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Time As a Hobby

From The American Horologist magazine, May 1946

Time As a Hobby
By Paul Gould

A repeater watch-the kind that tells the time out loud-can be a thing of joy to the inveterate collector, but to the blind it is a tremendous boon.

Lt. Colonel Richard Ward, Jr. found this to be true when he gave a repeater timepiece from his great collection of ancient time-tellers to a blind soldier. "It gave me an idea and I only wish I had the means to follow it up," said the colonel.

Colonel Ward, who bears the title "Honorary Horologist of the Brooklyn Museum, " elaborated on his theme. "What I'd like to do is to get some one individual, public-minded group or manufacturing concern with a little money to spend, to back a plan to make repeater watches with inexpensive cases-and to give one to each and every blind American veteran."

The expert glanced at his notebook to refresh his memory. "I understand that there are fifteen hundred blind veterans of World War II as well as sixty-five from the first World War. I know-from the reaction of one blind soldier to whom I gave a repeater watch-that there is probably no single gift a sightless man would appreciate more."

The colonel has a rich background for his statements. He spent twenty seven years in the American and British armies and also served in both World Wars. He is now retired, but is universally called "Colonel" by his friends and associates. Collecting antique watches is just one of his interests. He enjoys sculpture, making ship models-remarkable and intricate ones-and collecting old books, maps and coins.

A commercial artist between wars, Colonel Ward has devoted most of his leisure time to assembling precious clocks and watches. He plans to present his collection to the Brooklyn Museum-and has already made a step in this direction by starting an army dress collection. General Omar N. Bradley joined in the project by· sending along his battle jacket.

Curiosity as to what makes watches tick led Colonel Ward into his watchcollecting hobby. He had a watch about two hundred years old that wouldn't go, (most jewelers won't bother trying to fix these old timepieces) so he decided to try his hand at fixing it himself.

After repeated failure and much discouragement, he got the thing to run and then began to look around for more watches. Now, nothing intrigues him more than a new addition to his collection that takes a lot of cleaning and polishing and filing before it starts to tick again.

Some of his old watches are beautiful, some very entertaining, a few are extremely useful, telling time down to the split second and noting the day the week, the day of the month and the phases of the moon.

One Swiss time-piece, a hundred years old, contains a minute music box and plays a lively Tyrolean tune every hour. This is a: very rare specimen and is probably one of a very small number made for a wealthy patron of the manufacturer. An eighteenth-century monastery watch has a tiny silver crucifix embedded in the works.

A fine old French watch has an elaborate painting on the face, evidently for an American customer, for it shows an American potentate beside a river, and a canoe. But the canoe has a sail, which indicates that the artist knew very little about the customs of the original Americans. The oldest watch in the collection is of British make and is three hundred years old. It is adorned with a Jewish six-pointed Star of David.

Rose diamonds or seed pearls decorate the faces of several of the watches in the collection and there are examples of the finest watchmaking that the world has ever seen, including several from Patek-Philippe, famous Swiss watchmaker.

One is 32-jeweled. Another repeater has a little tinkling bell to strike the hours and most of them indicate that their original owners were in the chips, for it was not unusual for anyone who wanted a watch to pay five hundred pounds for it three hundred years ago in England-and all in all, up to thirty thousand dollars in American money was paid for extra special jobs.

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