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Some Thoughts on Collecting

Clint Geller

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I've been thinking recently about how collectors decide how to collect and why. Here's what I mean: To the average person who knows very little about mechanical pocket watches, most such watches are "the same." However, the more one knows about watches, the more differences one sees. After nearly 40 years, I'm still learning. In fact, the activity of watch collecting is all about making successively finer distinctions between groups of increasingly similar watches. Just like kids attempting to fill in their coin books with an example of every date and mint mark of Jefferson nickel, or to assemble complete sets of baseball cards, many (though by no means all) pocket watch collectors often strive to assemble "complete" sets of every variety of a particular make or model of pocket watch. However, watches are far more intrinsically complex than coins or baseball cards, and the notion of "completeness" quickly becomes very subjective and elastic.

Now speaking specifically about pocket watches, the minimum definition of a complete set of any particular make or model of watch usually is based on the manufacturer's own nomenclature as expressed through their trade advertising and sometimes, surviving factory records. Sometimes this information can be quite detailed, specifying a series of particular named or numerical grades and/or specific finishing details of various watches in the group. Hamilton and Illinois both come to mind in this category, just to name two prominent examples. In other cases, manufacturer information can be quite limited and not always reliable. Early Howards especially come to mind here. But in all instances, period advertising and surviving records are only the starting point for contemporary watch collectors. Factory production records were created to keep track of inventories and to make it possible for repairmen to order the correct replacement parts, whereas advertising typically listed only that information of potential interest to contemporaneous consumers and resellers. Conversely, collectors often are interested in details and even minutiae that would not have been of much interest to either the manufacturer or their direct customers. In many cases, earlier generations of collectors have published books laying out as best they could, based on all the information they could then accumulate, all the specific "types" and varieties of watches of particular makes and models. Colonel George Townsend and Mr. William F. Meggers were especially influential pioneers in this regard. Their categorization schemes respect manufacturer nomenclature, where known, but they go on to make fine distinctions between watches about which the manufacturer would not have cared. Their seminal works constituted the basis for how subsequent generations of collectors defined what a "complete" set was of various makes and models of watch.

Ah, but the process of subdividing pre-existing watch categories into ever finer subcategories can never truly end, because devoted collectors always need a reason to keep on collecting and a rationale to view "duplicates" in their collections as actually distinct! And because watches are so much more inherently complex than coins or baseball cards, it is usually that much easier to find such new distinctions to care about. New subdivisions in old watch categories can be based on nontrivial technical innovations or finishing improvements in a watch model that for whatever reasons escaped earlier categorization schemes. (Sometimes a manufacturer may not have publicized certain changes for fear of making their existing inventory harder to dispose of.) To my mind, distinctions based on design changes are the most sensible new subdivisions to make. Dials and cases give collectors a plethora of additional reasons (excuses?) to collect more watches. However, strictly with respect to watch movements, collectors of American watches confront the irony that the great achievement of the American industry and its greatest technological contribution - the efficient, cost-effective mass manufacture of quality watches to interchangeable parts standards - made the products of the industry increasingly more similar and indistinguishable over time. And so, with 20th century pocket watches, the exact location in which a particular word is engraved on a particular make and model of movement can define a new subtype and significantly impact its value. I understand Hamilton collectors have even taken to prizing original watch boxes of certain particular colors. Confronting even greater degrees of similitude, coin and stamp collectors even prize rare production mistakes (double strikes, off-center strikes, upside-down images, etc.) But, of course, unlike coins, stamps, or baseball cards, nearly all American watches possess at least one uniquely distinguishing feature - their serial numbers. Inasmuch as serial numbers often correlate, at least loosely, with production dates, collectors often can use serial numbers to identify particular early examples of particular watch models or subvarieties. Such early examples can be especially consequential when they introduce new technical features or prominent finishing improvements into either the manufacturer's product line, or into the American watch industry as a whole. Many collectors also prize consecutive serial numbers, especially when consecutively numbered movements exhibit conspicuous differences.

Which particular distinctions between watches matter to most collectors and which do not has never been entirely rational or logical. That's not surprising, since the collecting pastime itself is neither entirely rational nor logical. As a general rule, design features tend to matter to most collectors in direct proportion to how easily and directly visible they are, other things being equal.Thus, with the possible exception of differences in jewel count or jewel configuration, differences in technical features or finishing details requiring disassembly to view tend to stimulate less collector interest than more apparent changes. Various unusual combinations of features are also of special interest (e.g., nickel keywind movements). As with most collectors, nothing excites me more than finding a new or unexpected feature in a watch. Examples from my own collecting experience would include: an apparently original stopwork in a Samuel Curtis, a Cole's resilient banking escapement in a nickel Howard keywind, a Moorhouse signature on the back of a Howard black dial, and a 21'st jewel in a Waltham 20 Size keyind.
.

I look forward to reading other people's thoughts on this broad subject.
 
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DeweyC

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However, strictly with respect to watch movements, collectors of American watches confront the irony that the great achievement of the American industry and its greatest technological contribution - the efficient, cost-effective mass manufacture of quality watches to interchangeable parts standards - made the products of the industry increasingly more similar and indistinguishable over time.
Clint,

My primary focus in collecting has been the 20 year evolution of the manufacturing processes by following the work of three men across their control of three factories (New York (Springfield), Hampden (Springfield) and Hamilton). I have compared finish, fit, deduced manufacturing streamlining, and inventory control. All from movement physical characteristics.

The last quarter of the 19th century was a period of great innovation in manufacturing processes which was highly focused on precision measurement and uniformity in parts production. Not only in New England, but around the world.

I compare it to steel production in the post WW2 era. Having had their steel industry demolished, the Japanese elected to build their industry on the newest technologies and processes. U.S. Steel and Bethlehem on the other hand, had large investments in physical plant and processes that worked good enough, and so made only changes around the margins. Same with GM vs. Toyota.

In our case think Hamilton vs Waltham.

