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!

War Talk Prompts Southern Grandma To Buy Watches

From Horology magazine, October 1939

War Talk Prompts Southern Grandma To Buy Watches

A Montgomery, Alabama, grandma of some 60 years odd recently walked into the Montgomery jewelry store of Ruth & Sons and said, "Let me see some watches." She looked awhile and then chose four, one a Hamilton and three of another make, and then upset the whole day at the store by saying to the clerk, "Deliver them please-but not until March 8, 1954."

Of course, the clerk asked for an explanation. And he got it. It was this way: Grandma has four grandchildren and they are very young, the oldest being but five. And, "Things are very uncertain now," she said. "I don't know how long I'll be here and there's so much talk of war and trouble. Anyway, I wish to leave the children something fine as a remembrance from me, and I think watches are appropriate and they'll keep for a long time." Assuring her that the watches would be secure indeed in their flint-walled vault, the clerk carefully oiled and wrapped each precious watch in chamois skin before Grandma's eyes. He told her, too, that the watches would be ready for delivery at the appointed date because the vault is safe even against air raids. 

Hamilton Watch Company Sues For Unfair Competition

From Horology magazine, October 1939

Hamilton Watch Company Sues For Unfair Competition

Request for an injunction charging $200,000 damages for unfair competitive practices and trade-mark infringement has been filed by the Hamilton Watch Company against the Hamilton Chain Company, Young's Inc., S. & S. Manufacturing Co., Alfred Spear and Louis Susskind, in Rhode Island.

Hamilton Watch was recently successful in obtaining cancellation of the defendants' registration of the trade-mark "Hamilton" by the U. S. Patent Commissioner.

It is alleged in the complaint that the Hamilton Chain Company was formed in 1937 for the purpose of deceiving and defrauding the consuming public by exploitive use of the trade mark "Hamilton", established over a period of many years by the Hamilton Watch Company.  The complaint also alleges that the trademark "Hampden", registered by the defendants, is misleading to the buying public because of its similarity in sound and appearance to the trade-mark "Hamilton".

As a further point, it is alleged that the defendants incorporated under the name Stetson Chain Company, in 1937, with similar fraudulent intentions regarding the trademark "Stetson" established by the Stetson Hat Company. The U. S. Patent Office has also cancelled the defendants' registration of that trade-mark.

The request calls for permanent injunction against the use of the trademarks "Hamilton" and "Hampden", a complete accounting of profits derived from the use of these trade-marks, and an amount equal to three times the damages sustained by the plaintiff. 

Elgin Serial Numbers Application Update

For those using it, I've just updated the Elgin watch movement serial numbers application so as to display some additional information.  Enjoy...



From Know the Escapement, by Sarah and Homer Barkus, 1945.

"One of the most interesting 'stoppers' we ever what was a 4 1/2 ligne Swiss.  It must have been cleaned just three months before.  Sorry we did not have this one photographed.

"A tiny spider, no larger than the head of a pin, had somehow gotten into this watch.  The constant ticking and noise of the movement must have been very distracting to the insect; at least it had reasons for stopping this watch.

"The mechanical ability of the spider surpassed anything we ever dreamed of.  Somehow fastening his web, he lassoed the Balance Wheel at the point where it came to a complete stop to reverse motion.  We took special care to note that the wheel was caught at the dead-center point of it excursion.  The contacts of the web and the angles at which it was fastened proved a masterpiece of engineering.

"The poor little creature was dead on his web when the watch was opened.  There were no contacts of the web on the lid.  It was all accomplished from the balance bridge to the escape bridge and Balance Wheel, with a few strands on the pallets.

"How it undertook and completed the job of harnessing this fast-moving Balance Wheel, hundreds - perhaps thousands - of times his own weight, was really a masterpiece."

Tennessee Watch & Jewelers Association Guild No. 4

From Horology magazine, October 1939

Tennessee Watch & Jewelers Association Guild No. 4

James D. McQuirter was elected president of the Memphis Guild No.4. The other officers elected are Walter J. Cline, vice-president; E. B. Stewart, secretary and L. J. Thomas, treasurer. W. C. Roy, L. A. Swan, Dr. John McQuirter and C. D. Taylor were elected to the board of directors. T. O. Pearson, state president was a visitor at the Guild's last meeting.

Scientific Progress In The Jewelry Store

From Horology magazine, October, 1939

Scientific Progress In The Jewelry Store

A few years ago, in one of our large cities, several hundred horologists assembled to witness the first demonstration of a watch rate recorder in that part of the country.  The demonstration was conducted by an electrical engineer in charge of sales development.

