A Short History of the American Antique Pocket Watch

April 15th, 2009

Tom McIntyre talks about antique pocket watches, discussing key manufacturers, the mechanics behind the watches, the varying types, and the collecting hobby in general. Based in Massachusetts, Tom can be reached via his website, American Watch Company Web, which is a member of our Hall of Fame.

The McIntyre Watch Co. 12 size pocket watch

The McIntyre Watch Co. 12 size pocket watch

I got interested in clocks in 1967, and I started collecting watches fairly seriously in the early ‘80s. I ran out of room for clocks. Pocket watches are a little bit more manageable, and in some ways more interesting, too. I collect precision clocks, clocks that are very accurate timekeepers, and marine chronometers; things like that.

I specialize in a few different specific types of pocket watches, but my principal interest is in the Waltham Watch Company, and even more specifically in the American Watch Co. products of the Waltham Watch Company.

When the American watch industry first began, the first successful company was called the American Watch Co., and it was founded out of the Boston Watch Company, which had failed in 1859. So in 1859, the American Watch Co. was formed, and it’s generally considered to be the first successful company. It had many name changes over the years and a couple of small reorganizations and eventually became the Waltham Watch Company in the early 1900s. The very best, most expensive Waltham watches for all of that roughly 50-year period, from 1859 until maybe 1915 or so, were always labeled American Watch Co.

Collectors Weekly: Why did they change the name to Waltham?

McIntyre: There were lots of reasons. The town of Waltham had become well known, and the name appeared on all of their watches as the location anyway. They got into a trademark dispute with another company that started building watches in Waltham, so they wanted to protect that name, and I think that is the main reason. Also, American Watch Co. couldn’t really be protected as a brand name because America was the country. You can’t own the name America if the United States owns the name America.

The company that everybody calls Elgin was originally the National Watch Company. That was the second company that started up. It’s almost like the American League and the National League in baseball. They were always the two biggest.

At that time there was nobody manufacturing pocket watches like we manufacture automobiles and appliances and various other things today. That whole manufacturing process was invented by Waltham for precision goods. It was just beginning to be developed. Everything was made by hand before that. An individual would sit down and work on pieces of metal until they had built all the pieces for a watch. Then they would assemble it and have the watch run. But having an assembly line with lots of people working on it and putting things together in large volumes had never been done before.

The first experiments were at the Springfield Armory for the Civil War. The Springfield Armory built lots of rifles. Those techniques were adopted and adapted by the people at Waltham to build pocket watches.

Collectors Weekly: Before that, were people making pocket watches in America at all?

McIntyre: There were some brothers in Connecticut called the Pitkins who made some watches before that, and there was a family near Worcester, Mass. called the Goddards. Luther Goddard and Benjamin Goddard and Parley Goddard made watches, but they were handmade watches. The Pitkin watches used some machinery and were a first stab at doing it, but they didn’t do it all that well, so it didn’t really take off, and one of them went insane trying and killed himself.

Collectors Weekly: Once Waltham introduced precision manufacturing, how did the quality of the watches change?

McIntyre: The point of manufacturing them was that if you made the same part over and over again, you could make it better than if you had to make each one from scratch each time. They had special machinery that would make gears and special machinery that would make shafts and plates and little springs and all the various pieces of the watch, the screws and so forth, but it took a long time to develop all those machines.

The very first pocket watches they made with machinery were about as good as the regular run-of-the-mill watches that were being made in Europe, but they weren’t nearly as good as the very best European watchmakers could make them. They were better than any that were being made in this country because we just didn’t have the tradition of the crafts here, but the English and Swiss and French made very fine watches in the early 19th century, and we didn’t make any that good probably until at least 10 or 15 years after we began manufacturing them here.

At first they were figuring out the machines. They were figuring out how heavy they had to make them to be able to cut the same shape reliably every time and all sorts of things about how to build production machinery that they didn’t really know. If you’re going to make parts automatically and have clamping jaws opening and closing and picking things up and moving them around by machinery, then you need to have a great, strong, and stable base for that machine.

I think they were surprised at how heavy they had to make the machinery and it took them a few years to work all that out, but by the early 1870s, the watches that were being made at Waltham were winning all of the prizes around the world for the best watches. It only took them about 20 years.

The McIntyre Watch Co. 12 size pocket watch movement

The McIntyre Watch Co. 12 size pocket watch movement

They were still making them by hand in Europe until then, and then a fellow from Switzerland came over to our centennial exposition in 1876 and saw the Waltham watches being made by machinery. He went back to Switzerland and tried to persuade the Swiss to do that. It took quite a few years to persuade them, but a couple of Americans went over there and set up factories, and then the Swiss reports said that the machinery was the way to go.

The Swiss developed a very similar style of making watches by machine, but not with large factories like the Americans had. So the Swiss never did get to making millions of watches a year, at least in the 19th century, whereas the largest American watch companies were making more than a million watches a year.

The Swiss are known for their craftsmanship, however. They had an edge in terms of assembling the watches and adjusting them and that sort of thing. Once they got to using the machinery, they could produce some very wonderful things. They caught up with the Americans in the early 20th century and then passed them. That, plus a couple of wars where the Swiss didn’t fight and we did, essentially finished off the American watch industry.

The last American watch factory folded up in the 1960s. Recently a fellow started making watches in America, complete watches but on a very small scale, but that only started a couple of years ago. They’re mostly wristwatches because there’s not a big market for pocket watches. Nobody wears vests anymore.

There are some craftsmen, mostly in England and Switzerland, who occasionally make a very special pocket watch, and Patek Philippe, which is one of the top wristwatch companies, also occasionally makes pocket watches. The Patek Philippe caliber 89, which is probably the most famous recent production, was made back in 1989 and cost $2.5 million, but it was a very special watch. It could tell you what day Easter was going to fall on 50 years from now.

Collectors Weekly: Who were some of the major pocket watch manufacturers?

McIntyre: In Switzerland, Geneva is where the headquarters are, but the Le Locle is where the major part of production is. It’s called the Valle de Joux, which is the valley of joy, loosely translated, which is north and east of Geneva. It’s been there for 200 years now.

The English, French, and Swiss didn’t build factories, so there were lots more of them because the individual makers might be producing maybe a hundred watches a year, at the very most maybe 300 or 400 watches a year, and out of a very small shop with maybe three people working at benches. The American factories had hundreds and hundreds of employees in very large factories.

“The last American watch factory folded in the 1960s.”

So Waltham was the first, as I said, then Elgin was formed, and then the Illinois Watch Company, and then there were Hampden and Hamilton. So at the peak, I think there were 20 American watch companies. As things tapered off in the 20th century with the Depression and so forth, Hamilton, Elgin, and Waltham were the last three survivors, and Hamilton was the final survivor of all of those.

The Elgin company still makes fancy alloys for some industrial applications, so there’s a little piece of Elgin that’s still alive. The Hamilton people bought one of the Swiss companies and then merged back into a Swiss company. So if you followed all the little pieces around, there may still be a little piece of Hamilton that’s left in the company that’s called Swatch now. Hamilton is really part of Swatch today, and legitimately so.

The Waltham Watch Company was sold off and became a retailing division and a separate manufacturing division called Waltham Precision. Waltham Precision made little clocks for the Air Force to use in airplanes for a long time, but that contract went away around 1993, so they’re finally gone. But the name was bought by a Japanese family who manufactures Waltham watches in Switzerland now, so there are Swiss Waltham watches that follow in the tradition of the original Waltham watches.

The North American rights to the name were bought by a distributor on Long Island and he sells cheap Chinese knockoffs of watches that you see occasionally at Wal-Mart or K-Mart or places like that. So Waltham is pretty much done.

By the 1950s and ‘60s, there were very few pocket watches being made, but the last of the Waltham pocket watches were made in the early ‘50s and the last of the Hamilton watches were made maybe 10 years later.

So by 1965, there were no more pocket watches being made in this country. Timex was still making some pocket watches. General Time was making pocket watches and some of those companies that grew out of the alarm clock business that didn’t have anything to do with the original watch companies. But Westclox did alarm clocks. There were Westclox pocket watches, and those are still around but they’re made in South America now.

The watches America is most famous for are the railroad watches, because we had time standards on our railroads that required lots of people to carry pocket watches in order to make sure that the trains didn’t run into one another.

Collectors Weekly: Did all the major manufacturers make railroad pocket watches?

Model 1861 Fitt's patent 10 size pocket watch case

Model 1861 Fitt’s patent 10 size pocket watch case

McIntyre: Most of them did. Technically, people get confused because when you say railroad, they think that if it has a picture with a train on it or if it has a train on the back of the case, it has something to do with railroads. The watch that railroad employees carried was called a standard watch.

A standard watch had a set of operating specs that changed over time, but the final specifications were pretty much set for pocket watches in 1909. The watches that met that specification were made by all the major American companies. So Waltham, Hamilton, Illionis, Elgin, and several other smaller companies all made the same watches. There were probably 15 companies altogether that were making standard watches that conformed to the specifications.

Other than standard pocket watches, there were ladies’ watches. The first ones were made by Waltham in 1860, and they made them in various sizes from that point on. Standard ladies’ watches are about an inch in diameter as opposed to about 2 inches in diameter for a man’s watch and correspondingly lighter.

There were also presentation watches that were very much like railroad watches the same size, but were made to have a better appearance than the railroad watch or to have a heavier gold case or various things of that kind that weren’t really appropriate for the railroad watch.

