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Monday, February 9, 2009

Pocket Watches: Historical Overview & Collectibility

Pocket watches although not inherently common in everyday utility are still a timeless token of the days of old and can make a great valuable collectible item.

The first transportable watches or pocket watches came about in the 16th century. Prior to this, clocks in general were only exhibited on clock towers in town halls or monasteries. By the 16th century, transportable watches could be worn around the neck or carried in one’s pocket, and new technological mechanisms such as the minute hand were introduced to bring about more precision and accuracy.

By the 17th century, the design of the pocket watch became more rounded, and clock manufacturers began to focus not only on the craftsmanship of the watch but the design of the case, tying art into functionality.

The evolution continues into the 18th century. Artistic designs became more intricate and the addition of jewels increased the price and value of a single pocket watch. Maintenance of the pocket watch included the use of oil to lubricate the clock gears, creating easier movement in the clock’s hands with less noise associated with squeaky gears. The second hand was also added, increasing the accuracy of time telling.

The heyday of the pocket watch peaked during the 19th century. The quality of the pocket watch was far superior then ever before, and several prominent clock manufacturers had established names for themselves during this era. The popularity of the railroads in the mid-late 19th century, initiated the widespread functionality of the pocket watch. Train conductors relied on time accuracy, and pocket watches served as tools to keep trains running on schedule as well as avoid conflict with passing train lines.

The pocket watch slowly got replace by the wristwatch after World War I. To this day, the pocket watch serves as a testament to the past as well as a status symbol. The following are examples of 19th century pocket watches:

American Waltham Watch Company:
The Waltham Improvement Company founded in 1859 in Waltham, Massachusetts renamed the company in 1885 to the American Waltham Watch Company. For some 32 years the company made some of the finest pocket watches in the world. In 1907 the name changed again to the Waltham Watch Company, and in 1957, production in the United States ended and the company moved production to Switzerland, changing the name to Waltham International SA. All Waltham business in the United States today is under MZ Berger and Company.

Elgin National Watch Company:
The Elgin National Watch Company, otherwise known as the Elgin Watch Company, was founded in August 1864 in Elgin, Illinois (30 miles north of Chicago) as the National Watch Company. Once they received investments from former Chicago Mayor, Benjamin Wright Raymond as well as a number of affluent investors, the company formed and consisted of a number of former associates of the American Waltham Watch Company and Chicago watchmaker, J.C. Adams.

In World War II, the company worked in the defense industry, producing bombsights, and other precision instruments. The factory in Elgin, IL remained open until 1964, after producing about half of the number of pocket watches in the United States throughout the company’s duration in Elgin, Illinois.

By the late 1960s, the company hand relocated to South Carolina and was renamed Elgin, South Carolina. Later, the rights to the name "Elgin" were sold to MZ Berger, and Elgin-branded watches produced after 1964 have no other connection to Elgin or the Elgin Watch Company.

Identifying Your Own Pocket Watch or Prospective Acquisition:

Determining Manufacturer – The manufacturer or company name can be identified on the watch’s face or dial. If it is not shown on the face or dial, the information could be found on the back plate.
Determining Age – The best indicator for the age of the watch is to locate the serial number which is usually inscribed on the back plate. Once you have obtained the serial number, you will be able to refer to reference books or sites with the appropriate production table listing the manufacturers as well as the years certain serial numbers were produced.
Works Cited:
Shugart, Cooksey and Richard E. Gilbert. Complete Price Guide to Watches, No. 14. Cleveland, TN: Cooksey Shugart Publications, 1994.
Wikipedia. Pocket Watches. .

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    Chicago, Illinois, United States
    Welcome to our blog site! MIR Appraisal Services, Inc. is a fine art and personal property appraisal company dedicated to serving clients throughout the United States and abroad since our incorporation in Chicago in 1994. We specialize in the multi-faceted field of appraising fine art, jewelry, antiques, and decorative items. We also provide professional fine art restoration and conservation treatment for various media, including but not limited to, artworks on canvas, board, masonite, and paper. We offer professional and precise appraisal services carried out by our team of accredited appraisers for the purposes of insurance coverage and claims, charitable donations, estate planning and probate, equitable distribution and fair-market value. We started our art commentary blog site as a venue for colleagues and fellow art enthusiasts to share their experiences within the art community.