In the brief time which he had had to get acquainted with the machine he had discovered that watches producing fine records were quite rare. But he had expected that at a meeting of horologists he would find a number of fine timepieces. However, when the demonstration started he found that many of those whose watches he tested protested that the indicated rates were not correct. Some claimed that their watches ran closer than the records showed, while others were surprised to get good records from watches which were known to perform poorly.

Although he could not explain the matter, the demonstrator knew that, just as it is impossible to fool a camera, the timing machine recorded the true rate of a watch at the time it was tested. For want of a satisfactory explanation, some of those present questioned the accuracy of the instrument and its reliability.

Within a short time, however, as a few horologists began to use timing machines and further information on their use was published, the trade as a whole began to appreciate their value and today it is no longer in question. The watch timing machine is accepted everywhere as the latest scientific contribution to horology and it is regarded as a necessary part of the equipment of every watch factory and watch repair shop. The only criticism heard is that it is an expensive instrument. While this may be so, it is also true that the ordinary fixtures in a jewelry store or repair shop are likewise expensive, but are considered necessary for the conduct of business.

As a result of the advent of the timing machine it can be truthfully said that watches today are being made better and serviced better than ever before. In shops having timing machines it is not at all unusual for watches to be tested in several positions and often at several stages of winding.

An indirect result of the use of these instruments has been the stimulation of interest in education. Horologists have found that while it is easier to do work properly, each technical addition to their equipment requires more knowledge. At no time within the history of the present generation of horologists have so many technical books been sold and so much interest shown in tools as at present. 

Question Box

From Horology magazine, October1939

Question Box

Cleaning Clocks 
Editor Horology, Dear Sirs:
Your magazine has proven invaluable to me, especially the articles on cleaning machines and question box feature, and here is one I would like to have answered.

What method is most satisfactory for ordinary cleaning of alarm clocks? I mean, by this, Big Ben and Baby Ben clocks in particular. Of course, we all know it is not practical to work on cheap, dollar clocks, but the Westclox line is built on repairable standards.

At present I use a naphtha bath for clocks, brushing them thoroughly with a stiff brush. I remove the balance and springs, point the balance pivots, if necessary, and reoil the clock. This method gives fair results, but I would like to know if there is any particular method of cleaning with a solution and rinse as we use on watches.

I have converted a hand drill into a cleaning machine for clocks. After removing the dial and hour wheel, I tighten the chuck of the drill on the center post of the clock and immerse it in the naphtha. Then by turning the drill handle the clock revolves in the naphtha and dislodges all loose dirt and gum. I will be interested to hear what you have to say on this subject and I am sure others will also. We have modern methods in watch cleaning but clocks have been neglected, and a good profit may be realized from alarm and chime clock repairing.


Answer: Your method calls for little improvement, with the exception of the addition of a higher test gasoline bath for a rinse.

Larger clocks, of course, offer the difficulty of using a large enough jar and cover for keeping the bath. We might also suggest that you prepare a sieve for holding large parts of the better grade clocks which are taken all apart. Your method of using a hand drill for clock cleaning should be a helpful hint to every horologist who is called upon to work on clocks.

The same solutions which are used on watches may be used on some clocks, but due to the fact that many clock plates are lacquered most of the watch solutions are not suitable. For the general run of repairing the method you have described is probably as good as any.

Watch College Opens to 70 Students, 1936

From The American Horologist magazine, October 1936

Watch College Is Open to 70 Students

The Elgin Watchmakers college launched its seventeenth year yesterday with a record enrollment of 70 students.

Many of the students hail from distant places, including Canada and Hawaii.  Almost every state in the union is represented in the enrollment, from Maine to California, and Canada to the Gulf of Mexico.

The course consists of watchmaking, engraving, jewelry work, and clock work.

Every student who graduated at the close of the last school year has been placed in a position, including a large group who were trained for repair work at the plant of the Elgin National Watch Co.  At the present time a group or eight are being schooled for positions at the plant of the Western Clock Co. in LaSalle, Ill.

"Now that the depression is a thing of the past, the field for watchmaking is promising and students can be assured of positions after mastering the trade," said W. H. Samelius, director of the college.

In addition ot Mr. Samelius, members of the faculty include Jacob L. Hagelow, Reuben Davis, and George Gorham.  E. L. Schmidt is secretary of the college.

My Grandfather, Everett Sexton, began at the college with this group.  He is second from the left end of the first row in this photo, printed later in the Watch Word, the Elgin factory magazine.  The gentleman from Hawaii is at the left end of the second row from the front.

Before anyone asks, taking photos like this of students at the watch college was not a regular thing.  I have one other photo of this group, in a the shop area (the above is a lecture hall), and I have seen only one other photo from a later year of students visiting the Westclox factory.  

In Portland...

Yes, it's true, the 1890s are alive in Portland.


