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Faneuil Watchmaker's Lathes

Other Lathes for Watchmakers

Rarely found stamped Faneuil, the origins of this lathe for watchmakers goes back to 1880 when Edward Rivett, formerly a watchmaker was working for a successful Boston Jeweller and watchmaker C.A.W. Crosby. This partnership developed to the extent that, in 1884, the pair registered the Faneuil Watch Tool Company with Rivett as General Manager and Crosby as Treasurer.
All version of their watch lathe were of the heavy WW (Webster-Whitcomb) type, with a 50 mm (1.968") centre-height lathe; early models appear to have been engraved on the end of their beds with
Faneuil while later ones are usually found stamped Rivett. Having obtained a patent (No. 363,000) on May 17th, 1887 for a watchmaker's lathe, by around 1888, the Company's first much larger precision bench lathe was also in production - as well as a variety of small tools for use by jewellers and watch and instrument makers. Never one to skimp on quality, the financial situation of the Faneuil Watch Tool Company was such that, by 1892 the company it had moved into a much larger factory.
While a common watch lathe might have sold at the time for around $40 - or even less for competition in the field was very strong - the first basic Faneuil, with just a hand T-rest, was $60 or, with a compound screw-feed slide rest, $110. Keen to expand production into other sections of the market, in 1893 the company introduced a lower-cost model, the "
Crosby", at $45 - might this have caused a disagreement between Rivett and Crosby, with the former emphasising quality over quantity while Crosby was, perhaps, more financially astute? Was any of the lathes engraved with the Crosby name? So far not one has emerged.
As far as can be certain, the first Faneuil watchmaker's lathe (the patent drawing is shown below) was the given the model Type 1a2 and made from circa 1887 to the early 1890s. This was followed by the Type 1b, made until around 1895 and, simultaneously, the Types 1C and 2C, this latter being stamped "STEEL" at the headstock end of the bed. In in 2019 a fabulous example of this type was discovered in England, complete, original and mounted on a beautiful roll-top workbench by the J.H.Rosberg Mfg. Co. of Chicago. Introduced close to 1895, the Type 2a lasted until 1901; this was followed by the Type 2b, with a short production run from 1902 to 1905 and finally - until decades later and the Type 1R of 1946 - the almost identical Type 2c that can be recognised by an engraving on the end of its bed stating "
Rivett Lathe Mfg. Co." All these, with more illustrations, can be seen in the Rivett watch lathe section of the Archive
In April, 1894, Crosby died with Rivett containing the business with Crosby's son, John D. Crosby, the Company Treasurer. By now there was an increasingly strong market for larger, very much more expensive and so more profitable plain-turning, high-precision bench lathes and in 1896/7 the company had patented their new No. 3, 31/2 & 4 models. The No. 3 and 31/2 had a seven-inch swing and the No. 4 eight inches, with both standard types accepting around 18 inches between centres. These were costly lathes - the No. 4 selling for around $500 - and available with a wide range of expensive accessories for production and other special work. Soon afterwards an even more advanced and highly-priced lathe was put on the market, the |"front-way", backgeared and screwcutting Rivett 8-inch Precision, this lathe being the forerunner of the famous 608.
By 1902 further success for the Company had resulted in incorporation as the
Faneuil Watch Tool Co., Inc. and in 1903 Rivett bought out C. A. W. Crosby's heirs and renamed the company the Rivett Lathe Manufacturing Co. Over the next few years the Faneuil name was gradually erased from advertisements and disappeared from press and articles - though the watch lathes continued in production with more details of the later types here
The first genuinely useful and widely adopted lathe for watchmakers was the '
Swiss Universal" - or "English Mandrel'  that was, upon its introduction, an entirely novel concept and, for its intended purpose, a very useful machine. Unfortunately, it had some serious drawbacks including its relatively slow spindle speeds (a considerable handicap when working on small diameters), the inability to hold small workpieces on their outside diameter and a lack of rigidity in the bed. In all these respects it was eventually to be rendered obsolete by several significant and closely overlapping developments instigated by a close-knit group of Americans working the town of Waltham. A centre of American precision engineering, Waltham had many high-class engineering firms including Stark, the Waltham Machine Works, Hopkins Watch Tool Company, B.C.Ames, W.H. Nichols, and the Wade Tool Company - all located within a few miles of each other. Starting in 1857 or 1858 the first improvement came with the invention by an engineer based in Elgin, Illinois,  Charles S. Moseley of a small bar-bed lathe with a hollow headstock spindle that could accept "split chucks" - or "collets" as they are now known - this lathe being the immediate forerunner of today's light-pattern "Geneva" lathes.
In 1862 came the introduction of the high-speed headstock with a hardened steel spindle running in glass-hard and lapped steel bearings (an important development next incorporated in the larger "bench precision"* lathes by John Stark during the same year, a type that was to make miniature precision work of all kinds so much easier). In the early 1870s
Ballou, Whitcomb & Co. introduced the next significant advance, an improved version of a lathe built originally by A. Webster of the American Watch Company and then independently manufactured by two former employees,  Kidder and Adams. By 1879 Mr. Weber and Mr. Whitcomb had combined to form the American Watch Tool Company and by 1888-9 were ready to market the final and definitive form of heavy-duty watchmakers' lathe - the 50 mm centre height Webster-Whitcomb, or "WW" as it was to become better known. The "WW" had a spindle and bearings constructed from the very best combination of materials* and manufacturing techniques available in the late 1800s that allowed for years of reliable use at high speeds. Draw tube closed collets were used and a rigid, absolutely accurate bevelled-edge bed ensured precise alignment of headstock, slide rest and tailstock - this seminal lathe finally answered all the needs of any craftsman engaged in watch and instrument manufacture or repair.
Widely copied in Germany and Switzerland, most usefully, the accessories made to fit the bed of a WW lathe can normally be used on any other, regardless of make - which explains, of course, why it's not uncommon to find machines equipped with a mixture of Boley, Lorch, Leinen and other makers' accessories all working happily together.
*The metal used was known at the time as
English or crucible steel - i.e. not steel made in England but a very high-quality one formed by melting together the necessary ingredients in a clay crucible, this being the only way at the time of concentrating enough energy into a small volume to reach the very high melt temperature required.
Do you have a lathe stamped Faneuil or Croisby? If so, the writer would be very interested in hearing from you..

A patent for a Watchmaker's taken out in the name of Edward Rivett in 1887. Note the bed-mounted slide fitted with both
vertical and cross-travel slides and carrying a simple indexing unit with which to cut wheels (gears to the layman)

An early Faneuil/Rivett Type 1a2 lathe branded in a catalog (and not on the actual lathe) as a Rivett.
Later Rivett lathes for watchmakers and their accessories
can be seen here

A Faneuil/Rivett 1b watchmaker's lathe with the Rivett name - again from a catalog and not on the real thing - as made circa 1890s to 1895

Other Lathes for Watchmakers

Faneuil Watchmaker's Lathes
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