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Aurora to Lancaster: The Origin of the Hamilton Watch Co.

Greg Frauenhoff

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I had intended for this to be an encyclopedia article, but for various technical reasons it seems to be simpler to make it a message board thread. I will add to it as time permits. Virtually all of the news articles, etc., are ones that I gathered over many many hours spent in the dusty stacks of libraries or are from originals in my collection. The internet has certainly made research easier these days but many of the items in this thread will be from documents not yet available on the world wide web.

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Hamilton is arguably American's most revered maker among collectors of pocket watches today. And in the interest of documenting the history of this Company it seems worthwhile to present what came before Hamilton.

Did Hamilton spring from a vacuum fully formed? Of course not! It arose after a lengthy period of experimentation, development, rises, falls, personal successes and travails, financial gains and losses, etc., in America's watchmaking industry. But it is not the intention herein to begin at the very beginning, so to speak. Rather, this page will look at what happened beginning about 1889 that lead to the formation of the Hamilton Watch Co. in late 1892. The modus operandi will be through the period news articles and notes of their time, with a little comment from today.

The Aurora Watch Co., of Aurora, Illinois, was organized in the late spring of 1883 and finished its first movement about Oct. 10, 1884. After operating at varying degrees of capacity and weathering several financial difficulties, the Company was forced into an assignment on Sept. 9, 1889.

From the Chicago Daily Interocean, Sept. 10, 1889:


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So here begins our tale. Onward to Hamilton!

After T. H. Day completes an inventory of the Company, H. H. Evans replaces him as assignee and prepares to reopen the factory. Evans is a longtime Aurora booster and was instrumental in getting Aurora a watch factory. He also donated land for the factory.

H. H. Evans (photo courtesy of Robert E. Brown):




Evans, as assignee, reopens the works. The following lengthy article gives a good overview of the Company's current situation. Aurora Weekly Herald Express Sept. 20, 1889.


 

Andy Dervan

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Greg -

Nice research and documentation on Aurora and Hamilton connection. Two key Aurora executives (former Hampton) Henry Cain and Charles Rood were important getting Hamilton established and starting off on solids footing.

Andy Dervan
 
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Greg Frauenhoff

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Greg -

Nice research and documentation on Aurora and Hamilton connection. Two key Aurora executives (former Hampton) Henry Cain and Charles Rood were important getting Hamilton established and starting off on solids footing.

Andy Dervan
Andy,

There are many more period news items to come. My plan is to post them roughly chronologically, with some back and forth between the goings on in Aurora and Lancaster. Stay tuned.

Greg
 

Greg Frauenhoff

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At the annual stockholders meeting it is decided to try and sell the Company. An offer of $100,000 is made by Eppenstein of the Chicago Watch Case Co.. (Incidentally, Eppenstein would later gain control of the Rockford Watch Co..) Aurora Weekly Herald-Express, Oct. 11, 1889.

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Assignee Evans threatens to close the factory unless some recalcitrant bond holders agree to sell their holdings for 50 cents on the dollar. But the threat becomes irrelevant as the employees quit, having not received their pay. Aurora Weekly Herald-Express, Nov. 1, 1889.

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Greg Frauenhoff

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Negotiations with Eppenstein reach an impasse. Rumors of other offers are in the air. Jewelers Circular and Horological Review, Nov. and Dec., 1889.

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Meanwhile, in Lancaster, Pa., superintendent H. J. Cain of the Keystone Standard Watch Co. is readying new movements for the market. Cain will feature prominently in the saga that follows. Jewelers Circular and Horological Review, Oct., 1889.

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In other news, H. J. Cain is still superintendent of Keystone and Charles Rood is still an officer with the Hampden Watch Co.. Together they visited the Aurora plant several times during Rood's failed negotiation for it. The two of them have been "collaborators" in the watch business since their days together with the Hampden Watch Co starting about 1876. Jewelers Circular and Horological Review, Mar., 1890.

