The Columbus Watch Co. started in 1882. It went through reorganization and then lasted until 1903 when it was sold to several of the Studebaker brothers. During its existence, it produced a number of high grade watches.
Columbus: A Thumbnail DescriptionThe Columbus Watch Co. grew out of an earlier endeavor by Dietrich Gruen and William J. Savage, the Columbus Watch Manufacturing Co. The two established the Columbus Watch Co. in 1882. It continued for about 11 years when, apparently, the panic of 1893 drove it into uncertainty and financial problems leading into 1895 when the company was reorganized as the New Columbus Watch Co. This firm lasted until 1903 when it was purchased by some of the Studebaker brothers (those not engaged in the wagon and automobile business). The company was then moved to South Bend, Indiana to become the South Bend Watch Co.
Early ColumbusThe Columbus Watch Manufacturing Co. had its origins in 1874. Dietrich Gruen started, and was the sole proprietor of, a firm in Columbus, Ohio finishing movements imported from Switzerland. Gruen had made a trip to Switzerland to direct how the watches were to be manufactured, the first watches being 18-Size with the Gruen Patent Safety Pinion. Almost all the movements were engraved with CWCo or Col Watch Co. The dials all had similar markings. In 1878, D. Gruen convinced his banker friend William J. Savage to join with him as full partner. However, there are no known watches marked Gruen and Savage. Sometime around 1883, Gruen and Savage convinced others to incorporate the Columbus Watch Co. to make American-made watches. However, Gruen was still supportive of his Swiss friends and ordered more Swiss watches, made in 1885. This led to his walking out of the Columbus Watch Co. in a "tiff," taking his patents with him, leaving copies for the Columbus Watch Company. The early Swiss movements are all serialized to ~20,000 and only a handful have been identified in the 80 to 90 thousand range.
Columbus ProductionThe Columbus Watch Co. produced a full line of movements, from modest 7-jewel watches to medium grade, fully jeweled (15-jewel) gilt and nickel damaskeened movements having patent regulators and adjusted to temperature. At the top of the line were high-grade movements that would be accepted into railroad time service. These high-grade watches were 16-size and 18-size, nickel damaskeened, 15-jewel and 16-jewel movements, fitted with a patent regulator and adjusted to temperature and positions. Eventually, these would be built with 17, 21, 23 and 25 jewels.
The Railway King - 16 & 17 JewelIn its earliest years, Columbus used numbers to identify its watch grades. Then, by 1890, it introduced its one of its earliest named grade, the Railway King. The Railway King was a high grade, 18-size, 16-jewel movement, furnished with a micrometer patent regulator and adjusted to temperature and positions (although it is only marked "Adjusted"). It was a handsome movement, damaskeened in gold on nickel (referred to in the table below as Tu-tone) and fitted with an enamel, double-sunk dial signed "Columbus Railway King." Dials could be had bearing a picture of a locomotive in black, or less often, in blue or (more rarely) red.
By the summer of 1899, the Railway King had been upgraded to a 17-jewel watch. This was at a time when 21-jewel watches were being promoted for railroad time service and just before Columbus brought out the 21, 23 and 25 jewel Railway King grade (Columbus' 21-jewel, 18-size Time King and 16-size Ruby had been out since about 1895). Also, within a year, Hampden's exclusive right to the use of the word "Railway" on watches was granted by the courts. Consequently, only a rather small number of the 17-jewel variety were built. Novices experience some confusion between these early 16-jewel watches and the later 17-jewel version, since some disassembly of the watch is required to see that the lower center hole isn't jeweled (it is in the 17-jewel version). However, the simple determining factor is that if the Railway King movement isn't marked "17 Jewels" then it isn't a 17-jewel watch. The 17-jewel version came fitted with a dial marked "Columbus Railway King - 17 Jewels" but since dials are frequently swapped around, this is not a reliable sign that the movement itself is fitted with the 17th jewel.