You can think of the railroad watch as being a tool that somebody used in their job, whereas the bulk of the watches were for people to carry and use for their own pleasure or just to help them in their daily life. A train conductor’s pocket watch was the same as a carpenter’s hammer. Then at the top end were the presentational watches.

So the watches that I collect – the American Watch Co. grade watches from Waltham, the ones that I like the most – are not railroad watches. Most of those are set by the pendant. You pull out on the stem to turn the hand. That was not allowed in the railroad specification. In the railroad specification, you had to set it by pulling out a lever of some kind by a separate mechanism that engaged the setting and then you could set the hand. That was to avoid accidentally moving the hands while winding the watch if you were busy and you were distracted by something else and looking on a train because the worst thing that could happen with a railroad watch was not that it would stop running. It’s that it would keep running but have the wrong time on it. If you were looking at a watch and it was running but was five minutes off, there’s a good chance you could get killed.

Other than the specifics of the railroad watches, the mechanism of watches was essentially the same from around 1820. There was a mechanism called the lever, which is the way that the watch works. There’s a balance wheel you can see spinning back and forth very quickly, and that balance wheel gets its impulse to keep spinning from a little mechanism called a lever and an escape wheel.

Those pieces were invented in the 1770s and took over the industry long before manufactured watches. So that was the preferred way to make a watch for a very long time, and all watches were made that way until 1990 when George Daniels invented the coaxial escapement. Omega has been making coaxial escapement watches for about seven or eight years now. It keeps better time and uses less wear on the various moving parts, so it’s more reliable. It’s partly a marketing gimmick.

Collectors Weekly: Does the watch movement determine collectibility?

McIntyre: It does, primarily because of the finish. If the metal is finished very well with rounded edges that are then polished with decoration patterns on the flat surfaces, then those are quality marks that make the movement itself worth more money. Generally, you find those quality marks associated with a fine porcelain dial with very delicate workmanship on it and often in a heavy 18 karat gold case. Those things all come together to contribute to the value of a watch.

In terms of materials, the shafts on all the wheels are made out of steel. The plates themselves are made of some kind of a brass. The most common one is a nickel brass, which is generally called nickel plate. Those are the flat pieces of metal that hold the gears between them. The gears themselves are mostly made out of brass, but occasionally some escape wheels and some other special parts might be made out of steel.

On the earlier very high-grade watches, the gears were made out of gold. You have the gold gears and the steel shafts and the small gears, which are called pinions. If you look at a gear train, you have a little gear and a larger gear, and the big gears are called wheels. Wheels and pinions are both gears, but they have different names.

Then you have the plates, and then you have the jewels. The jewels are generally some kind of hard stone. In the best watches, the jewels are rubies that have been shaped and pierced to make a little bearing surface out of them. Those rubies are held in gold settings to allow you to place them in the nickel plates.

So in the nicest watches, you see ruby jewels in gold settings set in nickel plates. On my website, the 1872 model American-grade watches are generally considered to be the very best of that technique. Those are what most people consider the best watches that were ever made during that high-craft period, anyway.

Collectors Weekly: How many jewels there are in the mechanisms?

Illinois Watch Co. Bunn Keywind dial

The Illinois Watch Co. Bunn Keywind dial

McIntyre: In order to be a jeweled watch at all, there has to be seven jewels. That little fast-spinning wheel called the balance has four jewels on its pivots, and then the lever escapement has three jewels that are critical in the operation of the lever escapement. Those seven jewels make a jeweled watch. After those, all the rest of the jewels are pivot jewels on a shaft that’s turning. You can have as many as 10 more jewels.

There are five shafts on a standard four-wheel watch because there’s the palette and then there’s a shaft for each of the five wheels. That gives you 17 jewels – seven on the balance and escapement and 10 on the train. So 17 jewels is what’s normally called a fully jeweled watch. The center shaft turns so slowly that it’s probably not necessary to jewel that, but many people think it’s important. Either 15 or 17 jewels are all you really need to make the watch operate effectively.

There’s some theoretical argument for putting cap jewels so that when the shafts are turning, if they get to sliding up and down in their bearing surfaces, you put a cap jewel on the end so that they don’t slide very far. They’ll just move a short distance, and then they touch another bearing surface that they can spin on and it’ll keep them from losing any energy.

If you put as many of those cap jewels in a watch as you can reasonably put in, you can get up to 23 jewels, and that’s the standard high-jeweled watch. After that, you have to start putting extra jewels in the winding mechanism and other places where they don’t really do much good. Fifteen is enough, and 23 jewels is the most that it’s reasonable to put on, but a few watches do have more than that.

High-jeweled watches are very collectible because they weren’t made very often. They’re collectible because of their scarcity. The Illinois Watch Company had a number of high-jeweled watches that were made with 24 and 25 jewels and higher. The Columbus Watch Company made a lot of very high-jeweled watches. Seth Thomas Watch Company made some high-jeweled watches. But Waltham and Elgin and Hamilton didn’t make really high-jeweled watches because they didn’t need a gimmick to sell their watches.

The ones that made the high-jeweled watches were the less prominent companies that were trying to compete with something special to try to gain market share. There was a company that only made a very few watches because they never really got in business. That was the McIntyre Watch Company, and their standard watch is 25 jewels. It has extra jewels in the winding mechanism for the little gearing and that show you how much the watch is wound up.

The McIntyre Watch Company was an American company. It was started by Fred McIntyre in Kankakee, Illinois in 1908, and it failed in 1911 and was pretty much out of business by 1913. They made a handful of watches as prototypes and Fred tried to sell those to the jewelry stores and actually succeeded in taking orders for a lot of watches but the people that they were renting factory space from evicted them because they had a better tenant. Somebody wanted to come in and make sewing machines, and so they threw out the watch people and gave the space to the sewing machine people.

McIntyre: There are only three or four of those watches that are known. Some of them belong to Bruce McIntyre, and one belongs to a collector in Chicago who bought it at the sale when the Time Museum was sold a few years ago. Another one was bought by a person in Wellesley, Mass. So there are four of them that are known, and there were probably eight produced, so there are four sleepers out there someplace. Someday I might wander across one at a flea market and somebody will sell it to me for $20.

When I first found out about those watches, I was interested because it had my name on it. I’ve gotten to know the family, the descendants of Fred McIntyre, and we think we are probably cousins but we don’t really know how. We haven’t been able to find a common ancestor.

But a few years back, when the factory went out of business, their drawings and tooling and all of the materials got stored away in Chicago for quite a few years, then was sold to a watch collector here in the Massachusetts area. I bought all that stuff about 10 years ago now. So, technically, I own the McIntyre Watch Company now, but we haven’t produced any watches for a long time. I’ve thought about it but haven’t.

I talk about watches a lot. I’m giving a talk on the McIntyre Watch Company at the NAWCC national meeting in Grand Rapids here in a couple of months. We just released our new NAWCC website today. It’s a lot easier to navigate the website and find things on it today than it was yesterday. It’s much more attractive. The other one was a cobbled together effort of some 15 years ago, and it’s just not been able to keep up with our needs, so we just put a lot of effort into designing that. It should be less intimidating now.

One of the areas that’s listed on the website is the forums, and that’s where the members get together to discuss watches and clocks. There’s a link off of the main page of the website. It just says forums. On the new website, there’s only five entries on the left, so it’s easier to find things. There used to be 30. I’m one of the directors of the NAWCC. We have a national board of directors that provide strategic direction and planning for the organization, and I’m one of the people that does that.

Collectors Weekly: With pocket watches, what else determines rarity besides scarcity?

Illinois Watch Co. Stuart 5th Pinion movement

The Illinois Watch Co. Stuart 5th Pinion movement

McIntyre: There are some very rare watches that aren’t all that great. There was a company in Massachusetts called the Auburndale Watch Company, and they made two watches. They made the Auburndale Rotary and the Auburndale Timer. The company was only in business for three years.

They probably made a couple of hundred of the Auburndale Rotary and 500 of the Auburndale Timer, but you can still buy those watches for a relatively small amount of money. You can buy a Timer for a few hundred dollars, and you can buy the Rotary for maybe $1,500 to $2,000, as opposed to a very fine railroad watch produced by Hamilton in the 1950s, one of which sold two years ago for $40,000. So the two watches are maybe equally rare, but one’s worth a thousand dollars and one’s worth $40,000. It’s the quality of the watch itself that makes the biggest difference.

The Waltham 1872 models are not as rare as some of the other watches. They made about 3,000 of those, but they’re far and away the best quality watches that were made in the country. The only ones that come close to them are the watches that Elgin made that they call the 21-jewel convertible watches. Those are about as good as the Waltham 1872 models. Those two are the top-rank of American pocket watches in terms of quality. But there’re 2,000 of the convertibles and there’re a couple of thousand of the ’72 models, so they’re not really super scarce like the McIntyre watch.

There are only maybe four of the McIntyre watches, and the one that has come on the market now twice in the last 50 years sold the first time for about $4,000 and sold the second time for $50,000 plus premiums. If you put scarcity and quality together, the price goes way up.

Then you get into things that don’t make any sense to collectors like me. Modern wristwatches that are just coming on the market by prominent makers in Switzerland sell for anywhere from $25,000 to $100,000. You have to have your name on the list for five years to get one. The people that want those pay a lot of money for them.