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Greg Frauenhoff

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Pictorial digression. c. 1885 photograph of the Aurora watch factory. This picture appears in several publications during the 1960s and 70s (Aurora Beacon News, Aurora Story by Vernon Derry, Thrift Corner Yarns) but without any attribution. The origin of the original is unknown. This print is from the author's collection.

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Besides the famous and monied big wigs, regular Joes were important to the American watch industry. Here's a regular Jane: Anna Lacy. According to information related to Robert E. Brown from Kathyrn Cordell she worked in the Aurora jewelling department beginning around 1884 (having previously been with the Rockford Watch Co.). Here is her picture along with her loupe (author's collection).

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Rood makes an offer for the Aurora watch factory plant. Protracted negotiations with Evans, the assignee, ensue. Aurora Daily News, Dec. 5, 1889, Dec. 7, 1889, Jan. 1, 1890, Jan. 15, 1890, Jan. 21, 1890, Jan. 22, 1890.

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Greg,

Thank you for the original research. Your efforts to track down contemporaneous accounts provides a much more complete picture than repackaging research by others that is often incomplete and inaccurate.

Regards,

Dewey
 
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Greg Frauenhoff

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Hard feelings (and libelous language) abound following the breakdown of negotiations between Rood and Evans. Rood makes it clear that "he would complete the purchase only if no conditions whatever in regard to the location or time of running the factory were stipulated." Jewelers Circular and Horological Review, Apr., 1890.

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There are still attempts to persuade some of the local Aurorans to get money together and take over the works, especially if T. H. Day will take charge, but nothing comes about. There are also rumors of other interested parties: one from Pueblo, Colo. (The Pittsburgh of the West) and a Mr. Newton Perry. But H. H. Evans is disgusted and "will make no further effort to save the factory for Aurora". Aurora Daily Express, May 8, 1890, and Aurora Daily News, Mar. 24, 1890.

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To satisfy the outstanding bonds, etc., the Aurora watch factory is ordered to be sold at auction and on Aug. 30, 1890, it falls to the hammer at $34,000. The purchasers are a syndicate fronted by James O. Mason, E. W. Trask and S. D. Seamons. Chas. Rood is a bit coy about his involvement (probably because of his continued involvement with the rival Hampden Watch Co.) but it will soon become clear that the new majority owners are Rood and H. J. Cain. Aurora Weekly Herald-Express, Sept. 5, 1890, Jewelers Circular and Horological Review, Sept., 1890, The Manufacturing Jeweler, Oct. 7, 1890.

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Hmmm.......Considering that there were two offers to buy Aurora for $100,000 (free of any encumbrances) and that T. H. Day's inventory showed approx. $100,000 in finished movements and material for same (see below), the Rood syndicate got one helluva deal at $34,000! H. H. Evans insistence that the factory stay in Aurora dearly cost the bond holders, etc..

T. H. Day's inventory figures (far right column). Aurora Weekly Herald-Express, Sept. 20, 1889.

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Even though some of the finished movements were used to settle the wages owed workers, there must certainly have been quite a few left over, for in November (just a month or so after work at the factory resumed) there were a large number of finished movements and ones in process. The Manufacturing Jeweler, Nov. 11, 1890.

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Exactly how the ownership of the new Aurora Watch Co. was divided up in 1890 isn't known to the author, but the figures below from late 1892 are probably a good reflection of the split. Rood and Cain were majority owners. The Manufacturing Jeweler, Oct. 4, 1892.

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Interestingly, E. W. Trask held a substantial share ($5,000) in the new Aurora company. Trask was an early major investor in Aurora (the first one, that is) and became its first company president. Photo of E. W. Trask (believed to be at far left) in front of his jewelry store Trask & Plain in Aurora. 1889, photo courtesy of the Aurora Historical Society.

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New owners, new president (Rood) and superintendent (Cain). Cain moves quickly to reopen the Aurora works, even ordering new machinery. Jewelers Circular and Horological Review, Oct., 1890, Aurora Daily Express, Sept. 26, 1890, Jewelers Circular and Horological Review, Oct., 1890, The Manufacturing Jeweler, Oct. 7, 1890, Oct. 21, 1890, and Oct. 28, 1890.