Trading On The Name: The R.W.K. SpecialAfter a few years, Columbus brought out a watch grade named the R.W.K. Special. Although it, too, was fitted with a micrometer regulator, was marked "Adjusted" and was finished in gold on nickel, most were only 15-jewel watches (a small number of 16-jewel R.W.K. Special movements have been reported) indicating that the R.W.K. Special was not quite as fine of a grade as the Railway King. Nevertheless, it was still suitable for entering railroad service when it was built in the mid-1890s. The estimated number of 16-jewel movements built is based upon this small number of reported examples. Nowadays, some dealers like to refer to the R.W.K. Special as the Railway King Special. As this connection was never alluded to in Columbus literature, it is incorrect to do so. However, a good part of the blame for the confusion belongs to Columbus for (probably intentionly) choosing the misleading R.W.K. designation in the first place. The R.W.K. Special came with its own dial bearing the grade name.
The Columbus KingAnother named-grade watch that appeared just around the time that the 17-jewel Railway King came out was the Columbus King. The fact that, within a year of this time, Hampden won the rights to the use of the word "Railway" on watches probably accounts for the much larger number of 17-jewel Columbus King watches than 17-jewel Railway King. Keep in mind that the term "larger" is a relative term insofar as the total number of 17-jewel Columbus King movements, both open-face and hunting, is probably less than 2,500. Some Columbus King movements have been sold as a Private Label Watch.
Estimated Runs of 16 & 17-Jewel Railway King, R.W.K. Special and 17-Jewel Columbus King Movements
From S/N To S/N Qty Jwls Grade Type Set Comments 179,601 179,900 300 16 Railway King HC LS Tu-tone, Adj 180,101 180,200 100 16 Railway King OF PS Tu-tone, Adj 182,101 182,150 50 16 Railway King OF PS Tu-tone, Adj 191,901 192,100 200 16 Railway King HC LS Tu-tone, Adj 192,101 192,150 50 16 Railway King OF PS Tu-tone, Adj 194,201 194,400 200 16 Railway King HC LS Tu-tone, Adj 201,801 202,050 250 16 Railway King OF PS Tu-tone, Adj 203,801 204,000 200 16 Railway King HC LS Tu-tone, Adj 204,701 204,800 100 16 Railway King OF PS Tu-tone, Adj, Gilt trim 215,201 215,400 200 16 Railway King OF PS Tu-tone, Adj 220,901 221,100 200 16 Railway King HC LS Tu-tone, Adj 224,201 224,300 100 16 Railway King HC LS Tu-tone, Adj 224,301 224,600 300 16 Railway King OF PS/LS Tu-tone, Adj 230,201 230,700 500 16 Railway King HC LS Tu-tone, Adj S/N 230,269 marked "RR King - H.C. Taylor - Leadville, Colo." 230,801 231,200 400 16 Railway King OF PS/LS Tu-tone, Adj 231,201 231,600 400 16 Railway King HC LS Tu-tone, Adj 238,151 238,450 300 15 R.W.K. Special OF PS Tu-tone, Adj 238,501 238,600 100 16 Railway King HC LS Tu-tone, Adj 239,501 239,600 100 16 Railway King HC LS Tu-tone, Adj, Gilt trim 239,801 239,900 100 16 Railway King OF PS Tu-tone, Adj 245,901 246,100 200 16 Railway King HC LS Tu-tone, Adj 246,101 246,300 200 16 Railway King OF PS Tu-tone, Adj, Gilt trim 247,701 247,800 100 16 Railway King OF PS Tu-tone, Adj, Gilt screws 249,701 249,800 100 16 Railway King HC Adj 252,401 252,800 400 15 R.W.K. Special HC LS Tu-tone, Adj 254,101 254,600 500 15 R.W.K. Special OF PS/LS Tu-tone, Adj 256,501 256,800 300 15 R.W.K. Special HC LS Tu-tone, Adj 280,201 280,300 100 16 Railway King HC LS Tu-tone, Adj 282,401 282,700 300 15 R.W.K. Special OF LS Tu-tone, Adj 282,801 283,000 200 16 Railway King OF LS Tu-tone, Adj 283,001 283,350 350 16 R.W.K. Special OF Tu-tone, Adj. 283,901 284,300 400 