse, Keene, NH

In 1795, Moses Leland Morse (1781-1831), age 14, joined Josiah Wheelock in Sutton, Massachusetts and about 3 years later in 1798 they formed a partnership making extraordinary watches of their own design. The firm Wheelock & Morse were one of the first watchmakers to offer a higher quality alternative to the traditional English verge escapement and fusee design that was typically being sold in England and America at the time.

Three surviving watches are known and all have the same ├ębauche with off-set balance table and exposed going-barrel that appears to be unique to this firm. Two have a Debaufre escapement and one, that is in the Historic New England collection, has a Virgule escapement.

This watch was in The Time Museum collection that was liquidated at auction in 2004. It is engraved Moses Morse, Keene, and is serial number 2. It was made in about 1803 when Moses Morse, the designer of these unique watches, relocated to Keene, New Hampshire after the partnership with Josiah Wheelock ended (Morse also pursued other interests and invented pin-making machinery and patent scales for weighing coins hydrostatically).

This going-barrel designed watch arguably marks the true beginning of the American watch industry.

The Morse watch features a calendar, double wheel Debaufre escapement, exposed going barrel (no fusee) and offset balance table chased with scrolls and flowers. The silver pair cases are unmarked, likely of America manufacture, with silver alloy content of approximately 90% which is below the 92.5% English sterling standard at the time.

References and recommended reading:

  • American Horological Journal, Vol.1, No 6, New York, December 1869, p. 18
  • Rev. William A. Benedict, A.M., and Rev. Hiram A. Tracy, History of the Town of Sutton, 1704 to 1876, 1878
  • Donald Hoke, The Time Museum Historical Catalogue of American Pocket Watches, Rockford, Illinois, 1991
  • Philip Priestley, Watch Case Makers of England, NAWCC Watch & Clock Bulletin Supplement No. 20 (1994)