How many interesting collectible watches are in the hands of collectors

Greg Frauenhoff

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I sometimes wonder about how many collectible watches have made it into the hands of modern collectors, as compared with the estimated production of such. So as a first guesstimate here's a bit of data to consider. It is just for fun and it requires some assumptions (both explicit and not).

First, the watch(es) must be ones that more than a few collectors are interested in owning. Second, there must be a reasonable number believed to have been made and the runs for such be reasonably well defined (this is a very important point; widely scattered variants need not apply). Third, there must be a serious collector (one who knows where some of the bodies are buried, so to speak) who has a taken a long term (decades at least) interest in compiling data on them.

So below are a couple of examples to consider. If you have a favorite of your own, please post for discussion.

Aurora grade nos. 10-htg and 10-OF (data compiled by yours truly). ETP 420 and 300, respectively. Examples seen or reported are 53 and 48, respectively. So, 720 for both grades with 101 reported for a "known" percentage of 14.0%.

Another example that comes to mind are the early Hamilton mvts from 1 to 2000. Rhett Lucke has collected data on these and in a previous message board post reports having recorded 155 examples for a "known" percentage of 7.8%.

Thoughts?
 

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I sometimes wonder about how many collectible watches have made it into the hands of modern collectors, as compared with the estimated production of such. So as a first guesstimate here's a bit of data to consider. It is just for fun and it requires some assumptions (both explicit and not).

First, the watch(es) must be ones that more than a few collectors are interested in owning. Second, there must be a reasonable number believed to have been made and the runs for such be reasonably well defined (this is a very important point; widely scattered variants need not apply). Third, there must be a serious collector (one who knows where some of the bodies are buried, so to speak) who has a taken a long term (decades at least) interest in compiling data on them.

So below are a couple of examples to consider. If you have a favorite of your own, please post for discussion.

Aurora grade nos. 10-htg and 10-OF (data compiled by yours truly). ETP 420 and 300, respectively. Examples seen or reported are 53 and 48, respectively. So, 720 for both grades with 101 reported for a "known" percentage of 14.0%.

Another example that comes to mind are the early Hamilton mvts from 1 to 2000. Rhett Lucke has collected data on these and in a previous message board post reports having recorded 155 examples for a "known" percentage of 7.8%.

Thoughts?
OK I will play along. Five or six in-line Ball watches made. 83.3% known if 6 were made or 100% if 5 were made according to one of two of the gentlemen involved in making then.
 

Greg Frauenhoff

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OK I will play along. Five or six in-line Ball watches made. 83.3% known if 6 were made or 100% if 5 were made according to one of two of the gentlemen involved in making then.
That's very interesting. But this is certainly a specialty piece of very limited production and not a regular production item, unlike the two examples I gave. Or to put it another way, these in-line Ball watches never circulated among the watch wearing public and, therefore, had a much smaller chance of being lost, destroyed or still sitting in someone's sock drawer.

Does anyone keep track of say the Hamilton 938 and 939 mvts extant (among collectors, of course). That would be an interesting number to see as well.
 

Jerry Treiman

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Here is Table 1 from my 2018 article on Waltham-Howard watches (Watch & Clock Bulletin, No.436), giving estimates of total number made in each serial number block. I have added a column showing how many are known from each group (compiled a while ago and a few may need to be added, but not many and not more than 1 or 2%). (A majority of the known survivors have already lost their original cases). These numbers represent over two decades of data collection by myself and my co-authors. Some of those with lower "recognition" rates may reflect that some may not be recognized as Waltham-Howards and hence not reported, but also that many from the later production may have been destroyed or defaced.

WH survivors.jpg
 

Greg Frauenhoff

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Jerry,

That's a fantastic and informative set of data. Thanks for sharing. The most interesting figures (to me) are the 12.5% and 12.7% for the htg and of 23j mvts. Significant numbers were made (600 and 470) and they are certainly widely desirable.

Does anyone have similar info on other neat watches, e. g. the Edward Howard, Waltham Premier Maximus, Waltham '72 model American grade?
 

