Burlington Watch Co.

Burlington: A Thumbnail Description

The Burlington Watch Co., of Chicago, IL, seems to have started up around 1908 and lasted until approximately the mid-to-late 1920s. It was a mail-order sales operation selling directly to the consumer, eliminating the entire distribution and sales network. Almost all of the watches were made under contract by the Illinois Watch Company and privately-labeled for Burlington. There are allegations that the Burlington Watch Co. was an operation owned and operated by the Illinois Watch Co. as a outlet for its medium grade movements. However, documentation supporting the allegations have yet to come to light. The very small number of movements not made by Illinois were produced by Henry Moser & Co. of Switzerland. Apparently these were only sold in Canada, as they seem to have all been originally furnished in Canadian-made cases. Burlington's Canadian office was in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

Basic Information About A Specific Watch

Basic information about a specific watch may be determined using the Illinois materials listed in the References listed below.

The 16-Size, 19-Jewel Watches

For about the first ten years, Burlington sold mostly 19-jewel watches, a large number of which were marketed as the "Burlington Special." A May 1912 ad shows the classic open-face Burlington Special while the hunting-case model is shown in a December 1911 ad. The "Trust" referred to in the ads is the Watch Trust which controlled much of the industry.

It's difficult to know whether to call these watches Burlington Special's or just plain Burlington's. Burlington marketed their 19-jewel watch as the Burlington Special watch, but the only place that the "Burlington Special" marking appeared was on the dial. Thus the question arises, is a "Burlington Special" fitted with a different dial still a "Burlington Special"? However, none of the 16-size, 19-jewel, Illinois-Burlington watches are known to have been shipped with anything other than a "Burlington Special" signed dial. The likeliest explanation for an example of one of these watches bearing a dial simply signed "Burlington" is that the dial was changed after the watch was shipped from Burlington.

There were several models of 16-size, 19-jewel "Burlington Special" watches made by the Illinois Watch Co.:
19-Jewel Model 5
19-Jewel Model 9.
Please note that the movement in the Model 9's picture is missing the regulator whipspring and its associated mounting and adjusting screws.

The 16-Size, 21-Jewel Watches

Early on, Burlington contracted for a few 21-jewel, model 5, Sangamo grade movements, such as this Example, serial number 1984610, with its Burlington Special Dial, courtesy of Ed Ueberall. Being adjusted to temperature and 6 positions, it was probably accepted for railroad time service. Another example of this watch, serial number 1984561, can also be seen in post #43 by Terry Hall, of this June 2014 Message Board thread.

A different 21-jewel, model 5 Burlington is shown and discussed in a Message Board thread started on June 7, 2016 by Ed Ueberall entitled "Unusual Illinois Burlington." It appears to have been upjeweled from a 19-jewel movement at the factory.

Then, in February 1917, Burlington discontinued the 19-jewel watches and introduced a complete line of Burlington 21-Jewel Watches, adjusted to temperature and positions (the number of which was unspecified). Perhaps the most common of the 16-size, 21-jewel Burlington watches was the Illinois-built Model 9.

Accepted Into Railroad Time Service?

Burlington advertised heavily in the Railroad Brotherhood Journals with ads such as appeared in a 1915 Railway Conductor issue, and, after the 21-jewel Burlington was introduced, in the November 15, 1919 issue of the Locomotive Firemen and Enginemen's Magazine. This was in spite of the fact that, except for the model 5 Sangamo grade mentioned above, only a portion of the railroads seem to have accepted Illinois-Burlington watches for railroad time service. To quote from page 71 of Railroad Watches Identification and Price Guide, Roy Ehrhardt & William Meggers, Jr., (see References, below),
Burlington Watch Co. watches were accepted in railroad time service by many railroads, notably the Union Pacific, until the early 1940’s.
This same book lists the following Illinois-Burlington grade watches as railroad watches: 106, 107, 108 & 809 (they seem to have somehow missed listing the Sangamo grade). The movements of all of those grades mentioned are marked "Adjusted to Temperature and Positions," the number of positions not noted. Although there may be Illinois descriptions of to how many positions the Illinois versions of those grades are adjusted, there doesn't seem to be any documentation of the number of positions to which the Burlington Versions are Adjusted (see section on Private Label Adjusment). And, the possibility exists that the Adjustment was Performed at Burlington (see section on Adjusted By Retailer), such that Illinois would have no knowledge of what was done.

Swiss Burlington Watches

There were a small number of 16-size, 21-jewel, lever-set Swiss-Made Burlington Watches made by H. Moser & Cie, in the serial number range of 1729501-1730700, that met all railroad time service requirements, with the exception that in the U.S., on a number of railroads, American manufacture seems to have been required for many years (although there are no rules specifically prohibiting Swiss-made watches). However, the Swiss-made 16-size, 21-jewel, Burlington watches are Documented as Having Been Used in Canadian Railroad Time Service Some of these bore dials marked "Burlington Bull Dog" (as discussed below). Additionally, there were a few similar, pendant-set watches made bearing serial numbers just beyond either end of the aforementioned range.

