Classic watches, watchmaking, antique tools, history, vintage ephemera and more!

Learn about mechanical timepieces and how they work, the history of the American watch industry and especially all about the Elgin National Watch Company! Check back for new content daily.

Although this is technically a blog, the content is not generally in a time-based sequence. You can find interesting items throughout. Down the page some is an alphabetical word cloud of keywords used here. A great way to dig in is to look through those topics and click anything you find interesting. You'll see all the relevant content.

Here are a few of my favorites!

There are some large images on some posts, so that might impact your load times, bit I think you will find it worth the wait. Thanks for visiting!

Manistee Pocketwatch, Part Two

I've posted some images of a very strange Manistee pocketwatch here:


Can anyone offer an explanation for this movement?

Manistee Pocketwatch

I'm currently working on a 16 size watch by the Manistee Watch Company. It's an interesting piece for several reasons. For one thing, the lower plate is actually two pieces, shown here, held together by three very short, wide screws. The minute wheel is fixed between them. Perhaps this made the parts simpler to machine? It's not clear. More on on this project later... These photos are taken before any work has been done.

Making a Fly Cutter

From Horology magazine, November, 1937

Making a Fly Cutter

HOROLOGY, Los Angeles, Calif.

I have read with interest your notes from time to time in HOROLOGY on the making and use of fly cutters used in watch wheel cutting.

For a number of years I have used a type of fly or wheel cutter that has proven very satisfactory and during a recent chat with Major Paul M. Chamberlain he told me that others might be interested and suggested that I submit the idea for your approval.

I first cut a steel blank about 1/8" in thickness from a round piece of drill rod 5/8" diameter, using a cutting off tool in slide rest so as to leave the sides true and smooth.

Next drill and ream a hole through the blank the exact diameter of the wheel cutter arbor which you intend to use, place the round blank on the arbor and tighten the collars down hard, next put arbor with blank in lathe and form the outside with graver or tool in slide rest, making the disc or blank exact shape of wheel you wish to cut. In the case of a hardened steel winding gear I have used the old wheel as a form tool in the final finishing of the cutter, this is done, by clamping the old wheel with a small toolmaker's clamp on to a piece of steel that will fit in the tool post of your slide rest then run the old wheel up on the blank letting it scrape off any surplus material.

After the cutter is formed, remove same from arbor and enlarge hole .008 to .010 over arbor diameter. A portion of the cutter is then ground away making the cutting edge (see sketch for detail).

The cutter is then hardened and tempered and reground on the cutting edge mentioned in previous paragraph, same is now ready for use and is replaced on the arbor and while collars are tightened the cutter is held off center as far as it will go caused by looseness on arbor towards the cutting edge. This gives the cutter its proper clearance or backing off, on account of this type of construction the slight drag on back of cutter gives a nice burnishing action which really makes a smoother job than regular type relieved cutter. The cutter can be ground indefinitely, always replacing same on arbor so that cutting edge will be on high side.
Yours very truly, 
(Signed) H. C. WING, 
Greenfield, Mass.

17 Jewel Illinois, The Banker

Here's a nice 12 size, 17 jewel Illinois.

"The Banker"
Note the spade hour and minute hands don't match the second hand. The second hand is original. This watch had been missing its crystal for awhile and had developed significant rust issues. The hour and minute hands had to be replaced.

A Nice Elgin Wristwatch

This man's Elgin watch belonged to a woman's father. She regularly wears it. The style of many vintage men's watches work well for women today. I suppose there is some irony in this in that for a long time, prior the WWII, wristwatches were considered overly feminine by many men.

The owner reported that the watch had been to a jeweler a couple of times but still did not run well.

I found an issue with the hairspring , and improper oil - much too much here, none there.

Suggestion Department

From Horology magazine, November, 1937

Suggestion Department

A subscriber, Leonard P. Coggin, of Philadelphia, writes "I have two suggestions that I'd like to make at this time.

"The first idea is for you to create a new department in your magazine, a suggestion department. This department will advertise that it will publish any shop wrinkles that readers will send in.
If you like you can offer a monthly or annual prize to stimulate interest in this new feature. Suggestions may be little gadgets that help the watchmaker in his work, easy short-cuts, methods or what have you.

"The second suggestion is this, 'Why don't you publish an annual index to your publication?' This will make it very much easier to locate an article in a back issue." 

Thank you, Mr. Coggin. Your suggestions are most welcome. HOROLOGY has decided to carry them out and at this time formally announces the new Suggestion Department. It will appear for the first time in the December issue. This department will be open to all horologists who have any contributions of a practical nature which will be of assistance in every day work. A prize of five dollars will be awarded monthly for the best suggestion.

All contributions should be addressed to HOROLOGY, Suggestion Department, 747 South Hill Street, Los Angeles. Whenever possible a sketch, drawing or photograph should accompany same.
HOROLOGY reserves the right to publish any or all of the suggestions submitted and will be the sole judge of the prize winning suggestion.

The matter of an index is being given consideration and a decision will be reached soon.

