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Elgin Private Label Research

John F

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Sep 28, 2001
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I've recently updated the Elgin private label database, which now lists about 500 watches, covering some 200+ different label names. The database is located as part of the AWCo archives, and Tom M has added some search functions to make it easier to look for particular names or features. Thanks again to everyone who's contributed to this effort.

A few notes and observations about what's been pulled together to date:

First, the venerable Chicago jeweler C.D. Peacock - founded in 1837 and still in business today - seems to have been Elgin's longest-standing customer for private label watches. There are over 40 C.D. Peacock-labeled watches in the database, spanning a 35+ year period starting in the early 1890s and covering a wide range of grades, from common 7 jewelers to relatively uncommon (for Elgin) high grade watches. All are marked on the dial only.

In addition, some of the observations made earlier (this was originally discussed here and old ref::here) still hold true, and have been reinforced by new finds. In particular, early Elgins are more often seen marked only the movement - marking both a dial and movement seems to be more the exception rather than the rule up until about the 1880s, when labeling both dial and movement seems to have become more common.

Of course, this could also be the result of the original dial on these earlier watches having been damaged and replaced at a later date - without knowing the provenance of a particular watch, there's no way I know of to know for certain. However, there are a number of movement-only marked watches in the database that have an Elgin dial that is correct for the era of manufacture, so at this point it seems a reasonable inference that movement-only private labeling was a standard practice early on.

Labeling the dial only starts to appear with some frequency around the turn of the century, and sometime after the mid-1910s dial-only marked private labels seem to be the norm. The C.D. Peacock watches are a good example of this practice, although there are some notable exceptions, such as the Transit, Strand and Elite marked watches, which are marked only on the movement and date from the 1914-1916 time period.

In general, early private labels tend to be seen on Elgin's higher grades. Toward the late 1890s and thereafter, many more are seen on lower grades (lots of 7 jewel examples out there), or if higher jeweled they are more common movements (the 12 size, 17 jewel grade 345 was a popular choice). However, this could just be a function of the survival rate.

Another earlier observation that still holds is that the use of a balance cock with a "heart shaped" cutout (such as John Cote's Sweetser and Tom McIntyre's Kratzer) seems to be limited to a relatively short time period, mostly the 1870s. The earliest example is from 1869, and the latest from 1882. These don't seem that common (I can account for just 15 of these), and I have yet to see a cutout on the balance cock that wasn't also a private label. All are 18 size, full plate and gilt. Two in the database are from the same jeweler, Alexander Brattin in Green Castle Indiana, and are just a couple of SNs apart (75618 and 75620, c. 1869).

So, as a gross overgeneralization, the trend in Elgin private labels seem to be from relatively higher grades marked on the movement only, to lower grades marked on the dial only (though there are some obvious and notable exceptions). Does anyone know if this is unique to Elgin, or if the same sort of apparent pattern is also observed in private labels from other companies?

There's a couple of categories or types of watches for which there's some question in my mind whether they're private labels or not.

The first is a number of "dual" marked watches, in which both a "private" name and "Elgin" appear on the dial. These tend to be from 1910s and thereafter. Many have names that sound like they might be a line of Elgin-named watches, such as those that have "The Boulevard," "Columbia," "Director," and "Paramount" on the dial in addition to "Elgin." I am unaware of any Elgin advertising that would confirm this, however.

There are several other "dual" marked Elgins that are clearly not like this, such as those that carry names such as "Hausermans," "Rothsteins" and "G.W. Harbaugh" in addition to "Elgin" on the dial, among others. I'm not sure of the reason(s) behind this practice of showing both a private label name and the manufacturer's name on the dial, so for now it's still a bit of a mystery.

Another type for which there's some question about whether they're a private label or an Elgin name are the afore-mentioned "Elite," "Transit" and "Strand" marked watches. These typically have a fancy damaskeening (the Transits are two-tone, for example) and other features (16s Strands had a 3 finger bridge movement), and were limited to just a few runs in 1914 and 1916. As noted above, all are marked on the movement only (harkening back to earlier days, I suppose.)

An anomaly here is that I have found a single "Strand" marked watch outside of this range - on a relatively common 12 size movement from 1923, marked on the dial only (but with the same typeface as those dating from 1916 marked on the movement only). Interestingly, this 1923 Strand is a "dual" marked watch, with both Strand and Elgin on the dial. Jury's still out on what these really are.