15 R.W.K. Special HC LS Tu-tone, Adj 284,301 284,600 300 16 R.W.K. Special HC LS Tu-tone, Adj 284,701 284,800 100 16 Railway King HC LS Tu-tone, Adj 308,701 308,900 200 16 Railway King HC LS Tu-tone, Adj, Gilt trim 309,101 309,200 100 16 Railway King HC LS Tu-tone, Adj, Gilt trim 312,801 313,300 500 16 Railway King OF LS Tu-tone, Adj 317,701 317,900 200 15 R.W.K. Special HC LS Tu-tone, Adj 338,701 339,100 400 15 R.W.K. Special OF LS Tu-tone, Adj 344,201 344,600 400 16 Railway King OF LS Tu-tone, Adj 344,901 345,300 400 16 Railway King HC LS Tu-tone, Adj 349,701 350,500 800 16 Railway King OF LS Tu-tone, Adj, Gilt trim 353,401 354,400 1,000 16 Railway King HC LS Tu-tone, Adj, Gilt trim 354,701 354,750 50 16 Railway King OF Tu-tone, Adj, Only one reported 356,251 356,300 50 16 Railway King OF LS Tu-tone, Adj, Only one reported 357,401 357,450 50 16 Railway King HC LS Tu-tone, Adj, Only one reported 362,601 362,650 50 16 Railway King HC LS Tu-tone, Adj 363,101 363,150 50 16 Railway King OF LS Tu-tone, Adj, Only one reported 363,621 363,650 30 17 Columbus King HC Adj, Only one reported 364,071 364,100 30 17 Columbus King OF LS Adj, Dial "Columbus King 17 Jewels" 364,501 364,800 300 16 Railway King OF LS Tu-tone, Adj 365,001 365,100 100 16 Railway King HC PS Adj 366,901 367,450 550 17 Columbus King OF LS Adj, Dial "Columbus King 17 Jewels" 367,451 367,750 300 17 Columbus King HC LS Adj, Dial "Columbus King 17 Jewels" 369,101 369,200 100 17 Columbus King OF LS Adj, Dial "Columbus King 17 Jewels" 369,701 370,700 1,000 16 Railway King HC LS Tu-tone, Adj 370,851 370,900 50 17 Columbus King OF Adj, Dial "Columbus King 17 Jewels" 371,201 371,250 50 17 Columbus King HC LS Adj, Dial "Columbus King 17 Jewels" 371,351 371,500 150 17 Columbus King OF LS Adj, Dial "Columbus King 17 Jewels" 371,551 371,600 50 17 Columbus King HC LS Adj, Dial "Columbus King 17 Jewels" 371,901 371,950 50 17 Railway King OF LS Adj 371,951 372,000 50 17 Columbus King OF LS Adj, Dial "Columbus King" S/N 371,984 Dial signed "Wm. Nelson - Neenah Wis. - Columbus King" 372,101 372,500 400 17 Columbus King HC LS Adj, Dial "New Columbus" Some reported as Tu-tone 372,601 372,800 200 17 Columbus King OF LS Adj, Dial "New Columbus" Some reported as Tu-tone
Estimated Production Quantities
Type Railway King 16J Railway King 17J R.W.K. Special 15J R.W.K. Special 16J Columbus King 17J HC 5,700 1,300 300 830 OF 4,450 50 1,200 350 1,130
The runs listed in tables were generated from the movements listed in the data base created and maintained by Ed Ueberall and Kent Singer. The data was collected from internet listings, dealer mail-order lists, reports and personal observations, mostly at NAWCC marts. As such, it is subject to errors in listing, reporting or recording. There are a number watches reported outside of the runs shown in the tables, and there are watches reported within runs of a different series or size. These may represent individual watches, small runs, or perhaps more likely, they are errors in reporting or transcribing. Also, a number of top-center-jeweled Railway King watches were reported as being 17-jewel. In those instances, unless it was reported that the movement was marked "17 Jewels" or that the person actually saw the lower center jewel, the watch was considered to be 16-jewel.
Those watches commented as being "Tu-tone" have what Columbus described as being a "damaskeened in gold on nickel" finish. When "Adj" appears in the comments, it indicates that the movement is marked "Adjusted." The actual adjustment is what Columbus literature described it as being, see the grade discussions above.
