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Illinois Watch Case Co.

The Illinois Watch Case Co. started in Chicago in 1886 and, within a few years, moved to Elgin, IL. It continued making cases until the 1940s.


[top]Illinois Watch Case Co.: A Brief History

The following information on the Illinois Watch Case Co., of Elgin, Illinois is from the article, "Historic value? Case closed Elgin's Illinois Watch Case Co. site to receive state historical marker.:"
Max and Solomon Eppenstein founded the company in Chicago in 1886. A few years later, after producing about 20,000 cases, the firm was lured to Elgin by the offer to assist with a building and a parcel of land upon which to build it. By the 1930s, this was quite a substantial operation. Despite the questionable use of the name "Elgin" (see below) the Illinois Watch Case Co. was a reputable company, standing behind its guarantees, and it continued to make cases at least as late as the 1940's. U.S. patent No. 2601029, "Method Of Making A Thickened Reinforced Portion In A Relatively Thin Metal Plate," was awarded to David M. King, assignor to Illinois Watch Case Co. on June 17, 1952. The manufacturing plant and office equipment was sold at public auction in 1957.

[top]What's In A Name

At one point, the company name was said to have been changed to the Elgin National Watch Case Co. In actuality, it was changed to the Elgin Watch Case Co. in 1891, upon the company's move to Elgin. At various times the company advertised its products as "Elgin Watch Cases" and prefaced their case names with the word "Elgin." In catalog cuts of their cases (which were made available to jobbers and retailers to use in catalogs and advertising), where other case companies placed their names, such as "Wadsworth," "Dueber," "Roy," etc., the Illinois Watch Case Co. placed the name "Elgin." An 1895 Elgin Watch Case Ad serves as an example of the overwhelming use of the name "Elgin." This seems a bit odd insofar as the company name was changed back to be the Illinois Watch Case Co. in 1893. The extensive use of the name "Elgin" could be construed to give the impression that the watch case company was associated with the well-known Elgin Watch Co.

There was no association between the two and the watch company eventually brought suit against the case company to prevent them from using the "Elgin" name. The suit was decided in the favor of the watch company in the lower courts in 1898, but the decision was overturned in the Supreme Court. The citation for that case is Elgin Nat. Watch Co. v. Illinois Watch Case Co., 179 U.S. 665 (1901), as reported by John F. (in a message board post on July 11, 2002). Nevertheless, following the court rulings, the Illinois ads were toned down.

Later on, cases were advertised as made by, and were labeled with, the name Elgin Giant Watch Case Co. documents show that this was a part of the Illinois Watch Case Co. or that both operated under the same umbrella.

There may also be some confusion as to whether there was an association between the Illinois Watch Case Co. and the Illinois Watch Company. There wasn't.

[top]The Purchase of the Rockford Watch Co.

Two of the principles of the Illinois Watch Case Co., J. Franks and M.C. Eppenstein, purchased the Rockford Watch Co. in 1901. The connection was discussed in the trade press:
"The Rockford Watch and the Illinois Watch Case factories will be operated jointly with respect to the output, but will remain separate plants so far as mechanical workings are concerned. ... The general offices of the Rockford Watch Co. in Chicago will be located at the Illinois Watch Case Co.'s salesrooms, ninth floor Silversmiths' building, and joint branch offices of the two companies established at all points where the case company now have representatives."
Jewelers' Circular - Weekly and Horological Review, May 22, 1901, page 24.

[top]Case Grades


Case GradeCase Material
.925 FineSterling Silver
AdamsYellow - Mat'l not currently known
ArrowChrome-plated "Base Metal" marked on edge. 1930s+
Bona FideGold-Filled, guaranteed for 20 years
CommanderGold-Filled, guaranteed for 20 years up to March 1895, 25 years after 1899.
Elgin Giant10K Gold-Filled, guaranteed for 20 years up to March 1900. Also, during the late 'teens and 1920s, cases were made under the name Elgin Giant Watch Case Co.
Elgin Pride16K Gold-Filled, guaranteed for 25 years up to 1900, 1/4 gold (25% weight was gold) thereafter.
Elgin TigerRolled Gold Plate, guaranteed for 5 Years, also 14K Gold-Filled, guaranteed for 15 years.
Empire (posted by Squite)Gold-Filled, guaranteed for 25 years.
FamousGold-colored Base Metal
MonitorGold-Filled, guaranteed for 5 years
NapoleonGold-Filled, guaranteed for 10 years up to 1900, 25 years later
Nickel SilverNickel
NubianGun Metal, some w/ Gold Inlays (both courtesy artbissell).
Pride-of-Elgin16K Gold-Filled, guaranteed for 25 years up to 1900, 1/4 gold (25% weight was gold) thereafter.
RamonaGold-Filled, Double Stock, guaranteed for 20 years
Royal GoldenComposition
SpartanBase Metal, chrome-plated case, introduced in the very late 1920s or in the 1930s.
Supreme (posted by dwndler)Gold-Filled (posted by rjene), guaranteed for 10 years - in earlier years
SupremeBase Metal and/or chrome-plated case, introduced in the very late 1920s or in the 1930s.
Tivoli14K Gold-Filled, Post-1924
TornadoBase Metal, chrome-plated case, introduced post-1930.
UnmarkedNickel
The Winner (Horse Head Trade Mark)Gold-filled, guaranteed for 20 years (courtesy mmoen)

See the Case Material Encyclopedia article for an explanation of the terms.

[top]References


Online

A number of Illinois' trade marks (but not all) may be seen on page 117 of the book Trade Marks Of The Jewelry And Kindred Trades, Second Edition, Jewelers' Circular Publishing Co., NY, 1904 (found online by Askbart).

Illinois Watch Case Co. cases are listed in the M.C. Eppenstein & Co. Pocket Price List, undated - but appears to be early 1890s, pages 24-44; Tiger RGP 48-49 and 58-63. Courtesy of the Internet Archive and the Winterthur Library (located by Richard Beauchamp).


Books
The following books are available to members on loan by mail from the NAWCC Lending Library, using the Lending Library Form.

History of the American Watch Case, Warren H. Niebling, Whitmore Publishing, Philadelphia, PA, 1971.


Articles

"A Pictorial View of American Watchcase Factories," Andrew H. Dervan, NAWCC Watch & Clock Bulletin No. 396, March/April 2012, pp. 179-180 (available online to NAWCC members who are currently logged in).

"Historic value? Case closed Elgin's Illinois Watch Case Co. site to receive state historical marker.,"Jerry Turnquist, Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), April 29, 2007

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