This post has gotten a lot more lengthy than I'd anticipated, so I'll wrap up with one of the more unusual ones I've run across, which is also a bit of a mystery to me. It's a 6 size from 1895, marked "Rovelstad Bros, Elgin Ill." on the dial, and "Johan Sverdrup, Elgin Ill." on the movement. My initial thought was that this was a frankenstein, in which a Rovelstad dial had been added to a Sverdrup-labeled watch. My thinking changed the day I got an email from a older gentleman inquiring about an identically marked watch. His was unlikely a put-together, as the provenance was known - it had been his father's, which had been given to him by his father's grandparents as a gift when his father was a just young man. The kicker is that this Rovelstad-Sverdrup marked watch was not an Elgin, but an 18 size Hamilton. So who was Johan Sverdrup? A master watchmaker working in the Rovelstad shop? A Rovelstad customer who wanted his own name on the movement?

There's other mysteries in these Elgin private labels, but I reckon this is enough for now. I haven't yet done any kind of analysis of serial number runs to see if there's any sort of pattern, nor have I tried to compare any of these names against lists of known RR inspectors. Those are other projects for other days.

John

[This message was edited by John F on January 08, 2003 at 13:19.]
 

John F

Registered User
Sep 28, 2001
919
1
0
I've recently updated the Elgin private label database, which now lists about 500 watches, covering some 200+ different label names. The database is located as part of the AWCo archives, and Tom M has added some search functions to make it easier to look for particular names or features. Thanks again to everyone who's contributed to this effort.

A few notes and observations about what's been pulled together to date:

First, the venerable Chicago jeweler C.D. Peacock - founded in 1837 and still in business today - seems to have been Elgin's longest-standing customer for private label watches. There are over 40 C.D. Peacock-labeled watches in the database, spanning a 35+ year period starting in the early 1890s and covering a wide range of grades, from common 7 jewelers to relatively uncommon (for Elgin) high grade watches. All are marked on the dial only.

In addition, some of the observations made earlier (this was originally discussed here and old ref::here) still hold true, and have been reinforced by new finds. In particular, early Elgins are more often seen marked only the movement - marking both a dial and movement seems to be more the exception rather than the rule up until about the 1880s, when labeling both dial and movement seems to have become more common.

Of course, this could also be the result of the original dial on these earlier watches having been damaged and replaced at a later date - without knowing the provenance of a particular watch, there's no way I know of to know for certain. However, there are a number of movement-only marked watches in the database that have an Elgin dial that is correct for the era of manufacture, so at this point it seems a reasonable inference that movement-only private labeling was a standard practice early on.

Labeling the dial only starts to appear with some frequency around the turn of the century, and sometime after the mid-1910s dial-only marked private labels seem to be the norm. The C.D. Peacock watches are a good example of this practice, although there are some notable exceptions, such as the Transit, Strand and Elite marked watches, which are marked only on the movement and date from the 1914-1916 time period.

In general, early private labels tend to be seen on Elgin's higher grades. Toward the late 1890s and thereafter, many more are seen on lower grades (lots of 7 jewel examples out there), or if higher jeweled they are more common movements (the 12 size, 17 jewel grade 345 was a popular choice). However, this could just be a function of the survival rate.

Another earlier observation that still holds is that the use of a balance cock with a "heart shaped" cutout (such as John Cote's Sweetser and Tom McIntyre's Kratzer) seems to be limited to a relatively short time period, mostly the 1870s. The earliest example is from 1869, and the latest from 1882. These don't seem that common (I can account for just 15 of these), and I have yet to see a cutout on the balance cock that wasn't also a private label. All are 18 size, full plate and gilt. Two in the database are from the same jeweler, Alexander Brattin in Green Castle Indiana, and are just a couple of SNs apart (75618 and 75620, c. 1869).

So, as a gross overgeneralization, the trend in Elgin private labels seem to be from relatively higher grades marked on the movement only, to lower grades marked on the dial only (though there are some obvious and notable exceptions). Does anyone know if this is unique to Elgin, or if the same sort of apparent pattern is also observed in private labels from other companies?

There's a couple of categories or types of watches for which there's some question in my mind whether they're private labels or not.