Collectors Weekly: When pocket watches were still being made, how often were they coming out with new models?

McIntyre: Waltham produced a new model in each size and each class of watch. So for their principal men’s watch, they had two kinds: a full-plate line of watches that was for working men, and the three-quarter plate, slightly smaller, 16-size watches. They produced a new model in each of those about every three or four years, although there were some long gaps. There was a full-plate model produced in 1857. The next full-plate model wasn’t until 1877, but then in 1879, there was another one, and then in 1883 there was another one, and the last one in 1892. Those were the 18-size full-plate watches.

The first of the 16-size watches was produced in 1860, and then another model was produced in 1868 and then another in 1872. Then there was a long gap until 1888, and the last one was in 1908. If you averaged out those numbers, I guess that turns out to be close to a new watch for the men’s market every 10 years. There were smaller watches for women that were being produced at the same time, so maybe it would be fair to say a new watch on average every three or four years.

Waltham always named their models for the year the watch was made, after the first few years. In the very beginning, they called it the full-plate watch and then the key-wind watch of 18-size, but later on, after they had more models than they could deal with that way, they started calling them by the model year. 1868, I believe, was the first time they actually referred to the watch by the model year. Then they went back and assigned model years to all the previous ones.

Elgin called them either by a grade name or a grade number, and Hamilton always called theirs by grade numbers.

Collectors Weekly: What is the grade?

McIntyre: The word is confusing because grade is used as just a name. A grade number is just the same as a name that describes a watch. So the grade 162 Elgin just describes a particular watch; a 168 is not better than a 162, and a 162 is not worse than a 155. They’re arbitrary numbers. The same is true of Hamilton. It can be very confusing.

Elgin Watch Co. 246 movement

The Elgin Watch Co. 246 movement

Waltham, in addition to the models, had grades that were names that applied to many different models. So I collect watches that are American Watch Co. grade. The American Watch Co. grade was introduced in 1859, and they made an American Watch Co. grade watch for the 20-size 1862 model, the 16-size 1860 model, the 16-size 1868 model, the ’72 model, the ’88 model and the ’99 model. Those were all made in American Watch Co. grade. They made some 12-size watches in American Watch Co. grade also. The 1894 bridge model was American Watch Co. grade, 12-size.

Waltham also made a ladies’ watch in 1890 that they called the OM model, but they made that in American Watch Co. Grade, too. So that was the only ladies’ watch that was ever made in this country as officially the highest grade watch made by the company.

All the companies made ladies’ watches, I believe. I can’t think of any exceptions offhand. In general, the interesting thing about ladies’ watches is that they don’t get collected nearly enough. I guess women aren’t as attracted to mechanical things, perhaps. But ladies’ watches generally were made as a piece of jewelry. There were pretty dials and pretty cases and just very plain mechanisms inside them, and those are relatively common. They’re collectible because the case that enclosed it is very pretty.

There’s a few ladies watches at the very top end, and they were made in relatively miniscule quantities. Waltham made some of those, and Elgin and Hamilton and Illinois. They all made a handful of watches in very high grades for ladies, and people should collect them more. There are a few of us that do collect them, and I have some of them on my website under “Small Wonders,” but I haven’t gotten most of them photographed. I have quite a few more that are not on the website.

All the watches on my website are part of my personal collection. There are a handful of watches there that people have let me take pictures of to include to complete the story. The McIntyre watches for example do not belong to me.

Collectors Weekly: What attracts you to a pocket watch?

McIntyre: The quality of the movement, how well it’s made, and the attractiveness of the mechanism itself. Generally I look for a nice dial and a nice case, but on American watches, you can often find a case for the watch, so it’s not as critical to have the best grade case. Some of my friends only will collect something if they have really strong evidence that the case and the dial and the movement have always been together since the watch was first made, so that restricts their collecting quite a bit. But they’ll pay a lot more money for a watch if you can prove that to them.

That’s another aspect of collecting. It’s called originality. I often collect authentic examples but not necessarily original examples, where some other people only collect original examples. People who collect all-original watches spend hours painstakingly looking at the cases on the inside to see if there’re any extra scratches where somebody might have taken something apart at one point in time and just examine them microscopically to determine whether or not they’re original.

Sometimes you know it’s original just because of the provenance. If you bought it from the great-great-granddaughter of a U.S. senator that bought it originally in 1863, I’m reasonably sure that since that’s been sitting in the family vault for the last 85 years, it’s original.

But for me, the case isn’t necessarily important because you can often find an authentic case. Watches get damaged, and the movement may or may not be worth repairing, and if it’s a lesser grade of movement, it might not get repaired, in which case somebody is offering the case for sale independently of the movement. But of course, there are a lot more movements than there are cases because in times like today, when gold is at a very high price, the premium for having that gold made into a watch case is not all that high over the value of the gold itself.

The gold in a typical American men’s pocket watch today starts off for a relatively lightweight case at around a thousand dollars and can go up to as much as $3,000 just for the gold content of the case. During the Depression in the ‘30s, lots of watches lost their cases. Times were a lot harder than they are now, and a lot more people carried watches, but they were perfectly willing to trade their gold case from their father’s watch in for cash and have the watch cased in some other kind of metal case that wasn’t gold.

Collectors Weekly: Are pocket watches still pretty popular as a collectible?

McIntyre: I think so. If you look at the activity on places like eBay, you see a lot of watches changing hands and a fairly large number of people doing that. I’m not so sure about the number of people that are serious about watches and really want to make a study of them.

E. Howard Co. Series 5 Second model movement

E. Howard Co. Series 5 Second model movement

At one time we had almost 40,000 people that belonged to our collectors’ association, and now we’re down around 20,000 people. It’s gone down by quite a lot in the last 15 years. I’m putting a lot of effort into not only my website but the NAWCC website, and my hope is that the Internet age will bring some younger collectors out and get them interested in these watches again because we’d like to have more people.

Clocks have a lot of appeal because five people can sit around in a room and look at a clock. It’s a little more difficult to share pocket watch collections, although if people are willing to photograph some and make web pages out of them, then they’re a lot easier to share. It’s still a lot of fun if you have a small number of similar watches and you get a bunch of people to sit around the table to look at them and talk about them. That’s what we do at our local chapter meetings. We have 170 groups around the world besides the association itself that actually collect the watches and clocks.

McIntyre: I first got interested in collecting pocket watches when I was around 30 years old, and I think we still get a lot of people starting to get interested at that age. But most people that are raising families don’t really have the time to spend on it while their children are small, so our typical member joins sometime in their early 40s and stays with the hobby for at least 20 years or so.

The average age of our members is probably getting close to 60, so we need to get younger ones interested. But the younger ones will always have a hard time staying with us because it’s really hard to spend as much time as it takes to really enjoy these things when you’re doing other things in your life.

When my wife and I got married, we went to live in Spokane, Washington for a year. Then we moved to Parkville, Missouri for two years. Then we lived in Los Angeles for five years, and then we moved to Canada for two years, then West Virginia for nine years. Then we finally got here to Massachusetts, and we’ve been here for 30 years. We didn’t start collecting anything until we moved to West Virginia.

Collectors Weekly: Are there steps to identifying a pocket watch or is there a taxonomy of pocket watches?

McIntyre: A group on our website’s forums provides that service to people that log on and ask. They need a good picture of the movement, and if you can’t get a picture of the movement, you need to know what it says on it. And if you think there’s something special about the case, you need some good pictures of that. Inside the covers of the case will be trademarks and hallmarks and things like that, so good pictures of those are needed as well. With that kind of information, you can tell somebody a lot about the watch.

For specific companies like the Waltham Watch Company, there’s a database that some friends and I put together that lets you look up information on all of the really old Walthams. You can find some information for the more recent ones after 1900, but not as much as on the early ones because the companies stopped keeping as good of records.

We’re about to produce something like that for the association for Hamilton watches. There’s a friend of mine, his name is Wayne Schlitt, who has a similar database that’s online for the Elgin Watch Company, and then one of our chapters, chapter 149, has some databases available, including a good CD database of the Illinois Watch Company. So it’s haphazard; it’s not all in one place.

One of the things NAWCC would like to do is make a global serial number database that you can type in the serial number. Just type in the number and it’ll show you pictures of, say, a half a dozen watches that yours might be because of the number, and then you can compare your watch to one of those pictures and see if that’s the watch that you have. We’ll be producing that sometime in the next few years.

The best way to identify a watch is to come to the discussion group at the NAWCC. The people there are very helpful and would be happy to tell somebody what they have. That applies to clocks, wristwatches, pocket watches, European watches, American watches, clocks of all kinds.

Collectors Weekly: Is there an overlap between pocket watch and wristwatch collectors?

McIntyre: Certainly at the dealer level – the people that buy, sell, and trade them – deal in both wrist and pocket watches, but mostly the two are pretty specialized. Wristwatches are mostly bought for style reasons, whereas pocket watches are mostly bought for technical reasons. So you need to know two different kinds of things in order to be able to deal effectively in them. So there’s some overlap, but not as much as you might expect from them both being essentially the same thing.

Collectors Weekly: What about hunting case versus open face watches?