Question Box

From Horology magazine, November, 1937

Question Box

Tightening Cannon Pinions

Dear Sir:

Recently I happened to pick up a copy of a July 1936 issue of HOROLOGY. I was much impressed with the article on Systematic Repairing and the explanations on the cannon pinion friction. In my opinion that article would be complete if recommendations of tools used in tightening a cannon pinion were given.

I would also like to know something about the hollow center pinions which were not considered in that article. To get the right friction on the pin which goes through the center has always troubled me. I have been using the triangular punch for tightening the pinion on the pin. For the center friction I roll the pin between two coarse files. Some watchmakers insert a bristle of a brush in the center. What would you recommend?

L. D.

Answer: The use of the triangular punch for tightening a cannon pinion cannot be too strongly condemned. Aside from the mutilation of the pinion the friction thus created is never lasting or smooth. Even if these three nicks should survive long enough to be pushed on the post, the first few times the hands are set they will wear off. For tightening an ordinary cannon pinion there is nothing better than the cutting plier illustrated in Figure 2. The edges of this plier are very thin enabling one to get into the narrow groove of a small pinion without burring the square sides of the groove. Of no less importance is the adjustable stop screw, an absolute assurance that the pinion will not be cut in two. In addition one should always insert a round steel broach in the pinion while tightening it.

The hollow center pinion, a cross section of which is shown in Figure 3, needs a somewhat different treatment. The insertion of a bristle or rolling the pin between files is unmechanical and is not recommended, even if it does work after a fashion. In case the center pin is badly damaged or hopelessly small nothing short of a new pin will do. It is possible, however, to place the pin in the staking tool on a flat stump and tap it with a flat punch as shown in Figure 4. After it is thus flattened it may be stoned to size either in the lathe or by holding in a pinvise on the filing block.

Open Forum

From The American Horologist magazine, January 1942


NOTE (This column is ~ours uncensored or edited. We assume no responsibility for statements made.)
By J. H. HUFF. Flagstaff, Arizona

"Just a word in addition to the article in the November issue of the AMERICAN HOROLOGIST by Mr. Pentcheck regarding the method of finding the troubles between the fork and roller table.

"His method is very good so far as he went, but there is at least one more test that I think should be made.

"In performing all the tests he gives, it is very evident that all are made with the watch lying flat on the desk D. D. postion. Now should the roller jewel be so low as to just clear the gua,rd pin all would be O. K., but due to the fact that the pallet arbor has or may have more end shake than does the balance staff, then in turning the watch in the D. U. position the roller Jeweler could then come in contact with the guard pin either stopping the watch or rubbing enough on the pin to retard the motion of the balance and impair the possibility of regulating.

"In the December issue I see where one asks how to remove finger marks from a cleaned movement. I say, don't put them there in the first place.  What is watch paper made for? Some will say they cannot use it in handling small movements. Why not? I do, if one will use it on all work it will soon become very easy. In touching the balance with a finger take a piece of small paper and fold it over the end of the finger holding it in place with an elastic band."

Elgin Advertising, 1925


Soon I called it my "old reliable" - and in forty years it has never failed me

One of a series of little biographies of Elgin Watches

An experience as a commuter is very apt to give any man a high respect for an accurate watch.  For a commuter soon learns that a fickle time-piece may lead to calamity; such as a lost business engagement in town or a cold dinner at home.

While practicing law in the city of Chicago, I was commuting each day from Wheaton, Illinois, and an erratic watch was a source of frequent apprehension to me.

One day - in 1885 - I missed my train.  And it was then that I decided to acquire an Elgin - purchasing it from Giles & Company, then a Chicago landmark.

It was a Number Fifty model in a heavy gold case, recommended to withstand even the rigors of commuting...  Soon I called it my "old reliable" - and in these forty years it has never failed me.

It still keeps correct time, and is always "on call" when my present-day watch - a much handsomer and thinner Elgin - is sent away for cleaning.

To File Flat

From American Horologist magazine, October 1938

To File Flat

By W. H. SAMELIUS, Chairman, National Technical Board

To FILE flat and have the file marks look as if the piece worked upon had been brushed, is an art acquired only by practice. Clock work requires sometimes the use of a file on large pieces, but watches for repairs seldom call for any large pieces; but the principle of filing is to be learned by beginning on large work. A visit to any large machine shop and noting the operations of expert filers will give better ideas of the manner of holding and operating a file.

Good practice would be obtained by making a lathe something after the pattern of the ordinary brass Swiss lathe, and even if unsuccessful in making a lathe adapted to watch work, it could be used for polishing. Take your casting as it comes from the brass foundry and screw it firmly in the vise, standing up before your work,· holding the file by the handle in the right hand and guiding the end with your left; hold it flat and push forward with some vigor.

