Watchmaker's lathes were not, of course, the firm's only product for besides the specialist, mass-production and one-off machines they supplied to watch-making factories, a successful range of larger plain-turning Precision Bench Lathes was developed. With a centre height of 3.5" these were, for their day, incredibly accurate machines, designed to assist toolmakers in the manufacture of larger precision components but also capable of being turned into semi-mass-production lathes by the addition of suitable accessories. Their headstock spindles and bearings were in hardened steel, the beds massive and the general construction skilfully executed along very similar lines to that of the watchmaker's lathes. Thus, they were far removed from the flimsy, lightweight screwcutting lathes of the same size then widely marketed for use by mechanics, repair shops and similar trades. Despite the distractions created within the factory by these other ingeniously-engineered products, Frederick's real enthusiasm and skill lay, apparently, with the production of watchmaker's lathes - upon whose development and manufacturing techniques he concentrated.
In 1901, and approaching his 42nd year, Frederick Derbyshire moved to the post of Assistant to Chief Superintendent of the American Watch Tool Company (though by then ownership had passed through various hands with, it is believed, the lathe-making part of the Company in the hands of the Loop-Lock machine Co.). Ten years later - by now with around 38 years of lathe-manufacturing expertise behind him - he finally left the security of his regular employment to start his own watchmakers' lathes business in High Street, Waltham - renting a factory where Comet Bicycles had once been made. What lay behind his decision to leave the company was probably an interesting one - but unlikely ever to be known.
In 1917 the American Watch Tool Company was put into voluntary liquidation by its new owners, the Metz Company, and at the ensuing auction in January, 1918, Fred Derbyshire was able to buy the 8 mm and 10 mm watch-lathe drawings, tools, jigs, fixtures, finished lathes, collets, trade marks, trade names (Whitcombe, WW, Webster-Whitcombe, Magnus and Elect) as well as the necessary patents and copyrights necessary to continue their manufacture. Besides this cornucopia of historical engineering material, he must also have derived great satisfaction from being able to acquire control of the patents he had registered when an employee of the firm. In the same sale the Wade Machine Company of Boston gained the rights to the larger Precision Bench Lathes, and subsequently manufactured them in Waltham under their own name.
The following Derbyshire lathes and milling machines were produced during the 20th century:
Webster-Whitcomb: a 50 mm (1.968") centre-height lathe with a 50 metric-collet capacity (0.1969") which has become the universal standard for watchmaker's lathes throughout the world. Most usefully, the accessories made to fit on the bed of one WW lathe can normally be used on any other, regardless of make - which explains, of course, why it is common to find machines equipped with a mixture of Boley, Lorch, Leinen and other makers' accessories all working happily together.
Derbyshire Large Lathe: the first design of Fred Derbyshire's to be made and marketed under his own name, it was, as its title implies, a watchmaker's-type lathe but with its headstock modified to accept a larger-than-usual 1/4" (80 metric) collet. The first one (numbered '45', no doubt to upset the competition) was sold on the 7th of February, 1912, to Hammel, Riglander & Company.
Magnus: introduced by the American Watch Tool Co. 1909 and subsequently developed under the direction of Frederick W. Derbyshire (and named by him) this was a larger-capacity, more heavily built lathe still that retained the 50 mm centre height of the ordinary lathes but with its collet capacity increased to 80 metric (5/16")
Elect: designed to tackle the kind of work encountered by clock and instrument repairers this was another larger, more heavily-built lathe in the original WW style but of 60 mm centre height. The collets for this and the Magnus are identical (Magnus-Elect collets).
Model 750: developed from the Gilman lathe, this beautiful machine, designed for use in instrument and electronic factories and repair shops - and for light, precision manufacturing - remains in production during the early years of the 21st century. The centre height is 75 mm and the collet capacity 80 metric (5/16"). The lathe may also have been badged by Stark during the 1950s and sold as their No. 2 Model
Model A: also still being made this is a variation of the 750 with a 0.5" collet capacity. Many accessories are interchangeable with the 750
Micromill: originally built to handle work connected with the timing fuses of large shells, this miniature precision milling machine has always excited the imagination of machine-tool enthusiasts. About the size of a portable typewriter it is has been used for countless other more peaceful jobs as well, being able to mill and grind to very close limits.