Dear Sir,
Your website indicates that it isn't such a great idea to remove the movement and immerse it in a sonic jewelry cleaner.  But what would be the harm in trying that before incurring the expense of having it cleaned by a watch maker?  I would have to take it to a jewelry store, then have them send it off to a repair person.  Just the turn-around time is at least two months.
Many thanks,
H. S.

There are a few problems...  One is that without disassembly, the cleaner will not get all the pivots clean, inside.  It will leave old oil and debris behind to a certain extent.  Secondly, you can't properly replace the lubrication without disassembly.  Just like a car, oil must be everywhere it should be and no place it shouldn't be, otherwise it will run "fine", right up until the pivots grid away enough that it doesn't.  In addition, it is very unlikely that all the cleaning solution can be removed afterward.  Especially inside various parts like the mainspring barrel, leading to rust.  Lastly, an ultrasonic cleaner will likely get in around the shellac that holds the roller jewel and other parts, knocking them free.  The pallet fork, balance, and hairspring are properly cleaned separately using other techniques, as is the mainspring.  

Believe me, it's not a good idea...

Railroad Watches, 1890

From The American Horologist magazine, January 1942

Information Please
By W. H. Samelius

A.H.G.: - Can you name some of the railroad watches used some 50 years ago?

Ans: - From records, we find that at watch inspectors convention held in 1890, due to such a large number of watches accepted as standard for railroad service, the number reduced to 22 makes and kinds.  The ruling was that all watches going into service from that date must be adjusted to five positions and temperature and so stamped on the plate.  The watch must have a double roller, be lever set, wind at 12 and have a plain Arabic dial.  All new American watches should have the standard mark or number stamped on the plate.  12 S. watches are not considered standard for railroad work. and will not be accepted.  After considerable deliberation, a new accepted schedule was decided upon as follows:

Waltham - Vangard 23 jewel.
 - Crescent St., 21 jewel.
 - Riverside, 19 jewel.

Elgin - Veritas, 23 jewel.
 - Father Time, 21 jewel.
 - B. W. Raymod, 19 jewel.

Hamiton - No 950, 23 jewel.
 - No. 992, 21 jewel.
 - No. 996, 19 jewel.

Illinios - Sangamo Special, 23 jewel.
 - Bunn Special, 21 jewel.
 - Bunn, 19 jewel.

Hampden - Special Railway, 23 jewel.
 - New Railway, 21 jewel.
 - Railway, 19 jewel.

South Bend - Special Railway, 21 jewel, No. 227

Haward Watch Co. - 23 jewel.
 - 21 jewel.
 - 19 jewel.

Ball Official Railroad - Standard 23 jewel.
 - Standard 21 jewel.
 - Standard 19 jewel.

Thank You!

Everyone likes to get positive feedback. This customer went to some extra effort...



A New Time Standard

From Horology magazine, November 1939

A New Time Standard

The measurement of time has been a fascinating subject for inventors through past centuries. Any kind of uniform movement may form the basis for a clock.  Water flowing through an orifice, a swinging weight, a vibrating spring, a tuning fork, and a vibrating quartz crystal have all been used for this same purpose.  

Now another method, involving the vibration of a stretched wire or string, has been developed by Henry E. Warren of the Warren Telechron Company located at Ashland, Massachusetts. By means of this very simple device time measurements of comparatively high precision may be made. The new time standard or vibratory clock also serves as a source of alternating current capable of driving with the same precision common electric clocks, of which millions are now in use.

As show on the diagram, there is a fine wire A similar to a violin string, which is maintained under tension by a weight C that is connected to the lower end of the wire by a spring coupling B. Electric driving impulses are imparted to the wire by means of two small coils F and G which are in a vacuum tube circuit. Rigidly attached to the center of the wire is a small permanent magnet marked N-S which can move freely inside the coils. This arrangement constitutes a coupling with the vacuum tube whereby energy is fed back to the wire so as to maintain constant vibration.

By proper proportioning of the parts and the use of suitable materials the rate of vibration of the wire A may be made very constant despite variations in temperature or changes in amplitude of vibration. The minute electrical impulses coming from the vacuum tube, which serve to keep the vibrating wire in motion, are amplified so as to provide sufficient energy to operate synchronous motors like those used in Telechron clocks.  The rate of vibration which determines the electric clock rate may be easily and accurately adjusted by adding or subtracting small weights on top of C. 

For certain purposes, especially the driving of large telescopes, slight variations from uniform time are necessary and this new time standard is then provided with a permanent alnico annular magnet D which constitutes a part of the weight C.  Mounted below this magnet and projecting into its air gap is a fine wire coil E which may carry current in either direction from a graduated potentiometer or rheostat at a distant point.