The first is a number of "dual" marked watches, in which both a "private" name and "Elgin" appear on the dial. These tend to be from 1910s and thereafter. Many have names that sound like they might be a line of Elgin-named watches, such as those that have "The Boulevard," "Columbia," "Director," and "Paramount" on the dial in addition to "Elgin." I am unaware of any Elgin advertising that would confirm this, however.

There are several other "dual" marked Elgins that are clearly not like this, such as those that carry names such as "Hausermans," "Rothsteins" and "G.W. Harbaugh" in addition to "Elgin" on the dial, among others. I'm not sure of the reason(s) behind this practice of showing both a private label name and the manufacturer's name on the dial, so for now it's still a bit of a mystery.

Another type for which there's some question about whether they're a private label or an Elgin name are the afore-mentioned "Elite," "Transit" and "Strand" marked watches. These typically have a fancy damaskeening (the Transits are two-tone, for example) and other features (16s Strands had a 3 finger bridge movement), and were limited to just a few runs in 1914 and 1916. As noted above, all are marked on the movement only (harkening back to earlier days, I suppose.)

An anomaly here is that I have found a single "Strand" marked watch outside of this range - on a relatively common 12 size movement from 1923, marked on the dial only (but with the same typeface as those dating from 1916 marked on the movement only). Interestingly, this 1923 Strand is a "dual" marked watch, with both Strand and Elgin on the dial. Jury's still out on what these really are.

This post has gotten a lot more lengthy than I'd anticipated, so I'll wrap up with one of the more unusual ones I've run across, which is also a bit of a mystery to me. It's a 6 size from 1895, marked "Rovelstad Bros, Elgin Ill." on the dial, and "Johan Sverdrup, Elgin Ill." on the movement. My initial thought was that this was a frankenstein, in which a Rovelstad dial had been added to a Sverdrup-labeled watch. My thinking changed the day I got an email from a older gentleman inquiring about an identically marked watch. His was unlikely a put-together, as the provenance was known - it had been his father's, which had been given to him by his father's grandparents as a gift when his father was a just young man. The kicker is that this Rovelstad-Sverdrup marked watch was not an Elgin, but an 18 size Hamilton. So who was Johan Sverdrup? A master watchmaker working in the Rovelstad shop? A Rovelstad customer who wanted his own name on the movement?

There's other mysteries in these Elgin private labels, but I reckon this is enough for now. I haven't yet done any kind of analysis of serial number runs to see if there's any sort of pattern, nor have I tried to compare any of these names against lists of known RR inspectors. Those are other projects for other days.

John

[This message was edited by John F on January 08, 2003 at 13:19.]
 
C

Cary

I recently sold a size 12 dual marked Elgin Major

Didnt see that one in your DB. Typical 20's 12 size. I didnt keep the data on it.

Cary
 

Jerry Treiman

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WOW John, really nice work so far! I have a couple of comments.

Regarding the Rovelstad-Sverdrup watches, I would suggest that these might have been originally made for Sverdrup and that Rovelstad either took over Sverdrup's shop or bought his inventory. He then ordered dials with his own name for these movements, a relatively cheap and easy thing to do at the time. Research in city directories of the period should shed some light on this. [See Greg's post below -- well, so much for my speculation :redface:].

As far as labeling practice with other companies, I have been looking at Waltham watches for Bigelow, Kennard & Co. In the 1890s I see the name appearing on the dial only, but on both movement and dial starting around 1904 until around 1914 when the name seems to be on dial only again. At least with Waltham I do not recall seeing private-labeled movements without a matching dial (except in some cases where the dial appears to be a replacement).

The "Strand" watch sounds like it might have been for export to England?

[This message was edited by Jerry Treiman on January 07, 2003 at 13:17.]
 

Greg Frauenhoff

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Aug 25, 2000
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John,

Great stuff, keep it up.