I do get lost from time to time in an interesting engraved case or dial, but essentially I consider my collection complete and I have made half hearted starts at doing some primary source historical research. But to be honest, I just do not have the "fire" to write articles anymore. Or maybe I should say "at this point in my life".
 

Clint Geller

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Hi Dewey,

Thank you for your interesting reply. The two major parts of my own collection are "American Watch Co." Grade Walthams and Civil War provenance watches. Relative to the collecting goals I have chosen for myself, my AWCo Grade Waltham collection is not quite "complete," but with only one exception, the few examples I still "need" are either low priority in some cases, or unavailable and beyond my means in a couple of others. But that is not to say that if another really interesting AWCo Grade watch or movement came along I would not wish to acquire it. As for my Civil War provenance collection, each individual provenance is unique, but I'd eventually like to have an example from every loyal state, as well as examples from a list of certain illustrious combat unts. I am not likely ever to achieve that goal, but neither does that fact concern me. On the contrary, it guarantees to me perpetual opportunities for continued engagement in, and excitement about the hobby.
 
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I began seriously collecting in 2000 and have always collected “what I like”; i.e. American railroad grade pocket watches with nicely damaskeened movements.

As a retired consulting (mechanical) engineer, I have always been impressed by, even in awe of, how complex math, physics,, manufacturing, and engineering principles were applied and utilized during the late 1800’s into the 20th century with little more in the way of design tools other than the insight of the innovators.

It didn’t take me long to realize that I needed to focus my collecting activities which led me to narrow my primary time span of interest from 1890 to 1915; i.e. the time period when the aesthetic quality of American RRG watch movements were at their zenith.

For me, it always has (and is) about the movement; never the case.

Although I have Waltham, Elgin, Ball, Seth Thomas, Hamilton, & Illinois watches in my collection, my recent focus has been further refined to primarily Illinois.

Collecting interests evolve over time and for me, any watch that I add to my collection is always first “because I like it” - never as an investment or “ to complete sets of every variety of a particular make or model of pocket watch”.

Pretty simple philosophy, at least for me.

Richard
 

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Collecting interests evolve over time and for me, any watch that I add to my collection is always first "because I like it" - never as an investment or " to complete sets of every variety of a particular make or model of pocket watch".
I like this.


Rob
 

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Clint correctly noted that "the collecting pastime itself is neither entirely rational nor logical," to which I would add that it rarely is any less frivolous than other time-wasting pastimes, such as golf, catch-and-release fly-fishing, or bird-watching.

There are, of course, exceptions.

If you are one of the few who collect watches to create something of value for others, your collecting isn't entirely frivolous. Clint is a good example. Clint uses his civil war collection to tell the story of the mostly forgotten soldiers who originally owned those watches. Clint probably has considered giving that collection to a museum, but even if Clint's collection ends up dispersed, the book he wrote about those long-dead soldiers and their watches will be of lasting interest to others.

Likewise, if you really use the watches that you collect, your collecting isn't entirely frivolous.

If you are collecting watches just to study their mechanics or other features, your collecting might not be entirely frivolous, no more frivolous than other studies of little or no practical or other value.

Alas, I my collecting is a mere frivolity. I don't use my watches. I don't study them. I just collect them, catalog them, and assemble as much information about them, e.g., about prior owners, as I reasonably can. And some day in the not-too-distant future, I or my heirs will dispose of my collection and consign my 1000-page pocket-watch catalog to a dumpster along with most other personal items I leave behind.

Don't pity me: I didn't have to stand for hours in cold waters to "catch" my soon-to-be-released prey.
 

musicguy

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I don't study them
You are wrong here. I have seen you help identify
watches in the European section, you have a
strong knowledge of what you collect.
I am not a watchmaker just a guy tinkering
with these marvelous machines as well.
I see no reason that you need to use them and
they do seem to give you some pleasure
even if you do not agree. :)

and I do enjoy seeing your spectacular watches that I will never own

Rob
 
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Ethan Lipsig

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Rob, thank you for the kind words, but I think you misunderstood what I was saying. My only point was that I regard most pocket watch collecting, including my own, as frivolous entertainment, on a par with e.g., birdwatching, assembling jigsaw puzzles, or watching sporting events. All of us engage in myriad pursuits that have no practical or other material value. We do them for enjoyment. That's should be sufficient justification. If I did not enjoy collecting PWs, I wouldn't collect them.
 

Clint Geller

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Clint correctly noted that "the collecting pastime itself is neither entirely rational nor logical," to which I would add that it rarely is any less frivolous than other time-wasting pastimes, such as golf, catch-and-release fly-fishing, or bird-watching.

There are, of course, exceptions.

If you are one of the few who collect watches to create something of value for others, your collecting isn't entirely frivolous. Clint is a good example. Clint uses his civil war collection to tell the story of the mostly forgotten soldiers who originally owned those watches. Clint probably has considered giving that collection to a museum, but even if Clint's collection ends up dispersed, the book he wrote about those long-dead soldiers and their watches will be of lasting interest to others.

Likewise, if you really use the watches that you collect, your collecting isn't entirely frivolous.

If you are collecting watches just to study their mechanics or other features, your collecting might not be entirely frivolous, no more frivolous than other studies of little or no practical or other value.

Alas, I my collecting is a mere frivolity. I don't use my watches. I don't study them. I just collect them, catalog them, and assemble as much information about them, e.g., about prior owners, as I reasonably can. And some day in the not-too-distant future, I or my heirs will dispose of my collection and consign my 1000-page pocket-watch catalog to a dumpster along with most other personal items I leave behind.

Don't pity me: I didn't have to stand for hours in cold waters to "catch" my soon-to-be-released prey.
Ethan, your words about me are flattering and deeply appreciated, but at the same time your remarks concerning your own collecting activities seem unnecessarily self-deprecating. I agree with Rob that you have enhanced the enjoyment of the hobby for many other people, myself among them. And while I have not seen anything like your entire collection, I have seen enough of it to know that it is anything but a random accumulation of artifacts. Your aesthetic taste is impeccable, and the documentation you have created for your collection should be of interest not only to current and future watch collecting hobbyists but likely as well to serious students of the history of design and aesthetics in western culture. Hence, your collecting pastime may well indeed end up making a contribution to the larger culture beyond just the hobby.
 
