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!

Two More Elgin Factory Views

Two more views of the Elgin watch factory at Elgin Illinois.  These are both likely to be around 1910.
From Elgin National Watch Co
From Elgin National Watch Co

Elgin Advertising, 1930s

This is post card advertising for the Elgin National Watch Co. This card is pre-addressed to a jeweler, and I assume Elgin watch dealer. The caption reads "My Elgin's all right".
From September 30, 2011

Late Model Elgin Railroad Watches

My information on later Elgin products is a bit fragmented. I'm not certain of the exact grade of this 16 size, 21 jewel, B.W. Raymond pocketwatch. Elgin made watches like this from the late '40s right up into the '60s. Many are marked with grades, this one is not. Watch serial numbers in this era typically begin with a letter, which is supposed to correspond to a number of millions, however I'm not sure this convention was rigorously adhered to.

Note the railroad style case typical of the '40s and '50s, and the dial logo Elgin used in the later years.

The Elgin National Watch Company went completely out of business in 1968.

Elgin Grade 234

The grade 234 Elgin pocketwatch is a bit on the rare side.  It is a 12 size watch, with 7 jewels.

This one was made about 1902.  It features a distinctive gun metal grey case which is difficult to capture well in a photograph.

The case has been polished to brass on a thin raised ring just around the edge of the crystal, and also just on the edge of the slight tab used to open the back.  Quite nice!

Another Elgin Grade 315

This is a 12 size watch, 15 jewels, made about 1928.  The grade 315 was one of Elgin's most successful products.

This example features a "cushion" case and a dial in unusually good condition for one of this type.

William Samelius

William Samelius was one of the most significant watchmakers that we have ever seen, he was also my Grandfather's teacher. Samelius was referred to as The Dean of American Watchmakers, because he ran the Elgin Watch College for many years.

William Samelius took a special interest in my Grandfather because of his aptitude for watchmaking, and because of a funny story which I'll get to another time. But the point is that Samelius was a great teacher and made an impression on my Grandfather, Everett Sexton, that lasted a lifetime. My Grandfather would invoke the name of the master to make an impression on me. He would say when inspecting my work, for example, "Well I think you've done great, but Samelius would say you were too generous with the oil on the forth wheel."

When I learned how to do something, I was told how Samelius said to do it, from hand finishing the points of screwdrivers to lathe work. My Grandfather is gone now, but I feel very fortunate to have had this connection. Today, William Samelius is largely forgotten, even though he was once a household word.

I have lately exchanged some email with the decedents of the Samelius family. They have generously provided me with some information that I can put on line to inform about the master watchmaker. I'm not sure when I'll get to all that, but here are a couple of photos...

Find more about William Samelius here...

Lost Art?

In the 1970s the local Coeur d'Alene, Idaho newspaper ran a series they called "Coeur d'Alene Has It" with the idea of highlighting local businesses one can find in town. In one edition of the series they featured my Grandfather, Everett Sexton, watchmaker and owner of Overjourde's Jewelers. That article read a lot like the one below, although for different reasons. The 1970s were dark times for watchmakers as mechanic watches seemed to be fading into history forever.


As an aside the jewelry store in Coeur d'Alene is still there. It is now Clark's Diamond Jewelry. It has been in business for more than 100 years. I highly recommend a visit if you are ever in that part of Idaho.


The Elgin Watch Factory, 1912

From Elgin National Watch Co

More Elgin Images

This is another photo made in the 1930s for Elgin advertising.
From Elgin National Watch Co

The Curtis Transportation Collection

A friend and I had the opportunity yesterday to view the Curtis Transportation Collection, a large private collection of vintage vehicles and other items.

The Curtis family operates Curtis Trailers and RV in Portland and this unique collection, a lifetime in the making, is housed in a large building on the business property.

The collection includes a large variety of house drawn vehicles, vintage military equipment, fire engines, antique fire fighting gear, campers, vintage motor cycles and much more.  Much of the collection is in as-found condition, and many may be the only surviving examples.

There's a great deal of history in these pieces, but the future of the collection is uncertain as the family deals with the passing of the senior family members that accumulated this remarkable private collection.  A small handful of items are already singled out and accepted to go to other museums  including the Smithsonian.

Thanks to the Curtis family for sharing this with us.

Many more photos here:
Curtis Transportation Collection

Elgin Grade 311

Here's an Elgin grade 311.  It's a 12 size, 7 jewel, watch made about 1913.

This one has an interesting hand-paint emblem added to the dial, of unknown origin.

Watches on Google+

I have been using Google+ to post photos and other information related to watches and watchmaking.  The Google+ mobile application makes it quick and easy for me to post pictures while working.

If you'd like to follow along, and are not yet on Google+, send me your email address and I'll send you a Google+ invitation.  It's easy!


Roskopf Watches

Georges Frederic Roskopf created his watch designs in the 1860s.  His aim was to create a good quality watch at a reasonable cost; something a working man could afford.