These watches, along with a small number of 12-size (or perhaps 14-size) watches which were in the serial number range of 1727001-1728000 plus a few around 1729001-1729200, were marketed by Burlington's Canadian office. According to the bottom line of a 1918 Burlington ad, this Canadian office was located at 355 Portage Ave, Winnipeg, Manitoba.

The Burlington Bull Dog

In the mid-1920s, the Burlington Watch Company offered its 16-size, 21-jewel Burlington Bull Dog in the Nawco (North American Watch Co.) Heavy Duty RR case (which also carried the Burlington name). See the February 1999 NAWCC Bulletin, pages 87-8; and the December 1997 NAWCC Bulletin, page 709. There's nothing to distinguish the Burlington Bull Dog from the other 16-size, 21-jewel Burlington watches except for the "Burlington - Nawco" signed case and the "Burlington Bull Dog" signature on the dial as seen in post #8 of this thread. If these items had been switched around, one could only infer from the serial number that it was a Burlington Bull Dog based upon its serial number being from the same run as other Burlington watches that had the "Burlington Bull Dog" signed Nawco case and dial. Even then, its not certain that all the watches in a given run were fitted with that case and dial.

There are also a number of Burlington movements whose Montgomery dials are lacking the "Bull Dog" marking and which are housed in Fahys Bristol 14K GF "R.R. Patented" swing ring cases. Or there are watches that carry dials having the "Bull Dog" marking and are in those Fahys cases. A theory has been proposed, based upon an April, 1924 ad which notes the availability of a Montgomery dial (that has not been reported with the "Bull Dog" marking) and shows a swing ring case, that these are early "Bull Dog" watches, but this documentation is thin at best. Nevertheless, this theory may well be correct.

Another variation created by Burlington in Canada was that apparently the Burlington Bull Dog was marketed there as well, but it was a Swiss-made Burlington Bull Dog fitted in a Canadian-Made Cashier-Burlington Case. In a similar fashion to the Illinois-built Burlington Bull Dog watch, the dial on the Swiss-built movement is the only indication that the watch is a Burlington Bull Dog.

12-Size Burlington Watches

Burlington also offered a full line of 12-size dress watches, as may be seen in these 1918 octagon-shaped watch and 1922 dress watch ads. Pictures of interesting 12-size examples may be viewed online thanks to Steve D. (scroll down), and to grtnev. As mentioned above, there were also a small number of Swiss-built 12-size (or perhaps 14-size) watches.

Wrist Watches

In the late 'teens, Burlington started offering men's wrist watches, such as seen in this 1918 ad for a Real Man's Wrist Watch.


It should be noted that after the first couple of years (and maybe even then), Burlington watches were originally furnished in Burlington-signed, gold-filled cases and were fitted with Burlington-signed dials (pictures of both have appeared in some of the above examples).


Since the vast majority of Burlington watches were made by the Illinois Watch Co., information about them is contained in Russell W Snyder's Illinois Data Base CD (available through The Early American Watch Club NAWCC Chapter 149).


One can view Oldwatch.com's Illinois Production Date Chart which is an online means for determining the very approximate production date of Burlington (Illinois) pocket watches. In general, we think of serial number vs. date lists - created by using the average number of watches produced over a period of years - to only be accurate within a year or two at best, and recognize that there are numerous exceptions wherein which the dates may be off as much as 3 years or more. This is not just for Illinois, but for other watch manufacturers as well.

An early Burlington catalog is available online thanks to vandill. It's not dated but the content, and some of the specific text, is very similar to the ads listed below, several of which contain the same cuts. Thus, the Burlington Watch Book that they offer seems to be the one further below:
August 1908
October, 1909
November, 1909
December, 1909
December, 1910

Burlington Watches - An Early Catalog:
Page Nos.Description
CoversFront & Rear Cover
2-3Secrets You Ought To Know
4-5Industry Watch Prices
6-7High Prices Due To Tariffs
8-9Selling Systems
12-13Payment Plans
14-15Navel Observatory Tests - Illinois
16-17$1000 Challenge
18-19Challenge Continued
20-21Mvt Diagram & Features
22-23Features Continued
24-25Features Continued
26-27Features Continued
28-29Men's Cases
30-31Ladies' Cases
32-33Men's Watch Prices
34-35Ladies' Watch Prices
36-37Ordering Information

Most of the books listed below, along with back issues of the NAWCC Bulletin, are available on loan by mail to members from the NAWCC Lending Library. Use the Lending Library Form.

The Burlington Watch - 21 Jewels Exclusively, Burlington Watch Co., Chicago, IL, Undated, but reprint contains a 1919 Burlington ad. Reprinted with no information, probably by Modesto Horology, Sold by Modesto Horology in the mid-to-late 1980s.

American Pocket Watches Vol. 2, Illinois Watch Co., Encyclopedia and Price Guide, William Meggers, Jr. & Roy Ehrhardt, Heart of America Press, Kansas City, MO, 1985.

Railroad Watches Identification and Price Guide, Roy Ehrhardt & William Meggers, Jr., Heart of America Press, Kansas City, MO, 1995.

Back issues of the NAWCC Bulletin are available online to NAWCC members who are currently logged in.

"The Burlington Watch Company's Fight Against the Trust," Nahum Lewis, NAWCC Bulletin, No. 311, December 1997, pp. 706-9.

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