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Civil War Watches

G

G Chalmers

I just finished reading an interesting article on the recovery of artifacts from aboard the CSS Hunley (conferate submarine). There was mention of the recovery of the lieutenant's pocket watch. No make was stated in the story. What would have been the the most common pocket watches carried during the civil war?
 
G

G Chalmers

I just finished reading an interesting article on the recovery of artifacts from aboard the CSS Hunley (conferate submarine). There was mention of the recovery of the lieutenant's pocket watch. No make was stated in the story. What would have been the the most common pocket watches carried during the civil war?
 

Jon Hanson

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American Watch Co, Waltham, Mass products.
 

Tom McIntyre

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The movement of the Hunley watch is still encrusted in the material it gathered over the years on the bottom. However, it was x-rayed and a good guess (courtesy of Dan Nied) is that it was a Tobias watch. A similar movement was added to the display at the NAWCC Museum. The display also included a ladies watch worn by Lt. Dixon's fiancee.

An earlier discussion on this topic is old ref::Hunley.
 

hc3

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Probably more Swiss watches were carried during the war than American ones.
 

Jeff Hess

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My guess would be Swiss as the number one watch and English (Liverpudlian) as number two.

Jeff H
 

Whit Joyner

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I've seen the collection of watches in the Museum Of The Confederacy (a couple of dozen), and the ones that are wartime (or earlier) products are almost all English. (A few are post-war, donated by soldiers' descendants who didn't know the age of the watch.)

Whit
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Dave Chaplain

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Prior to the civil war the confederate states had a very healthy trade with England through the ports of New Orleans, Mobile, Charleston and Baltimore. This trade, although slowed by blockades and inspections, continued throughout the war. The prize trading commodity was cotton for the textile trade in England, but lots of other items accompanied every shipment in both directions.

I've seen several Civil war era English made Tobias watches signed by jewelers in New Orleans, Mobile and Baltimore. It seems Tobias didn't switch to Swiss ebauche sources until after the war, in the late 1870's or 1880's.

At the same time, the English were losing market share to the Waltham watch company, especially in the North. Waltham apparently sold mostly Wm Ellery grade watches to the civil war soldiering population, who more than likely followed President Lincolns endorsement of the Wm Ellery grade Waltham watch by carrying one himself.

Dave
 
K

kt66brooklyn

I dug up a post that is a few months old on Civil war watches. In it, one poster mentions jewelers from various southern cities. I would very much like to see more southern examples.

I may have a watch that was cased down south, this is why I am interested.

I mentioned it in a previous post. It is a Josheph Johnson (25 Church street) Liverpool movement in an american case with hallmarks.

The marks are An eagle (with sheild), l8 and the casemaker's name "Langsdorf".

Any info on other southern casemakers would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks,
Jason
 

Dave Chaplain

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In 1854 there was a "J. Langsdorf Philadelphia. J. Rosenstein St. Louis" who advertised as "Importers and jobbers in English, French, German and Domestic Fancy Goods and Gold Jewelry, No. 176 Main Street, St. Louis."

Could be a lead ... maybe not.

Dave
 
K

kt66brooklyn

Dave,

That's as much of a lead as I have had. The date is just about right for the watch.

Thanks,
Jason
 

Greg Frauenhoff

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Re Lincoln's watch, my recollection is that the mention of his carrying a Waltham is from Sandberg's tome and that the serial number reported for the mvt in question is perhaps a little off for the civil war era. I'm sure Dave or someone else can dig out the info on this as I don't have a copy of Sandberg. I do recall reading in another work on Lincoln that he carried a Swiss pocket watch. Of course, he might have had more than one watch during his time as President. Then there's the watch(es) that he had made special by his friends in Springfield with his name on it ( ;).
 
K

kt66brooklyn

It would be interesting to know if any of Lincoln's watches survive. There are a number of museums and libraries with various things.

Jason
 

Mike Miller

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Jason,

I was at the Chicago Historical Society in February. They have a small display on Lincoln and among the artifacts is an 18S Gold Hunter Case KW/KS Pocket Watch that is supposedly one of Lincoln's. It was engine turned, well worn, with his initials. The face was open revealing a simple single sunk dial with no name. It looked to be like one you might find on a Waltham M57 Home grade movement. It was a weekend and the curator wasn't there to tell me more.

I've been meaning to follow up by contacting them for more info, but haven't gotten around to it. Anyone know "The rest of the story?"
 
K

kt66brooklyn

Mile,

THat's interesting. There is probably a good story that goes along with the watch.

This period of watch making is beginning to look very interesting to me. It is the beginning of the great American industry. It seems that the case makers got there first. Once the folks in Waltham and Roxbury got started making movements of their own, they began to draw on the pre-existing industry of case making to produce cases in ever greater numbers.

