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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!

Lookup Elgin Serial Numbers

You can find out about how old an Elgin watch or pocketwatch is from the serial number on the movement.  Here is a way to lookup Elgin serial numbers for the year of manufacture, number of jewels and other details:

http://home.elgintime.com:8080/elgintime/SnumLookup

The information on this resource should not be considered highly reliable. I am still merging together various sources and applying manual corrections in light of watches I have seen. I plan to expand the information presented over time.

Data on Elgin serial numbers that begin with letters is not included at this time.

Enjoy...

Horologists Builds Own Street Clocks

From Horology magazine, July 1938

Horologists Builds Own Street Clocks


O. W.Dreyer, Long Beach director of the Horological Association of California, has created something original in the way of street clocks. The large cuckoo clock over the entrance is an actual working model with the cuckoo appearing every half hour. It was made entirely by Mr. Dreyer in his own shop.

He also designed and constructed the working mechanism of the elaborate neon sign projecting over the sidewalk. The second hand of the large watch is arranged to rotate once a minute just as in a regular watch.

Photography


Once in a while, I'm asked about the photos that appear here. Here's a few details on a sample. Click on the photo for a larger view.

This is a real nice Elgin 12 size. We see a lot of these watches, but this one is quite near mint.

Anyway, the photo is taken with a Nikon D70 using a Nikor 120 mm VR lens for 1/4 second at f/5.6, ISO 200. A remote trigger is used.

The camera is mounted on a rig my Grandfather built for the purpose of making photographic copies of family photos. The rig features a heavy vertical post to which an arm, movable up and down by a worm gear, allows the camera to be mounted pointed straight down at a platform.

Lighting is critical. On the post are mounted two flexible arms, below the camera arm, with two bright lights with photo hoods. This together with good sunlight in the workshop gives a nice mix of lighting.

It can be tricky to get a good photo of a watch. They have a lot of detail, and reflective parts. We need the camera close, but some depth of field is needed to keep the internal parts in focus.

I send photos of each watch I work on to their owners.

John Mitsch


Here's an unusual private label watch marked "John Mitsch, Allegheny Pa."



It's also marked "Manfd ELGIN ILLs". It would seem to be an Elgin grade 55, 7 jewels, key wind and set.



The dial is marked "National" and not Elgin, The National Watch Company being the original name of the firm. The National name was used until it was officially changed in 1874. It was changed since customers developed the habit of calling these "watches from Elgin" so the new name was thought more descriptive and fitting.



Note the solid balance on this slow-beat design.



The watch features an hour wheel which has been repaired at some point in the past. A tooth has been replaced - nice work too.



The repair is hard to photograph but the silver solder around the brass of the replacement tooth is visible in the last image.

Elgin Advertising, 1925

My paragon of punctuality - keeping time as accurately as the Gray-Beard with the Scythe

One of a series of little biographies of Elgin Watches
WRITTEN BY EMINENT ELGINEERS

Gentle who make pictures and books and plays and such things for the divertissement of their fellows, are not supposed to work by the watch.

But even an artist has appointments to keep, orders to fill, and the 5.15 to catch.  And if he is habitually late for dinner, the cook will not stay.

For many years, I might have been known as a "two watch man."  I carried an opulent, turnip-shaped watch bequeathed to me by an ancestor - and another given me by an associate.  Between the two, by checking one against the other and striking a happy mean, I have managed to secure a fair approximation of time.

But one day, it dawned on me that it might not be economic wisdom to use two implements for the work of one.  So I secured an Elgin - which has since become my paragon of punctuality - keeping time as remorselessly and accurately as the Gray-Beard with the Scythe.
by Charles Dana Gibson
ELGIN
THE WATCH WORD FOR ELEGANCE & EFFICIENCY

The Chicago School of Watchmaking

I am in the process of posting web editions of the Chicago School of Watchmaking Home Study Course, here:

http://www.rdrop.com/~jsexton/watches/csw/

There's a lot of material, this will take awhile, but there are two lessons available now. Enjoy...


Update

I received the following email October 25, 2010.

From: Steve Sweazey <stevesweazey@msn.com>
Date: Mon, Oct 25, 2010 at 8:46 AM
Subject: Chicago School of Watchmaking Lesson Plans

Mr. Sexton,
I am writing in regards to current links on your website displaying entire Lesson Plans of the Chicago School of Watchmaking Home Correspondence Course. The web address is located at http://www.rdrop.com/~jsexton/watches/csw/. As the rightful copyright owner for this publication, I respectfully request that the links to these Lesson Plans be removed from your website. Many years ago, I donated a few sets of the complete course to the National  Association of Watch & Clock Collectors (NAWCC) Library and Research Center. Therefore, anyone interested in studying this course are encouraged to join the NAWCC in order to borrow the material from their lending library program. Thank you for your cooperation.