Greg Frauenhoff

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Another bit of data. 19 Ruby Jewel Rockford: etp = 230, examples seen or reported = 33, 14.3%. Of numbers 1-60 there are 15 known (25%).
 
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musicguy

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Another example that comes to mind are the early Hamilton mvts from 1 to 2000
I bid and didn't win Hamilton # 392 it was on ebay just listed as a private label. I bid
but missed it by, "that much".


Rob
 

Greg Frauenhoff

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Jerry,

Your comment about a majority of the Waltham-Howards having lost their original cases brings up an interesting point (to me anyway). How much do collectors value originality? Some makes (Elgin, Waltham, Hamilton, Illinois) made millions of watches and excellent cased, but less desirable, watches can be routinely purchased and their beautiful cases used for select prized rare/scarce mvts. I'm sure every seasoned collector knows of examples where this has happened. I've seen a couple fantastic Hamilton 947s where this was done. So is a rare/scarce mvt in a period correct (so many recases are not period correct) and probably original worn case more valuable than such a mvt in a pristine but obvious recase?

Greg
 

Fred Hansen

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Depends very much on the watch and how distinctive it’s original casing was.

For a Hamilton 947, most buyers I know of would prefer the cosmetically choice recase over a ratty original.

Contrast this with a Charles Fasoldt, where original casing is very important to buyers and an original cased example can bring multiples of a recase or loose movement.

And of course many others fall somewhere between these extremes.
 
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Greg Frauenhoff

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Fred,

Thanks for your insights. As for a 947 in ratty original case, wouldn't you expect the mvt in such a case to be way less than pristine and therefore inappropriate for a pristine case? I understand collectors wanting to show off their 947 but does a likely original (worn but not ratty) case mean nothing?

Greg
 

Fred Hansen

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As for a 947 in ratty original case, wouldn't you expect the mvt in such a case to be way less than pristine

Often yes, but quite a few times no. I think we've all seen choice movements in off condition cases, basically cases that have taken very high levels of wear and tear and/or abuse but that have served their purpose well of protecting their movement.

and therefore inappropriate for a pristine case?

Depends how we define inappropriate. You and I would probably agree on most examples of off-condition movements in great cases being incongruent and looking out of place together. But your initial question was regarding value, so now we are opening the door to the market as a whole with collectors across the full spectrum of knowledge, experience and desires. So what you or I might see as an inappropriate pairing might have very little effect on bottom line market value in many instances.

I understand collectors wanting to show off their 947 but does a likely original (worn but not ratty) case mean nothing?

Though I agree that it "should" have meaning, in thinking of the aggregate behavior I've seen from 947 buyers over the years it's probably not nearly as high a consideration as other cosmetic factors have been in their purchase decisions and final prices. Of course the mindsets of buyers varies greatly from one to another, but at this point I don't expect the current market to "punish" recases that are in high level condition.
 
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Jerry Treiman

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Your comment about a majority of the Waltham-Howards having lost their original cases brings up an interesting point (to me anyway). How much do collectors value originality?
Depends very much on the watch and how distinctive it’s original casing was.
As Fred says, it depends ...

For factory-cased or jobber-cased watches and private label movements the original case makes a big difference in desirability (value?) to me. These types of complete watches comprise most of what I collect and research. For regular jeweler-cased watches I am not as concerned about a re-case as long as it is period correct and the case does not have obvious evidence of a different movement.

I have also diligently collected data on a few other watches aside from the Waltham-Howards.

Illinois Watch Co.’s 23-jewel, 12-size “Illini” model was produced in two production groups of 100 each. Ethan Lipsig and I have been sharing observations of existing examples. (My own observations span about two decades). Of the 200 movements made, we have recorded 21 examples -- about 10% of the original production *. These were all originally cased at the factory and about half are still in original 14K cases. (One was just scrapped last year by a NAWCC member known for scrapping).

Elgin Watch Co.’s 19-jewel grade 446 (C.H. Hulburd model) was assigned 8,000 numbers in eight “runs” of 1,000 each. However, examples recorded over the past 20 years indicate that most of these were not finished and only about 800 were actually finished and cased **. Of these 800 I have documented 90 survivors (about 11%). The Hulburd was also factory cased in fine custom cases and ~70 still have their factory cases.


