What Are the Rarest Watches in Your American Collections?

Ethan Lipsig

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Although almost every pocket watch is unique in some way, some were produced in very limited numbers. Please post photos and a description of rare or scarce watches in your American collections, such as models of which 300 or fewer were produced, or watches that are highly unusual for some other meaningful reason.

To get things started, I will post two scarce watches in my collection:

Illinois Grade 525 "Aluminum" Watch: Illinois made 50 of these watches, with aluminum bridges. Some or all were cased in Wadsworth white gold-filled cases with aluminum backs and bezels, as my watch is cased. My watch was presented to its original owner, U.S. Senator Roscoe C. McCulloch, by the Illinois Watch Company in around 1921, in recognition of McCulloch's legal representation of the American National Retail Jewelers Association. I purchased the watch from McCulloch's grandson. Of the 50 that were made, I only know of two others still in existence.

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Waltham American Watch Co. Grade Model 1868: Waltham made about 152 of these watch between 1868 and 1872. It was one of Waltham's first keyless watches, perhaps its first. It apparently was too expensive to make and quickly was replaced by the Model 1872. My example is in an 18k AWCO case. An interesting, if battered, watch paper was in the case when I bought the watch; it is one of the earliest of its type.

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Very nice Ethan



Rob
 
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Jerry Treiman

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I have a few very-low production American watches in my collection. (I am not including jeweler-labeled watches that are otherwise more common grades).

My scarcest watch may even be a singular product, although one could speculate that as many as ten may have been made. It is a 6/0-size E.Howard & Co., Boston movement that was made for E.Howard by the Waltham Watch Co. around 1902. It appears to be based on Waltham’s “Diamond” grade. The case is not original.
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My second scarcest watch is this 20-jewel “Ultimatum” made by the Waltham Watch Co. The few known examples are all clustered within a tight range of only ten serial numbers. This special production watch, with a capped center jewel, is based on Waltham’s 12-size Riverside grade.
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This 10-size “E. Howard Watch Co.” was made by Hamilton in 1939 when they owned the Howard name. This grade H917 is one of twelve that Hamilton produced to preserve their naming rights. It is based on their grade 917 movement.
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Waltham made only a few thousand “American Watch Co.” grade bridge models, mostly with 21 or 23 jewels. However, among these they made 80 or fewer with 17 jewels -- all for E. Howard & Co. (ca.1902-03). 30 were hunters and 40-50 were open-face. This OF example was cased and sold by Hayden W. Wheeler.
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SpringDriven

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Ethan,

That model 68 is amazing! I was surprised to see that it has a similar feature to the first two runs of the American grade 72, the famous ones that were entered in that Centenial competition.

Your 68 has adjustable regulating pins (or so I assume from the screw in your photos on the balance bridge) which prior to seeing your watch I assumed was only used on the first two runs of the 18J American grade 72s! It is awesome to see it was used BEFORE the 72 on the 68!

This is something I have only seen on a Waltham 72, and now your 68, but it is used regularly on most modern wrist watch movements today that use regulating pins. Reference the Etachron regulating system for example.

The reason for adjustable regulating pins... You would open the pins fully, adjust the hairspring so it is flat and the coils are concentric. This way the regulating pins are not fighting your adjustment of the hairspring. It also allows you to adjust the hairspring so it is cenetered between the pins. I can go in more depth about how that can effect the beat error etc but suffice to say when you are done adjusting the hairspring it should be centered between the regulating pins.

Then you close the gap of the pins by rotating the screw. The gap between the pins and the hairspring adjust the rate in the stems positions. Adjusting that gap should provide a rate in the stem positions that is similar to the dial positions.

I only recently learned that Waltham had this feature when I picked up a complete (movement only, no case or dial) but severely damaged American grade 72 from the second run. That is probably my rarest American pocket watch, as I understand they only made about 160 of the 18J models. It is worthy of restoration. It is not something that will be done in a day. It will still look awful when finished, but they will be reminders of where the watch came from. But I was excited to have the opportunity to purchase it. I like orphaned watches personally.

I also have a model 68, without a case, Am'n grade I believe, they are not very common.

Oh, I suppose I have a Champion grade 72, that only 200 were made...