Sincerely,
Steve Sweazey
It appears that the Chicago Watch School home study course will have to remain of "underground", limited and exclusive availability.  It's a shame they can not be available to a wide audience, but there it is...


Elgin 730A

Here's an Elgin model 730-A wrist watch featuring the Durabalance free-sprung balance. This was one of Elgin's last great designs.

The 730-A features 23 jewels, one of which is the post on which the minute wheel runs.

This one has a B. W. Raymond dial.

Nice!


Question Box


From Horology magazine, July1938

Question Box
Double Faced Clock

Editor Horology,
Dear Sir:
I would like to get some information in regard to the following problem that I had last week.

I have a Swiss 8 day clock with two faces, that is, it has two dials, one on each side of the clock. The movement is exactly the same as a regular watch with the exception of the connection of the minute wheel which is also on both sides of the movement, fastened by a shaft that goes through the movement.

Now here comes the trouble. One side of the clock shows the time, say exactly 3 o'clock, but the other side of the clock shows 3 minutes past 3 o'clock. This, a3 far as I can see, comes from the amount of play in the gearing. This amount is by all means correct and nothing can be altered there. After the clock has run for 3 minutes the hands of both dials are together again. But, should one set this clock from the other side of the movement, that is, from the extra dial, he will set his clock at the correct time, but the hand will not start moving until after 3 minutes, thereby making the clock 3 minutes too slow right from the start.

The only possible way that I find to eliminate the error is by setting the hands of the clock backwards and then it seems to be alright. The extra minute wheel, has a friction spring underneath it. I have tried to remedy this by adjusting this friction, but to no avail.

Your opinion on this problem would be greatly appreciated, as I am not sure if this clock always did this or not. One cannot tell on which side the balance wheel is or the cannon pinion when the clock is all assembled into its case as both sides are exactly alike.

A. P.

Answer: The construction of these clocks is such that the hands on one side will always be several minutes behind the others because of the backlash in the gearing. For this there is no remedy.

Ship's Bell Strike 

Editor Horology, 
Dear Sir:
Will you kindly explain in your Question Box how to set the hands on a ship's bell clock, the kind that does not strike the full 12 hours.

Answer: The striking mechanism of a ship's bell clock divides a day into 6 four hour periods, beginning at 12, 4, 8, etc.  At the beginning of any of these periods, at 12 o'clock for example, it strikes 8 times. Then at 12 :30 it strikes 1 bell, at 1 :00 it strikes 2 bells, etc., until at 4 :00 0' clock it again strikes 8 bells and the cycle repeats itself.

Mainspring Too Strong 

Editor Horology, 
Dear Sir:
I have an --- watch which is constantly rebanking. It already has the thinnest mainspring which I could obtain and yet the power still seems to be too great. It starts to rebank when it is wound up only half way. Can you tell me how to overcome this difficulty?

H. R. S.

Answer: The proper method of preventing the watch from rebanking is to use a weaker mainspring. Even though the size is not to be had already provided with a brace, an ordinary Swiss spring can be cut to length and the old brace riveted to it. Another method is to replace the balance staff with one having larger pivots and jewels to correspond.

WATCH AND CHRONOMETER TRIALS 

The highest mark in the watch trials for 1937 at the National Physical Laboratory (Teddington, England) was again obtained by the Omega Watch Company with 97.3 points. The best chronometer was submitted by Thomas Mercer, whose chronometers have received the highest marks since 1928.
It is interesting to note that of the 63 watches whose rates are given in the official report 9 were tourbillons, all made by Patek, Philippe & Co.

THE ENGLISH DOMESTIC CLOCK 

Under this title an interesting book on the evolution and history of English domestic clocks has been published. Only a very limited number of copies of this work by H. Alan Lloyd have been privately printed.

The connoisseur and collector of clocks will appreciate the numerous details calculated to facilitate the placing and dating of old clocks. The book contains many beautiful illustrations of pieces in such well known collections as C. A. IIbert, ]. Wainwright, and the South Kensington Museum. 

Copies of this volume may be obtained from Malcolm Gardner, 3 Earnshaw St., New Oxford St., London, W. C. 2, at the price of 6/4d (approximately $1.60). 


Pulls


I just saw these on eBay and snapped them up.










http://cgi.ebay.com/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&item=270606876958&ssPageName=ADME:B:SS:US:1123#ht_500wt_1154

Item number 270606876958, workshop drawer pulls from the Elgin watch factory. Nice vintage design!





How To Open New Gruen Cases

From Horology magazine, July 1938

HOW TO OPEN NEW GRUEN CASES

In order to explain how to properly open the cases of the new Ristside Curvex watches the Gruen Watch Company has issued an instruction sheet which accompanies each shipment. For the benefit of the trade in general we are reprinting these instructions.

"To remove the straps from bezelInsert a small screwdriver through the hole in the strap-cover plate and push the spring bar back (until it is disengaged from its seat in the lug). At the same time pull cover plate outward from the case. Best results may be obtained by  selecting the end of the spring bar with the single step shoulder.

