The Santa Fe Watch Co., Topeka, KS, was a mail-order, retail business, which also maintained a store (in Topeka). It had movements made by watch companies (mostly by the Illinois Watch Co.), marked with the Santa Fe name, and heavily promoted them in magazine ads.
Santa Fe: A Thumbnail DescriptionThe Santa Fe Watch Co. was in business, in Topeka, KS at least as early as 1896 and by 1902 the company was selling talking machines as well as railroad watches. The company contracted for private label watch movements to be made by the Illinois Watch Company, mostly the 21-jewel, 16-size, Santa Fe Special grade, introduced in November 1913. However, men's 12-size watches were available, along with ladies 3/0-size and 11 ligne Bracelet Watches. Small ladies' hunting-case watches, identified as having been made by Omega, were also produced. The last run of the Santa Fe Special movements (Illinois grade No. 561, serial numbers 5,356,001-5,357,000) were still being sold in 1936. By this time, Bulova, Hamilton and Elgin watches were being offered as well.
Marketing and PromotionSanta Fe's watches are believed to have been all sold cased in Santa Fe signed cases. In the early 1920s these were made by the Illinois Watch Case Co., as proudly noted in a catalog centerfold. The watches were sold almost exclusively via mail order. The sole exception that has come to light is that watches were sold, along with other traditional jewelry shop items, from a store at the company's location in Topeka, Kansas. A 1915 ad in a Topeka newspaper enlisted the aid of 25 local "Boosters" in selling the watches. It is not known at this time how long this arrangement lasted, or how widespread it was.
The firm's advertising, which was very similar to that of the Burlington Watch Co., consisted of monthly ads ranging in size from quarter to full page, emphasizing the railroad theme in railroad employe magazines and brotherhood journals. Ads appearing in magazines for the general public boldly listed the Santa Fe Special as a railroad watch, but most lacked the railroad graphics so common in other watch company ads for general readership; there were exceptions. Santa Fe's ads were fairly heavy on hype and low regular payments - one had to look very closely to find the total price of the watch, if it was in the ad at all (and it frequently wasn't).
In fact, the hype went so far that in a 1920s era catalog, there was a link of the Santa Fe Watch Co. with the 18-size "Santa Fe Route" marked Waltham Watches originally marketed by Henry Montgomery for the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway (the AT&SF, commonly known as just the "Santa Fe") employes, with which the Santa Fe Watch Co. had no actual connection. In fact, it was Montgomery who registered the "Santa Fe Route" watch trade mark representing one of that railroad's heralds (the "cake of soap" herald). It is possible that the Santa Fe Watch Co., which existed in 1896, was involved with Montgomery in marketing the "Santa Fe Route" watches, but independent documentation of that fact has yet to be found.
The ads waned after 1922, diminishing in size to less than a quarter page and only appearing infrequently.
There are allegations that the Santa Fe Watch Co. was an operation owned and/or controlled by the Illinois Watch Co. as a outlet for its medium grade movements. However, documentation supporting the allegations have yet to come to light. Similarly, there is a belief by some that there was a link between Henry Montgomery and the Santa Fe Watch Co. Nonetheless, there has not been any documentation seen to sustain that belief.
The Santa Fe Special: Accepted Into Railroad Time Service?According to page 254 of American Pocket Watches Vol. 2, Illinois Watch Co., Encyclopedia and Price Guide, William Meggers, Jr. & Roy Ehrhardt, there were 1,000 21-jewel Santa Fe Special, grade No. 561 movements that were adjusted to temperature, isochronism and five positions and 200 A. Lincoln grade that were also adjusted to temperature, isochronism and five positions. These watches, if they carried the adjustment markings, would have been accepted into railroad time service, perhaps except on those roads that had rules stating "... watches bearing the names of jewelers or other names not standard trade marks, or trade numbers, will not be accepted as New Watches ..." (quoted from "Instructions to Local Watch Inspectors," USRA - New York Central Railroad, Office of General Time Inspector, Cleveland, Ohio, April 1, 1919.") or something similar to it.
Santa Fe advertised heavily in the railroad employe and brotherhood journals, although only a portion of the railroads seem to have accepted Santa Fe Special watches for railroad time service. To quote from Ehrhardt & Meggers:
Through the mid-teens, ads for the Santa Fe Special referred to it as a "Standard Railroad Watch." Then, on April 15, 1917 an ad in a brotherhood magazine came right out and stated that the Santa Fe Special was "Guaranteed to Pass R.R. Inspection." This was followed by an ad in the May 1917 issue of another brotherhood magazine which stated that 'The "Santa Fe Special" passes railroad inspection.' By August of that year, Santa Fe started using a distinctive text block, one that was to appear in their ads for years, proclaiming:
The Illinois' Famous
Santa Fe Special
21 Jewel Railroad Watch
However, although the ads continued to refer to the Santa Fe Special as a railroad watch after 1917, statements about it being guaranteed to pass railroad inspection disappeared from the brotherhood journals while nearly identical ads appeared simultaneously in the AT&SF employe magazine stating "Guaranteed to Pass Santa Fe Inspection." After a year or two, use of that statement fell away as even the ads in the AT&SF employe magazine simply referred to the Santa Fe Special as "The Standard Railroad Watch."
The significance of the distinction between what appeared in the AT&SF employe magazine and elsewhere may be the fact that long before the early 1920s, most railroads required that watches in railroad time service be adjusted to five positions (see end of Section 4 in the example), while as late as 1921 the AT&SF only required adjustment to three positions. Thus, whether or not the Santa Fe Special was accepted into time service depended upon its adjustment to position and what was required by a specific railroad.