Illinois Watch Co. Sangamo movement

The Illinois Watch Co. Sangamo movement

McIntyre: A hunting case watch is one that has a closed cover over the dial so that you can’t see the dial when you’re holding the watch in your hand. You push down on the little button at the top, the crown, and the cover opens up and you can see what time it is. That was a popular style from around 1800 to around 1900, for about a hundred years. But it got displaced by the open face. The open face style existed before that, and the hunting case style disappeared probably close to 1900. They still made them after that, but the bulk of them were made before 1900.

With the open face watch, if you just pick it up and look at it, it’s just like a wristwatch. There’s the dial in front of you and you can see it, where if it’s a hunting case watch, when you pick it up to look at it, it’s metal on both sides. You have to figure out which side is the front side and then you have to push the button. Then when you push the button, the lid pops up because there’s a little spring that makes it pop up. The idea behind them was that you could carry a hunting case watch in your pocket and it was less likely to have the crystal broken or the dial damaged. The other reason for it is that they were a heavier piece of gold, and people like them just for the feel of them.

The other big difference is that the way the mechanism was laid out in a key wind watch, you could case a key wind watch in either a hunting case or an open face case, the same movement. It just depends on where you drill the holes for your winding and setting keys.

If you take a key wind movement and you attach a winding mechanism to it so that it winds like a modern watch with the stem and then you put it in a case, then the 12 o’clock position is in the wrong place. You want the 12 o’clock position to be under the stem, but in fact the 3 o’clock position is under the stem. That’s a fuzzy reason, but it is the reason that there were a lot more hunting case watches in the second half of the 19th century.

From 1860 to 1900 as they were developing these new watch styles, the first thing they did was make key wind watches because it was easier. The first kind they made were hunting case watches because it was easier to make a key-wind watch into a hunting case watch than it was to make a key wind watch into an open face watch. Most of the ones that you will see are from that period from around 1850 until 1900. The bulk of the watches during that period have closed faces – a hunting case.

Collectors Weekly: Would you say that was the heyday of pocket watches then?

McIntyre Watch Co. Swiss Lady

Swiss watch sold by Fred McIntyre before he founded the McIntyre Watch Company

McIntyre: I would say the 20 years from 1900 to 1920 was the American railroad watch’s peak, but for Waltham and maybe Elgin, also, it was that earlier period. There’s another company which is the E. Howard Company, which is a very prominent company as well. Those are really quite collectible. There were major collectors that collect only Howard. They were located in Roxbury, Massachusetts, and then in 1900, they merged with a watch case company and moved to Waltham, Mass.

Only two fairly large companies, Howard and Waltham, were in Massachusetts. But the Dueber Watch Case Company was in Ohio and the Dueber Watch Company was in Ohio. The Gruen Watch Company was in Ohio as well, but that was half Swiss and half American. Hamilton’s in Pennsylvania, and Elgin and the Illinois Watch Company were both in Illinois.

There were more watch companies in Illinois than there were anyplace else. So you had Elgin and Illinois and Rockford were all pretty significant companies that were in the Chicago area, within 50 miles of Chicago. The New York Standard Watch Company was in New York, and they made cheaper watches but lots of them. That was a fairly large company. Those are the big ones.

Collectors Weekly: If somebody was going to start collecting pocket watches now, what advice would you have for them?

McIntyre: Try to focus on one company and one particular kind of watch if you’re just starting because there are just an awful lot of things that you need to know, and it’s easier to learn from one watch. Buy lots of books first and then buy some watches later. You really needed to do the studying and the reading to find out what else you need to know.

In terms of long-term value and the general collecting advice – this doesn’t apply just to watches; it applies to all collectibles – you should buy the very best you can afford to buy at any given time. Buy fewer better ones rather than buying lots of cheaper ones.

Collectors Weekly: How many watches do you personally have?

McIntyre: About 200. In fact, a lot of people that are into watches and clocks are in it for the craft rather than for the collecting. They have relatively small collections, but they work really hard on their individual pieces, getting them in really good shape. They like to buy things that are a little bit in rough condition so they can fix it up and bring it back to life again, and that’s a very exciting thing. So that’s another aspect of collecting – collecting to exercise your craft skills.

(All images in this article courtesy of Tom McIntyre of American Watch Company Web).

103 comments so far

  1. Kim Gerard Says:

    April 16, 2009

    Tom,
    Excellent article! I learned so much. I appreciate the way you share your knowledge in a down to earth, easy to understand way. Thank you.

    With utmost respect,
    Kim Gerard
    NAWCC Member #0169537

  2. Phyllis Lund Says:

    Hello, thanks for your artice, it was very informative. I found in our family estate belongings an old Illinois stop watch. It has numbers on clock face and the stem/winder is at the 3:00 o’clock right side. It appears to be gold I think, and has cover with etching of flowers around outside circle border and within middle an oval shape with lines going horizontally and a type spade or shield in middle. The only id is on the inside cover, which is l09370(or the ’0′ could be a 6)2. There is a chain still attached with a restractable needle point in cylander (bullet shape). Any idea from this description what year produced or name/value this could be?
    Thanks.

  3. ferol m lewis Says:

    sir: i have a elgin pocket watch belonging to my great grandmother. on her 16th. birthday in 1910. she was sixteen at the time. it also has fob with a cameo and a clip to fasten to a pocket. was wondering how old watch is! there is a number in the case lid or top of 8712255. is this serial number or is it in watch works? please reply if of any value. thanks ferol m lewis

  4. Wayne Hayes Says:

    Hello Tom,

    We have a 1905 Elgin Pocket Watch. Size 16, 7 jewel, runs good. It says it’s 2 plates of solid gold. Grade 290. Serial # 12451134 Case #1045748.
    Could you give us some info about this and let us know if it is worth anything?
    Thank you,
    Wayne Hayes

  5. cacollins Says:

    Hello, I have my great-grandmother’s pocket watch. She was born 9-7-1869 in Ireland and then her family moved to America (Michigan) where she later died in 1924. My grandmother told me her mother received this watch from her father the day she was born. Can you please tell me a little about it. I have done plenty of research, but have yet to find anything like it at all, either online, or at libraries. It is approx. 1.5 inches across. The face is white with a floral design. Roman numerals and a silver embossed framing around it. The outside case (cover)or back has beautiful flowers engraved on it and a small shield type emblem in the center, it opens and has 7854 stamped on it, with an X under it. The inside case cover has script engraving of No. 7854 then the next line is E. B. Jacot with Locle under it. And on the inside of that cover is 7854 X again. Also the internal workings have engravings on them, and some scroll work. One letter S and one letter F. Can you tell me anything about this watch? When it may have been made? And possibly a value. Of course sentimental value is priceless, but I would love to know. Please reply if you have an information for me, or kindly direct me in the path of someone who may. Thanks so very much. CACollins

  6. Tom Stretton Says:

    I live in Saugus,Mass. and I have inherited 8 old pocket watches dating back to the late 1800′s or early 1900′s. I would like to see if i can get them appraised. Would you be able to suggest anyone to me.

    Thanks Tom Stretton

  7. Robert Hocker Says:

    I have a Gruen verithin pocket watch left to me by my great uncle, it is in need of a hairspring and mainspring, would you know of any one who might have these parts for sale?

  8. Dennis Farmer Says:

    I have a small gold pocket watch with the name Gustave DuBois on the face and in the back. However it is in a wooden box with the name H. Francois and Locle on the inside cover. Can you tell me anything about the watch?

  9. jef smith Says:

    i have a Dennis Schrum, Jacksonville Il 17 jewel Illinois Watch Co Springfield USA 1681660
    rolled gold plate illinois watch case co
    7627362
    it belonged to my grandpa and he worked for the railroad
    is it worth getting repaired or should I leave it as is
    missing seconds hand on inner dial no cover

  10. Bob Brazenor Says:

    Tom.
    I enjoyed your articles and the comments made by several people.
    I am trying to buy a Waltham lever set pocket watch.I keep getting out bid . I have no idea what they are worth, but by watching what others bid who are I’m sure knowledgeable I can start getting an idea what some of the watches are worth.
    Saying all of that- What books would you recommend me to read and where do I buy them.?
    Thanks,
    Bob

  11. Judi Says:

    Hi Tom,
    I have been searching (with NO luck at all) for information on a 14K gold “Galmor” pocket watch. This watch has 17 jewels, a ‘stamped’ number of 313271 on the inside of the front and back cover. On the inside cover I can see (with a jewelers loop) ‘hand scribed’ numbers. One is a triangle plus C877J. Another is 1526 M. The last one is 335-S-1G5. On the FRONT outside casing an engraved bird is flying over a blank ‘crest’ which I assume is for engraving if you wanted to. On the BACK casing, there is the flying bird with flowers etched inside the ‘crest’. It also does NOT have a crystal. Were there watches made without crystals, or was this broken somewhere along the line?

    Any information you can give me would be greatly appreciated.

    Judi

  12. Marika Leon Says:

    Hello Tom,
    Excellent article & information on American Waltham Watch Co. If you are looking for Antique Waltham Pocket watches, I have a lovely one inherited from my Great Aunt in Connecticut.
    It is in excellent condition, keeps perfect time.
    Inside case reads: Waltham, C.W.C. Co 951555
    Inside movements case serial #15188180 15 Jewels
    Pat. Dec.78

    Please let me know if you are interested. I really want a Waltham admirer to have & enjoy this watch.

    Your response will be greatly appreciated.

    Marika ……..