Here are some photos, I realize collectors prefer complete cased examples as original as possible etc. But being a watchmaker I can appreciate many things about the movements, the details, I can become familiar with the watch. My perspective allows me to enjoy these orphans. I don't mind if their eventual cases are not original. I love early American watchmaking so these are wonderful to me, and I get to see them when possible return to service!

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P.S. I really enjoy the 68 and 72 Walthams. I especially enjoy the complex winding system of the 68 which was necessary because it did not have a Breguet clutch in the winding and setting system.

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SpringDriven

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Jerry,

I had no idea Waltham made a 17J version of the bridge model 99 for Howard. How wonderful! Thanks for sharing!
 

Ethan Lipsig

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None of my Hamiltons are as scarce as the Waltham and Illinois watches I showed in my first post. Perhaps the most uncommon Hamilton I have is this 922MP. Although around 2,600 922MPs were made, this one is uncommon for two reasons. First, it is an early example (circa 1927) without the Invar balance wheel later ones had. Second, it is in a platinum case with an extra-charge #3A dial. There surely weren't many platinum-cased 922MPs made; I have only seen a few over the years. The list price for my watch was $825 when it was sold. In inflation-adjusted dollars, that would be around $12,500 according to CPI Inflation Calculator.

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None of my Hamiltons are as scarce as the Waltham and Illinois watches I showed in my first post. Perhaps the most uncommon Hamilton I have is this 922MP. Although around 2,600 922MPs were made, this one is uncommon for two reasons. First, it is an early example (circa 1927) without the Invar balance wheel later ones had. Second, it is in a platinum case with an extra-charge #3A dial. There surely weren't many platinum-cased 922MPs made; I have only seen a few over the years. The list price for my watch was $825 when it was sold. In inflation-adjusted dollars, that would be around $12,500 according to CPI Inflation Calculator.

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Well, here is the centerpiece of my collection. It may have been shown previously in another thread. Although I have no clue of number produced or if it is even one of the first sweep second Elgins. What I do know is it is from a run of experimental models from 1875 and is all original.
The movement S/N is 375028 it is a 17j 16s lever set in a hunter case with no ghost marks and appears to be original to the movement.
The oddity of it is that no serial numbers appear on ft plate, balance bridge, barrel bridge ond sweep second cock . All just have the number 8 stamped on them
The watch case is an early gold filled marked with an anchor and crown in a keystone symbol s/n 1709932.

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Jerry Treiman

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These are only a little higher production than the ones I listed earlier --

There was only one production block of 100 movements for Waltham’s Colonial Series Riverside Maximus in the hunting case configuration. -
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Although Waltham made over 2,000 10-size Colonial-A Maximus movements, only the first 200 were 21-jewel models. Of those 200, only some (perhaps the first 50) had a gold gear train. (They added cap jewels to the pallet for the more common 23-jewel version).
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In 1875 and 1876 Waltham made just 200 12-size keywind Martyn Square movements. It was based on their 10-size 1874 model but with larger pillar and top plates. Most, if not all, were exported.
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One of Illinois’ top 12-size watches was the 23-jewel Illini model. 200 of these were produced and cased at the factory in 14K gold cases by Solidarity. Although described as having an enamel dial very few have actually been found that way. My example had a bad metal dial that has been replaced with an appropriate enamel dial; the case is original.
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Clint Geller

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Well, I have shown these watches before on other threads. They are examples of watch models and grades that are only scarce, rather than truly rare, but with rare or even unique particular features. One is a 21 jewel American Watch Company Grade 20 Size keywind with Fogg's vibrating hairspring stud, which was a patented regulator design that was claimed to preserve isochronism. All AWCo Grade KW20's with Fogg's stud come out of the same hundred lot at SN 150,001, but not all movements in this run had them. Nearly all known AWCo Grade examples with Fogg's stud have 20 jewels, including the usual 19 plus one for the upper pivot hole of the vibrating stud arbor. However, SN 150,024 pictured here, has both pivot holes of the stud arbor jeweled, raising the jewel count to 21. There is reportedly one other such 21 jewel example known. Depending on which of these has the earlier serial number, SN 150,024 may be the earliest 21 jewel American watch movement. It is in a correct and pretty magnificent Celestine Jacot & Brother 18K case with elegant machine engraving on three interior surfaces.