* observed examples span enough of the serial number ranges to suggest that all 200 were finished.
** observed examples are tightly clustered within each block of 1,000 assigned numbers.
 

Ethan Lipsig

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Here are two more bits of evidence.

Illinois reportedly made 50 aluminum bridge/partly aluminum case Model 525. I have one and I know of only two others still in existence. 3/50 = 6%

Waltham reportedly made 20 AWCO Model 1899 bridge models with fish-scale damascening. I have one and only know of five other surviving examples. 6/20 = 30%
 
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Greg Frauenhoff

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Fred, Jerry and Ethan,

Thanks for your replies. All very interesting.

The data for very limited production pieces such as the aluminum Illinois and Waltham fish-scale, while interesting, is probably of limited value in answering my (vague?) question since one or two known examples either way can skew the % significantly. Also, I doubt if the aluminum Illinois could be consider a regular production item.

So far, 10-15% seems about the norm for interesting limited (less than 1000 but above 200) production watches with strong collector interest and dedicated collectors of data.

Other examples?

Greg
 

Greg Frauenhoff

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Another example is the Rockford model 6 mvts signed "15 R". Most of the data for these was collected by Roger Weiss and myself, though in recent years I haven't been conscientiously recording examples. So if you have a new one to add (and I may have lost some s/ns that were previously reported to me) feel free to pass it along.

Run 196701-197000 (10 examples: 196704, 196764, 196850, 196901, 196915, 196948, 196950, 196960, 196969, 196980).

Run 199201-199400 (12 examples: 199203, 199206, 199236, 199264, 199267, 199280, 199289, 199291, 199303, 199370, 199379, 199383).

ETP = 500 (this is likely a high estimate as there might be other model 6 grades in the runs above), examples 22, 4.4%.

BTW, there is a variant of this watch which has a large gold bushing around the barrel arbor. Really cool.
 

Greg Frauenhoff

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I'm not much of a Hamilton collector but since their famous grade 947 has been mentioned I thought it would be interesting to see what the reported examples are for this grade. Most of the numbers are from Kent's encyclopedia article. Others I found online with a search or two. I'm sure the serious Hamilton collectors can probably chime in with more numbers, so the estimated percentage below is just a start.

Examples

107962

121720, 845 (Extra), 901

163219, 568, 648, 655, 677, 729, 823, 824, 827, 828, 847 (Extra), 883 (Extra), 887 (Extra), 892, 895, 936, 943, 945, 949, 975, 995 (Extra)

239022, 026 (Extra), 030 (Extra), 048, 093, 118, 125, 126, 130, 373 (Extra), 402

696628

1000000

ETP is variously reported as 308 or 310 but there might be a few more. So far from above there are 38 examples for 12.2%.

Thoughts?
 

Jerry Treiman

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Waltham - American Watch Co. grade bridge models

Carl Goetz, my late collaborator and co-author, kept detailed records of many watch models that he was interested in. He shared with me, as part of our Waltham-Howard (W-H) research, his records of observed “American Watch Co.” grade bridge models (16-size 1899 model and 12-size 1894 model). Based on his observations I estimate that there were probably fewer than 3,000 16-size bridge models made and about 1,200-1,300 12-size bridge models made (including W-H but not including 1908 model Premier Maximus). Of this inferred production up to 1300 of the 16-size were for their Howard contracts and up to 200 of the 12-size were for Howard.

This leaves around 1700 16-size American Watch Co. grade bridge models and around 1050 12-size American Watch Co. grade bridge models. In Carl’s last compilation that I have (2010) he recorded about 85 16-size and 43 12-size AWCo bridge models for 5% and 4% survival, respectively. I have not tried to separate hunting versus open-face or 21 vs. 23 jewels.

In addition, Carl’s records suggest that 501 Premier Maximus were made, of which he recorded 69 extant (~14%). His data compile examples from 17,000,001 to 17,000,200 and 17,057,001 to 17,057,300 so if there are Premier Maximus outside these ranges they are not included.