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Dr. Jon

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I look for watches that merit study after I buy them. I do some "due diligence" to be sure it is what is claimed but I do not go deep until I own it.

I look for very high grade watches, one class being ladies watches with very good movements, and watches with interesting inscriptions or interesting technical features but not complications.

I have hours of engagement with a watch that was technically interesting and had a long and interesting provenance. It took me to University Archive and the Mass Historical society. While there I handled a letter from Lincoln to man who gave the watch to its first owner.

I have small ladies watch which introduced me to a very influential family who did very interesting and in many instances, noble thing and very poignant love story.

My most recent looked like it was an early Earnshaw chronometer. I took a flyeron this one. I had planned to buy a watch mislabeled by the house. It is an intersting item but I bid more for it than I should have but I still got outbid.
Instead I bought a watch, a recased Earnshaw detent half quarter repeater just because I took liking to it when I handled it in preview.
I spent hours and hours eliminating possibilities to prove it was by Earnshaw. I read his book and related extracts and commentaries on it and spent hours writing up my results. I could not completely rule out another maker but I had eliminated all the otehrs I knew of

I got a chance to show it to a real expert who convinced me I was wrong and it is by a maker I had not even heard of but its still a very interesting watch and I had many hours of engagement with it. The maker is highly regarded by the few people who have heard of him and it was still good buy and it is a lovely watch. It is over 200 years old although expertly re-cased 120 years ago.

I try to limit my buys to watches worthy of further study and I only buy those I can conceivably wear on occasion.

Sometimes the frog you kiss really is a frog; but the hunt and study takes me into areas I find very intriguing.
 

Greg Frauenhoff

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"the collecting pastime itself is neither entirely rational nor logical," to which I would add that it rarely is any less frivolous than other time-wasting pastimes, such as golf, catch-and-release fly-fishing, or bird-watching.
.......
Don't pity me: I didn't have to stand for hours in cold waters to "catch" my soon-to-be-released prey.
Speaking of time wasting activities, just this afternoon I indulged in one of mine: gold panning. Not sure yet, but maybe found $1 worth. Gas was about $6 worth. BTW the water is quite cold this time of year.

Pocket watches have been a better return over the years. In fact, in today's mail came a 4 ounce coin silver case with mvt (cost under $50). So this will cover today's gold panning expenditures...should I ever sell it!
 

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Rob, thank you for the kind words, but I think you misunderstood what I was saying. My only point was that I regard most pocket watch collecting, including my own, as frivolous entertainment, on a par with e.g., birdwatching, assembling jigsaw puzzles, or watching sporting events. All of us engage in myriad pursuits that have no practical or other material value. We do them for enjoyment. That's should be sufficient justification. If I did not enjoy collecting PWs, I wouldn't collect them.
Perhaps simple enjoyment may be frivolous, but what little else is left in this life? From an external point of view, like mine, this exercise of frivolity that you practice helps a lot to people like me that every day we learn with your examples and your interventions. I suggest you to put that catalogue in a safe place because in the future (it already does) it will provide information to many amateurs.

PS I spent many years practising ornithology and taking notes of what I saw. This frivolity taught me patience and observation. My notes, in the end, have served to create censuses of migrations, although I did not expect it.
 

musicguy

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I don't do it all the time, but I really enjoy finding a movement
sometimes with a case, sometimes without, sometimes missing a hunting bezel,
or crystal or missing hands......but it's a movement that is REALLY
calling me(for lack of better words). I buy it and do everything to bring it back to life.
I only have one caveat, and that is that all the numbers on the movement
must match.


Rob
 

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Interesting subject, I'm glad you brought this up.

In my two-and-a half years of collecting I've acquired over a dozen American pocket watches among others. At first my goal was to collect one of every American brand but that hasn't panned out for some reason, probably because my other goal was to keep my purchases under one hundred dollars per watch but I soon found out that wasn't possible. I did want at least one key-wind watch and I have one of those. Maybe a railroad watch someday just to say that I have one.

As my collecting interest evolved I became more intrigued by watches made during the Roaring Twenties (as we are in the 2020's now) and the Great Depression era. I especially like the floral engravings of the edges of the cases and the general Art-Deco motif of the dials and the casebacks.

Not to get too off-topic but as a child growing up in the sixties many of my older relatives (great aunts and uncles, etc.) I have visited still had their twenties and thirties furniture and other knic-knacks still around the house that they have kept for all those years. A few examples are a 1935 GE radio, a black rotary-dial telephone with no rotor (that was optional, you still have to call the operator), and Singer treadle sewing machine. My parents hated all this stuff but I found these items and the whole era fascinating. I was told by my now 86 year-old father that his grandfather, a wealthy entrepreneur, during the height of the Great Depression purchased a new and extremely-rare 1933 Pierce Silver Arrow. Wow! I sure like to know what happened to that. The mind boggles!

Anyway, back to watches. I'm in my sixties now and when I retire I would like to be able to spend more time with the hobby. Of course I collect to learn more about them and I may even go to the "dark-side" and collect pre-War wrist watches. As I've said here before in other posts they are a piece of history that you can hold in your hand.
 

Clint Geller

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Interesting subject, I'm glad you brought this up.

In my two-and-a half years of collecting I've acquired over a dozen American pocket watches among others. At first my goal was to collect one of every American brand but that hasn't panned out for some reason, probably because my other goal was to keep my purchases under one hundred dollars per watch but I soon found out that wasn't possible. I did want at least one key-wind watch and I have one of those. Maybe a railroad watch someday just to say that I have one.

As my collecting interest evolved I became more intrigued by watches made during the Roaring Twenties (as we are in the 2020's now) and the Great Depression era. I especially like the floral engravings of the edges of the cases and the general Art-Deco motif of the dials and the casebacks.