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The second watch is an AWCo Grade Model 1872, SN 999,960, with Charles vander Woerd's patented sawtooth balance, which was a fanciful attempt to reduce middle temperature error. I believe that all but one or two known examples, and all marked examples come out of the hundred lot at SN 999,901. But again, most known examples from this run do not have Woerd's balance. I'm guessing far fewer than half of the movements in this run actually did. Movement SN 999,960 was placed in this gorgeous 18K AWCo case.

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The third watch, which may be unique, is an American Grade Model 1868 with later, elaborate damaskeening, SN 410,435, in a heavy 18K AWCo case.

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The fourth watch is a nickel American Grade 16 Size Keywind with a total production of fewer than 80. It is contemporaneous with the second short run of American Grade Model 1868's, of which I also have an example, but it is even rarer than the Model 1868. SN 501,586 has especially nice damaskeening. It also has a flat hairspring, which is unusual but not unheard of for this kind of watch. The case is 18K AWCo.

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I also have a marked "NONMAGNETIC" American Grade Model 1872 with a nonmagnetic double roller escapement, but my watchmaker is still cleaning it up, so I don't have pix to share.
 
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Joe Blossic

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Per information provided by others - Greg Frauenhoff, Fred Hansen, Eric Unselt, Tom McIntyre, Ed Ueberall, Kent Singer, Don Herrington - my opportunity to express gratitude for them and all others who research and share this valuable information.

Approximately 380 Seth Thomas Model 2 Henry Molineux were produced in four separate runs. This has an unmarked factory dial.
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The Seth Thomas 382 came in two variants: the early single-roller design with a cross-hatched square in the center, and the later one with a double-roller pallet and a round cross-hatched center. Both types are scarce, with production totals at roughly 325 early movements, and 300 in the fifth and final serial number block. This example is the earliest known Grade 382; SN 220736 came from a block of likely twenty or thirty.
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Aurora's highest production model - the Grade 10. Roughly 300 were made, having 17 jewels in the open-face snowflake pattern carrying the incorrect 15 Ruby Jewels markings.
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Seth Thomas Special Motor Service (SMS) grade has its own matching dial and all examples exhibit the same pattern and jewel count. They have been reported in the first and second SN blocks in a dozen small runs, totaling roughly 200 produced.
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The Waltham 16-jewel Champion grade with only 200 produced on flashed-gilt plates.
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Seth Thomas produced only two runs of their 25-jewel 6-position Maiden Lane, one with single roller and the other with double, totaling 200 movements.
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The 21-jewel 16-size Ruby Columbus is one of 200.
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Rockford 912; the thinking is that there were 100 blocked but possibly only 50 produced.
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Per Greg F. info a total of 1040 Grade 66 movements were made, but nearly all of them were private label marked and Greg believes the total production of this grade without private label might be as low as 10 made in the single group of 141951 to 141960 serial range. Although there are an additional 5 Grade 66 movements Greg has listed as "unknown" for markings; but even if these 5 watches are Aurora marked this would still only push the total for factory marked Grade 66 movements to 15 made.
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And 2 or 3 Hampden 16S, 23J - if they are specific by model (1-5), finish (nickel, tu-tome) and type (OF, HC). Thanks Henry Burgell, Chapter 149.
 

pmwas

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Superb thread.. and super-tough!

I could show my Roxbury, but that's 1000. I could show my 1st run Raymond, but that's almost a thousand.
Hulburd was even more, and it's still hard to come by.

Below 300, below 300...

I thought I had no such watch, BUT...

If something in my American collection really IS rare, it surely is this No 20 first series dome model...

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What's so special about it?
Soild balance COARSE TRAIN (16,200bph) version.
All later ones were quick train exp. balance.
So... I guess it is something, despite the poor condition...

I also think the 20j Keystone could be that scarce...

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...but I'm not sure...
 

Kenny S.

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I wish I had the beautiful watches to compete with what you guys have been posting, but I also realize this isn't a competition. I have quite a few Model 1872's and this is certainly the rarest since it is from the first run of 500 of the model and it is button set. It is the only button set '72 I have ever seen. It's in rough shape as you can see from the pics but has potential nonetheless. I don't know how many of this run were button set but I don't believe if the first run of 500 were all button set, that very many of them still exist.
I would love to hear your thoughts on it.