Most Roskopf watches, usually 18 size, include a couple interesting features.  One is that there is no forth wheel, and thus no seconds hand.  This simplifies the train a bit.  The other is a "platform escapement" whereby the entire escapement is mounted on its own lower plate and is thus removable as a single unit, balance wheel, pallet and escape.

Although these watches are a bit obscure, the designs (and the name) where used by many imitators in the late 19th century.

Show here is a 16 size Roskopf watch in mint condition.  It was never sold.  It has a string with a lead tag around the neck, and a paper label still on the case back.

This watch, interestingly, does inded have a 4th wheel.

Also note the pin-set mechanism.  There is a button to one side that is depressed to engage setting mode.


KM Watches

I don't know how I was previously unaware of this, but KM Watches creates timepieces in Sisters Oregon.  It's great looking work, and watches made in the US are a rare things.


Moving Clock Found to Run Slower Than Stationary One

From Horology magazine, October 1938

Moving Clock Found to Run Slower Than Stationary One

Bell Laboratories Scientist Confirms 40-Year-Old Theory

A famous theory of science, announced forty years ago, has at last been confirmed by experiments in the Bell Telephone Laboratories, according to a paper presented by Dr. Herbert E. Ives before a meeting of the National Academy of Sciences in Washington recently. Dr. Ives has shown that a moving clock actually does run slower than one at rest.

So slight is the slowing down that no speeds available to experimenters when the theory was announced were adequate for a crucial test. But by using as a "clock" the light-giving oscillation of a hydrogen ion,which can be shot down a vacuum tube at a thousand miles a second, it is possible to measure a definite change in the color of the light. That, of course, means a change in the rate of vibration of the atom.

Dr. Ives' apparatus uses a vacuum tube in which there is a small amount of hydrogen. An electric arc breaks down the hydrogen molecules into charged ions.

These are picked up by a high-voltage electric field and brought up to speeds of the order of a thousand miles a second. Looking into the end of the tube, the observer sees these ions approaching him, and by means of a mirror he also sees them apparently receding from him.

If his eyes were sufficiently sensitive to color, he would notice that the receding ones were redder than the approaching ones; this is the Doppler effect, which also makes the horn of an approaching car sound higher pitched than that of a receding car. But as compared with the color of stationary ions, those moving in either direction are redder; that is, they vibrate more slowly. And that is what Fitzgerald, Larmor and Lorentz proposed nearly 40 years ago-atomic "clocks" oscillating more slowly as they move through a stationary medium called "the ether."

The Space Traveller

"London-based manufacturer of watch movements and timekeeping electronics, Hoptroff, today announced The Dickens, a new 7-motor quartz watch movement. The design was inspired by styling of The Space Traveller pocket watch, one of the most audacious creations by George Daniels, England’s greatest living watchmaker."

Read more here:

Old Balance Bridge Repairs

Most 18 size Elgin watches have a plate design where the balance wheel is outside the rest of the works, the rest being covered. We see this design called both "full plate" and "3/4 plate". At any rate, a balance bridge supports the upper pivots of the exposed balance wheel on these watches.

If the pivot does not move freely in the upper pivot, then the watch will not run well, particularly when laying face up. The causes can be a worn, damaged, or incorrect upper jewel, damage to the balance pivot, or a warped balance bridge.

One thing I see an a lot is a makeshift adjustment to the balance bridge, usually intended to make it sit slightly higher with the idea of giving the balance more freedom. The adjustment consisted of using a graver to make "digs" or burrs into the plate creating raised spots, under the bridge.

This repair can be tricky to deal with.  In many cases fixing the original, actual, problem by, for example, replacing the jewel or staff, and then removing these raised spots leaves things in good shape. But many times I find that the bridge also appears to have been deformed slightly. The movement may have been dropped, landing on this part, or it may have been deliberately manipulated.  Getting everything to line up again on this critical part is difficult.

This watch, a grade 336 Elgin pocketwatch, is a particularly troubled example.

In this case there are old burrs on both the plate and the underside of the bridge.  Also they have both been undone with a file, and redone in the past.

The upper balance jewel on this watch was cracked and worn oblong. These burrs are likely old attempts to deal with that without replacing the bad parts.

As annoying as this is, it's just the nature of the old watches. When these watches were in use, they had to be repaired as best they could be, sometimes by their owners, or whomever was available, and with the tools at hand. Factory parts in those days could be rare and expensive, so they did what they could with what they had. It was also not unusual in the 19th century for people to carry watches that were off by 10 or 20 minutes a day, or worse. But they were better than sundials at least.

Personal Magnetism

Are some people magnetic?  Are there people that "can't" wear a mechanical watch?   My Grandfather mentioned this persistent belief to me once.  It was a popular idea in the 1930s during what was I guess  wave of interests in the mysteries of magnetism, and the beginnings of the use of wristwatches among men.  He didn't believe it, but he did have some problem customers...


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