Not to get too off-topic but as a child growing up in the sixties many of my older relatives (great aunts and uncles, etc.) I have visited still had their twenties and thirties furniture and other knic-knacks still around the house that they have kept for all those years. A few examples are a 1935 GE radio, a black rotary-dial telephone with no rotor (that was optional, you still have to call the operator), and Singer treadle sewing machine. My parents hated all this stuff but I found these items and the whole era fascinating. I was told by my now 86 year-old father that his grandfather, a wealthy entrepreneur, during the height of the Great Depression purchased a new and extremely-rare 1933 Pierce Silver Arrow. Wow! I sure like to know what happened to that. The mind boggles!

Anyway, back to watches. I'm in my sixties now and when I retire I would like to be able to spend more time with the hobby. Of course I collect to learn more about them and I may even go to the "dark-side" and collect pre-War wrist watches. As I've said here before in other posts they are a piece of history that you can hold in your hand.
As your post demonstrates, Mr. Murphy, a particularly gratifying aspect of our hobby is that the personal goals one sets in it are so completely wide open.
 
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Clint Geller

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Then it leads to branching out, a horrible situation. Business histories, researching evolution of manufacturing in NE, collecting Currier RR prints, watch card wallets, ad nauseum. It becomes a sickness that our partners look at with sadness.
Not me. I only collect watches, fountain pens, minerals and fossils, banjos, books, and traditional music recordings. :) I am also a failed coin collector. Twice I put together nice coin collections only to eventually sell them and buy watches with the money. My wife is a wonderful, tolerant person.
 

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The itch to collect rarely is satiated by collecting just one thing. I have a friend who collects so many things that he had to buy a American Legion hall to serve as a private museum for his collection of vintage cars, megaphones, lava lamps, folding hangers, folding cups, masks, brass hose nozzles, and corkscrews. (Any of you want to buy his collection of 3,000 corkscrews?) Another friend collects Santa Claus figurines, antique garden tools, post cards, old lawn mowers, and so many other things that his house almost burned down from what would have been a minor fire if firefighters hadn't been blocked by the clutter.

Thankfully, my present collecting is limited to cased pocket watches in good running order. It displaced my wine collecting. I am drinking that large collection up although it likely will outlast me.
 

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Then it leads to branching out, a horrible situation. Business histories, researching evolution of manufacturing in NE, collecting Currier RR prints, watch card wallets, ad nauseum. It becomes a sickness that our partners look at with sadness.
i've kept my clocks. sold my partner on ebay. :)
 

musicguy

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The other day I saw another collector's items that took 30 years to bring
together in a cohesive collection, that included many uncommon items, was being
sold as an entire lot. It is interesting how we as collectors bring things together
just to be spread to the wind every 20-30 years. All of the items were later sold on eBay individually
where I bought a few of them........and they are now in my collection for a little bit till they are dispersed
...........................eventually.




Rob
 

Clint Geller

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The other day I saw another collector's items that took 30 years to bring
together in a cohesive collection, that included many uncommon items, was being
sold as an entire lot. It is interesting how we as collectors bring things together
just to be spread to the wind every 20-30 years. All of the items were later sold on eBay individually.
where I bought a few of them........and they are now in my collection for a little bit till they are dispersed
...........................eventually.




Rob
Your all too common story elicits mixed emotions, Rob. On the one hand, most people, myself included, like to imagine that they will leave some kind of a legacy, if only a very minor one, that will leave some tangible, lasting impression on the world as a result of their having lived. As long as someone knows your name, the memory of you still has the capacity to make ripples in the world, and your oblivion is somehow less than absolute. So there is a natural resistance on the part of many collectors to see a carefully curated collection scattered to the winds. Indeed, an organized collection that tells a coherent story is greater than the sum of its parts, at least culturally if not monetarily, and that story is obliterated when the collection is dispersed unless it is documented in some publically accessible manner. On the other hand, the survival of the collecting hobby requires that a critical population of quality collectables continues to circulate, if only slowly, and this could not continue to be the case if collections, once assembled, never were dispersed.

The thought of friends, or museums, ending up with some of my own watches some day is not an unpleasant one for me. It may be that my Civil War provenance watch collection will go to one or more museums. (For example, the Pioneer Museum in Colorado Springs would be a natural destination for the watch presented in 1868 to the city's founder, Brigadier General William Jackson Palmer, by the former officers of the 15th PA Cavalry. Soldiers and Sailors Hall in my home town of Pittsburgh might end up with the watch that was presented in 1864 to Brigadier General Joseph Tarr Copeland by the officers of Camp Copeland in nearby Braddock PA. The S&S Hall curator is a friend of mine.) At the same time, I have gone to great lengths to document my collection and its historical and horological significances for my daughter Annie. Recently I was very gratified when, unprompted, she expressed the intention to keep my watches long term. Mostly this is because my collection represents something that her dad has poured so much time and effort into, but also because I think she has a growing appreciation for the fact that my collection may possess some nontrivial significance as a group of historical artifacts. Annie's proud father will take the liberty of mentioning that she will be graduating from medical school as an MD-PhD next May, taking her place as the second generation of scientists in her family. She, I expect, will be my most important legacy.
 
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bruce linde

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I'm told it's incurable. o_O
multiple responses:

- yes, that’s why the partner had to go :)

- you say ‘incurable’ like it’s a bad thing

- if anyone has a problem w folks chasing their passions, sharing their passions w others, learning, appreciating, preserving, etc… they’re the ones w the problem. not only do i appreciate the opportunities i get to enjoy and appreciate my clocks, i am constantly appreciating the knowledge and passions of you all, and marveling at the depths of knowledge and experience while appreciating the privilege of what i'm looking at. thank you.



The other day I saw another collector's items that took 30 years to bring
together in a cohesive collection, that included many uncommon items, was being
sold as an entire lot. It is interesting how we as collectors bring things together
just to be spread to the wind every 20-30 years. All of the items were later sold on eBay individually
where I bought a few of them........and they are now in my collection for a little bit till they are dispersed
...........................eventually. Rob
i have a collector friend who fits this description to a T.... his collection is acknowledged as perhaps the premier collection of clocks by a particular manufacturer. he has no documentation except for what's in his head. he has no plan for what happens to the collection if/when something were to happen to him.

in the meantime, though, it's pretty exceptional.
 