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Meanwhile, in Lancaster, Pa., things aren't very rosy. In April, 1890, the Keystone Standard Watch Co. (successor to the Lancaster Watch Co.) is forced into an assignment under D. Ramsay Patterson. Similar moves are underway to dissolve the Keystone Watch Club Company. And the sheriff takes possession of the Atkinson Bros. watch dealer establishment. The three firms are separate but interconnected: William J. and George H. Atkinson are involved with all.

In a rather bizarre admission, D. Ramsay Patterson claims "that the company (Keystone Standard) is not altogether insolvent. We have no connection with Atkinson Brothers, or the Keystone Watch Club Co., of this city, beyond the fact that the jewelry concern had contracted for the entire supply of the company" (emphasis added).

Incidentally, Henry J. Cain, superintendent of Keystone Standard, has a claim of $520 against the company.

The Keystone, May, 1890.


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Back to Aurora. "Well-defined rumors" indicate Rood has an interest in moving the Aurora works back east, probably to the old Hampden plant in Springfield, Mass.. The Manufacturing Jeweler, Dec. 9, 1890, Dec. 16, 1890, Aurora Weekly Herald-Express, Dec. 26, 1890.

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John C. Dueber nixes the idea of Aurora occupying the factory buildings in Springfield, Mass.. He owns the pertinent property there. Tension is brewing between Dueber and Rood, who are both officials with the Hampden Watch Co.. It seems likely that the Hampden people are not "amused" with Rood, an owner of a rival firm, wearing "two hats". Jewelers Circular and Horological Review, Jan., 1891.

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Rood continues to look for somewhere east to move his Aurora Watch Co.. The Western Jeweler, Mar. 28, 1891, Jewelers Circular and Horological Review, Apr. 15, 1891.

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A little summary so far. Chas. Rood and Henry Cain (majority owners) purchased the defunct Aurora Watch Co. at auction for a song. Cain takes on the superintendency at Aurora, ordering new machinery, hiring workers and preparing to reopen the plant. Rood begins looking around for an eastern locale for his new enterprise. The Keystone Standard Watch Co. has also failed.
 

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Aurora news.

About 50 hands, 13000(!) movements in vault and finishing department. Jewelers Circular and Horological Review, Dec., 1890.

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100 hands finishing about 40 of the old movements per day. Works progresses on new models and automatic machinery. The Manufacturing Jeweler, Jan. 6, 1891.

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Henry Cain is completing a new model of open face movement. Unlike the old one the 5th pinion will be removed and it will have a straight line, rather than right angle, escapement. Also, one of the grades will bear the name "John C. Perry". The Manufacturing Jeweler, Feb. 2, 1891, Feb. 10, 1891.

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Greg Frauenhoff

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Chas. Rood and Henry Cain were two members of an important watch industry triumvirate. The third member was John C. Perry. Their association began with the New York Watch Co. of Springfield, Mass., continued through the Hampden Watch Co., and, after Cain's short stint as superintendent of the Keystone Standard Watch Co., they reunited with the reorganized Aurora Watch Co. in 1890. The three would, in the near future, continue their collaboration with the Hamilton Watch Co.. Rood was a money man, Cain a mechanical one and Perry a salesman.

John C. Perry and his signature. Author's collection.

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Back to Lancaster. Recall that the Keystone Standard Watch Co. went into receivership in Apr. 1890. From there things follow an all too familiar tale.

Assignee plans to startup factory and finish material on hand. The Western Jeweler, Dec. 6, 1890.

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Plant to be sold on Apr. 16, 1891, to satisfy the mortgage, etc.. The Keystone, Apr., 1891.

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Things don't go as planned because on Aug. 15, 1891, the factory is again to be auctioned off. The
Western Jeweler, Aug. 8, 1891

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But the highest bid is insufficient, so the plant remains unsold. The Western Jeweler, Au. 29, 1891.