Total estimated production quantities are based upon the summation of the quantities of the runs listed in the tables. These are mostly rather conservative, rarely going much beyond the reported serial numbers. It is expected that the actual production quantities are more than those estimated, but it is difficult to say by how much This is due to the fact that, because of the relatively small quantities, the effect of gaps in the data may have a large impact in estimating the sizes of the runs. Members having examples from ranges other than those shown in the tables applying to their examples, or who believe they have not yet been otherwise reported and wish to do so, are encouraged to report these movements under the Discussion Tab at the top of the article.
The 21, 23 & 25 Jewel Railway KingThe 21, 23 & 25 -jewel Railway King movements can be dated to late 1899 or early 1900. A 1899 Columbus Watch Co. ad, reproduced on page 177 of American Pocket Watches Vol. 1, Encyclopedia and Price Guide, Roy Ehrhardt, notes the availability of the 17-jewel Railway King and states, 'Our 21 and 23 Jewel "RAILWAY KING" will be ready in about ninety days.' This same note appeared in a September 1899 ad that is reprinted on page 32 of History and Products of the Columbus Watch Company. Then, this May 1900 Ad for 17, 21, 23 & 25 Jewel Railway King Movements appeared. A description of the 21, 23 and 25 jewel Columbus King grade is shown in an October 1900 Brown & Winterberg catalog page reprinted on page 35 of History and Products of the Columbus Watch Company. Shortly thereafter, it was decided in an interference suit that the rights to the Use of the Word "Railway" on A Watch belonged to Dueber-Hampden and Columbus had to drop the use of the name.
The following pages are from a catalog entitled "Price List of Movements Manufactured by The New Columbus Watch Company" August 1, 1895:
Page 12 16-Size, 21-Jewel Ruby grade.
Page 13 16-Size, 17-Jewel grade Nos. 11 & 12.
Page 14 16-Size, 16-Jewel grade Nos. 13 & 14.
Page 18 6-Size, 16-Jewel grade No. 100.
New Columbus movement descriptions and prices are shown on pages 14 and 15 of the 1896 A.C. Becken Jewelers' Wholesale Price List.
New Columbus movement descriptions and prices are shown on page 361 of the 1897 Lapp & Flershem Twenty-first Annual Illustrated Catalogue.
The following publications are available to members on loan by mail from the NAWCC Lending Library:
History and Products of the Columbus Watch Company, Greg Frauenhoff, Sedalia, CO, 2003.
The Complete History of Watch Making in America - Reprinted from the Jewelers' Circular and Horological Review 1885-1887, Charles S. Crossman, Adams Brown Co., Exeter, NH, undated, but probably late 1980's, Pp. 160-2.
The Watch Factories of America, Henry G. Abbott, Hazlitt & Co., Chicago, IL, 1888 (reprinted by Adams Brown Co. 1981), Pp. 115-7.
The Priceless Possession of a Few, Supplement (#10) to the Bulletin of the National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors, Eugene Fuller, NAWCC, Columbia, PA, 1974, available online to NAWCC members who are currently logged in.
American Pocket Watch Identification and Price Guide, Book 2, Roy Ehrhardt, Heart of America Press, Kansas City, MO, 1974, Pp. 104-110 (contains Columbus and New Columbus catalog reprints).
American Pocket Watch Encyclopedia and Price Guide Volume 1, Roy Ehrhardt, Heart of America Press, Kansas City, MO, 1982, Pp. 162-177 (contains Columbus and New Columbus catalog cuts, grade ddescriptions, pictures and advertising reproductions).
Back issues of the NAWCC Bulletin are available online to NAWCC members who are currently logged in.
"Railroaders' Corner - High Grade Columbus Watches Part 1: The Columbus Watch Co.," Greg Frauenhoff, John Dimar, Ed Ueberall and Kent Singer, NAWCC Bulletin No. 342, February 2003, pp. 81-89.
"Railroaders' Corner - High Grade Columbus Watches Part 2: The New Columbus Watch Co.," Greg Frauenhoff, John Dimar, Ed Ueberall and Kent Singer, NAWCC Bulletin No. 343, April 2003, pp. 229-234.
"Railroaders' Corner - High Grade Columbus Watches Part 3: Columbus 500,000 Series," Greg Frauenhoff, John Dimar, Ed Ueberall and Kent Singer, NAWCC Bulletin No. 344, June 2003, pp. 360-367.
Categories: Category American watch makers