  13. Kay Says:

    Hi Tom,
    Very much enjoyed your article which a friend sent me to read. I have an 18kt gold pocket watch I’m having no luck finding info on. The case is hand engraved with a cornucopia on the front. The dial says Henry Stuart Liverpool on it. Does not run and has a key with a chalcedony and tigers eye. It dates back to 1800′s according to the one person I’ve found in Oxford England that says he was part of her family and made watches in Oxton Cheshire 1825-1882. Can you suggest someone that coud help me identify and appraise this watch? Thanks

  14. Alice Fader Says:

    Hello Tom

    Thank you so much for such an informative interview. It is very obvious that you are an expert.

    I see that some people have written a comment and have included descriptions of watches they own asking for clarification on what exactly they have. I own a pocket watch and aside from the date I cannot find a comparable. I hope you can help me.

    The watch case is Sterling Silver. On the enamel face is “American Waltham” with U.S.A. underneath. It has roman numerals, blue steel hands and a second hand.

    The back of the case has a very lightly etched train with two smoke stacks.

    Inside on the inside cover says “Warrented Sterling Silver” with a crown over it and the numbers 4140781

    The inside serial number is 9750336 which I think in 1874.There is an ornate engraveing that says “Sterling” then “American Waltham” then “U.S.A. There are also the words which I think are “saftey” then “vision?”

    The watch measures 2 3/8 inches wide, 3 1/2 inches high and 5/8 of an inch deep. It weighs 5.58 ounces.

    The top stem has broken off but I have both pieces. Is this a watch worth getting serviced? Is this a model that is in between the American you collect and Waltham?

    Thanks for your time

    Alice

  15. linda fulmer Says:

    Thanks Tom for the interview. I too have an old pocket watch from my grandfather. On the inside reads “The Burlington Watch Co. guanantee’s this case to be made of two plates of solid gold over composition and to wear 25 years.” The #4003993 follows and etched above is R/5642. Can you tell me anything about these clues? The watch is in excellent condition and has an etching of a cabin woodland scene. Thanks. Linda

  16. Sherry Mills Says:

    I have an open faced Waltham pocket watch that I think belonged to my grandfather. It has a red heart drawn on the face with a black line through it and a black cross on top. Little squiggly lines are around the heart. I have no clue about this painting or drawing and hope you can help. I really did learn alot from your article. Thank you

  17. Erica Says:

    I have a sterling silver pocket watch, acquired from an estate sale, and on the cover it reads “LA TERRA” all the numbers are in black, except the number 12, it’s in red. I cannot find anything else (numbers, information, etc.) on the watch. Do you know anything about this pocket watch? Would you be interested in it for your collection? Please respond…I’m fustrated that I cannot find anything out about it.

    Sincerely,
    Erica in SC

  18. Rebecca Toby Says:

    I have a old Waltham open faced (I think it’s gold) pocket watch. All the numbers are black and on the face are gold airplanes next to the numbers, 1 2 3 4 and 8 9 10 11 and 12. I do not find markings on the back of the watch. Hopefully, you can help find me out the history of my grandfathers pocket watch. My grandfather would have been 110 years old. This watch is very special to me. THANK YOU, Rebecca in Michigan

  19. Victoria TX Says:

    Tom,
    I’m sure you get a lot of questions on what is what.

    I combed your web page pictures, but still clueless as to what I have.

    One brought back from Europe WWII and one old Waltham.

    Can you recommend someone in or near Fort Worth TX that could view mine or look at a couple of photos to help me understand more?

    I remember these being in my home since the 1950s. I set and wound them today and they are still keeping time! Amazing!
    Thanks

  20. b. Says:

    How do I find pocket watch collectors in the Chicago area?

    Thanks.

  21. alastair muir Says:

    hi my names alastair muir and i have an american waltham watch with 21 jewls and id no 17814043 the face is in romam numerals and has a seperate second hand face . it has A W engaved in the back and is in full workin order. could you please let me know a bit about it we think it was made in the 1890`s if you could email me back i would be gratefull thanx alastair muir.

  22. lowell mcnally Says:

    Dear Sir,

    My mother gave me a watch that her father (my grandfather) used on the railroad in Canada. The watch was made by the American Watch company, Waltham, Mass.

    In the cover is says:

    Am Watch Co Waltham Mass warranted
    cole?-silver (unable to figger out first four letters)
    DS1
    The watch face says:

    Am Watch Co Waltham Mass

    My intent is to pass this on to my son. I’d appreciate any history you could give my such as year of manufacture if possible. I’d like to come off as being somewhat of a know it all when I give it to him.

    Thanks for anything you can do.

    Sincerely,

    Lowell McNally
    Garland, Texas

  23. KEN POWELL Says:

    I’m a formore watcthmaker an I liked your article very much.I have now
    in my posession three pocket watches.A Waltham premier 16 size 21 jewel
    ser# 30706470 with case # 4447368 rolled gold. A hamilton 12 size 23
    jewel mod.# 920 Ser.# 1782153 with a solid gold case # 6656537. A waltham
    with the inside engraved american waltham co. with ser.#6250119 an a base
    metal case marked Illinois watch co. this movement is I think a 7 jewel.
    I’m now 88 years old so I don’t dare take it appart. If you know of any
    one interested in them let me know.

    Respectfully

    Ken Powell

    i

  24. Don Says:

    I have a S. Nordlinger gold pocket watch made in Los Angeles. It has the #204694 inside the case. I have not been able to find out one thing for this watch from the internet. Have you ever heard of it?

    Thank you
    Don

  25. Farid Says:

    Hi Tom,

    I have got a small gold Patek Philip lady’s watch, (No. 5100.)From my grandmother, this watch more than 100 years in our family, which was bought in St.Piterburg in antique shop, by my grandfather’ father.

    Please provide me more information about this watch, if it is possible.

    Thanks for anything you can do.

    Sincerely,

    Farid

  26. Harlan Duhon Says:

    Yes, i enjoyed you site, maybe you can help me. i have a waltham pocket watch and know nothing about it. i will give every thing on the watch.
    case made by the phil. watch case .co crown the case #1020722
    the movement #13707658 around the edge of movement are the #908 3840
    it’s 14 k. gold and the face hands are all in gold. can you help me thanks, Harlan

  27. Donna Nelson Says:

    Excellent article. Where could I get my pocket watch appraised and should I have it repaired. It is a Hamilton in the original box with the documentation. Made in 1894 w/ serial # and price of $85.oo. The case is decorated on both sides and engraved inside. One of the hands is missing. There doesn’t seem to be any wear on the watch. It;s from Lancaster PA.

  28. William Brian MacLean Says:

    What a great article! I knew nothing of pocket watches before reading, & this was a fantastic glimpse into their rich history.

    I know I’ll be making contact at the http://mb.nawcc.org/ message board sometime to determine the lineage of the pocket watch I inherited from my grandfather.

    Thank-you, Maribeth & Tom.

  29. Mike Witt Says:

    I have a New Haven pocket watch I quess it’s a 100 years old. Model “B” Streamline. A-208-47A. Chrome case. Plain back.3M Dial. 741 with original bow and paperwork. Could it be worth something?

  30. Peggy Lawder Says:

    Very interesting reading for someone who knows nothing about pocket watches. I am looking for information on a pocket watch I purchased at an estate sale. I will probably put it on Ebay but don’t have a clue what to expect it to bring since I can’t find one like it. Inside the back of the case it says Patent Lever Full Jewelled Huguenin Brothers LOCLE – the # stamped in both sides of the case is 78130 and both sides say fine silver.
    The face has no writing at all just the Roman Numerals and a second hand circle at the bottom with the 15-30-45 & 60 on it. I would love to have someone’s opinions on this watch. Thanks so much.

  31. Lorraine Says:

    I found my father’s great aunt’s pocket watch. It is an American Waltham when you press the winder the cover opens, and there is a back cover that opens.It is 14 karat gold with a filigree engraving around the outer edges. It has a half moon with 4 diamonds and a star with a diamond center. Her brother had her initials engraved on the front.The serial number on the inside is 183364, i believe it was made in 1865. Could you give me a little more information about this watch. I have not seen many like it online. Thank you for your help

  32. Sonny Lassiter Says:

    I found an old pocket watch in my wifes jewelry box that has been hidden since the mid 60′s. I purchased it from a jeweler in Springdale, AR for the cost of the cleaning – the owner never claimed the watch. The internal markings on the watch have the following: Ball Watch Company, Cleveland Ohio – 19 jewels Adjustable – Serial # B403953. A local jeweler opened the back and said it most likely was an Illinois time piece. It’s in excellent condition. The case reads Keystone Watch Case 14K gold filled. How do I find out the value? I appreciate any replys. Thanks ….Sonny

  33. James Hipple Says:

    I have an Am Watch co. pocket watch ser. no. 261562, I think was mfg. in 1866. The works are engraved with P.S.Bartlett Waltham,Mass. It is quite worn on the outside of the case but is all complete inside except it does not run. I am wondering about value of this watch and how collectible itis?? Do you have anything like this in your collection?? I would appreciate any info. Thanks Jim

  34. Jerry Fitzgerald Says:

    Sir’
    I have a model 1857 American watch Co. pocket watch in a coin silver hunters case. the ser.# on the clock works is ,742758, the case # is 9872 on all case parts.
    The unit winds and runs well but the key is worn to the point it will not fit the set nut on the hands. the watch is in very good condition.
    #1 Could some one help me find a key to fit the time set nut.
    #2 Any idea of the aprox. value of this unit
    Thanks’
    J.D. Fitzgerald