Clint Geller

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The other day I saw another collector's items that took 30 years to bring
together in a cohesive collection, that included many uncommon items, was being
sold as an entire lot. It is interesting how we as collectors bring things together
just to be spread to the wind every 20-30 years. All of the items were later sold on eBay individually.




Rob
Your all too common story elicits mixed emotions in me, Rob. On the one hand, most people, myself included, like to imagine that they will leave some kind of a legacy, if only a very minor one, that will leave some tangible, lasting impression on the world as a result of their having lived. As long as someone knows your name, the memory of you still has the capacity to make ripples in the world, and your oblivion is somehow less than absolute. So there is a natural resistance on the part of many collectors to see a carefully curated collection scattered to the winds. Indeed, an organized collection that tells a coherent story is greater than the sum of its parts, at least culturally if not monetarily, and that story is obliterated when the collection is dispersed unless it is documented in some publically accessible manner. On the other hand, the survival of the collecting hobby requires that a critical population of quality collectables continues to circulate, if only slowly, and this could not continue to be the case if collections, once assembled, never were dispersed. Once there is no longer an active community of people who care passionately about pocket watches, their survival becomes increasingly problematic, and those few that do survive will mostly languish, out of sight and mind, in dusty museum store rooms.

The thought of friends, or museums, ending up with some of my own watches some day is not an unpleasant one for me. It may be that my Civil War provenance watch collection will go to one or more museums. (For example, the Pioneer Museum in Colorado Springs would be a natural destination for the watch presented in 1868 to the city's founder, Brigadier General William Jackson Palmer, by the former officers of the 15th PA Cavalry. Likewise, Soldiers and Sailors Hall in my home town of Pittsburgh might end up with the watch that was presented in 1864 to Brigadier General Joseph Tarr Copeland by the officers of Camp Copeland in nearby Braddock PA. The S&S Hall has an impressive exhibit of Civil War artifacts, and the curator is a friend of mine.) At the same time, I have gone to great lengths to document my collection and its historical and horological significances for my daughter Annie, age 31. Recently I was very gratified when, unprompted, she expressed the intention to keep my watches long term. Mostly this is because my collection represents something that her dad has poured so much time and effort into, but also because I think she has a growing appreciation for the fact that my collection has some nontrivial significance as a group of historical artifacts. Annie's proud father will take the liberty of mentioning that she will be graduating from medical school as an MD-PhD next May, taking her place as the second generation of scientists in her family. She, I expect, will be my most important legacy.
 
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Ethan Lipsig

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Clint remarked that "[t]he thought of . . . museums . . . ending up with some of my own watches some day is not an unpleasant one for me."

I too might be happy to contribute some or all of my watches to a museum if I thought they would add something of significant historical or cultural value, but I have these serious reservations:
  • While I have many scarce high-end watches, only a few might interest any of the great watch museums to which I have been, e.g., the Patek Philippe Museum, the Salomons Collection, or The British Museum.
  • I pride myself for keeping every watch in my collection in good running order. I assume that my watches rarely, if ever, would run again if in a museum collection. That bothers me.
  • I presume that most or even all the watches I gave to a museum would sit forever in storage, serving little purpose at all. (I am philosophically opposed to donors imposing long-term restrictions on contributions, e.g., Dr. Barnes requiring all his art, door hinges, etc. always to be displayed just as he had displayed them.)
  • The only watch museum I know of in the U.S. is the NAWCC museum. I've been there once. It's a nice museum but it is located in the middle of nowhere and only draws about 12.5k visitors per year. Keeping up with the Times: National Association of Watch & Clock Collectors - Happenings Magazine. That might not be a serious objection if the NAWCC made its collection readily available digitally, but its digital offerings presently are all but useless. I am hoping this situation will be substantially ameliorated in the near future.
  • Watches normally do not make compelling museum fare. They are hard to display effectively because of their small size and the multiple views needed for their appreciation. The text and labeling they need to make them interesting detracts from the aesthetics of the display. The minor variations that often make watches interesting to many collectors are of no interest to 99.9% of the non-collector population.
Therefore, I presently think that it would be better to sell my collection and give the proceeds to charity (my wife and I are giving virtually everything we have to charity) than to give my collection to a museum.

To the extent my collection has historical value or value to other collectors, I am hoping that it will be possible to make it available digitally. It would be wonderful if the NAWCC developed a well-designed digital archive to which we could post information and photos of our collections to make them available to all in the future. If that is too difficult or problematic, then it would be wonderful if the NAWCC at least made available an archive to which we could post the catalogs or records many of us keep about our collections, as well as the databases some of us maintain, such as the ones, linked below, I keep on C.H. Meylans and Touchons.
 
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Clint Geller

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Clint remarked that "[t]he thought of . . . museums . . . ending up with some of my own watches some day is not an unpleasant one for me."

I too might be happy to contribute some or all of my watches to a museum if I thought they would add something of significant historical or cultural value, but I have these serious reservations:
  • While I have many scarce high-end watches, only a few might interest any of the great watch museums to which I have been, e.g., the Patek Philippe Museum, the Salomons Collection, or The British Museum.
  • I pride myself for keeping every watch in my collection in good running order. I assume that my watches rarely, if ever, would run again if in a museum collection. That bothers me.
  • I presume that most or even all the watches I gave to a museum would sit forever in storage, serving little purpose at all. (I am philosophically opposed to donors imposing long-term restrictions on contributions, e.g., Dr. Barnes requiring all his art, door hinges, etc. always to be displayed just as he had displayed them.)
  • The only watch museum I know of in the U.S. is the NAWCC museum. I've been there once. It's a nice museum but it is located in the middle of nowhere and only draws about 12.5k visitors per year. Keeping up with the Times: National Association of Watch & Clock Collectors - Happenings Magazine. That might not be a serious objection if the NAWCC made its collection readily available digitally, but its digital offerings presently are all but useless. I am hoping this situation will be substantially ameliorated in the near future.
  • Watches normally do not make compelling museum fare. They are hard to display effectively because of their small size and the multiple views needed for their appreciation. The text and labeling they need to make them interesting detracts from the aesthetics of the display. The minor variations that often make watches interesting to many collectors are of no interest to 99.9% of the non-collector population.
Therefore, I presently think that it would be better to sell my collection and give the proceeds to charity (my wife and I are giving virtually everything we have to charity) than to give my collection to a museum.

