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Review: Gruen – Watch Model Identification Guide,Vol.1, by Mike Barnett

  • Thread starter Fortunat Mueller-Maerki
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Fortunat Mueller-Maerki

NAWCC Star Fellow
NAWCC Life Member
NAWCC Fellow
Sep 23, 2001

Gruen Wristwatch Model Identification Guide

Gruen – Watch Model Identification Guide, Volume 1. By Mike Barnett. Published 2010 by Second Hand Press, Belmont, CA, USA. ISBN 978-0-578-05158-1. Paperback, 96 pages, 28 cm. Fully illustrated in color. US$ 40 plus postage. Available at www.GruenWristwatches.com or consult at the National Watch and Clock Library in Columbia Pa.

Clock collectors are, mainly thanks to Tran Duy Ly, in the fortunate position that whatever brand strikes their fancy, they have available brand specific, published model identification guides. Over the years a significant number of historic brand catalogs have also been republished in facsimile editions. Watch collectors face a more difficult task when trying to name and date their discoveries. Yes, there is Cocksey Shugarts’ ‘Bible’, the yearly Complete Price Guide to Watches, but its focus is on price and value of the pieces, rather than on naming or dating a model, and many of the listings don’t list model names or numbers. Yes, there are published books on some of the big brands, but in most cases they are either technical histories of the movements, or fancy coffee table books with glossy pictures but few hard facts such as production years or lists of model names.

Collectors of Gruen American made watches face a particularly difficult situation. I have been able to identify only four previous publication dedicated to that brand:
• The first is a small pamphlet by Robert Dietrich Gruen of 20 some pages, ‘A brief history of the Gruen Watch Company’, last reprinted in 1991.
• The second and broadest publication is ‘The Priceless Possession of a Few - A brief history of the Gruen Watch Company’’ Supplement No. 10 to NAWCC Bulletin, by Eugene T. Fuller, 63 pages, written in 1974.
• The third is a 40 page exhibit catalog: ‘Gruen Watches – A Special Collection’, published in a small print run 1986 by AWI.
• The forth title, and the only one possibly useful as a reference tool is Roy Erhardt’s ‘Master Book, Gruen Guild’, one of his brand specific, spiral bound price guides, published in the early 1990s. It uses as its basic classification structure grainy, postage-stamp-sized images photocopied from a master record book of the Gruen company, without providing model names for most of the watches – and in spite of its shortcomings is virtually impossible to find in the used book marketplace.

Mike Barnett, a NAWCC member and Gruen aficionado has decided to do something to remedy that shortage of available data. He has just researched, produced and published the book under review.

Based on illustrations found in published historic advertisements he has identified nearly 350 different models of Gruen wristwatches which were launched between 1912 and 1951, and digitally reassembled those images (the majority of them in color) into Volume 1 of the ‘Gruen Watch Model Identification Guide’. Presented over 79 pages images, with short text captions providing more complete data than previously published on these watches (limited to Lauch year, Model Name, Movement info where available, historic retail price), the resulting publication is pleasant and easy to use. Two indexes (chronologically by launch date, and alphabetically by model name) complete the publication. As an amusing amusing added feature not seen in previous guides the author has also computed the equivalent value of the original sale price in present-day dollars.

This publication does not try to be a scholarly history of the Gruen enterprise, nor a description and critical evaluation of their unique movements and designs. This reviewer would sure love to also see such a broader publication one day as well, but this book serves a different purpose, and does very well what it seeks to do: Provide a complete, concise and practical aide to Gruen collectors to date and name their wristwatches.

Mike Barnett and other enthusiasts engaged in similar ventures deserve the appreciation and gratitude of the global community of collectors. Digital processing and print-on-demand technologies have made their tasks only slightly easier in recent years than they used to be. Compiling these kinds of comprehensive listings is still a thankless and tedious labor of love consuming countless hours.

It is the nature of this kind of publication that it can never be complete. The moment the book is sent to the printer additional source material will begin to surface. Hopefully at some time in the future Mike Barnett will find the time and enthusiasm to once again selflessly share his new discoveries with the community of Gruen collectors in a ’Volume 2’. This author deserves praise for educating his fellow horologists and sharing his knowledge, and for not shying away from the task of getting this data published. I wish there were more like him.

Fortunat Mueller-Maerki (Sussex, NJ)
March 25, 2010


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