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A minor digression. An odd but telling rumor from Feb, 1891: Rood denies he has been negotiating to consolidate the Lancaster and Aurora companies. Odd because at this date Rood doesn't own the Keystone Standard Watch Co.; telling because it again shows Rood's determination to find an eastern site to relocate his Aurora watch works. The Western Jeweler, Feb. 24, 1891.

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AT LAST! On Oct. 2, 1891, Rood and Cain buy the Keystone Standard Watch Co. in a private sale. The Jewelers Circular and Horological Review, Oct. 7, 1891.

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Rood and Cain move quickly to reopen the Keystone Standard Watch factory. Significantly, Thomas Pendergast, not Henry Cain, will be in charge. Cain will continue his work in Aurora. The Western Jeweler, Oct. 31, 1891, The Manufacturing Jeweler, Nov. 24, 1891.

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Where things stand in the fall of 1891. Rood and Cain control both the Aurora Watch Co. and the Keystone Standard Watch Co.. In Aurora, Cain has made a new model movement, ordered new machinery and is supervising the completion of a substantial amount of material on hand into saleable movements. Thomas Pendergast is in Lancaster overseeing a similar movement finishing process there.
 

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Sept. 16, 1891, Aurora issues a net price list of movements (author's collection). The list includes 11 grades of 18 size stem-wind hunting movements and 11 of open-face lever-set ones. They are all of the same models as those previously made by the company. Although Cain has designed and made a prototype of a new open-face movement (see above), no such movements are known to have been manufactured in Aurora.

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Interestingly, although Aurora had previously made pendant-setting ones, the open-face grades in this price list are only offered as lever-set. Why? Waltham and Elgin sued Aurora for patent infringement and won. No collusion there... Jewelers Circular and Horological Review, Sept., 1890.

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The Aurora Watch Co. was organized in 1883 and most of the mechanical men (G. F. Johnson, A. H. Cleaves, W. H. Day and C. C. Hinckley) were previously employed by the Illinois Watch Co. of Springfield. In fact, Hinckley designed the Aurora watch while he was still in Springfield! So it should come as no surprise that the 18 size Aurora models (both hunting and open-face) bear a decent resemblance to the Illinois models of the time.

One important feature that the Aurora and Illinois open-face models share is a fifth pinion. The purpose of such was to reduce the differences in parts between hunting and open-face models. Basically, to "convert" a hunting model to an open-face version all that was needed was an extra pinion (the 5th) situated 90 degrees from the 4th pinion that ran off the third wheel. A few other minor alterations included a different dial and a shortened 4th pinion.

Here are the two 18 size Aurora models: left hunting, and right open-face. They look very similar except that the open-face version has a 5th pinion.

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The 18 size Aurora models are both full plate with right angle escapements (that is, the balance pivot, pallet arbor and escape pinion form a right angle). In contrast, the 18 size Keystone movement is a 3/4 plate design, vastly different from the Aurora.

img670.jpg

As noted above, in 1891 Henry Cain made an open-face model with the 5th pinion removed and a straight-line escapement (that is, the balance pivot, pallet arbor and escape pinion are in a straight line). Below is an 18 size open-face Hamilton movement. Like the description of Cain's model, it has a straight-line escapement and lacks the 5th pinion. It is also, like the Aurora, a full plate model; very different from the 3/4 plate Keystone one.

img668.jpg

It is unknown to the author whether Henry Cain's open-face prototype of 1891 has survived or not. But a hunting model Aurora prototype has. Given that Henry Cain, besides making a new open-face prototype, would have likely made a hunting one as well, it seems entirely reasonable that this piece was also made by Cain.

This prototype has been described previously by Tom Richards (NAWCC Bulletin, whole number 211, pg. 146). It was purchased from Hamilton by an employee around 1970 and subsequently sold to Mr. Richards. It is now in the author's collection. Left is the hunting prototype with straight-line escapement, right is an 18 size hunting model Hamilton.

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The two are by no stretch identical, but the left one is certainly headed in the direction of the right one.
 