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luvsthetick

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According to American Timekeeper's Seth Thomas Research site the grade 272 is described as

"The 272*
This is the only known 23-jewel variant of the Model 5, produced with the unique nickel "fishscale" pattern and reported in a single block of 200 movements from SN 238,201 to 238,400. A majority of them have been found with the light Montgomery dial."

Even if all 200 were made I am truly happy to own one that has survived.

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Ethan Lipsig

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Another scarce watch in my collection is what is arguably the first Keystone-Howard watch, a 21-jewel "Waltham Bridge" hunter. one of only about 25 that were made.

As the old Howard company tottered toward liquidation, it announced that it was coming out with a new line of high-grade watches. It did this to add value to the Howard name, which was up for sale. The new line of watches was made for Howard by Waltham. Waltham agreed to provide several different models to Howard, including Waltham's top-of-the-line bridge movement. Keystone took over the Waltham contract. Nearly all of the Waltham-Howards were sold under the E. Howard Watch Co. name. However, a few of the very first Walthams, which were delivered to Howard in December 1902 before the Keystone sale, were sold by the old Howard company under its own name, including this 14k 21j bridge model, which is the very first Waltham-Howard listed in the Waltham records, although it is listed with three others that might have been delivered as early as my watch. My watch, therefore, arguably is the first Keystone-Howard watch.

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The first run of the Waltham-Howard bridge model had standard Waltham bridges with circular damascening. I understand that about 200 were made, of which only 60 were hunters and only 25 of those were 21j.

David M. Perine was a Master Mechanic for the Pennsylvania Railroad Company and this watch was presented on the date he was transferred from his position with the Pittsburg Division Shops over to the West Philadelphia Shops. There is some terrific information about Perine available with a Google search and a short biography which includes the above information can be found at Pennsylvania Railroad System Information for Employees and the Public.

An appropriate watch to pair with the first Keystone-Howard is my 18k Waltham Premier Maximus, not because it also basically is a Waltham Bridge Model, but because it is the last Premier Maximus ever made. About 501 Premier Maximus were made, so they are not especially scarce, but the last one made is one-of-a-kind. (If you know of a Premier Maximus with a higher serial number than mine (17,057,300), please let me know.)


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Clint Geller

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I wish I had the beautiful watches to compete with what you guys have been posting, but I also realize this isn't a competition. I have quite a few Model 1872's and this is certainly the rarest since it is from the first run of 500 of the model and it is button set. It is the only button set '72 I have ever seen. It's in rough shape as you can see from the pics but has potential nonetheless. I don't know how many of this run were button set but I don't believe if the first run of 500 were all button set, that very many of them still exist.
I would love to hear your thoughts on it.

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Kenny, what is the serial number on your interesting Model 1872? The picture is cut off above the serial number, at least on my computer screen. There was a run of 18 jewel American Watch Company Grade Model 1872 movements in nickel at SN 670,001 that was all or mostly button set as well. I wish I owned an example to show, but I do not. There is one here, however:

AWCo Web

In the example Tom shows, the button setting mechanism in the movement is combined with a case mechanism to make the watch "nail set."
 
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Clint Geller

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Another scarce watch in my collection is what is arguably the first Keystone-Howard watch, a 21-jewel "Waltham Bridge" hunter. one of only about 25 that were made.

As the old Howard company tottered toward liquidation, it announced that it was coming out with a new line of high-grade watches. It did this to add value to the Howard name, which was up for sale. The new line of watches was made for Howard by Waltham. Waltham agreed to provide several different models to Howard, including Waltham's top-of-the-line bridge movement. Keystone took over the Waltham contract. Nearly all of the Waltham-Howards were sold under the E. Howard Watch Co. name. However, a few of the very first Walthams, which were delivered to Howard in December 1902 before the Keystone sale, were sold by the old Howard company under its own name, including this 14k 21j bridge model, which is the very first Waltham-Howard listed in the Waltham records, although it is listed with three others that might have been delivered as early as my watch. My watch, therefore, arguably is the first Keystone-Howard watch.

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The first run of the Waltham-Howard bridge model had standard Waltham bridges with circular damascening. I understand that about 200 were made, of which only 60 were hunters and only 25 of those were 21j.