Keep it flat by feeling, and note the cut it makes. Lift it entirely off the piece you are working on when you draw back, and note the effect, which will enable you to adjust your hands so as to make the next stroke more correctly. Be careful to avoid an oval motion. The tapering shape of many large files is such that by simply pressing the file down on your work you can give it just the shape of the taper of the file; but this is to be avoided, and only practice will teach how it can be done. The eye must be frequently called in use, so as to have sides parallel and corners square. After all the casting marks are removed and the article has been shaped and reduced to proper size, a smoother-cut file is used to remove the coarser file marks and get nearer to size. When this is completedcare being constantly exercised to keep the file marks running in one uniform direction-use a flat piece of Scotch stone with water to remove the file marks, after which a flat buff with tripoli.

Cocks and watch bridges are generally turned out with a lathe, and finished flat by machinery, although we have seen some very nicely filed out and polished.

The peculiar matted appearance is produced by acids; and when plates were fire gilted, before the application of electro gilding, the process of fire gilding increased this matted appearance.
Having learned the knack of flat filing, to reduce the practice to small work a good plan will be to put such small pieces as clicks, ratchets, ratchet plates, etc., on a small white pine or basswood block, and by pressure imbed them in the wood. Sometimes a few pins made with the pin vise, drawn around the edges pretty deep into the block, greatly aid; and some articles can be better handled by holding in the fingers and passing the file over. To remove file marks from steel, use oil stone, either in slips or by rubbing on a large flat stone. Much depends on the piece you have to work upon. 1 In these days when all kinds of material is so abundant, it is not often necessary to make a new piece from a steel wire or bar, but if you find a piece of steel material that will nearly answer, don't undertake to complete the fit by filing until you have drawn the temper; it will cost you less for files, broaches, etc., to do this, and besides save time.

To be sure you will have to re-harden, temper and finish, for you can't get a nice polish on soft steel.  After you have the knack of carrying the files so as to do flat work, it will not be necessary to stand; but for anything large the standing position is always to be preferred; there is something in the swaying motion of the body when standing that enables you to execute better work, and on small work you can bring the principle to bear when sitting at the bench. 

A mechanical eye is almost an absolute necessity for a watch repairer. vVhenever you have a piece to make it should be made so that if the man who made tbe watch was to examine it he could not detect the piece replaced unless by superior excellence. All the botch III akers of the trade have no idea of finish-their only idea is put in something that will work, no matter how unsightly. 

Elgin Advertising, 1924 - the Time Observatory

The Old Homestead of Father Time

All that we know about time the astronomers have taught us.  The only absolute measure of time is the stately procession of the stars as the revolution of the earth brings them across the zenith.

But, for convenience in the everyday affairs of men, "time" must always mean what our watches tell of the passing human hours, minutes and seconds.

So one of the great practical services of the astronomer today is to contribute star-time precision to the making of watches for men and women.

And as the Elgin Professional Watch Makers are never satisfied to do anything by halves, years ago they established a Tim Observatory at the Elgin Watch Factory, for the sole purpose of taking star observations.  And so supplying the most precise time standards to the making of Elgin Watches.

All through the Elgin Factories the electric sounders are reproducing the ticks of the Observatory Master Clock, checked by star-time.

Every process in adjusting and timing the Elgin Railroad Watch carried by the conductor and engineer of your morning train was performed in the light of these standards.

So, too, with your own pocket watch; your Elgin Strap Watch; the Elgin Wrist Watch you gave your wife or daughter.  Not a single watch ever comes from Elgin gains in professional timekeeping character from the work of the Elgin Time Observatory.

Nor is this all.  To every man and woman in the Elgin factories, the Time Observatory is an inspiration - a constant reminder of their obligation to all who buy Elgin Watches.

The watch-owner, too, feels the inspiration in higher understanding of timekeeping standards, and the desire for better and better watches.

And the Time Observatory of the Elgin Watch comes in a peculiar and literal sense to be the "Old Homestead of Father Time."
The Professional Timekeeper

The new model - extra thin Elgin "Streamline" - 17 Jewel adjusted, in white or green engraved, or plain polished green, 14-Karat gold-filled case - $40.  In attractive gift boxes.

Model of 200-Inch Telescope to be Displayed

From Horology magazine, July 1938


The planets, moon and stars, will be brought "down to earth" at the 1939 Golden Gate International Exposition on San Francisco Bay.

To the edification of millions of visitors to the Hall of Science at the $50,000,000 World's Fair of the West, the whole galaxy of the universe will be brought down to the level of the human eye by means of a vast astronomical exhibit planned by the University of California.

Center of the display, which will be a part of the University's $1,500,000 array of exhibits, will be a model of the 700ton telescope now being installed on Mount Palomar in Southern California.  It will be built exactly to scale, with the 200-inch mirror being duplicated by an eight-inch facsimile, and every other feature being faithfully reproduced in proportion.

The telescope will be flanked on either side by a series of transparencies giving close-ups of the planets and other heavenly bodies. One panel will show the moon as if it were brought within 24 miles of the earth. Other panels will show the relation of time to the planets and still another set of transparencies will show the relation of astronomical bodies to everyday human life.

When completed, the Mount Palomar telescope is expected to open new lines of exploration in the universe. The Exposition model will show exactly how this is to be done, at least a year before it is actually accomplished.

Click "Older Posts" just above for more, or use the archive links right here.

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