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Union Navy
12-19-2006, 03:29 PM
Comrades:
Below you will find a research article on period pocket watches. After posting it on "that other forum," I thought you might find it useful in improving your impression. Enjoy and learn, comment and criticize.

Pocket Watch 101

Many of you presently or may in the future carry a watch during events. Following is information you may use to obtain the most historically accurate timepiece you are able to. These would not have been carried by everyone – many enlisted men could not afford a timepiece that could easily cost over a month’s wages. That is still the case now: a good historical watch could cost a month’s wages (depending on where you work). Most officers could afford a watch, though not all carried one. Wrist watches were still at least 40 years in the future. There are no historically accurate pocket watch reproductions at present. If you want a watch, it will have to be an original (though not necessarily from the time period). Considering how much we spend on various aspects of our hobby, and how much it would get used, getting a good watch should be a priority. Knowing a good local watchmaker to do repair work is important. I do repairs, but anyone who has hired me knows that I don’t work too fast. I will be happy to answer questions.

The Watch Movement
Stem winding and setting was not introduced into American watchmaking until the after the war, so all historically accurate (HA) timepieces will be key wind and key set (KW/KS). A VERY few foreign watches were stem wind at that time. Quality period watches could keep time to within a minute or two per week.
Jeweling
Most watches were 7 jewel – 1 roller jewel, 2 pallet jewels, 2 hole jewels and 2 cap jewels on the balance. Jewels were added on some of the wheels (gears) – 2 on the pallet pinion, 2 on the escape wheel pinion, 2 on the 3rd wheel pinion and 2 on the 2nd wheel pinion for a total of 15. Some only had jewels on the upper visible plate, for a total of 11. These are real jewels, often rubies or sapphires. They provided an extremely hard surface for the pinions to rotate in. Unlike metal holes, they did not get larger with wear under normal circumstances. Watches with more than 15 jewels were rare.
Plates
These were usually gilded brass with various carvings upon them. Movements were usually full-plate, with the wheels fully enclosed and not visible. Nickel plates became common later, but were rare in HA watches. Most were 18 size, though 16 and 14 are possible. The smaller sizes were considered to be “lady’s watches.”
Balance
This is the little moving wheel seen on the back of the movement. It could be solid steel, solid gold, or compensation. The compensation balance was bimetallic (brass over steel) with small screws (usually gold) around its rim. It could somewhat “compensate” for changes in temperature. Solid steel was most common. Post war watches are almost always compensation.

The Dial
Nearly always white enamel with black Roman numerals, single sunk (the seconds bit at 6 is sunk down a little below the level of the rest of the dial). Arabic numerals were not as common, except in the seconds bit. The “12” should be at the winding stem on an open face, and the “3” should be at the winding stem on a hunter case. If you watch is not like this, it is in the wrong case. Hands were usually dark blue steel, simple in outline. European watches often had very fancy gold hands.

The Case
Most commonly these would be coin or sterling silver, from 2 to 6 ounces, hunter case. Open face cases with thick crystals were also used. If you watch was key set from the front (as many period Walthams), your case would have a hinge on the crystal, allowing you to open it to set the hands. Rarely there could be a solid gold case, but these were (and are) very expensive. Later (post war) developments included nickel and various trade nickel alloys (silveroid, silverine, alaska metal, oresilver). Gold-filled case material was patented just before the war, but was not in common use until after the war. Any case that says “Warranted” with a time period (such as 20 years) is gold-filled.

The Chain
Most chains were coin or sterling silver or solid gold with a T bar (or sometimes a spring-ring). These were worn through a vest buttonhole. Hair chains were also used, though they are somewhat fragile. Leather or even string are possible, though if you could afford a watch, you could usually afford a chain. Gold-filled chains were common after the war. I have seen no examples of period belt clip chains.

The American Watch Company of Waltham, Massachusetts made most of the domestic watches available. Their “William Ellery” 11 jewel was common enough to be called “the soldier’s watch” during the WBTS. Lincoln also carried one. My own Waltham “Appleton, Tracy & Co.” 15 jewel was made in March of 1862, and still keeps pretty good time. It came in a 2 oz. coin silver case, which was not strong enough, and cost about $450.00 several years ago. Other American makers did much smaller business, and therefore are even more expensive (such as Howard). A period Howard in a solid gold case would probably sell for over $1200.00. Civil War era watches always command a premium. Prices fall by nearly 50% for post-war models.

