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Cowper was probably born in Gibraltar in c.1735-36 and lived and worked there for much of the 18th century. While he is best known today for his collectable silver and gold work, he described himself at the time as a merchant rather than a craftsman.

Among the six properties he owned on the Rock was a theatre in Castle Street, a road still known locally as La Calle Comedia, which showed both amateur and professional productions alongside visiting Italian operas.

He probably left the island with other merchants shortly after the Great Siege of 1779-83 – petitioning the Treasury for compensation for the destruction of buildings during the Franco-Spanish bombardment – but returned in 1794. When he died some years later in c.1803-04 he left a substantial legacy to his surviving children enabling at least one of his sons to rise to the position of ‘gentleman’.

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An interior view of the 18th century watch by Gibraltar maker Henry Cowper which sold for £4200 at Rowley’s.

Cowper’s work does not come up for sale often: only tea and dessert spoons carrying his mark are standard fare. The watch, a typical 18th century pair cased example with a cracked white enamelled dial and a somewhat worn gilt-metal outer case, was deemed a particularly good example of his work, and estimated at £2000-3000. The movement is inscribed Henry Cowper, Gibraltar.

The vendor was hopeful it might return to the Rock and he was not to be disappointed. Rowley’s managing director, Roddy Lloyd, confirmed to ATG the successful bidder was from Gibraltar. The watch sold for £4200 (plus 22.5% buyer’s premium).