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Sept. 16, 1891, Aurora issues a net price list of movements (author's collection). The list includes 11 grades of 18 size stem-wind hunting movements and 11 of open-face lever-set ones. They are all of the same models as those previously made by the company. Although Cain has designed and made a prototype of a new open-face movement (see above), no such movements are known to have been manufactured in Aurora.

View attachment 672733

Interestingly, although Aurora had previously made pendant-setting ones, the open-face grades in this price list are only offered as lever-set. Why? Waltham and Elgin sued Aurora for patent infringement and won. No collusion there... Jewelers Circular and Horological Review, Sept., 1890.

View attachment 672734
Maybe this isn't an important question in the context of the history you're laying out, Greg, but when and why did Aurora discontinue making lever-set hunting-style watches? I have one of those from around 1886, so I know they made them.
 
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Lee,

So far as I know, all of Aurora's stem-wind hunting movements are lever-set. It's the open-face ones that were at one time offered in either lever or pendant setting. If you have a non-lever set hunting stem-wind Aurora I'd certainly like to see it.

Greg
 
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Oh, OK, thanks, Greg. I read Post #33 wrong. Sorry. Mine is stem wind, level set for sure.
 

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Thanks for all the info Greg. Would really love to see this as an article. Question, Harrold says Cain was working on a full plate watch while in Lancaster in 1890 and the factory was closed to retool for the full plate design. Was this the same design that shows up as Cain's prototype in 1891 that you show above?
 
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Greg Frauenhoff

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George,

I will need to check Mike's excellent article, but so far as I know (from the extensive period news items that I've gathered) Cain was superintendent at Aurora from 1890 to 1892, except for some short trips east. Nothing I've found has shown him in Lancaster in 1890 working on a full plate movement. If Mike has an important reference contradicting this then I will check it out.

Cheers,

Greg
 
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George,

Mike references the Jewelers Circular & Horological Review, Mar. 1890, wherein mention is made that Cain is working on a new full-plate movement at the Keystone Standard Watch Co. (thanks for the heads up, I'd missed this reference). However, Keystone soon failed/shutdown and didn't open again, in any significant way, until Oct. 1891. Whether Cain incorporated any of his previous full plate movement ideas into the prototype that he worked on in Aurora is a question that I can't answer.

To all,

BTW, Mike Harrold has written a fantastic Bulletin article (Whole Number 340, pg. 547) titled "Charles Rood and Henry Cain: Origins of the Hamilton Watch Company". He covers much of the same stuff as this thread, but also the earlier Rood and Cain years. My thread is focused exclusively on the goings on from the fall of 1889 (when Aurora failed) to early 1893 (when Hamilton starts up). Also, I've tried to present the story, as much as possible, through the words of the time, with only some "editorial" comments to help move the story along.

More to follow,

Greg
 
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Interesting little tidbits of info. I love these little crumbs we run across. Cain probably had the new design in his head even before he went to Lancaster and I'd put odds that this full plate design they were tooling up for turned into your prototype. How similar are the workings of your prototype to the first Hamiltons? Setting mechanism, gear train etc?
 
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George,

The setting mechanism on Cain's Aurora prototype is typical (identical to?) Aurora. I'd need to double check to confirm. As for the train, etc., I don't know as I've never had it apart.

As you say, it seems likely that Cain had a full plate design in mind for a long time. Which is actually interesting in that the big guys (Waltham and Elgin) eventually moved away from traditional style full plates on their higher end 18s grades; Waltham with the 1892 model and Elgin with the Veritas. Hamilton stuck with full plate for their 18s movements until the bitter end.

To all,

I'm aware that period news items are not always accurate. Some are rumors, some are confused and some are just plain wrong. I've tried to avoid the last category.

FWIW, here's an example of an item that, in my opinion, is confused.

The Manufacturing Jeweler, Nov. 24, 1891.
img656.jpg

I find it hard to believe that Pendergast expected to finish and ship 25,000 movements from Keystone between Nov. 1891 and Feb. 1, 1892. In my opinion, this is a confused news item. It seems way more probable (and doable) that the order was for $25,000 in movements (ball park of 4000-6000 movements). But then maybe I'm the confused one!