I have not attempted to keep this database up to date and a few more of each could likely be added.

The low reported numbers of AWCo bridge models in collections may reflect that this model was not promoted in this country and many of them ended up exported to England. As a contrast, the 16-size bridge models that were finished for Howard were well promoted and sold in this country and have a 12.5% survival.
 
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Greg Frauenhoff

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Jerry,

Thanks for the additional interesting data.

The % for the Premier Maximus (14) falls into the range for other interesting high grade watches with productions in the 200-1000 range (10-15). So maybe we're seeing a trend?

Aurora grade no. 10 (ETP = 720, 14.0%)
Waltham-Howard 23j bridge model (ETP = 1070, 12.6%)
Hamilton 947 (ETP = 310, 12.2%)
Rockford 19RJ (ETP = 230, 14.3%)
Rockford 15RJ (ETP = 240, 10.4%)
Elgin Hulburd (ETP = 800, 11%)
Waltham Premier Maximus (ETP = 501, 14%)

Greg
 
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Lee Passarella

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Jerry,

Thanks for the additional interesting data.

The % for the Premier Maximus (14) falls into the range for other interesting high grade watches with productions in the 200-1000 range (10-15). So maybe we're seeing a trend?

Aurora grade no. 10 (ETP = 720, 14.0%)
Waltham-Howard 23j bridge model (ETP = 1070, 12.6%)
Hamilton 947 (ETP = 310, 12.2%)
Rockford 19RJ (ETP = 230, 14.3%)
Rockford 15RJ (ETP = 240, 10.4%)
Elgin Hulburd (ETP = 800, 11%)
Waltham Premier Maximus (ETP = 501, 14%)

Greg
This is a question from the thoroughly uninformed, but how do you come up with estimates for certain of these companies? Maybe Aurora kept complete enough records to make reasonable estimates, but wasn't Rockford so bad at record keeping that some estimates might be wild guesses? Howard wasn't meticulous about keeping records either, were they? which must make counting the Waltham-Howards full of guesswork too. It would just be interesting to know the kind of detective work that goes into coming up with these estimates.
 

Greg Frauenhoff

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Lee,

In some cases there are factory records (e. g. Waltham Premier Maximus). For Rockford (and others) I wouldn't say that record keeping was bad but that there are no surviving records for the early production to help guide us and that the run sizes were generally small (20-100) for early production. So what we do is we collect data (serial numbers) and go from there. The info I've presented for the Rockford 15RJ and 19RJ mvts is not a wild guess. It is based on the observations of quite a number of mvts (recorded over decades). I'm sure that Jerry's estimate for the Waltham-Howards isn't a wild guess either. For sure, we are "guessing" but certainly not wildly and we (both Jerry and I) are well aware of and informed by the production practices of the various American makers.

Here's an example of how one estimate was arrived at, i. e. the Aurora grade no. 10 (ETP for htg = 420 and ETP for OF = 300). Although there are some factory records for Aurora known they do not cover these grades. But we do know from the factory records that run sizes for regular production grades of 100 or so are typical. Anyway, just follow the link to my encyclopedia article and you will see why I have come up with the estimates that I did. It should also be kept in mind that in the serial number ranges where the no. 10 mvts occur there ZERO other grades reported.


Greg
 
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Lee Passarella

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Very enlightening, Greg. I understand the basis of the detective work better now, having read your article. Wish I could stumble over one of the gilt-screw models you cite in your overview!
 

Greg Frauenhoff

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For the 947 data remove #696628 and add #163894.

Surely some Illinois collector has info on some grades such as the 105, 189 or other. 12-15% seems to be the higher range of examples reported/documented for grades with production above 200. Can anyone beat 15%?
 

Jerry Treiman

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Hamilton 12-size grade 400

I have been recording observations for about 2 decades. Total production was 2,300 and I have recorded 145 examples (~6%).
These were factory cased and about 1/3 of these were in solid 18K cases and about 2/3 were gold-filled. Many of my observations are orphaned movements, presumably "liberated" from gold cases.
 