By adjusting this rheostat an astronomer may with the utmost ease adjust the rate of motion of his telescope so as to follow a heavenly body like a planet or a comet which has an apparent motion slightly faster or slower than a fixed star.

The vibrating wire is supported from a massive hemispherical structure, which is cushioned by springs so as to minimize external vibration. This new instrument is capable of measuring time with an error considerably less than one second a day.


These days, eBay is virtually flooded with an unusually high number of bare movements, frequently high grade movements at that.
It seems that when the economy is down, and gold prices high, folks rush out to melt down gold watch cases.  An irreplaceable antique it destroyed forever for a couple hundred dollars...   This happened during the last spike in gold prices a few decades ago as well.
It's easy to understand, when the need is great, but when it's just a response to frantic gold-buyers' ad on TV, I hope the caretakers of these items would think twice about wiping a watch case off the face of the earth for the costs of couple months cable bill.  These things are not made anymore folks.  When they're gone, they're gone.

Elgin Advertising, 1926

If somebody's heart is troubling you - consult Dr. Jeweler!

Doctor Jeweler is the world's greatest heart-specialist.  He knows how to transmit an affection from one heart to another better than any other authority.  And with the least pain to a given purse.

Next the the family doctor, lawyer and spiritual adviser, Doctor Jeweler is the most important of all family servitors.

But for Dr. Jeweler there would be no permanent tokens of Life's big moments - the engagements, the weddings, the anniversaries, the first borns, the birthdays, - no perpetuation in precious stone and metal of Life's great triumphs.

Unlike most other fast-growing businesses in America, the jeweler's store never becomes wholly and impersonal corporation.  No matter prosperous, it remains always an intimate, personal service shop.

For the jeweler's service is more professional than commercial.  And he always has the time to tell you how to make a dollar act like ten in remembering someone you love.


Elgin Grade 479

The Elgin grade 479 is a 12 size "thin model", 17 jewels.

This one was made about 1926. It has an open-face case with a hinged back, engraved "JSS".

The images I usually post here are those made for customers, but this watch is from my own collection.

Selling Repairs

From Horology magazine, October 1939

Selling Repairs

Editor Horology, Dear Sir:
For the past several years, I have been reading various articles in your publication urging the watchmakers of America to increase their skill. I think you are all wrong about this. There is practically no demand for skilled watchmakers today.  There is a demand for those who c;n clean watches fast, the faster the better.

Many times I have heard it remarked among those of the retail jewelry trade that no watchmaker could possibly earn a dollar an hour. I understand that electricians here get two dollars an hour on a house wiring job and nobody seems to think that they can't earn that pay. But, no watchmaker can earn one dollar an hour, according to the retail jewelers.

Some time ago it became necessary for me to have five teeth extracted. I went to a specialist who spent less than one hour on the job. My bill was $50.00. A little later I needed to have three more teeth extracted and this time I went to a cheaper dentist in the residential section of the town who has his office in his home. He also spent less than an hour on the job and my bill was $15.00. But, I myself can't possibly earn a dollar per hour according to the retail jewelers.

N ow here is another thing. Suppose I applied for a position as a watchmaker, do you suppose I would be asked by my prospective employer if I could make a staff for a Patek Philippe or vibrate and overcoil a hairspring for the same watch?  Do you suppose I would be asked if I could do a close position rating or do you think he would say, "We need a good fast man. How many watches per day can you clean?" What the watchmaker needs today is not more skill. It is not the skilled men today who are in demand. This is the day of the fast worker and if the customer is not pleased with the results, sell him a new watch.

Our most desperate need today is for more retail jewelers who take pride in the quality of watch repair work being turned out by their establishments.

I venture the guess that not one fine watch in a dozen in use today is in shape to keep anything like the time its makers intended it to keep. Why should this be so?

If the retail jewelers would try to sell fine watch repairing as hard as they do to sell fine merchandise, we would all be better off. And we would also gain the respect of the public, providing, of course, that we actually delivered the goods.

It would be just as reasonable for the retail jewelers to take the attitude that they can't possibly sell fine merchandise because the five and ten has trash for sale as to claim that they can't sell fine watch repairing in competition with the cheap hot-shot tinkers.
Very truly yours, 
Edgar Wilton, 
Houston, Texas. 

New Lighting Equipment

From Horology magazine, June 1938

New Lighting Equipment

The Curtis Lighting of Chicago has just issued a new catalog of recessed lighting equipment. The recessed units illustrated in the catalog are designed to preserve the clean modern lines of an interior. They are especially adaptable for use in stores and shops to provide either general lighting or to spotlight show cases and merchandise displays.

Both round and square openings are illustrated, as well as various styles of louvres, diffusers and reflectors. Jewelers interested in the modernization of their stores will find the catalog very valuable.

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

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