The Santa Fe Special: What is the Description of Adjustment?The Santa Fe Special watches are marked "Adjusted To Temperature And Positions" without noting to how many positions the watch is adjusted. Nor do the company's catalog description or ads clear up the matter. Immediately following WWI, and for years thereafter, many Santa Fe Watch Co. ads in the railroad brotherhood journals (but not those in the AT&SF employe magazine) mixed the discussion of Santa Fe's watches with those of the Illinois Bunn Special, a watch which was also sold via mail-order by the Santa Fe Watch Co., in Santa Fe-signed cases (see this December 1919 ad). The Bunn Special is properly noted as being "Adjusted to Six Positions," but the way it is presented, the impression is given that both the Santa Fe Special and the Bunn Special have the same level of adjustment. The result of this mixed discussion is that it is difficult to determine the actual adjustment description of the Santa Fe Special watch. The vast majority of 16-size, Santa Fe Special watches were Illinois grade No. 806, which - when sold by Illinois - were adjusted to temperature, isochronism and three positions. However, without having a specific Santa Fe position adjustment description, it is uncertain to how many positions the Santa Fe watches were adjusted. Therein lies the basis for rules prohibiting private label watches from time service - one could never know exactly to what extent the watch was adjusted.
Case ExamplesIn the early 1920s, the Santa Fe Watch Co. offered its private label Illinois watches in Santa Fe-Signed, Gold-Filled Cases with inlaid enamel monograms, railroad heralds, lodge emblems or autographs as seen on page 13 of a catalog. Page 18 of the Same Catalog shows typical pictures of inlaid enamel designs that were available and lists hunting-case watches as well as open-face models.
JewelryThe Santa Fe Watch Co. also sold a line of jewelry, promoting diamond rings. Earlier, there were watch and jewelry combined ads. Then, the jewelry disappeared from the watch ads and showed up in their own dedicated ads, ads which didn't mention the watches at all. Ads for the jewelry appeared in some, but not all, railroad employe magazines and a few brotherhood journals. Unsurprisingly, a selection of watch chains and emblems were also offered by the Santa Fe Watch Co. As one might expect, these were offered within the company's watch catalog but don't seem to have appeared in the railroad trade ads. The line of jewelry lasted at least as late as 1936, by which time the ads were again promoting both watches and jewelry together.
Santa Fe watches may be referenced in Russell W Snyder's Illinois Data Base CD (available through The Early American Watch Club NAWCC Chapter 149).
The books listed below are available on loan by mail to members from the NAWCC Lending Library.
Railroad Watches Identification and Price Guide, Roy Ehrhardt & William Meggers, Jr., Heart of America Press, Kansas City, MO, 1995.
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.
One can view Oldwatch.com's Illinois Production Date Chart which is an online means for determining the very approximate production date of Santa Fe (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.
Typical Santa Fe Watch Co. Ads
Year Month Publication Significant Point 1915 January AT&SF Employe Magazine Combined watch and jewelry ad 1916 March StL&SF Employe Magazine Standard Railroad Watch 1917 MK&T Employes' Magazine Santa Fe sold jewelry also 1917 April BoLFE Magazine Guaranteed to Pass R.R. Inspection 1917 May Railroad Trainman The "Santa Fe Special" passes railroad inspection 1917 May Railroad Trainman Diamonds and rings offered 1918 Popular Mechanics Santa Fe Special advertised to the general public 1919 January Railroad Trainman No mention of passing inspection 1919 January AT&SF Employe Magazine Guaranteed to Pass Santa Fe Inspection 1919 December BoLFE Magazine Santa Fe Special & Bunn Special 21 Jewel Railroad Watches 1920 April Railroad Trainman Heavy railroad theme 1922 May Carmen's Journal Case enhancements 1926 August BoLFE Magazine Santa Fe Special 1936 November BoLFE Magazine Watch and jewelry ad
Santa Fe Watch Co., Topeka, Kansas 1920+ CatalogThis catalog is undated but it contains testimonial letters dated 1920 and an accompanying letter refers to the "World-war" and the "… return of men and industries to a settled working basis …"
Page Nos. Description Front Cover A steam engine at night Inside Front Cover Testimonials 1 Letter To Illinois 2 Perfection In Watchmaking 3 Railroad Service 4 Santa Fe Special 5 Must Run True 6 Full Adjustment 7 Lever Or Stem Set 8 Movement & Features 9 Your Choice Of Dials 10 Choose The Best Watch 11 Our Selling System 12 Quality & Quantity 13 The Four Sizes of the Santa Fe Special 14 Inlay Enamel Autographs 15 Enamel Monograms 16-17 Centerfold - Enormous Modern Factories 18 Lodge or Organization Emblems Inlay Enamel 19 Lodge Emblem Cases 20 Bracelet Watches & 3/0-Size 21 12-Size Aristocrat 22 Engraved Emblem Cases 23 Engraved Monogram Cases 24 Standard Design Cases - 1 25 Standard Design Cases - 2 26 Bracelet Watches & 3/0-Size 27 Watch Values 28 How To Order 29 Gold-Filled Emblems/Charms 30 Chains, Lockets & Knives 31 Chains 32 Chains & Solid Gold Emblems/Charms Inside Back Cover Fobs Back Cover Train at night
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