Re Rovelstad/Sverdrup, at one time I owned a c. 1900 Rovelstad Bros. catalog (Unfortunately I didn't make a copy of it. It was sold to a collector in Elgin a number of years ago.). Therein were shown mvts (by Hamilton and Elgin) that were marked both Rovelstad Bros. and Johann Sverdrup. From this it's clear that "Sverdrup" was a grade name used by Rovelstad Bros. Also, I've seen (owned one) several mvts marked Johann Sverdrup that had dials marked Rovelstad Bros., so it's a safe bet that such mvts are not Franken watches. A similar situation can be found with Mermod Jaccard & Co. mvts where they used grade names on the plates such as "D. C. Jaccard", "Constant" and "Goodman King" with the dials being marked "Mermod Jaccard & Co." (later Mermod Jaccard & King). BTW, "Constant" was D. C. Jaccard's middle name.

Hope this helps,

Greg Frauenhoff

My Watch Site
 
S

Stann

I didn't research your database but I have a 12s 17j Grade 384 (1911) with a private label:

Radke & CO.
San Francisco.

in a Silveroid case.
Stan
 

Greg Frauenhoff

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John,

I gathered the following names together a number of years ago from a variety of (mostly) second-hand sources (such as watch lists, watch books, etc.). Many are probably ones that you already have in your database, but just in case you don't here they are. Some of the spellings (and even serial numbers) may not be correct. It's all second hand info.

303314-Henry Sinning, Peru, Ill.
325748-E. H. Goulding, Alton, Ill.
115036-C. W. Freeman, Pittson, Pa.
303270-Jaccard & Co., Kansas City, Mo.
304081-G. C. Green, Pottsville, Pa.
327068-A. R. Britten, Green Castle, Ind.
30258-Grimes & Venable, Lexington, Mo.
200700-California
246903-W. Pratt & Co., Cambridgeport, Mass.
246905-G. Pratt & Co., Cambridgeport, Mass.
309034-B. L. Stone, Portland, Or.
328185-Geo. Lampman, Ironton, O.
304373-C. Oskampe
205852-Joseph Daller, Cinn., O.
304087-R. C. Green, Pottsville, Pa.
488143-Kennedy & Co.

Greg Frauenhoff

My Watch Site
 

Tom McIntyre

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John Cote

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John,

This is great work. Thanks for putting it up. I will have to take some time and study it all.

You asked about similarities with private labels from other companies. (This is just off the top of my head) I think the most interesting 18 size Illinois private labels come from the mid 1890s. These include many if not most of the RR marked Bunns like the B&Os C&Os etc. There were a lot of great high grade 16s Getty model private labels, including some RR marked gr. 179s from the 1890s and sort of ending with the Sears & Roebuck "Interstate Chrononmeters" of 1912. After 1912, there are a few 16s A. Lincoln grade and fewer still Bunn Special grade private labels from the mid 'teens, including the 21j DRG (Lincoln) and a very cool TASCO 23 jewel Bunn Special, but high grade private labels are pretty scarce after this time.

Anyway thanks for sharing.

JohnCote
President, Indiana Chapter 18 - NAWCC
Member Chapter 149 (Member #105)
http://www.interstatetime.com
 

John F

Registered User
Sep 28, 2001
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Thanks for all the words of encouragement and new additions!

The contrasts in private labeling practices by the various companies - dial only, movement only, or both - is intriguing, although I suppose a certain amount of it is due to customer preference. And thanks for the insight on the Rovelstad-Sverdrup question - that's a pretty interesting marketing tactic, having in-house grades in addition to your own line of private label watches. Anyone aware of others who practiced this, besides Rovelstad and Mermod Jaccard?

And "Constant" sure seems like it's a pretty good middle name for a watchmaker (although I reckon that since Jaccard was a Swiss immigrant, "Constant" was a fairly common name back home - "Constantin" or "Constantine" being other variations, or the feminine "Constance"). Now I wonder what his first name was.

John

PS - Tom's right - I goofed up the link (thanks for providing it, Tom). I've corrected it
 

Jerry Treiman

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Another well-known example of in-house grades are the Washington Watch Co. (Illinois for Montgomery Ward) watches. The grades included Lafayette, Army and Navy, Senate, Liberty Bell and maybe a few others.
 
J

jwdavis

Hi John,
Great work you're doing...keep it up! A little research shows that Johann Sverdrup was quite a mover and shaker in Norway which was the country that the Rovelstad family immigrated from.

He was Prime Minister as well as many other accomplihments. I wonder if the Rovelstads named the watch in honor of him or possibly even for export back to Norway?

Jack Davis
Nawcc #0155192
 

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