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Gibraltarian goldsmith’s 18th century gold watch up for sale

An intricate gold pocket watch hand-tooled by 18th century Gibraltarian goldsmith Henry Cowper is expected to fetch up to £3000 at auction this week, 50 years after it was bought for £1.

The watch was bought from a person who had lived in Gibraltar and will be sold this Saturday by Rowley’s auction house in Ely, England, on behalf of a vendor in Lincolnshire.

Cowper was born in Gibraltar in 1736 and lived and worked here for a large part of the 18th century.

While he is renowned today for his highly collectable silver and gold work, he described himself as a merchant rather than a craftsman and was a very successful businessman during his lifetime as well as a theatre impresario.

Cowper’s craftsmanship undoubtedly helped establish him not only as a merchant but as a man of property in Gibraltar.

He owned a theatre in Castle Street, also known locally as La Calle Comedia, and hosted a range of amateur and professional productions alongside visiting Italian operas.

The theatre no longer exists today but would have been a social focal point during the 18th century.

“This watch belongs to a private collector who bought it over fifty years ago from someone who had lived in Gibraltar,” said Rowley’s Managing Director, Roddy Lloyd.

“It was acquired for the princely sum of £1, which was even then a pretty good buy.” “After decades of enjoyment the current owner is hopeful that this rare pair cased watch, made by one of Gibraltar’s most renowned makers, Henry Cowper, could return there.”


In 1782 it is reputed that Cowper left Gibraltar for England with other merchants after the Great Siege.

The merchants petitioned the treasury for compensation for the destruction of buildings following the bombardment.

When Cowper returned just two years later in 1784 his wife and three of his children had died.

When he died some years later in 1804 he left a substantial legacy to his surviving children enabling at least one of his sons to move out of the merchant class and become a gentleman.

“There are collectors in England, Gibraltar and further afield who would dearly like to own an item made by Henry Cowper and this is a particularly good example of his work,” said James Fuller, Rowley’s watch specialist.

“There is obviously an important historical connection to Gibraltar and Henry Cowper’s work does not come up very often but the decorative case and intricate movement make this pocket watch a very attractive 18th century object in its own right.”

“You really can’t help wondering who Cowper made this for originally, perhaps he may even have worn it himself.”

Rowley’s is an independent firm providing a complete fine art auctioneering and valuation service throughout East Anglia and the East Midlands.

The auction will be held on February 16.

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