The Illinois Watch Company was founded in 1870 as the Springfield Watch Co. of Springfield, IL. It turned out about five million watches before being sold to the Hamilton Watch Co. of Lancaster, PA, in 1928. Illinois watches continued to be produced as different designs from Hamilton watches until 1949 when the name was retired.
Illinois Watch Company: A Brief HistoryThe Illinois Watch Company was founded in 1870 as the Springfield Watch Co. of Springfield, IL. An Historical Account of the Illinois Watch Co. is available, re-typed from the pages posted on Greg Frauenhoff's Website.
Illinois turned out about five million watches before being sold to the Hamilton Watch Co. of Lancaster, PA, in 1928. Hamilton continued production in Springfield for several years and then moved operations to the Hamilton plant in Lancaster. Illinois watches continued to be produced as different designs from Hamilton watches until 1949 when the name was retired. However, Hamilton occasionally produced a few Illinois-named watches in the 1950s (and possibly later) to maintain ownership of the rights to the Illinois name and trade marks.
Illinois Serial Numbers, Grade Determination and DatingIn seeking information about a watch, it is the serial number on the movement (the "works") that is important. Information about Illinois watches may be found, using the movement serial number, in American Pocket Watches Vol. 2, Illinois Watch Co., Encyclopedia and Price Guide, and in Russell W Snyder's Illinois Data Base CD. The source of these references, along with two online means for using the movement serial numbers to determine the approximate production date of Illinois pocket watches, as well as pictures and descriptions, and pricing, of some Illinois watches (which may be all viewed in online catalogs) are listed in the References section, below.
The Bunn & Sangamo SpecialIllinois was very well-known for its railroad grade watches, especially the Bunn Special (an example of which can be seen in the 1923 Baird-North Catalog) and the Sangamo Special grades.
The Bunn Special's name can be traced back to John W. Bunn, one of the founding directors of the company. Among the first watches built by the company were 100 movements (serial numbers 201-300) that were an 18-size grade named for John W. Bunn and aimed at the railroad market. This grade continued into the 1890s where in 1891, as a 16-jewel (shortly upgraded to 17-jewel), it was at the top of the line. The Bunn grade was supplanted in 1895-6 by the 18-size, 21-jewel Bunn Special and then the 24-jewel Bunn Special grade watches (whose jewelling is excellently illustrated in a 1902 Illinois ad), although it continued to be produced until after World War I. The 18-size Bunn Special grade watches continued during the first two decades of the twentieth century, with the 24-jewel movement giving way to the 23-jewel one.
In 1913, the 16-size, 17 & 19 jewel Bunn grades, and 21 & 23 Bunn Special grades, were introduced. The dials used on these early 16-size movements are pictured and discussed in a November 2011 Message Board thread. The Bunn and Bunn Special were sold as movements only, with the 17-jewel and 19-jewel Bunn grades lasting into the 1920s. The Bunn Special grades continued to be popular and in 1925 became available as cased watches. Nevertheless, the watches were also still sold as movements, to be cased by retailers. In 1926, almost a year after the introduction of the 60-hour Sangamo Special (see below), it was announced that the Bunn Special was upgraded to run 60 hours. It should be noted that the running time of most twentieth century railroad watches was 42 hours. The Bunn Special continued to be made after Hamilton bought the company, with the last being made in the late 1940s.
The Sangamo became Illinois' premier 16-size grade movement. Ads first started appearing in late 1902 or early 1903 for both 21-jewel and 23-jewel versions. Like the Bunn, the Sangamo was intended for the railroad market from its inception. The Sangamo movements continued to be sold as well, to be cased by the retailer.
When the Bunn Special became available in 16-size, the Sangamo was enhanced, becoming the Sangamo Special. It was sold as a movement only, in 19, 21 and 23 jewel versions. Shortly after the Bunn Special became available as a cased watch, the Illinois announced a "New" Sangamo Special, guaranteed to run for 60 hours and only available as a complete watch, mounted in signed, rigid bow cases. It was around this time that the movement was changed from 16-size to 17-size.
Both grades of watches, the Bunn and Sangamo and their Special versions, were heavily promoted as being adjusted to six positions. The sixth position to which they are adjusted is demonstrated in this February 1918 Ad. For a more detailed explanation of this, see the Encyclopedia article on Watch Adjustment.
Private Label WatchesThe Illinois Watch Co. probably made a Private Label Watch for more customers than any other American watch company. A number of these are detailed and pictured in a NAWCC Pocket Watch Message Board thread.
The greatest number of these contract watches were made for:
Burlington Watch Co.
Santa Fe Watch Co.
Washington Watch Co. - a house brand of Montgomery Ward & Co.
