Uncommon Railroad Watches: Challenging Collections to Complete

Railroad watches were produced in prodigious quantities by nearly all the American watch companies, starting in 1870 and running right up to 1969, with the first being the National Watch Company’s (Elgin) Key Wind B.W. Raymond for the Pennsylvania Railroad, and the last being Hamilton’s 992B. While these “common” railroad watches are of interest to beginner collectors and watch dealers, seasoned and experienced collectors look for the rare and unusual. I will try to document a few of these rarities in this article. There are several different categories that a collector can delve into, but I will attempt to categorize the four most popular lines.

A Waltham watch made for the Lehigh Valley Railroad with the railraod company logo.

A Waltham watch made for the Lehigh Valley Railroad with the railraod company logo.

The back of the Waltham Lehigh Valley R.R. watch.

The back of the Waltham Lehigh Valley R.R. watch shows etailed engraving.

Engravings on the inside of the Waltham Lehigh Valley R.R. watch.

Engravings on the inside of the Waltham Lehigh Valley Railroad watch.

1. Watches produced for a particular railroad line:

Documented examples exist for: Pennsylvania R.R., Lehigh Valley R.R., Santa Fe Route R.R., Burlington Route R.R., Boston & Maine R.R., B & O, Chesapeake & Ohio, Imperial Canada, Dominion Railways, D. & R.G.(Denver and Rio Grand), Canadian Railway time service, Canadian Pacific, Central Truck R.R., Southern R.R., North Western R.R., Erie R.R., Rock Island R.R., Seaboard R.R., L. & N. R.R., Reading R.R., Wabash R.R., Southern pacific, Olympian Hiawatha R.R., and the Union Pacific R.R.

I am sure I have missed more than a few here, as a watch was often a railroad man’s most prized possession, and there were literally hundreds of railroad companies established over the decades. These railroad company-marked watches are the rarest and hardest to find. Some are very colorful, with a company logo emblazoned on the dial, others have a detailed color picture of a locomotive, while the rest may simply have the name of the company. To make a complete and desirable package, the movement will also be marked, and in some cases, the pocket watch case itself.

Note: These watches were “working men’s” watches and were typically housed in affordable nickel or gold-filled cases, rarely in solid gold or silver.

A S.N. Clarkson inspector's watch made by the Illinois Watch Co.

A S.N. Clarkson inspector's watch made by the Illinois Watch Co.

The S.N. Clarkson watch with its back removed.

The Illinois Watch Co.'s S.N. Clarkson watch with its back removed.

A deatil of the engraving on a S.N. Clarkson inspector's watch.

A deatil of the engraving on a S.N. Clarkson inspector's watch.

2. Watches marked with a railroad inspector’s name or business:

Web C. Ball, S.N.Clarkson, J.Gansl, Wilson Bros., Davis & Hawley, George Conklin, Wathier’s, Walter & Hafner’s Katey, Von Guten Bros., Voorhee’s, W&B, L.H. Wallace, J.S. Townsend, E.L. Table, Thron Bros., H.S. Tanner, Tasco, L.A. Sutton, E.E. Stratton, Stevens Co., Stief & Co., Stebbins, Stecher, Sears Robuck & Co., Shaffer Bros., O.L. Roskenrans, Rovelstad Bros., Rochat’s Standard, Roberts Special, Potter & Gray, Pfaeffle, , Paxton’s Special, Peck, W.B. Parrazina, Morrow’s Special, Moses & Co., Mermod & Jacard, Fred McIntyre, Lambert bros, Kirkam’s, Keck’s Special, D.C. Jacard, A.K. Jobe, W. Kewmper, R.W. Kerns, H.M. Jackobson, F.J. Hooper, W.J. Hinman, J.Q. Hatch & Co., R.H. Harris & Co., H. Haas & Co., Jay Gould the R.R. King, C.E. Delong, Brown & Grant, Borrenson R.R. Standard, Benedict Bros., Barnard Bros., Anderson Bros., and more.

