Popular during the Victorian Era, watch fobs were medallions or ornaments attached to a pocket watch by a strap, chain, or ribbon to help the wearer locate and retrieve their timepiece. Similar to key chains, watch fobs came in a variety of types, each with its own style and function. Fobs could be decorative, informative, and functional, all at the same time. Created largely for men, today they are considered "mantiques."
While many fobs were purely decorative, the rest were divided into three major categories: simple (the watch-owner's initials, state seals), fraternal (unions and organizations, including the military), and advertising (personal-sized billboard proclaiming everything from one's political allegiances to their local bank).
In the advertising category, patriotic and political fobs featured such nationalistic emblems as Miss Liberty, a shamrock, or national crests and flags, as well as campaign slogans and images. General advertising fobs touted such products as clothing (the Adamant Suit Co.) and food (Heinz Ketchup, Coca-Cola).
Some collectors focus their collections on fobs that advertised industrial products, from tractors to oil-field equipment and materials. Others seek out local fobs produced in relatively limited numbers for such events and organizations as the State Fair of Texas, the Glen Lumber Co. of Kansas City, and the Wichita Commercial Club.
While fobs were made from a variety of materials, brass or nickel-plated brass fobs are most common. Collectors should know that most advertising fobs stamped “sterling silver” are not authentic period pieces, although there are exceptions. Celluloid fobs are also rare. More common are brass and nickel-plated fobs. Rarer are ones that incorporate compasses and celluloid buttons, and old ones that use colorful enamelwork into their designs.