  35. Joyce Brunsink Says:

    I have my grandmother’s pocket (pendant) watch and have been trying to research it and find out some information about it. It is a duber-Hampden, case #4146312, clock works #1303262, Mollystar, Canton, Ohio, USA. It is engraved: From parents to Jessie,December 25, 1899. My great-grandfather was a conductor on the Pere Marquette Railroad between Muskegon, MI and Michigan City, IN. It has a very pretty engraved floral pattern on the covers. If you have any information I would appreciate knowing about it.
    Thanks,
    Joyce Brunsink

  36. paul newman Says:

    HAS ANYONE HEARD OF H. WHITE MFG WATCHMAKERS? I HAVE A POCKET WATCH WITH THIS NAME ON IT. I CAN’T FIND ANYTHING ON THIS MAKER. THANKS

  37. Matt Schultz Says:

    Hi, I have a vacheron Gevene, 18k gold open face case. 48mm early bar 13 jewels movment, circa 1830 key wind, key set serial # 26706 matching movment and case. engraved dial. pocket watch
    I was looking to sell this but I have no idea what its worth, any help would be appreciated
    Thanks
    Matt

  38. steve smith Says:

    Hi,i have a pocket watch that was given to a retired railroad employee…it has a white face with a train and a small star.the name on the front says North Star and it also states 17 jewels and France is written on the bottom…i believe the watch is made by Precision Co. watch inc…..the case has a train engraved on the back. The watch is in very nice condition but i don’t have an idea of the age or the value of this item…any help you can me about this watch would be appreciated

    Thanks,
    Steve

  39. Hope Burks Says:

    I have a sterling pocket watch with an Omega face (dial?), but the movement is unmarked and the case is marked C.W.C.Co

    Could it really be an omega movement?

    Thanks,
    Hope

  40. Tom McIntyre Says:

    There are lots of comments and questions here. I did not know about them until this evening when I visited the site (6/1/2010) This interview is a bit over a year old.

    Those wanting information on watches (or clocks for that matter), should visit the NAWCC Message Board at http://mb.nawcc.org. There are discussion areas on that site for all aspects of watch and clock collecting and repair. There are also links to articles about various companies and information on particular watches.

    I will not be able to answer specific comments here.

    Tom McIntyre

  41. Harley B Says:

    I’ve was left an old antique watch that I can’t find any information about. It’s marked Waltham on the front and when you open the back case there is Waltham again with 17jewel stamped on it. The only other number is the serial number on the top running horizontal. It reads 4009. This would date it around 1847. Other than than I can’t find anything else on it. I can take pics and email them to anyone if there willing to help out.

  42. j.mccollim Says:

    I have a Dueber special ladies pocket watch #6376888(I think that puts it in the late”1800′s”) It was in my mother’s family. The case is lovly (flowers and bird)It keeps good time

  43. Judy Glendenning Says:

    Hello Tom. I really enjoyed reading your article. I live in Ontario, Canada and have good friends with the McIntyre name too! The reason I am writing to you is a good friend of mine wanted me to find out any information on an old pocket watch she found down the road at a neighbour’s home. He had passed on and the children threw away a lot of antique pieces. It really sounded like they did not know what they had there and did not want any of that “old” stuff. I looked at this pocket watch she has and couldn’t believe how beautiful it is. This pocket watch is a Waltham with a Keystone Watch Case. It is gold with a design on the outside. Mint condition. The serial number is 623686. Inscribed inside is the neighbour’s name along with the date. It reads Tirrest J. Cooke : January 11, 1902. Any information would be wonderful. Thank you very much for your informative article too. Take care.

  44. Dot Garry Says:

    I am researching my husband’s grandfather’s Elgin pocket watch Dueber Special #9880395 and would appreciate any information you may have on it. I have located similar watches but not exact model as this one. Thank you very much.

  45. Ken Capps Says:

    I have a american watch co pocket watch it has crest in middle that looks like the one on the model 1861 fitts watch.it has key the sets and winds.it has inbossed 18k inside the case it looks like it has serial 400425.also it has 1865 date? just below where you set or wind it with the key.It also, has some oher writhing there but i can not read it with out some kind of magfying glass.So, what do you think I have.the case nimbers are 16976 i think the first 6 is smaller than the other numbers so it may be something else.What do you think I have.It is in very nice shape but crystal is missing and it does not work.I would love to have it fixed.I think its valuable but don’t know.However since it was given to me by a family member its valuable to me so not trying to sell it.Just love to know some information about it.Thank you so much
    Ken Capps

  46. angela sayre Says:

    curious on how old and the value of a watch we found in our attic. It is a Hamilton open face pocket watch/17 jewel,guts have at the top
    Hamilton watch co.
    Lancaster, Pa.
    17 jewel

    Towards the bottom I believe is the serial #1159002

    Also to the right of the17 jewel engraving is the number974
    On inside of cover is an engraving of a star and cresent moon with#1634
    Thx – Angela

  47. Terry Sanders Says:

    Hi my husband Terry has a collection of pocket watches also, he has over two hundred some working some not. He also bought out and older gentleman’s watch supply’s after he passed away so he has many cases and little tubes with jewels and tiny springs,crystals and lots of keys to many to count. We have a CALENDAR WATCH that is swiss made it has a TS stamped on top of each other it says Depose with the number o.800 in a small box it appears to be silver. Our question is this we have a James Picard, Gevena that was never placed into a case can you tell us anything about it? We were told it should be worth alot. Thanks

    Terry Sanders

  48. sonya Says:

    Dear Tom, I have a 24kt solid gold pocket watch that was bought from the “Dr. Tichenor’s” estate sale in New Orleans. Could you tell me who or where I could get a good appraisal on it. I took it to a local jeweler and he could only give me a pot shot, admiting he was not the truly qualified.

  49. Carol Kawleski Says:

    I have in my possesion a beautiful round gold pendant watch, “Deuber Special”, numbered 5190469, on a long gold chain. The case has lovely carvings on both sides and the watch within the case is a “Hampden”. It has been handed down many times and amazingly, is still running. Is this watch an antique and of substantial value? Would so appreciate your input. Thank you. Carol Kawleski, Wisconsin

  50. Carolyn Cannata Says:

    My 87 year old father has a collection of 30 more or less antique pocket watches he wishes to sell. I can provide detailed information to an interested party.

  51. Richard Jarvis Says:

    Dear Mr. McIntyre
    I have an open face pocket watch that has a small triagle on the face with the letter A inside the triangle.The back has two snap open covers the outside one has a crest with J.H.ingraved in it.On the right of the stem there is a hump that is split in the middle with a small pin in it that you can push down with your fingernail and hold to wind the watch.The watch does not work.Could you tell me who made the watch and is it worth fixing. Thank you in advance.
    Richard

  52. Sarah Younger Says:

    I have a 1909 elgin watch, ser#14965285,grade 290, size 16s,code h3ngp, jewels 7J, Can you tell me the value of this watch?

    Also, someone took my case. Where can I purchase another one?

    Thank you.

  53. doug Says:

    i have a new york watch company antique hunters case pocketwatch. KW, KS. difficult to determine hallmark-14k or 18k. not sure 15J or 17J size 18. engraved on movement is serial number 5650, Springfield,Mass, and the name John L. King. very good to excellent condition- no major scratches or dents. Face is in excellent condition and all parts are original. watch has been in watch dome since at 1955 and probably decades before that. any thoughts on this watch? does it have any any value?

    Thank you!

  54. Derek Somerville Says:

    I have a Braunswetter Jones Szegden pocket watch #78580 and know nothing about how old it is .Would like to know if worth repairing

  55. Jude Says:

    I have a WEST END WATCH CO LEVER ladies wrist watch. It is made of gold plated and covered with 16 diamond’s and ruby’s. Model no is “G-4087-5C”. Kindly let me know how old the watch would be. Thanks In advance. Kind Regards

  56. Carolyn R Says:

    I have a Waltham pocket watch with two serial numbers. One is at the twelve o’clock position and is in the 663—- range and the other is in the 1413—- range and is at the three o’clock position. Why two serial numbers. This watch has been in the family 100 years.

    Thanks, Carolyn R.

  57. dwheeler Says:

    I am looking for information on a pocket watch that was made by Frank F. Place, Boston Mass 1240273. Are you familiar with this watch maker?

  58. Tony Laverton (Bristiol,UK) Says:

    (Re-worded!) I have a Columbus side winder, RWK 18 size, 21 j no 502474 nikel plated case, with gold jewel settings, cut bimatalic balance with breguet balance spring, micro reg, with crystal glass back displaying movement. Still a good time keeper. Please advise me in detail as to its function, history etc. ie why glass back and side winder, was it really a hunter in its first life, as a 500000 series is it worth more than the pre 500000 run, does the glass back indicate that it may have been a salesman’s watch. Picked up at a village auction!
    With thanks
    Tony
    05.10.2010

  59. Steve Brewer Says:

    I have two watches I need help on one is a Shirley Temple Pocket watch 1958, I believe Westclox, and the other is a 18k 1865 PS Bartlett mens pocket watch key wind and set with the intitial of (McD) whom I believe to have been owned by General Alexander McDowill McCook,Battling McCook family. He was known by his close friend, West Point friends as McD. Could you help me with more information and how to authenticate this watches, both in very good condition.
    Steve

  60. Mary Galligan Says:

    I have a gold waltham pocket watch given to me by my grandmother. The seriel no is 2278778. I live in Ireland. It is in perfect working order. Can you tell me is it worth anything.
    Mary

  61. dkny wristwatches Says:

    That’s an attention-grabbing position you took. When I read the title, I right away had a disagreement of opinion, but I do grasp your side.