"To remove back and movement - Remove both strap-cover plates and insert case opener between the lug and the thumb-piece on the back."


Cleaning

From Horology magazine, July 1938

Cleaning


The use of the cleaning machine has definitely become a part of the routine in most horological shops and no one whu has experienced the ease of machine cleaning is likely to return to the old method. Investigation has shown, however, that in many instances horologists have failed to derive the advantages which these machines offer.

Although it is an established fact that it is the time element and not the cost of cleaning fluids which concerns repairers, many have gained the impression that they may use cleaning and rinsing solutions indefinitely without replacement and still get good results. They have evidently forgotten how often they had to change their gasoline and alcohol baths when they practiced the hand cleaning method. One therefore hears of complaints and difficulties which when analyzed are found to be due only to negligence.

Explosive cleaning solutions are always more or less dangerous, even when used with just a brush. To use such fluids in a machine may eventually lead to serious consequences. As expensive as the regularly marketed solutions may be, in the long run they are probably cheaper than many of the home made mixtures.  Regardless of what solutions are used, it must be observed that no article will come out perfectly clean if it is given its last rinse in a dirty solution. It is likewise futile to expect the heater of a machine to dry an oil coated plate without leaving a film. Watch cleaning does not consist entirely of making the plates and wheels appear bright and free from lint or dust. As a matter of fact, a watch may be assembled in such a condition and be a complete failure from the standpoint of durability.

Usually the difficulties begin or at least occur more often after the original quantity of cleaning solution, which came with the machine when it was purchased, has been exhausted. The horologist suddenly decides that the solution recommended by the manufacturer of his machine is too costly and that a friend of his is getting just as good results with cheaper solutions or with solutions which he makes up himself by adding one part of this with so many parts of that. Of course, there could be no criticism of such action if it were based on the results of a systematic investigation. But, there have come to light cases in which, as the result of an indiscriminate change, horologists have used two successive rinses which would not mix.

One of the important things to observe in getting good results is to see that the various cleaning fluids do not contaminate each other. It should be remembered that in the process of removing gummed up oil, as well as oil in the liquid state, from the barrel and mainspring, it is transferred to the cleaning solution and to a lesser degree to the rinsing solution.

The first solution, which is usually dark in color, gradually gets filled with oily matter, thereby increasing the contamination of the rinsing fluid each time the machine is used. This can be greatly minimized by throwing of the excess solution from the basket before transferring . it to the next jar of fluid. Under no circumstances should a dripping basket be transferred from one solution to the next. The Last rinse, on which the quality of a job depends so much, must at all times be chemically free from impurities. As soon as it begins to show a change of color it should be discarded or used as an intermediate solution.

Another important point to be remembered is the fact that there seems to be no single solution which will at the same time completely remove the tarnish from a silvered movement and dissolve the gummed oil. There is no harm in dipping such watch parts into a cvanide solution to remove the tarnish. The job can then be completed in the watch cleaning machine in the usual manner. And when an exceptionally gummed up watch is encountered it is not at all out of place to give it a brushing in a benzine bath before placing it in the basket of the machine. This will shorten the time it must be kept in the first solution, besides keeping the solution cleaner.

The matter of preventing a hairspring from getting tangled is also readily solved. In spite of the fact that the ease with which a hairspring may be removed has been repeatedly demonstrated, which by the way, enables one to check the poise of the balance, many insist on cleaning the balance and spring as a unit. This can be safely done only if placed in a small compartment in the center of the basket so that the centrifugal force will not cause the heavy stud to fly out and damage the spring. It is also important that the mesh or screen of the basket be fine enough to prevent the stud from entering one of the openings. If the stud gets through one of them and centrifugal force draws the spring away it will surely be damaged.

The temptation to leave certain parts undisturbed while cleaning seems irresistible to many. It has already been pointed out in these columns that some loose pieces which allow free circulation of the cleaning fluid may sometimes be left on a plate, but it is hopeless to attempt to clean jewels without removing the endstones or a complete barrel with the spring inside.


In conclusion, one must bear in mind that the qualities of any oil depend upon the surface to which it is applied. Even the slightest trace of foreign matter is sufficient to turn it into a gummy substance or draw it away. This is why the same· oil in a given watch may stand up beautifully on some bearings and go bad on others.

Waltham 1894



Here's a 12 size, 7 jewel Waltham in a nice octagon case.

The hands are a nice style on this one.

Elgin Grade 574


Here's a later Elgin model, grade 574. It's 16 size with 17 jewels in a 10k rolled gold case.

Everett Sexton, Watchmaker


I just ran across this original photo of my Grandfather. I had not seen the original before, but I believe this picture was printed in the Cour d'Alene Press as part of a feature on local business. This was taken sometime in the early 1970s I would guess.

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

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