To the extent my collection has historical value or value to other collectors, I am hoping that it will be possible to make it available digitally. It would be wonderful if the NAWCC developed a well-designed digital archive to which we could post information and photos of our collections to make them available to all in the future. If that is too difficult or problematic, then it would be wonderful if the NAWCC at least made available an archive to which we could post the catalogs or records many of us keep about our collections, as well as the databases some of us maintain, such as the ones, linked below, I keep on C.H. Meylans and Touchons.
Ethan, to the list of issues you raised with museum bequests, I would add the following one: It is far from certain that the receiving museum would keep your bequest indefinitely. Most museums, including our own NAWCC museum, will not accept a bequest with any such condition attached to it. As I'm sure you know, that is considered bad practice to do so, and for good reason. I would consider beqeathing the Palmer watch and the Copeland watch I mentioned only because they have strong associations with the locales in which the museums I identified for them are situated, and with the particular themes and missions of those museums. I also have great affection for the museum that the National Park Service operates at the Gettysburg Battlefield National Historic Site, so I might possibly consider bequeathing something there. They currently have only one watch in their collection that is actually a Civil War artifact, and I'd like to rectify that.
 
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I am on the board of a major art museum. In-kind gifts to U.S. art museums (and by analogy, to other U.S. museums) are either accepted for the purpose of sale (e.g., gifts of stock or real estate) or for the purpose of accession into the collection. I highlighted accession because it is the technical term museums use to denote that an item has been added to its collection. If I gave my watch collection to a museum, it only would be because it would accession most or all of the watches for its collection.

U.S. art museum code of ethics, and likely the collections policies of all respected U.S. art museums, generally prohibit the de-accessioning of items except to acquire other items for the collection.

Due to financial worries at the height of the COVID crisis, the body that issues art museum ethical standards temporarily relaxed its standards to permit items to be deaccessioned to raise money for certain purposes, and it has made some version of the temporary relief permanent. This change in position has been criticized in some quarters.

Before giving my collection to a museum, I would have to be comfortable with its collections policy, particularly with respect to deaccessioning items.

Nothing lasts forever. If circumstances or tastes change after I am gone and a museum feels compelled to deaccession anything I have given it, so be it, but I wouldn't give anything to a museum's collection unless the museum had a satisfactory collections policy, particularly with respect to deaccessioning items.
 

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I cruised over from the clock side of things because of the interesting title and instantly became engrossed in the thoughts and opinions shared in this thread. The clarity of the thinking and analysis is matched only by the passion expressed.

My latest clock just arrived today. I've restored and given away three or four just like it to friends and family, and there's another one just like it on the shelf waiting its turn. So does that make me a collector or just a :screwball:?

I've always admired Illinois railroad-grade pocket watches because there is an aesthetic about them I find particularly appealing. I don't know how else to describe it.

Thanks for letting me listen and chime in.
 

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I am on the board of a major art museum. In-kind gifts to U.S. art museums (and by analogy, to other U.S. museums) are either accepted for the purpose of sale (e.g., gifts of stock or real estate) or for the purpose of accession into the collection. I highlighted accession because it is the technical term museums use to denote that an item has been added to its collection. If I gave my watch collection to a museum, it only would be because it would accession most or all of the watches for its collection.

U.S. art museum code of ethics, and likely the collections policies of all respected U.S. art museums, generally prohibit the de-accessioning of items except to acquire other items for the collection.

Due to financial worries at the height of the COVID crisis, the body that issues art museum ethical standards temporarily relaxed its standards to permit items to be deaccessioned to raise money for certain purposes, and it has made some version of the temporary relief permanent. This change in position has been criticized in some quarters.

Before giving my collection to a museum, I would have to be comfortable with its collections policy, particularly with respect to deaccessioning items.

Nothing lasts forever. If circumstances or tastes change after I am gone and a museum feels compelled to deaccession anything I have given it, so be it, but I wouldn't give anything to a museum's collection unless the museum had a satisfactory collections policy, particularly with respect to deaccessioning items.
Hi Ethan,

I was aware of your participation on at least one museum board, which is why I stated that I was certain you knew of what I wrote. I myself serve on the NAWCC Museum Collections Committee, which approves all accession and deaccession decisions for our museum. When we accept gifts from donors, we decide at that time whether the item is to be added to the collection or sold to raise capital for other acquisitions. Our museum's collection has a lot of what I would call "ballast" in it, which we are in process of deaccessioning. However, even more worthy pieces might be deaccessioned at some point were we to acquire a better example and we wished to raise funds to expand the collection in other areas. There can never be any absolute guarantees that an item considered worthy for accession today might not be considered for deaccesion at a later date.
 
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Schatznut

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Hi Ethan,

I was aware of your participation on at least one museum board, which is why I stated that I was certain you knew of what I wrote. I myself serve on the NAWCC Museum Committee, which approves all accession and deaccession decisions for our museum. When we accept gifts from donors, we decide at that time whether the item is to be added to the collection or sold to raise capital for other acquisitions. Our museum's collection has a lot of what I would call "ballast" in it, which we are in process of deaccessioning. However, even more worthy pieces might be deaccessioned at some point were we to acquire a better example and we wished to raise funds to expand the collection in other areas. There can never be any absolute guarantees that an item considered worthy for accession today might not be considered for deaccesion at a later date.
This emphasizes that we are neither owners or collectors; merely stewards.
 