Greg
 
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4thdimension

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Superb research and article Greg which deserves to be put in print some day. So what was the Keystone Watch Club Co. you refer to in post #23? I have a nifty trade card for them but had not seen any reference to them before. The card has a red piece of celluloid that unscrambles the print on the front.-Cort

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Superb research and article Greg which deserves to be put in print some day. So what was the Keystone Watch Club Co. you refer to in post #23? I have a nifty trade card for them but had not seen any reference to them before. The card has a red piece of celluloid that unscrambles the print on the front.-Cort

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Cort,

There were a number of watch clubs in the 1880s and early 1890s. Eons ago, Nahum Lewis wrote about them in the Bulletin and I contributed a short note to the Bulletin on an Aurora made for the "Union Watch Club". The Keystone Watch Club appears to have been a rather large enterprise and dealt in watches made from Keystone Standard Watch Co. movements and (as I recall) Metropolitan watch cases. Some watch clubs were rather small ones run by the hometown jeweler. Often, the club mvts were specially marked (private labels), e. g. American Watch Club (or some such, these being made by Columbus).

The idea was you joined a club and went to the weekly (or so) meeting. You paid a buck, then a club member's name was drawn and he received his watch. You showed up next week and paid a buck (or so), etc.. Eventually, your name would be drawn and you'd get your watch. Trouble was the guy who got his watch early on had little incentive to keep attending the club meetings (and paying in a buck). If everyone was local I suppose there was peer pressure on the lucky early "winners". All in all, it was a quasi installment plan to sell watches.

I'll get back to the story of this thread soon.

Greg
 
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4thdimension

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Reading through the articles presented in post#23 it seems the Keystone Watch Club Co. was an independent marketing arm of Keystone Watch Co. who happened to have contracted for the entirety of the latter’s output. Is that about right?-Cort. Just read your response, thank you. It sounds a bit crooked but the card is reassuring “money paid to us is not forfeited”. Well OK-Cort
 
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Comparison of the setting mechanisms of the Aurora prototype discussed above and a regular Aurora movement. Left photo from Tom Richards, NAWCC Bulletin, whole number 211. They are essentially identical.

img683.jpg img684.jpg
 
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The "widow's cruse of oil"! Still lots-o-material in Aurora to finish. The Manufacturing Jeweler, Nov. 10, 1891.

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What will be done with the Aurora works? The Manufacturing Jeweler, Dec. 15, 1891.

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Aurora to move to Springfield, Mass.? Jewelers Circular and Horological Review, Feb. 3, 1892.

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Rumor that Cain will soon begin manufacture of an entirely watch. It never happens in Aurora. The Manufacturing Jeweler, Feb. 16, 1892.

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What's going on in Lancaster?

Recall that Rood and Cain bought the "Keystone Standard Watch factory with machinery and material" on Oct. 2, 1891, from assignee D. Ramsay Patterson. Jewelers Circular and Horological Review, Oct. 7, 1891.

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With Pendergast in charge, Keystone reopens and is filling a large order from Oppenheimer Bros.. The movements, greatly discounted, are offered for sale. Jewelers Circular and Horological Review, Nov. 11, 1891.

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But wait! Local dealers Bowman & Musser, prior to Rood and Cain's purchase in Oct. 1891, had bought Keystone's "entire stock of desirable finished Watch Material". Jewelers Circular and Horological Review, July 1, 1891.

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And then on Apr. 27, 1892, Hugh M. North is identified as the purchaser of the Keystone Watch Factory. Did he buy only the buildings and real estate? Assignee Patterson offers to "waive all claim to the machinery" for $5000 but North declines. Jewelers Circular and Horological Review, Apr. 27, 1892.

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What's going on? What exactly did Rood and Cain buy on Oct. 2, 1891? Bowman & Musser had already purchased the material. In Apr., 1892, North owned the factory and (maybe) the machinery. Did Rood and Cain just get the finished movements and ones in process? Did Rood and Cain sellout to North after they had denuded the company of easily saleable movements? Beats me. North will show up later in a significant way.
 
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