Most accurate would be an 18 size war-era gilded Waltham, British or French 7, 11 or 15 jewel KW/KS in a coin or sterling silver or solid gold hunter case with a silver or gold T-bar chain having a winding key attached. Open face would also work.
Next would be any KW/KS (gilded or nickel) 18 or 16 size, 7 to 15 jewel in a silver or gold-filled hunter or open face case with a nickel, silver or gold-filled T bar or spring-ring clasp chain.
Slightly better than a wrist watch – any stem-wind pocket watch, windup or electric, on a belt-clip chain.

Sources include several good online antique watch stores. They usually stand behind their wares and have a good reputation among members of this forum. Ebay is possible for those with enough knowledge and discernment. Caveat emptor.

Consider improving you impression this year with an historically accurate watch – the time is now!

Robert A Mosher
12-19-2006, 04:36 PM
Bob -
An excellent piece of research, thanks for sharing it around!

I was told by a collector-dealer that another option would have been to buy imported watches. He said that the commonly-called "Liverpool Lever" pocket watches imported from Great Britain would have been a likely choice. Along similar lines, I would think that an immigrant who enlisted or served as an officer might also have carried a European-made pocket watch.

Robert A. Mosher

Ken
12-19-2006, 05:08 PM
Bob,

Great post. I just recently picked up a period watch. I got tired of carrying the modern version which wasn't even close. Mines key wind/key set hunter case from 1874. Here's a picture.

http://img329.imageshack.us/img329/807/dsc004013zy2.jpg

Trooper Graham
12-19-2006, 06:29 PM
This was a subject discussed on another forum I am on. I have been following Ebay for three months now and have found the CW era watches (KW) going for $450.00 and up. Some are into thousands. I started first getting a period double Albert chain since this is what is seen all the time. Most post war Walthams in man's size 16 & 18 are a bit more reasonable but one still has to decide whether to shell out that amount when other items are on the list. It's just a personal choice.

MStuart
12-19-2006, 07:26 PM
Good stuff!!!!!!

Prices of period pieces notwithstanding, the chain can make the impression.

Any idea on what the price of a watch was "back then"?

Mark

Union Navy
12-19-2006, 09:43 PM
Good stuff!!!!!!

Prices of period pieces notwithstanding, the chain can make the impression.

Any idea on what the price of a watch was "back then"?

Mark
Many were between $13.00 and $20.00, with more jewels and better cases boosting that up to $100.00 or more.

MStuart
12-19-2006, 10:20 PM
Many were between $13.00 and $20.00, with more jewels and better cases boosting that up to $100.00 or more.

For a soldier, more than a month's pay, and then some. Somewhat akin to having a Tag Heuer or Rolex now.

Mark

Rob Weaver
12-20-2006, 08:58 AM
According to James D. Horan, when the James brothers were scooping up watches along with other swag in the years immediately following the war, they referred to watches as "supers." They also had a preference for gold watches, and would contemptuously return silver "supers" to their owners as not being worth stealing. This suggests a possible nickname for your timepiece, and also suggests that those gold watches were indeed common enough for a train robber to prefer them.

Union Navy
12-21-2006, 10:46 AM
Bob -
An excellent piece of research, thanks for sharing it around!

I was told by a collector-dealer that another option would have been to buy imported watches. He said that the commonly-called "Liverpool Lever" pocket watches imported from Great Britain would have been a likely choice. Along similar lines, I would think that an immigrant who enlisted or served as an officer might also have carried a European-made pocket watch.

Robert A. Mosher
A common maker of these type watches was M. J. Tobias. Not all were made by him or his company - Swiss forgers were making watches labeled "M. I. Tobias." Swiss companies frequently used names very close to the original to confuse buyers. Back then, English, French and American watches were the best, and the Swiss were wannabees trying to break into the market by any means necessary. Still, Swiss keywinds are relatively inexpensive and will work for our purposes.

tompritchett
12-21-2006, 12:48 PM
Back then, English, French and American watches were the best, and the Swiss were wannabees trying to break into the market by any means necessary. Still, Swiss keywinds are relatively inexpensive and will work for our purposes.

How the tables would turn in just one generation.