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multiple responses:

- yes, that’s why the partner had to go :)

- you say ‘incurable’ like it’s a bad thing

- if anyone has a problem w folks chasing their passions, sharing their passions w others, learning, appreciating, preserving, etc… they’re the ones w the problem. not only do i appreciate the opportunities i get to enjoy and appreciate my clocks, i am constantly appreciating the knowledge and passions of you all, and marveling at the depths of knowledge and experience while appreciating the privilege of what i'm looking at. thank you.





i have a collector friend who fits this description to a T.... his collection is acknowledged as perhaps the premier collection of clocks by a particular manufacturer. he has no documentation except for what's in his head. he has no plan for what happens to the collection if/when something were to happen to him.

in the meantime, though, it's pretty exceptional.
The use of the word incurable was meant to be humorous.
 
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bruce linde

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The use of the word incurable was meant to be humorous.
of course... but the funniest things in life are often true. :)



This emphasizes that we are neither owners or collectors; merely stewards.
hard to say i 'own' a clock that's lived for more than two hundred years and will probably only spend 20 or so with me.... stewards is exactly what we are. i look at it as my responsibility to take as good care as possible of all my clocks to get them through this latest part of their journeys. my concern is that when they get 'spread to the wind' when i go not all of them will survive... which brings up another point:

the exceptional clocks and watches in our collections will probably live on... but marriages, ancillary parts, tools, books, etc. may fall by the wayside... especially with interest in mechanical things flagging each year, putting us incurables more and more in the minority. i have a pile of pendulums, weights, and misc. other horologic detritus in the shop and garage that only another nut like me would be interested in... maybe.

since thinking that makes me kind of sad, i compensate by appreciating my clocks even more... and sharing new acquisitions with you all, and my friends who enjoy visiting my little 'clock museum'. :)
 

Clint Geller

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of course... but the funniest things in life are often true. :)





hard to say i 'own' a clock that's lived for more than two hundred years and will probably only spend 20 or so with me.... stewards is exactly what we are. i look at it as my responsibility to take as good care as possible of all my clocks to get them through this latest part of their journeys. my concern is that when they get 'spread to the wind' when i go not all of them will survive... which brings up another point:

the exceptional clocks and watches in our collections will probably live on... but marriages, ancillary parts, tools, books, etc. may fall by the wayside... especially with interest in mechanical things flagging each year, putting us incurables more and more in the minority. i have a pile of pendulums, weights, and misc. other horologic detritus in the shop and garage that only another nut like me would be interested in... maybe.

since thinking that makes me kind of sad, i compensate by appreciating my clocks even more... and sharing new acquisitions with you all, and my friends who enjoy visiting my little 'clock museum'. :)
I think one of the best things we can do to maximize the chances that particular horological artifacts survive long term after they leave our hands is to do our best to put them in reasonable working order and to make them as reasonably "complete" and correct as possible. I believe that working timepieces have a better chance of being cherished by someone else and surviving than nonfunctional ones, and that correctly cased, even if not originally cased, watches and clocks stand a better chance of survival than uncased movements. I have no repair or restoration skills myself, so I work with a skilled and highly knowledgable watchmaker who does. Having a relatively small collection - only about 40 pieces - made getting all my watches into good running order with correct parts, cases, and dials a reasonable proposition.
 
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musicguy

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I think one of the best things we can do to maximize the chances that particular horological artifacts survive long term after they leave our hands is to do our best to put them in reasonable working order and to make them as reasonably "complete" and correct as possible.
I agree, this is what I try to accomplish.

Rob
 

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Collecting for me is about learning, having something interesting to talk about with others, meeting new friends, and especially having fun.

My father liked clocks so that's what I looked at when I first went to NAWCC shows with him. I attended a chronometer lecture at a regional 30 years ago and ended up having a fascinating conversation with a collector about an American-signed, "private label" (or sometimes called "contract watch") from the 1790's. It was an area of American watchmaking that I never heard of before put into the palm of my hand. Technology, artistry, craftmanship and history all in a 2-inch pocket watch that one could feel, hear, and even smell. I was hooked. Moral of the story for me is always go to as many lectures at NAWCC events as you can even if its a topic that you only have a small interest in. You never know what you might learn, what you will take away, and who you may meet.
 

bruce linde

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Collecting for me is about learning, having something interesting to talk about with others, meeting new friends, and especially having fun.My father liked clocks so that's what I looked at when I first went to NAWCC shows with him. I attended a chronometer lecture at a regional 30 years ago and ended up having a fascinating conversation with a collector about an American-signed, "private label" (or sometimes called "contract watch") from the 1790's. It was an area of American watchmaking that I never heard of before put into the palm of my hand. Technology, artistry, craftmanship and history all in a 2-inch pocket watch that one could feel, hear, and even smell. I was hooked. Moral of the story for me is always go to as many lectures at NAWCC events as you can even if its a topic that you only have a small interest in. You never know what you might learn, what you will take away, and who you may meet.

what happens to your clocks when you go? are they all collectible, such that there will be no orphaned pieces? what about tools and parts? do you have documentation on everything for your heirs / executor(s)?
 

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what happens to your clocks when you go? are they all collectible, such that there will be no orphaned pieces? what about tools and parts? do you have documentation on everything for your heirs / executor(s)?
I can always do more. I have a USB drive in the safe deposit box that has an inventory of every clock and watch in a spreadsheet with approximate / realistic values and the more important items identified. I have a second document with contact information they can use to get help if they want to dispose of some of all of the collection, and items that would be of interest to particular museums. Of course, I hope to be around to deal with these difficult decisions myself but If I'm not able to do so due to death or illness, at least my family has a solid starting point.
 