  62. marina Says:

    i have an old pocket watch dated 1902. My question is that it only has ten numbers and one hand intead of two. can you tell me what kind of watch it is.
    It has a triangle on it with the inscription A.P. CO.

  63. rocky maze Says:

    my father in law gave me a pocket watch On the face it say CARL A CLASS….inside the words Regina..Sovereign…F14K 25 YEAR…I ASSUME SERIAL NUMBER “68081″ AND ANOTHER NUMBER 2761391. CAN YOU PLEASE HELP ME AND GIVE ANY INFO YOU HAVE ON THIS WATCH…STILL WORKS TOO…THANKS ROCKY MAZE EDMONTON ALBERTA CANADA…

  64. larry flambeau Says:

    I have springfield ill, pocket watch that belong to my greatgreat grandfather
    which I am trying to find out the value of it. It is a model 1 18 size key wind&set, hunting/keywind side barrel, has roman numerials number on the face and inside sign hoyte not hoyt in very good running with the key to wind it. very excellant shape for its age. It has 4 doors on it and I think the s/n is either 1479 or could be 17081 I don`t know. I have been looking on line to find watches like it but you are the only one that I can find that had a picture like it, (hoyt private label ) Can you tell me more about my watch and some kind of value it has? If needed I can take pictures and send them. thanks

  65. bobc1951 Says:

    i have an elgin pocket watch from my grandfather i would like to find out about it here are the # case 7607858 watch# 2115621 thank you for your help

  66. Louise Jacobs Says:

    I have an open face Elgin pocket watch with 17 jewells. the number is 43614668 and I would like to know the value. I have taken it several places and have been told that it is worth from $50.00 to $600.00. I am confused and would like to know what would be a reasonable price for me to sell it for. When turned a certain way, the hands look shinny blue. It has a safety lever which is broken. Is this a railroad watch ? Any information you could give would be appreciated. I have looked on several websites and cannot find any information on this number. The case back is gold filled and has a worn design on it. Thanks

  67. A. L. Brookes Says:

    I have two (women’s) gold pocket watches. One is a Waltham,14K. On the inside of the back cover the most visible number is 265744. The other is a Lady Ethel. On the inside cover next to the mechanism it reads Providence, W.C. CO, Warranted 20 yrs, 610318. Both watches may be pink gold. Could you give me an approximate value? Thank you.

  68. Shane Lynn Says:

    Hi I have a 1865 Burlington special pocket watch. Its adjusted to temperature and positions and is a 19 jewel. Still works and tells time perfect. Casing is made of two plates of solid gold, the back has a design on it which looks to me like and the number inside watch is 2106142. I am wanting to know the true value of a Antique like this. Anything you know would be great. Thank you.

  69. Randy Bouknight Says:

    I have an old watch that has suntime on the face. It also has a 14k shell. On the inside it says six 6 jewel 2 adjustments and Galmor Watch Co. Swiss and it has the numbers 5127. I know this watch must have some type of history. Could you please help because the people around here are telling me it is priceless. One jewelry guy wanted me to leave it with him but I could not risk it. Thanks, Randy

  70. DJ Aaughn Says:

    i just received a american waltham “regina” is also inscribed on the works… cant find anything on the name regina… the pocketwatch has 9 diamonds on the back of the HC. marked 14k i know its gold….. it dates 1900. size 0 im sure of…
    thing is i cant find anything on the name “regina” on the works and i have yet to see a waltham with 9 diamonds guess what im asking is this an extremely rare watch? and of so its ~value. many thanks DJ

  71. Keith Campbell Says:

    Dear Tom,
    I have a gold pocketwatch and it says Fred McIntyre in small print under the 12 on the face of the clock. It belonged to my Grandfather.
    Is this one of the sleeper Fred McIntrye watches?
    Sincerely,
    Keith Campbell

  72. Irving Says:

    Dear Tom,
    I have a good working condition Agazzis 14k watch. on the back panel it only say warranted and a number below – 42114. The front panel is highly engraved with a carving set in a circle at the center, the back has the same cicle and engraving with nothing in the center of the circle. Can you help me ascertain its value? Your response is very much valued and appreciated.

  73. Paul Miller Says:

    Hi,
    By any chance do you know who can make a white metal case for my Vacheron & Constatin pocket watch movement charging me a decent price? Thanks in advance for your help.

  74. LEON CHUDZINSKI Says:

    Thirty years ago I inherited my grandfathers Am. Waltham pocket watch serial no. 5261648 in a ny watch case co #19343 engraved 4 color gold case pink, green, yellow and gold. The case is ornate with engraving, a monogram shield and floral boquet. The boquet is has a diamond, emerald and ruby stud as the center of each flower. It was purchased at jm rubnstein in camden nj. prob 100 years ago. Can you provide info on the watch and case? It is in excellent condition/runs and is still in the original jewelers box.

  75. wesley smith Says:

    Tom, did elgin ever make a pocket watch without jewels, mine has a hunting case and it does not show any number on jewels

  76. Carl Spalding Says:

    Tom I have a Jacole Brothers pocket watch serial # 38252 can you tell me anything about it please.

  77. Yvonne Says:

    Hi Tom,
    I found a pocket watch when clearing out my late husbands possessions, i have no idea what it is or even if it is all there. There are 2 silver pocket watches joined together with a gold chain, 1 watch is larger than the other.
    The large watch has ingraved on the inside Waltham.Mass and a number 6979418 any information that you could give me would be appreciated.

  78. Phil Meyer Says:

    Have a Waltham 23 Jewel 5 position pocket watch. Serial number 20030268. Case from Dueber ( 20Years Warranteed?) Case sn 10356961. Other engravings inside the case. Has sentimental value since it was my grandfathers. Not looking to sell, just curious of its worth. Thanks

  79. Jan Says:

    Tom, I have a pocket watch made by A&W C Co. the # on it is 34548 , it is silver do you know if has any value. Inside the working parts it has a #2695027 & BROADWAY WALTHAM,MASS. Thanks Jan

  80. Mark Anderson Says:

    I have a Gustave DuBois hunting case 18K watch. There is some rust here and there. My local watch guy said it is not worth enough to clean and fix. I like the porcelain face which is in fine condition. Any thoughts about the value range and if it is worth $5-600 to repair. Thank you.

  81. George Adams Says:

    I have an Elgin pocket watch engraved with a date of 1913 and names the number on the watch is 8175661 it has a what looks like a porcelain face and gold minute hand but no hour had or crystal we had an estimate for about $300.00 to fix it is it worth it it has been in my family since purchase. Thanks, George

  82. Tim Hollander Says:

    Hi, I recently purchased 2 Waltham Canadian faced pocket watches, serial numbers date them for 1888 and 1889. One does not state how many jewels it is but the seller stated 15 jewels, how do you tell? And the old one states 17 jewels with the railroads name plate beside it so would both be 17 jewels? Also the old one has the Sacred Heart of Christ painted on the faceplate, was this an option or someone possibly added it later and should I then have it removed for value. Thank you for your time and any response.

  83. Lou Frank Says:

    Family American Waltham pocket watch large size gold- 3 case openings, one side has 3 horse heads peering through a fence (3 tones of gold) and floral motif all around it it 3 tones of gold. Other side has a large medalion with 3 tone floral motifs around it around the sides of the base is finly engraved. inside one opening is engraved a B then a crown and 2 II under that is 467501 behind this is a faint sunburst in gold – it is still running I was told in 1957 by a jewler that it was well over a hundred years old at that time – when opening the next chamber to the works there is engraed PL Bartlett Waltham Mass at the bottom . & 4342329 at the top in center at the movement the words safety pinion. What is the year and possible value of this watch.

  84. Jim Farina Says:

    I have an 18 k gold pocket watch from the 1800′s. inside reads Breling Freres Locle Swiss 18 k # 35200. In the back of the watch all the working parts are engraved in what looks to be a leaf pattern. It has the orginal chain and key, the watch is in excellent working condition. Any idea as to the value? Many Thanks

  85. Steve Brewer Says:

    I have a quesiton: I own a antique pocket watch with the hallmark of (A.W.C.O) in a type of circle or oval. I have tested this with my Mizar M24 and it tests a strong 14k gold, I know that this is a gold hallmark, but I have been told unless it has 14k with it it is not 14k, is this correct?

  86. Jyotish Mahanti Says:

    Very interesting and educative article for collectors. I have a Hebdomas type 8 days winding pocket watch. Dial is signed “Superior Quality, 8 Days, Swiss Made” Movement does not have any thing written. Is it an ebauche of Hebdomas.?