David M. Perine was a Master Mechanic for the Pennsylvania Railroad Company and this watch was presented on the date he was transferred from his position with the Pittsburg Division Shops over to the West Philadelphia Shops. There is some terrific information about Perine available with a Google search and a short biography which includes the above information can be found at Pennsylvania Railroad System Information for Employees and the Public.

An appropriate watch to pair with the first Keystone-Howard is my 18k Waltham Premier Maximus, not because it also basically is a Waltham Bridge Model, but because it is the last Premier Maximus ever made. About 501 Premier Maximus were made, so that are not especially scarce, but the last one made is one-of-a-kind. (If you know of a Premier Maximus with a higher serial number than mine (17,057,300), please let me know.)


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Killer watches, Ethan. I love the Pittsburgh connection of the Waltham-Howard bridge model, especially because Pittsburg is spelled without the final h. Here is some history regarding the spelling of Pittsburgh's name:

Name of Pittsburgh - Wikipedia
 

Fred Hansen

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One of my favorites, Freeport Watch Co. serial number 1.

The Freeport Watch Co. was an ambitious upstart in Freeport, Illinois that was just entering its initial stages of production, but on the night of October 21st, 1875 a disastrous fire destroyed the factory building.

The total production of the Freeport Watch Co. is believed to be 12 watches made, and I’m aware of five known to exist. Of these five, serial number 1 is the only 19 jewel movement as three of the others are 15 jewel and one is 17 jewel.
 

Joe Blossic

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Another scarce watch in my collection is what is arguably the first Keystone-Howard watch, a 21-jewel "Waltham Bridge" hunter. one of only about 25 that were made.
Ethan, great idea for a thread, we've gotten to see some very special watches through it! Thanks for the PRR link also.
 

Ethan Lipsig

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In post 20, I described a watch as the "first Keystone-Howard." That is incorrect. It was the first Waltham-Howard, a few of which were delivered to Howard before Keystone bought it.
 

Kenny S.

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Kenny, what is the serial number on your interesting Model 1872?
600075. It's the same one we discussed in a PM some months ago. It's from the very first run of this model, Factory ledgers say Nov. of 1871 to Oct of 1872.
In the example Tom shows, the button setting mechanism in the movement is combined with a case mechanism to make the watch "nail set."
That is a fascinating example Clint, "Nail set". Ingenious design.
 
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Greg Frauenhoff

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One of my favorites, Freeport Watch Co. serial number 1.

The Freeport Watch Co. was an ambitious upstart in Freeport, Illinois that was just entering its initial stages of production, but on the night of October 21st, 1875 a disastrous fire destroyed the factory building.

The total production of the Freeport Watch Co. is believed to be 12 watches made, and I’m aware of five known to exist. Of these five, serial number 1 is the only 19 jewel movement as three of the others are 15 jewel and one is 17 jewel.
Fantastic piece. Have you seen Freeport #9? According to a Burlington report it was used in RR service during 1889/90.
 

Ethan Lipsig

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Waltham was the only U.S. manufacturer that made repeater pocket watches as far as I know. In a 1977 NAWCC Bulletin article, Thomas De Fazia estimated that Waltham produced 1250-1350 repeaters of which 250 also had chronographs or rattrapantes. Hence, my Waltham five-minute repeater/chronograph is a scarce watch. It is in a massive, unsigned 14k box-hinged hunter case. Although the movement is 14-size, the cased watch weighs a whopping 162 grams.

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Clint Geller

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Waltham was the only U.S. manufacturer that made repeater pocket watches as far as I know. In a 1977 NAWCC Bulletin article, Thomas De Fazia estimated that Waltham produced 1250-1350 repeaters of which 250 also had chronographs or rattrapantes. Hence, my Waltham five-minute repeater/chronograph is a scarce watch. It is in a massive, unsigned 14k box-hinged hunter case. Although the movement is 14-size, the cased watch weighs a whopping 162 grams.

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Gorgeous watch, Ethan. I especially love the band on that case.
 

Fred Hansen

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Fantastic piece. Have you seen Freeport #9? According to a Burlington report it was used in RR service during 1889/90.
I haven't seen #9 but that's a great piece of provenance and would be fun to someday hear that the watch still exists.

The five I've seen are #'s 1, 2, 7, 11 and 12.