The eagle stamp that many case makers employed variations of seems to play a very important role in all of this. First, fake English hallmarks are emplyed, most likely because they are a known symbol of quality and status. Then the eagle comes in. THe case makers stick with the eagles long after they drop the fake English hall marks. The eagle seems to persist well into the era of mass production. This suggests that the eariler case makers were drawn into the larger industry.

This has a parallel in other American industries. Several Philadelphia hand saw makers adopted the eagle symbol in the early l9th century. First, it was stammped deeply into the brass parts of the saw. Later, the eagle appeared cast into fancy screw heads.

It might, as an old Bulletin article suggests, derive from a coin with an eagle back that was minted in about l8l0 or so.

Enough of my rambling. The next thing I'm going to do is read the latest Bulletin about these cases.

Thanks,
Jason
 

Greg Davis

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This topic does raise some interesting questions about provenance.

All too often we see watches advertised as being "Civil War watches," but without an unbroken line of provenance or some irrefutable evidence (such as a bill of sale with a CW combantant's name and a date prior to the conflict), how does one KNOW that a watch was actually carried by a soldier in the war?

The discussion of Lincoln's watch(es) shows just how difficult the problem can be. You would think that if ANYONE'S watch(es) could be traced, it would be the watch(es) owned by the man who was president during that time. And yet even in that case it is unclear whether a particular watch really belonged to him during that time. And if it can be unclear with the most famous man of the era, how much less likely is it that we can know to a certainty whether ANY watch belonged to John Q Average infantryman?

It is asserted that most common soldiers (and now we hear the American President) carried import watches. Sounds reasonable, but does not bode well for those trying to trace definitive provenance. Foreign manufacturers would sell movements in bulk to jobbers, who would sell smaller lots to jewelers, who would sell individual watches to people. Hard to believe specific serial number records survive to this day documenting those transactions.

So how can we know beyond a doubt that a watch served its duty in the pocket of a Union or Confederate soldier?

The truth is we probably can't make such definitive connections in the vast majority of cases. I have quite a few watches of the period, and I like to believe some of them were owned by soldiers who fought bravely and survived to pass the watches on to their families. For all I know, they were carried by the cowards that ran from duty, hid in caves, and ate rats and squirrels to survive until the war ended and they could return home to sire new generations of rat-eating cowards. :)

Personally, I doubt we can get positive answers to most of these questions. But I do not wish to discourage the hunt for such information. I just want to suggest we learn to appreciate the watches for what they are, and not to be too anxious to tie them to a specific historical significance that we cannot substantiate. It would be a shame for a historically insignificant watch to become a victim of neglect in the 21st century just because it turned out to have been left at home during the civil war. Watches didn't fight, nor win congressional medals of honor. They performed the same duty during war time or peace time, so it really makes next to no difference whether a particular watch was used in the conflict or not.

- Greg
 
K

kt66brooklyn

My particular watch has no particular connection to the Civil War at all. The only connection it might have is having been in existance already at the time of the Civil War.

I think the watches of this era raise some interesting questions. Members of this board have the very best examples of American watches from, say, the l890s. THey might also have some of the first great watches from the l850s.

What some have not focused much attention on is what the best watches available in the US in , say, the l840s. Chances are that those watches were highly jeweled European movements with American cases. It is these watches which were still in the majority when the Civil War was fought.

Jason
 

Don Dahlberg

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Last year we a really great little exibit in the NAWCC library. It centered on a stack of letters from James C. Beitel, 20 year old watchmaker and soldier for the Union, 153rd Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteers. Here is just part of two letter.

"Yesterday I mended a mainspring in a watch. It had one ring in the ceter broken off, so I took my candle and made it soft first, then I rolled it up again. Tell Richard if he could mend one once without a blowpipe, he is fit to make anything in the watch line. I got $1 to make it.

The watches I received. The one with the open face I traded away on a hunting case lever, brand new. It went at first about 5 hours too slow, so I took a couple of rings of the hair spring off. It goes now very good. I got $4 to boot, it cost xx (can't read this) so I made a little something on the watches for nothing."

In another letter: "I have now 3 watches to fix yet, two to clean. I get 75 cts for cleaning them each. I sold one of my old steel keys, which I had a couple of years, for 20 cts and he was glad to get it at that. My watch I could have sold already for $12, but he could only pay $5 on it, so I did not do it. As soon as they get paid off again I will sell it for sure. I will make something at it yet. The watch did not cost me anything so I can't lose anything."

He continued to fix watches by campfire and had his family send him parts, as well as watches to sell. His father and brother were in the business in Nazareth, PA.

He died in April of 1942 at the age of 99 years, 10 months.

Don
 

Jon Hanson

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a BIG trap watch:

1. one with nos close to the actual ones made during the CW, but off several months (how many fish have taken this bait?)

2. ones made but not used there

3. ones REPORTEDLTY carried with the correct serial nos.

4. ones actually inscribed as being carried during the war and NOT SWITCHED

5. foreign jobs--how can they absolutely dated?
 
K

kt66brooklyn

Foreign jobs,

This is why scholorship on American casemaking is so important. It seems to be the furthest behind in all of the American decorative arts I have studied.