This is just a partial list of the many thousands of railroad inspectors watches from across the United States and Canada where the “roads” were organized and required regular watch inspections. These watch inspectors were almost always watchmakers and jewelers with local and interstate shops and businesses where repairs and adjustments to railroad employee’s watches could be made. This employment by the railroad company to inspect watches was a lucrative opportunity for the inspectors to sell watches, too. Most, if not all, the watch manufacturers would custom-engrave the watch inspector’s name on the dial and movement with a minimum order. This is still a “sleeper area” for the collector as these watch inspectors were a direct link with the railroads and many of the names remain indistinguishable from the regular jewelry trade. Names like Web C. Ball, A.N. Anderson, Mermod & Jacard, and Jay Gould are well known, and watches with their names on them are quickly recognized by experienced collectors and highly prized even in the low-jeweled category. Top flight watches in the 21- to 26-jewel category will fetch in the four- to five-figure sums. This is a very interesting area to collect as the collector will be able to personalize when the inspector was in his city, and in some cases the business may still exist.

A close-up of the Illinois Railroader face.

A close-up of the Illinois Railroader face.

The relatively plain back of the Illinois Railroader.

The relatively plain back of the Illinois Railroader.

The engraving inside the Illinois Railroader.

The engraving inside the Illinois Railroader.

3. Watches marked or named by the watch company itself:

Railroad King, Railroad Queen, Railroad Dispatcher, Railway special, North American Railway, Railway, New Railway, Railway Chronometer, Illinois Central, Interstate Chronometer, Inspector’s Standard, Standard Time, Interurban Special, Inspector’s special, King special, King Edward, A. Lincoln, Lightning Express, Railway standard, Maiden Lane, N.J.R.R. & T. Co., Non Magnetic, Northwestern Time, Official Standard, Official Railroad Watch, Pacific Watch, Penna. Rail Road, Pennsylvania Special, Wm. Penn, Polaris, The President, Railroad Employee’s Special, Railroad Grade, Railroad Construction, Rail Roader, Railroad Monarch, Railroad Official, Railroad Regulator, Railroad Reliance, Railroad Service, Railroad Watch, Railroad Time, Railway Timer, R.W.K Special, Santa Fe Special, Burlington Special, Santa Fe Route, Railroad Magnet, Special Railway, Special Time King, Special Railway Time standard, Train Dispatcher, Train Dispatcher Special, Trainman’s Special, Vanguard, Veritas, Waltham Standard, Waltham Railroad Standard, etc.

Watch Companies came up with these names and many more, in addition to their standard model names to help promote the sales of their watches and to signify the high quality of their watch over their competitors. Additionally, the name also gave the watch “railroad acceptability.” This marketing ploy is a boon to today’s collector, and the game to collect one of each is a real challenge. Some of these names are fairly common, such as Railway Special (Hamilton) and Railway (Hampden), but others are downright rare and fetch high prices in today’s collector markets. Also, what manufacturers’ serial number lists that still exist do not (or seldom) list how many of these named watches were produced; the lists are simply by grade.

4. Watches produced specially for the Brotherhoods:

Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers, Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen, Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen, Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen and Enginemen, the Order of Railway Conductors, and the Order of Railroad Telegraphers.

These “brotherhood” watches were exclusively produced by Web C. Ball, although the occasional Rockford will turn up. They are the epitome of the “railroad watch” and the top of the heap for collectors. The brotherhood emblem will be in the center of the dial just under 12, with the letters superimposed in Victorian/Gothic fashion, sometimes in color. The watch movements themselves will also be marked similarly. Quite often the cases housing these wonderful watches will also have the brotherhood initials emblazoned on the back cover. Watch fobs also were produced with brotherhood markings, quite often in multi-colored gold and beautifully engraved. This author has had several watches in the past that made a complete package: Brotherhood watch, chain & fob, and timing booklet with the owner’s name. This is a fairly rare occurrence and very desirable by diehard railroad watch collectors.

In summation, I realize that these lists of names make for boring and repetitious reading, but maybe someone we see this article and recognize or assimilate a name and become interested enough to look around and discover what would appear to be an ordinary looking watch with an odd name. Good luck!

My thanks to Roy Ehrardt and Bill Meggers for all their hard work in listing these inspector’s names and watch company grade names. I am proud to say that both of these fine gentlemen were my friends and I contributed what I could to help with their research. They have both since passed away but their devotion and work will endure for many years to come.

David Mycko is a WorthPoint Worthologist specializing in antique and vintage watches.

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