#'s 2, 7, and 11 are 15 jewel with Freeport Watch Co. marking.

#12 is a 17 jewel and is marked for George P. Rose of Dubuque, Iowa who was a Freeport Watch Co. director that moved to Dubuque in 1884 to establish a jewelry operation in that town. Given the date of Rose's move and the differing finish of this watch it is likely that it was finished the decade or so later from salvaged Freeport material.
 

Ethan Lipsig

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Jan 8, 2006
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Another very scarce watch in my collection is this platinum Illinois 439. Illinois only made about 330 or 370 Grade 439s, depending on the source. It was the top-of-the-line extra version of its Model 1 extra thin movement (the other grades being 435, 437, and 438}. But what makes this watch very scarce is its unsigned platinum case. I don't recall ever seeing another Illinois cased in platinum. If you know of another platinum Illinois, please let me know. The watch came with a 10k white gold chain, a 14k pen knife, and a likely unoriginal box.

IMG_2024.JPG DSC07081.JPG IMG_2027.JPG IMG_2031.JPG IMG_2030.JPG IMG_2032.JPG
 

Greg Frauenhoff

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Aug 25, 2000
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Here's a pic of the first 15 jewel, nickel, adjusted key wind Aurora mvt that I've ever seen. Whether Aurora gave it a separate grade number or if they considered it just an "improved" grade 7-KW is unknown. But it is neat and a first for me. It would be cool to see others. (Aurora's unadjusted 15j nickel key winders are grades 7-KW and 22-KW (the later grade is a bit of a guess on my part)).

1615903840560.png
 

Kenny S.

NAWCC Member
Apr 12, 2020
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Don't know how many of these have survived, but anyway let's give this one another outing - the still-running model 1872 first-run pin set...

DSCN7363.JPG DSCN7363.JPG DSCN7362.JPG DSCN7362.JPG DSCN7361.JPG DSCN7361.JPG
So cool to see the little brother to mine in post #14 above, except yours is cased and running. I wondered what a cased version would look like, now I know. Beautiful!
 

Greg Frauenhoff

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6 size mvts don't have the same cachet as their larger brethren but they can still be interesting. One such is Aurora's grade no. 37. A single run of 10 were made and period news info says they were experimental. They are 15 jewels with gilt plates and all serial numbers are in the range 150,001 to 150,010. The first number went to the then president of Aurora. Most of the others were sold to Trask & Plain, a jeweler in Aurora (E. W. Trask was first president of Aurora and in 1888, when the 6s mvts were made, business manager of the Co. (as I recall)). 5 of these 10 are known. Here are pics of nos. 150003, 150006 and 150010.

img409.jpg img410.jpg img411.jpg
 

Fred Hansen

NAWCC Member
Aug 18, 2002
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Great watch Dennis, I like the 99 model Roadmasters quite a bit!

I’m curious though, have you seen original source material specifying these as only adjusted to 3 positions? I ask because I would think it likely to have been adjusted to 5, and would be fairly surprised if it wasn’t.
 

Jerry Treiman

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Aug 25, 2000
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Here is a 16 size waltham roadmaster, I believe only 50 were made.
These are part of a fascinating series of movements finished with this distinctive off-center circular damaskeening. They appear in 18-size 1892 models, 16-size 1888 and 1899 models and 12-size 1894 models. Names include Railroader, Roadmaster, (Diamond) Express and Ultimatum. Where an equivalent grade can be surmised they appear to be Riverside-grade movements. The damaskeening on your winding wheels is also in agreement with the Riverside grade. If this is a valid interpretation then it would be adjusted to 5 positions.
 
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dennismonahan

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Feb 16, 2017
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The gray book list it as adjusted (not position) and a model 92 roadmaster made just before it is also listed as adjusted.
 

rrwatch

Gibbs Literary Award
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This one is a private label, but this Grade 186 only consists of a single run of 80 open face movements, all made for Wilson Bros., Boston, Mass., and labeled "King of the Road", along with the matching dial. IMHO It is one of the fanciest Getty movements made

EBU 16145 Illinois King of the Road Grade 186 23 J OF Case Back.jpg EBU 16145 Illinois King of the Road Grade 186 23 J OF Dial.jpg EBU 16145 Illinois King of the Road Grade 186 23 J OF Mvt 1.jpg
 

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