Potomac by Fred Hansen Jr.
Army & Navy by Fred Hansen Jr.
Lafayette by Fred Hansen Jr.
Liberty Bell by Fred Hansen Jr.
Greenwich by Fred Hansen Jr.
Information about Illinois watches is contained in Russell W Snyder's Illinois Data Base CD (available through The Early American Watch Club NAWCC Chapter 149).
Time Antiquarian's Pocket Watch Database provides the grade, size, jeweling and other data for the Illinois movements whose serial numbers are entered (use dropdown menu to select "Illinois"). However, the data on this website isn't as accurate as that available in Russell W Snyder's Illinois Data Base CD (above) or American Pocket Watches Vol. 2, Illinois Watch Co., Encyclopedia and Price Guide, Meggers & Ehrhardt (below).
A wealth of information about Illinois and its watches can be accessed through this Compilation of Illinois Watch Co. NAWCC American Pocket Watch Message Board Threads.
One can view Oldwatch.com's Illinois Production Date Chart and the PocketWatchSite's Illinois Date Table which are an online means for determining the very approximate production date of 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.
John Cote's excellent Interstate Time Co. website.
Jim Carroll's excellent website, A Guide to Illinois Watch Co. size 12 Watches.
Online - Catalogs
1887 Catalog Page.
Illinois movement cuts, descriptions and prices are shown on page 9 of the 1896 A.C. Becken Jewelers' Wholesale Price List.
Illinois movement cuts, descriptions and prices are shown on pages 79 & 80 of the Otto Young & Co. 1903 OY Co. catalog.
1915 - 1916 P.W. Ellis Illustrated Catalogue (found online by Gordian), pages 39-42.
Illinois movement cuts, descriptions and prices are shown on pages S-1 to S-8 of the 1917 Oskamp-Nolting Co. catalog.
1921 Price List.
The Book of A. Lincoln Watches, Illinois Watch Co., Springfield, IL, 1924.
Illinois Dials - Circular No. 102 - May, 1927, courtesy NAWCC Chapter 149.
Online - Illinois Ads
Video Programs & Books
Video Programs and 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.
Video Program No. 565: The Story Of A Watch: a 1922 government film from the National Archives of the Illinois Watch Co. (51 min)
This silent, black and white movie was made circa 1922 by the Bureau of Foreign and Domestic Commerce (and now filed uder the Bureau of Mines) in cooperation with the Illinois Watch Company. The intricate processes in the manufacture of watch parts and their assembly is shown. Also shown are the instruments in an astronomical observatory used to check the time of master clocks. Views of social and welfare facilities of the watch factory are included. This movie is currently playing in the NAWCC Museum and is also available for viewing online to NAWCC members who are logged in. It is also available on YouTube for those who aren't NAWCC members.
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.
The 16-size Illinois Bunn Special 1913-1948, Michael R. Chamelin, Kernersville, NC, 2013.
American Pocket Watch 1979 Price Indicator, Identification and Price Guide, Roy Ehrhardt, Heart of America Press, Kansas City, MO, 1979, pp. 38-70.
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. 124-130.
The Watch Factories of America, Henry G. Abbott, Hazlitt & Co., Chicago, IL, 1888 (reprinted by Adams Brown Co. 1981), pp. 79-82.
Back issues of the NAWCC Bulletin are available online to NAWCC members who are currently logged in.
"The Illinois Watch Companys Grades 104 and 105 - In Memory of William F. Meggers, Jr.," Greg Frauenhoff, Tom McIntyre, and Russ Snyder, NAWCC Bulletin No. 339, August, 2002, pp. 419-428.
"A Chicago & Alton Railroad Watch," Eugene T. Fuller, NAWCC Bulletin No. 257, December, 1988, pp. 467-474.
"Railroaders' Corner - A 16-Size Bunn Special Pinwheel The Unknown Pattern," Michael Chamelin, NAWCC Bulletin No. 374, August, 2008, pp. 315-324.
"Railroaders' Corner - Those Other Bunns," Ed Ueberall and Kent Singer, NAWCC Bulletin No. 351, August, 2004, pp. 528-537.
"Railroaders' Corner - Illinois' #118 Case," Ed Ueberall and Kent Singer, NAWCC Bulletin No. 303, February, 1998, pp. 84-85.
"Railroaders' Corner - From The Land Of Lincoln," Ed Ueberall and Kent Singer, NAWCC Bulletin No. 303, August, 1996, pp. 523-524.
"Watches Inside & Out - A. Lincoln From Springfield, Illinois[/url]," Robert D. Porter, Horological Times April, 1991, pp. 42-47. Categories: Category American watch makers