  87. Ed Barth Says:

    sir, I have a antique gold pocket watch with the name Nomos on the face can anyone help me
    With this I believe it is from the late 1800′s to the early 1900′s.
    Thank you

  88. Bob O'Neill Says:

    I have a gold Waltham pocket watch that belonged to my grandfather. My father was born in 1898 to give you a hint of the vintage. The watch has a cover and nice sort of cross hatch engraving. It comes with a gold chain and elks tooth. It is not working.The cosmetic condition is mint. Is it worth more as gold or as a collector item ?
    Thanks
    Bob

  89. Amber J Rollis Says:

    Hi, I have become somewhat stuck trying to identify a pocket watch I have recently acquired. It is a double sided Hunters style. The case is made by C.W.C.co. number 145661, it has a crescent moon and star makers mark. The watch movement itself is made by Am. Watch Waltham the movement says A.W.W.co. WALTHAM with a number of 3549060 which if my research is correct places it in the year 1888. It also has the same crescent moon and star mark etched onto the movement plate. I have been unable to find any watch with the same case design or any with the case makers mark engraved onto the movement plate. Any information I could get on this would be helpful I especially would like to know if it’s worth appraising and insuring. Thank you for your time.

  90. Pamela Benner Says:

    Dear Mr. McIntyre, I’ve been browsing the Web for information on pocket watches re. a ladies’ watch (hunter style, I believe; i.e., it has a single hinge that anchors both the front and rear of the case, and there is a dust cover over the works) I inherited. The face, with roman numerals, identifies it as a “Waltham” watch (i.e., it does not say “American Watch Company”); it has 15J, and the case is stamped “W.W.C. Co. 14K warranted.” The works is stamped “W.W. Co., Waltham, Mass.” The serial number is 16459525; info from the Waltham Co. Website suggests a mfg. date of ca. 1908 (is this correct?). Your Web site (under “Small Wonders,” I think) attributes a grade 165, model 1907, to this watch, and also mentions Balance Pat. Reg. Breg HS. The case number is 551860 (stamped on the back and front of the case, and on the dust cover). After reading your article, I wondered if you could tell me the approx. value of this watch (as the previous writer, I don’t know if I should have it appraised and insured; I also might decide to sell it). Also, as a novice, I’m not sure, despite much reading on the Web, whether the 14K applies only to the case or to all but the working parts of the watch (I read that the jewels are sometimes set in gold, but I suspect this watch is not of that quality). The case is beautifully etched on both sides (no monogram). I had the watch cleaned (buy a reputable watch repair company in RI); it is working, and came with a long chain (chatelaine?) and a pin that could be worn w/ it. Would you be able to advise me re. potential buyers/collectors? I live in midcoast Maine but travel to Boston and RI several times per year. I wanted to register it but didn’t try to fill in the form on your Web site, as I didn’t understand some of the questions. Thank you for your time and interest. Pamela Benner

  91. Steven Grant Says:

    I have a family herloom Gold pocket watch very similar to item posting 89,
    Face: Spaulding Co.
    Case: CWC Co. Moon/star trademark #947602
    Cover edge very small print, W342368
    12″ gold chain with a gold 3 blade pocket knife dated 1912 with a diamond between 19 and 12, blades printed Krusius Bros Germany
    Inscripted BN to LW, Burlington Railway? to Great Grandfather
    I had it professionally restored and still keeps perfect time!
    Obvious question is appraisal value, but how should this be stored?
    It was given to me in an old Bolivia case with a soft fabric / pocket cover for the timepiece.
    Thanks! Steve
    It was given to me in an old Bolivia case with a soft fabric ccover for the watch

  92. Terry Maides Says:

    Everyone in the world is asking you questions, so why should I be an exception. I have an 18k Gold J.J. Badollet pocket watch that does it all. Chimes, music box, quarter hour chime repeater as I ‘ve heard someone say. It has a sailing ship engraving on the cover and runs just amazingly.
    Tried to find out more about it and came to this post. Any ideas where I can find out more about it?
    Thank you,
    Terry

  93. Denis Atkinson Says:

    I read your piece with interest but as a restorer of English, Swiss and American watches for the past 40 years I must take issue with your statement that the English, Swiss and French ‘did not build factories’. This is patently untrue in the case of English and Swiss makers. 18th and early 19th century watchmaking was indeed a cottage industry relying on outworkers but the English and Swiss certainly did build watchmaking factories from around the middle of the 19th c.
    If you research English names such as Lancashire Watch Co, H Williamson Ltd, Wm Ehrhardt Co, Rotherhams of Coventry etc you will see that they successfully produced watches by factory methods though not on the scale achieved by Waltham or Elgin. It is also fair to say that a number of English manufacturers adopted American and Swiss machinery and production methods in their factories. LWCo for example incorporated what the Americans called a ‘safety barrel’ in their movements – LWCo’s version was called a ‘reversing pinion’ but employed the same principle. Williamsons even bought a factory in Buren, Switzerland and got into deep trouble for incorporating Swiss made components in their English watches!
    It was pleasing to see that you correctly asserted that Swiss volume production was copied/borrowed from the Americans – a fact still not widely known or accepted in Europe!

  94. Tom Chiodini Says:

    Hi Tom,
    You never mentioned the Rockford pocket watch. Rockford had one of the finest watch-clock museum. Did you ever have a chance to see it?
    I have lived in Rockford all my life, 72 years, and have a good collection of Rockford pocket watches. Some are imposable to find. I am looking for an up down, 18 size, wind indicator. I do have two very early serial serial number watches. One has a two digit serial number and another a three digit serial number.
    Tom

  95. Paula McLain Says:

    We received an old pocket watch work around it in the Will of a friend of ours and have no information on it, but would love to find out about it. It is gold and has a double opening on the back with the outside engraved with a picture of a house and small boat with ornate engraving around the picture and it blank on the back side of that. It has engraving on the inside gold plate that says “J. B. Pewters, P. Press Co. 1st prize June 1905″ if you open that inside are the works and the number 5127120 and word Premier on the back of the gold with the writing. and on the woks side the same number. The front face has a shield engraved on it and ornate engraving around that. The face of the watch has roman numerals on the large dial with a smaller 60 second dial at the bottom. By the numeral 30 it has waht looks like TtT. It came with a gold chain and beautiful engraved locket attached. Any help you can give us would be greatly appreciated. I would be happy to send you photo’s if that would assist in finding out about it.

  96. Thomas Giametti Says:

    Hello Tom,
    I am so happy to have found your very informative article on Waltham watches.I recently purchased my first Waltham pocket watch made by the American watch company.Now that i have held it in my hand i know that this is just a start to what i hope will become a very nice collection.You gave such great advice to experianced and begining collectors like myself that i will feel more comfortable about my next purchase.The only reason i decieded to start collecting with a Waltham watch is because i was born in Fitchburg, Mass. Thank you for all the great info. Best wishes.
    Thomas

  97. Dean Keen Says:

    I have a pocket watch made by Hudson Watch Company, key wind, you never mentioned this company in your artical, any ideas on them, your readings were awesome, very informative, thanks, my dad worked on watches, I have his bench and tools :) thank you, Dean

  98. KEITH ORTON Says:

    I HAVE AN OPEN FACED POCKET WATCH WITH THE NAME RENOWN ON THE FACE THE ONLY WRITING ON THE MECHS.IS SWISS MADE. THE CASE IS 9 caret AND IS MARKED ELGIN ILLINOIS ,WITH NO. 4830318 STAMPED ONTHE LID, AND BODY. IS IT POSSIBLE TO DATE IT FROM THIS, AND IS IT AN ELGIN.I DONT UNDERSTAND THE SWISS MECH. IN AN ELGIN CASE, DID ELGIN USE SWISS MOVEMENTS . THANKS IN ANTICIPATION OF YOUR REPLY. KEITH ORTON

  99. Pamela Says:

    I was wondering if you know of a clock that Westclox made of a red barn with a swing pendium of a cow? Clock face has blue small hand and red big hand. The numbers are in blue, possile black. The clock you have to wind it and it is working. Do not have picture, since it is a friend of mine. On the back it has the name Well Wenkle and the name Westclox. It maybe at least 56 years old. Do you have any ideas of it worth or a picture that might tell of its histroy? Let me know if you do. Thanks.

  100. Linda Says:

    Have a Nickel Silver watch case (pocket) Illinois Co #332093. The name on it is Winner Patented in Jan. 29, 1901, April 11, 1905, June 4, 1907, June 29, 1909, May 24, 1910. made in USA. # 43750780. There isn’t any movement # or style.
    Do you have any knowledge about this watch?? Cover has picture of old steam locomotive on.

  101. mark Says:

    hi there I really enjoyed this article it gave me a lot of background info on pocket watches.

    I have an 18 k gold pocket watch that was left to me and would like to know what its worth if you could help…its a marine chronograph registered. on the inside its got a j.d stamp, a crown, something that looks like 2 in roman numeral’s ” 11″ , and a stamp in the shape of a triangle with 4 bumps. it has been engraved and the first date is 1843. it has righting on the inside in old English that I cant read an a no 2883 in it….any help would be much appreciated…thank you for your time.

  102. Visteo Says:

    A correction for you…I believe only Elgin of the Illinois towns listed is within 50 miles of Chicago….maybe within 150 miles was what you meant.

  103. Kyle D. Says:

    I’m strictly sending a message due to my complete inability to find or be told any information about a pocket watch. Originally I wanted to know value, but now this process has turned into a complete confusion of all involved. All I’ve been able to be told or educated on is a know physicians name and “Kicken” is associated with Berlin. Completely lost on what, if any significance “Postes et telegraphes” has engraved on the backside. Any help is greatly appreciated, if not I apologize for the bother.


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