Tuesday, December 13, 2022

"Demilt, New Yorck"


When Dominic Eggert took over the New York City shop where he had been working for several years, the business he acquired had been run by two men labeled as B. and S. Demilt. In my attempt to find the connection between the Eggert family and the start of their marine chronometer business, this discovery leads to the question: who were B. and S. Demilt?

In actuality, there were three men with the Demilt surname affiliated with that New York business: Thomas, Benjamin, and Samuel.

Whether they were three brothers or they were related in other ways, those three business partners by the name of Demilt operated in Lower Manhattan from at least 1800 onward until the late 1830s. Like the Eggert family I've been researching, the Demilt family's specialty was not isolated to one product. 

While I first discovered the Demilt name due to their association with Dominic Eggert and the marine chronometer business, like the Eggerts, the Demilts were known for several product lines. They have been noted as watchmakers, of course, but also as silversmiths. Variations on their name can be found signed on an example of a "Washington Clock" with the note, "Demilt, New Yorck," but also a straightforward "DEMILT" in their silver work, or a more flourished "Thos. & Benjn. Demilt" on a decorative watch paper advertising their shop at 156 Water Street.

In an article by chronometer expert Marvin E. Whitney published in the April, 1981, issue of the Horological Times (see page 21), an entry on B. and S. Demilt explained that Benjamin and Samuel got their start as nautical chandlers. Whitney fixed the start of the Demilt business in New York as 1795. In order to accurately check and rate their chronometers, the Demilts actually built their own observatory in the process of establishing their business reputation.

Due to their diligent business practices, notes Whitney, the Demilts amassed a large fortune. Part of their legacy can be seen in various philanthropic gestures noted both in the Whitney article and in Benson J. Lossing's 1884 volume, History of New York City, where page 154 notes Benjamin Demilt's $7,500 bequest to the library of the General Society of Mechanics and Tradesmen, as well as the donation of the entire collection of his private library—eighteen hundred volumes—apparently upon his brother Samuel's 1845 passing.

What Thomas Demilt began before 1800, and Benjamin and Samuel continued until the youngest of the three retired in 1839, they passed to their business associate, Dominic Eggert.

Though it took digging through some specialized resources to discover details on the Demilt family, there are ways to access this material—at least, for those for whom money is no object, and for whom the minutiae of specific crafts is fascinating. One auction for a Thomas Demilt silver-encased pocket watch advised the use of Theodore Crom's Horological and Other Shop Tools, 1700-1900, a three hundred eighty eight page volume which currently sells, used at one retailer, for $361. One website dedicated to being a "genealogical study of American silversmiths" recommends Louise Conway Belden's Marks of American Silversmiths in the Ineson-Bissell Collection.

Though there are brief mentions of Dominic Eggert interlaced within the various entries on the Demilts—for instance, this comment on "renowned chronometer maker, Dominic Eggert" at the end of an entry on a Demilt pocket watch—it is far more challenging to find information on this possible Eggert relative than on the men whose business he assumed in 1839. Still, I did find one small entry which mentioned not only Dominic, but the son to whom he eventually passed his business. With this small clue, we'll revert back to genealogical pursuits as we search for any information on at least one of Dominic Eggert's children. 


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