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bruce linde

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I can always do more. I have a USB drive in the safe deposit box that has an inventory of every clock and watch in a spreadsheet with approximate / realistic values and the more important items identified. I have a second document with contact information they can use to get help if they want to dispose of some of all of the collection, and items that would be of interest to particular museums. Of course, I hope to be around to deal with these difficult decisions myself but If I'm not able to do so due to death or illness, at least my family has a solid starting point.

i hear you... my website has hidden fields that document prices paid, installation (and de-installation) instructions, thoughts or instructions for selling or gifting, etc. those fields are visible only to those with admin access. i've left some money and access instructions for a 'clocks executor' in my estate docs.

i need to add additional sources for selling (dealers, auction house contacts, etc.). and... there's a whole bunch of stuff i acquired during my newbie/enthusiast days... pendulums, weights, tools, parts, etc. i've been wracking my brain for ways to find a younger me type who might be interested in a mentor... and benefit as i did from my clock mentor.

an interesting question came up the other day from said clock executor.... "if you had to pick one.... ". i couldn't. i said, "how about five?"... and had a hard time with that question, as well. :)
 

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It would be lovely if the NAWCC created an online facility in which collectors could deposit their collection catalogs or records. It could take the form of something as simple as a depositary for whatever digital records the collector has already created. Better yet, a standard catalog form could be prescribed with searchable fields. Has the NAWCC ever looked into this? A collections depositary, especially one that is easily searchable, would be a wonderful tool. It would also permit those of us who have spent countless hours cataloging their collections a way of preserving them when the collections themselves are inevitably disbanded and the collectors themselves are gone. I don't want the dumpster to be the only depositary for my 1000 page catalog.
 

bruce linde

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i like some of your ideas, but worry about privacy and am not totally comfortable leaving things in the hands of policy makers i don't always agree with.

otoh, what about a 'estate planning' forum for watch and clock collectors to share strategies and resources?
 

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Put all the watches in a watch museum and charge all the people a buck and a half just to see em.

All this talk about donating collections to a museum got me thinking about the rational of doing this and how this would impact the future of collecting.

First thing that hit me is what would all our collections look like if previous owners had done what you are contemplating doing with your watches.

This next thing that jumped out at me was what drove people to collect in the first place. Some have expressed that the part they enjoy most is the thrill of acquisition, growing their collection, finding those rare bucket list items needed to complete our collections. But most of those oddities have already been donated to museums where most collectors seldom have the convenient oppurtunities to visit without significant costs. I have collected much longer than many current "serious collectors" and have only visited two watch museums in almost 50 years of collecting.

The thrill of the hunt and acquisitions has come down to who you know, what they collect, and are they willing and ready to part with what you want and what will it cost you. Today a true watch safari tends to be a trip to ebay, an auction, a pawn shop, or a scrap dealer.

What ruins collecting are those collectors who claim to be serious collectors who beg to buy watches claiming they need to acquire a watch to fill a void in their collection only to turn around and sell it for a simple profit to someone else or to scrappers. Sure donating to museums almost completely insures the preservation of important timepeices. I also have donated nonwatch artifacts to important museums. I wonder if doing so actually defeats the fun of collecting for other future collectors. I wonder if some collectors who donate do so so they can lay claim that it was their generosity that will forever keep prized watches out of other private hands.

I doubt Joni Mitchell was ever a watch collector, but she did get one thing correct. You don't know what you got until its gone! ...and neither will other collectors if a watch they seek is stuck somewhere in a vault in a watch museum.
 

Clint Geller

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Put all the watches in a watch museum and charge all the people a buck and a half just to see em.

All this talk about donating collections to a museum got me thinking about the rational of doing this and how this would impact the future of collecting.

First thing that hit me is what would all our collections look like if previous owners had done what you are contemplating doing with your watches.

This next thing that jumped out at me was what drove people to collect in the first place. Some have expressed that the part they enjoy most is the thrill of acquisition, growing their collection, finding those rare bucket list items needed to complete our collections. But most of those oddities have already been donated to museums where most collectors seldom have the convenient oppurtunities to visit without significant costs. I have collected much longer than many current "serious collectors" and have only visited two watch museums in almost 50 years of collecting.

The thrill of the hunt and acquisitions has come down to who you know, what they collect, and are they willing and ready to part with what you want and what will it cost you. Today a true watch safari tends to be a trip to ebay, an auction, a pawn shop, or a scrap dealer.

What ruins collecting are those collectors who claim to be serious collectors who beg to buy watches claiming they need to acquire a watch to fill a void in their collection only to turn around and sell it for a simple profit to someone else or to scrappers. Sure donating to museums almost completely insures the preservation of important timepeices. I also have donated nonwatch artifacts to important museums. I wonder if doing so actually defeats the fun of collecting for other future collectors. I wonder if some collectors who donate do so so they can lay claim that it was their generosity that will forever keep prized watches out of other private hands.

I doubt Joni Mitchell was ever a watch collector, but she did get one thing correct. You don't know what you got until its gone! ...and neither will other collectors if a watch they seek is stuck somewhere in a vault in a watch museum.
Yes, that is precisely why I am ambivalent about the idea of every collector seeking to park his former collection in a museum when he is done with it. Unless a sufficient population of circulating collectables of reasonable quality remains to sustain the interest of a community of collectors, the few surviving examples will mostly vanish into dusty museum store rooms and basements and public interest in the subject as a whole will wane. And yet, properly run museums can play an important role in supporting our hobby as well, by supporting horological research, and by helping to inspire and nurture succeeding generations of collectors. So it becomes a matter of balancing conflicting priorities. That is why I think it is important to develop temporary exhibits drawing on private collections, as I have done.
 
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I've been thinking recently about how collectors decide how to collect and why.
Sometimes I think watches collect me. Everyday I scan many pocket watches looking
for one that calls me. When one sets it's hook in me, it's hard for me to get away.
I start researching it and looking at it very closely. First, looking for all the reasons
I should not buy it. I'm not sure why, but it always stresses me buying any watch
no matter what the cost is. I start thinking about having too many. Then I buy
it, feel a little more stress, then I get it in my hand and I melt like butter.


Rob
 
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Mary Rohs

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Speaking of museums, isn't it true that a donation to a museum can later by sold by that museum if it wishes to thin out the collection? To me, best way to do it is find someone or multiple who will appreciate, encourage to collect and leave to them and hopefully that continues on.
 

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