If an unswiched case and watch have been found, like one that has matching serial numbers, then it should be relatively easy to figure out when the watch was sold. At least the information would be bound by the working dates of the jeweler who made the case.

This research has been completed for most of the other decorative arts. I'm suprised at how little has been done with this early American industry.

Of course, none of this means that a watch made and sold at the right time had anything to do with the Civil War. This would just be a first step.

Jason
 

HUDD

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The question of provenance interests me as I have a gold paired cased verge by Thomas Bradford of London ( which one ? ... there were 3 of them from the same family ! ). It belonged to my wife's godmother's ancestor Admiral Sir Roger Curtis. He was Nelson's "Admiral of the Red" at Trafalgar. The question of definitive provenance is however elusive. It would be nice to think it was in his pocket as the battle raged.
Hudd
 

L. Michael Fultz

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Wondering if you ever got additional info from the Chicago Historical Society about 'Lincolon's' watch -- since they don't seem to answer me. So far, I have identified 4 or 5 watches as being said to have been Lincoln's and I am trying to sort through them to write an article. This month's (February 2009) issue of Smithsonian Magazine illustrates one such watch. Regards, FultzPens@aol.com
 

Jerry Bryant

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One of my better finds (insofar as being all-original and not switched), from nearly three years ago, has been identified as a London-made fusee movement, housed in an American-made silver hunter case. The movement & silver hunter case have matching serial numbers (SN 7960). With the valuable and very helpful input of the distinguished gentleman from Great Britain, Oliver Mundy, this English-American 18S fusee has been dated to 1860. I have included a link below to Oliver Mundy's, and other valuable contributors, discussion of this fusee being an English movement in an Eagle-stamped American-made case.

At the time of my NAWCC posting about my fusee, I did not even know how to open a fusee case. Also, please note that the photo links of that original NAWCC posting are not working anymore. However, for anyone interested, here's both the link to the previous NAWCC MB Posting of July, 2006, plus, the current and good link to see photos of this Leo Lesquereux & Sons English-American fusee, respectively:

NAWCC MB Posting from July - 2006:
https://mb.nawcc.org/showthread.php?t=18270&highlight=Leo+Lesquereux

Leo Lesquereux & Sons Fusee Additional Photos:
http://www.picturetrail.com/sfx/album/view/14386009

What I found especially interesting about this fusee, is the watchmaker, Leo Lesquereux ("Lesquereux" is pronounced, "Lee-Crew") moved to the US and lived in Columbus, Ohio. He also worked as a successful Botantist in the science of paleobotany (a branch of botany, dealing with fossil plants). Leo Lesquereux is credited with significant discoveries in the field of paleobotany.

This Leo Lesquereux & Sons fusee was restored by Denis Carignan of Carignan Watch Co. of Belmont, New Hampshire. Denis specializes in fusee repair & restoration, and did an excellent job getting this Leo Lesquereux & Sons fusee in very good working order. It consistently keeps time to within one minute in a 24-hour period.

I still hope to find new information about the casemaker of this American-made silver fusee hunter case. Does anyone know the casemaker who signed as, "LS"? I cannot help but wonder if this English-American fusee may have kept time for a Civil War soldier or sailor during the Civil War?

Jerry
 

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william l. weeks

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Greetings, there was a vast trade conducted among Northern soldiers during the U.S. Civil War. In one account I read of a threatened reprimand if soldiers were caught trading watches. As in other wars, there was a great deal of activity in souvenir collecting. This was evidenced in the signing between Grant and Lee, where all of the furnishings were quickly carted away by collectors. Watch remains are common in dug relic collections and most I have seen were Swiss movements. I own one, Waltham PSB from 1859, bought from the family of the veteran which came with a picture of him wearing it, and I have several from the 1870's and 1880's with names and locations inscribed in them which match the Civil War records. Even though these were not worn during the war, having one which belonged to a veteran is interesting to me.
 

GD1

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I recently read a book, The History of Cairo, Illinois printed in 1888 and there was a story related about Union soldiers getting drunk and breaking out the front of a local jewelry store and making off with all of the watches on display in the window. I have several Civil War era Walthams but can truthfully say I have never seen or owned a watch that can be definitely be attributed to as having been carried or owned by a soldier.
 

thomasbyrer@yahoo.com

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I have a William Ellery watch if the number that sandberg says is correct then my watch is about 18.000 higher.thats a lot of watches between his and mine but I still like to think they could have been made by the same guy.
 

Clint Geller

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Those interested in Civil War watches may find the links in the thread below (on the American Civil War Forums website) of interest. The links are to a presentation I gave at the January 2016 {corrected} NAWCC Regional Meeting in Lexington, KY, and to a different thread on the ACW Forum where I provided a primer on Civil War watches to an audience of general Civil War relic collectors.

http://civilwartalk.com/threads/sli...ecting-civil-war-watches.126567/#post-1375584
 
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