Micro Drill Press: if there is one thing that can sometimes be harder than turning small parts, drilling microscopic holes must be on the short list. The Micro Drill Press was designed to hold the drill in an ultra-precise collet, and so give the job the best chance of starting straight - and remaining true.
The WW. 'Magnus' and 'Large' lathes were all very similar, differing only in their collet capacity and the range of equipment listed in particular catalogs. Determining the relative prices and values of the different models when new is awkward; some machines were offered with only one bed length, some with three and, while a nickel or paint was an option models, it was not on others.
Assuming as close a specification as possible between the different variants - a ball-bearing headstock with lever-operated collet closer and in the longest bed length available we have, taking the mid 1950s as a bench mark, the following:
Model "A": 22" bed (the only one available), ball-bearing headstock with lever collet closer $365
Model 750: 22" bed, ball-bearing headstock with lever collet closer $345
Elect: 18" bed (the longest available) ball-bearing headstock with lever collet closer $356 (a 15" bed version was also available at $329)
Magnus: 18" bed (the longest available) ball-bearing headstock with the special "spring bind" collet closer $306 (a 15" bed version was also available at $329 and a 12" at $277)
Large: 18" bed (the longest available) ball-bearing headstock, lever collet closer $292 (a 15" bed version was also available at $270 and a 12" at $263)
WW: unfortunately, there is no separate price list for the WW of this period - but its smaller capacity should have made it a little less expensive than an equivalent 'Large'.
If any reader can provide detailed "macro" photographs of the component parts of a dismantled Derbyshire, American Watch Tool Company or WW lathe of any type the writer would be pleased to hear from them.
Designed by the American Watch Tool Company, the Webster/Whitcomb Collet copied by the Germans and Swiss. However, because the collet was patented, the first Swiss (and probably German) versions had bastard threads; in addition, when Levin began making lathes in the 1940s, they too produced a deviant type.
WW collets are not referred to as "10 mm" because the body size of a WW collet is 8 mm and the nominal thread diameter 7 mm - what is usually referred to as a 10 mm Derbyshire collet is actually a 10 mm body-diameter Magnus collet, also called (since the Levin copies first appeared), the "D" or "Derbyshire" collet (the Derbyshire Elect Lathe also accepts the same type). The other collet that causes confusion is the Derbyshire "Large": these have an 8 mm body and an 8 mm diameter thread allowing a 1/4" through-collet capacity. Although the "Large" will fit a standard Webster/ Whitcomb lathe it requires the draw-in spindle to be changed. Now discontinued by F.W. Derbyshire as a regular-stock item, the company can still supply "Large" collets on a special-order basis. More on collets here
**Eventually to be made by many other firms including: American Watch Tool Company, Arrow, B.C.Ames, Bausch & Lomb, Benson, Boley, Bottum, Boxford, B.W.C., Carstens, Cataract, Cromwell, Crystal Lakes, CVA, Derbyshire, Elgin, Hardinge, Hjorth, Juvenia, Karger, Leinen, Levin, Lorch, Mikron, W.H.Nichols, Perrenoud, Potter, Pratt & Whitney, Rambold, Rebmann, Remington, Rivett, Saupe, Schaublin, See (FSB), Sloan & Chace, Smart & Brown, T & L.M., U.N.D., Van Norman, Wade, Waltham Machine Works, Weisser, Wolf Jahn and (though now very rare), Frederick Pearce, Ballou & Whitcombe, Sawyer Watch Tool Co., Engineering Appliances, Fenn-Sadler and the "Cosa Corporation of New York.". A fuller list of these types from many countries here