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Ethan Lipsig

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I collect C.H. Meylan watches. I've been diligently keeping a serial number database on C.H. Meylans for about a dozen years or more. I estimate total C.H. Meylan production of pocket watches, pendent watches, and wristwatches to be from 40,000-50,000. I estimate that I have collected 702 serial numbers. I am still seeing new examples, but not many. Based on the numbers I have seen and rounding up, only a small percentage of C.H. Meylan movements seem to have survived until today, cased or uncased, working or not, perhaps a sadly low 2-5 percent.
 
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PatH

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It's interesting seeing all of the data coming to light in one thread. Thanks for voicing the question to get this started, Greg.

I've been trying to get my head around the assumptions, factory records and observed data. It's interesting that across lines, the numbers so far are pretty consistently between 10 and 15%.

Based on the original question about how many are in the hands of collectors, it seems that we may be missing the number of watches that are in the hands of original owners (or their heirs) that may never have been offered for subsequent public sale. Frequently, we see threads here from someone requesting information after recently inheriting a family watch. When the findings are presented, is an arbitrary number assigned, is it assumed that this is a negligible quantity, or is it just noted as an unknown number?

Looking forward to seeing the story build!
 

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Based on the original question about how many are in the hands of collectors, it seems that we may be missing the number of watches that are in the hands of original owners (or their heirs) that may never have been offered for subsequent public sale. Frequently, we see threads here from someone requesting information after recently inheriting a family watch. When the findings are presented, is an arbitrary number assigned, is it assumed that this is a negligible quantity, or is it just noted as an unknown number?
I agree with you Pat. The majority of people do not post their watches
on the internet. In fact we have a very small % of people in the NAWCC
that even post here(or anywhere on the net).


Rob
 

Greg Frauenhoff

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It's interesting seeing all of the data coming to light in one thread. Thanks for voicing the question to get this started, Greg.

I've been trying to get my head around the assumptions, factory records and observed data. It's interesting that across lines, the numbers so far are pretty consistently between 10 and 15%.

Based on the original question about how many are in the hands of collectors, it seems that we may be missing the number of watches that are in the hands of original owners (or their heirs) that may never have been offered for subsequent public sale. Frequently, we see threads here from someone requesting information after recently inheriting a family watch. When the findings are presented, is an arbitrary number assigned, is it assumed that this is a negligible quantity, or is it just noted as an unknown number?

Looking forward to seeing the story build!
Pat,

Yes, there are certainly large numbers of interesting watches in the hands of original owners (or their heirs). And we may never see or hear of these. And certainly not all watches show up on the internet, but the various databases discussed above do, for the most part, include more than just what appears on such. They include watches that have been in collections for decades and for which info is only privately circulated.

Watch collectors are certainly a small group, as compared with the number of watch owners. But watch collecting has been culling interesting watches from various hoardes, such as scrappers, watch repairmen, pawn brokers and the like for a long long time. How many watches remain in the hands of original owners (or their heirs)? I can't say. Certainly new finds trickle out, but it appears to be a rather slow process. My own database of 15 Ruby Jewel Auroras (over 100 examples seen or reported) probably grows by no more than 1 per year of late.

Anyway, all very interesting.

Greg
 
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Greg Frauenhoff

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FWIW, another example: 25 jewel Columbus King and Railway King.

Two mixed runs: OF 503001-100 and Htg 503101-200. With 200 total it just barely qualifies for my 200-1000 ETP range.

Examples reported: 503009, 026, 031, 034, 039, 047, 048, 065, 073, 074, 094, 101, 106, 119, 136, 139, 150, 153, 161, 163, 171, 182, 189, 200

24 examples, 12%
 
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thesnark17

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The 50th Anniversary Gruen VeriThin is the only watch Gruen made that has exactly-known production numbers. 650 were made.

I have confirmed the existence of 34 of them.

34/650 = 5.2%

Of those, 25 still have cases, though one is a known recase. (Standard Gruen cases fit, so more could be recased.)

24/650 = 3.7%
 

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