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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  • The article on watches is an example of what it means to do quality and beneficial research.
    The internet can be a true source for the education of the public and a tool for the success of any business but to acheive this goal more individual should be willing to do what you have done so well, by producing quality content.

    Your article meets and exceeds that goal!Thank you for being online.
    From Rescuelifeproducts, Henderson,Tennessee

  • Dannie Strickland

    I have a pocket watch made by the Plymouth Watch company. The 21 jewel movementmovement is marked King Edward, serial # 605788. Does anyone know if this is an Illinois watch movement, and is it railroad grade. A former Southern Railroad employee gave it to me in non-working condition and said it was railroad approved. I am a CSX Railroad retiree and have a couple of Hamilton 992b pocket watches, but can not find any info on this watch.

  • Dannie Strickland

    I have a pocket watch made by the Plymouth Watch company. The 21 jewel movement is marked King Edward, serial # 605788. Does anyone know if this is an Illinois watch movement, and is it railroad grade. A former Southern Railroad employee gave it to me in non-working condition and said it was railroad approved. I am a CSX Railroad retiree and have a couple of Hamilton 992b pocket watches, but can not find any info on this watch.

    • David mycko

      Hello Dannie, Your watch is indeed an Illinois made specially for Sears Roebuck to retail their own line of watches, ca. 1880-1930. The King Edward was the top-of-the-line and was RR grade. General rule of thumb for RR grade is minimum of 17 jewels, lever set, and adjusted to 5 positions. Montgomery Ward had the Washington Watch Co. line also produced by Illinois Watch Co.

  • Erich

    I have a Hamilton 21 jewel Pocket Watch that has Railroad & 14k on the inside. The back has SFS. Does anyone have some info and a value. Thanks!

  • Deborah

    What a fine, well-researched article you’ve written. Appreciate you clustering and giving detailed explanation of different types of uncommon railroad pocket watches. Your write-up makes me think that perhaps I do have a nifty one in hand. I’ve been told it’s possibly rare, from the teens or earlier. The unsigned face has roman numerals ringed on the outside by a 60-minute clock, marked by fives in Arabic numbers. Under the XII is a picture of a steam engine pulling a car of coal, apparently, with the number 16 on the open car. Where the VI would be is a secon clock and the logo in caps TRAINSMENS SPECIAL. The case is heavily engraved, gold-fill reportedly; 23 jewel mechanism. Can you give an opinion? How to get you specifically to appraise as a “Worthologist?” Thank you for sharing your specialized knowledge: your writing realy makes me want to see some of these rare old railroad lovelies.

  • David mycko

    Hello Folks,
    Thank you all for your interest and compliments on my article! it does a body good to get so much appreciation for a little bit of “elbow grease”. The Worthpoint system doesn’t allow me to answer your questions individually, however Worthpoint does have an appraisal program. As a Worthpoint member you can get just about anything appraised for $19. Deborah, I can save you 20 bucks! You have what’s known as a Railroad Fake. Sorry! Genuine RR watches are almost never, if ever, marked up in this manner, but the fakes are! I got to be a Worthpoint appraiser when invited by senior Worthologist Tom Carrier at the Brimfield Antique Show. Keep those questions and interest coming! cheers to all! David M.

  • Deborah

    Hello, David and thank you. 20 bucks is 20 bucks and I appreciate you sparing me the outlay. From your article I got to thinkin’ maybe this was a Brotherhood of Trainsmen watch and what with the 23 jewels, ooh fancy. I’m not utterly gutted to discover that the family piece that hung in its own little glass dome over a polished wood bottom is a big ole Railroad Fake–just a little deflated. My brothers and I thought it might be a standout piece, finer than the couple of nice Walthams and Elgins that we know are from the 1920s and earlier when Dad’s family had some dough. It was kind of you to reply so swiftly, while my fantasy of fabulosity was only a wee sprout and thus easier to release than if in full bloom. I’ll put the watch back in the lock-box and maybe some day when cash is more plentiful get it cleaned up to enjoy as a foppish fashion statement. Again, many thanks for sharing your expertise–directly with me and through your superb article. Long may you handle fakes and finery!

  • Joe

    I have a pocket watch – made by CG Rochat of Jersey City, NJ. Serial number 60188. I’m finding very little information on the company. Anyone have any suggestions? Does the serial number indicate manufacture date at all?
    Any help would be appreciated. Thanks.

    • Barry Cohen

      I also have a pocket watch with C.G Rochat name. Have you found any information about it?
      I can’t seem to find any.

  • bruce

    Hi David,
    I have a pocket watch that has:
    F.J.Hooper, Special, Cripple Creek, Colo.
    It works, and looks in great condition, no crystal,
    17 jewel,#131026, in a Dueber gold filled case.
    Would you please send me some information about
    this watch as I know nothing about it.

    • hi Bruce ,
      many watches with a name on the dial and movement such as your are known as ” contract ” watches .
      they were ordered specially by jewelers to sell in their stores with their names on them.
      they are always made by someone else such as hamilton elgin etc .
      they do have some added collectablity .

  • Clay

    Hi David,
    I’ve got pretty much the same question. I’ve got an Illinois 17 Jewel Autocrat #6131931 I got from my dad who got it from his. It runs & keeps pretty good time. Great condition. Std. silver case with hallmark cast filigrees, what appears to be the original crystal, and no chain. Gramps always preferred a leather one. Other than the fact that it is a family watch given to me in the fifties, I don’t really know much about it. I’m assuming that it was pretty much the standard for railroader’s watches (my Grandfather was a brakeman for years running from La Junta Colorado to Topeka Kansas.).

    How fragile is this thing? Are parts readily available? How do I find a reputable person to clean, service, and tune it? Is it worth anything more than sentimental value? If it is I’ll probably consign it to a safety deposit box or a locked case rather than having it rattle around in the bottom of a drawer. Just wondering.

  • Chris

    Hello I have a burlington watch that has “the order of the railroad telegraphers” on the back. Can you tell me more about it

  • Hello, I have a beautiful Potter & Gray with a solid gold case (Rose Gold) and gold chain of the same material (square links with an unusual clasp). It is odd because although it clearly is marked “Special for Railway Service”, the hour numbers are Roman, the minutes are Arabic when the rule of the day was the numbers all had to be Arabic.

    On the inside back by the spring, it says Potter & Gray, Providence R.I., 17 jewel, adjusted and has some beautiful engraving from the factory.

    On the case cover is stamped CRESCENT 25 years and the SN is 3512395 just below this. There are also what appear to be inspectors light engravings all over the inside, numbers with slight initials after them.
    The outer case cover says C.W.C. Co. TradeMark and has a star and crescent moon

    I inherited this watch and know it was in fact in RR service but details are somewhat scarce.

    Can you point me in the right direction to find more information? Perhaps a book or similar resource?

    Thank you

  • tiffany

    hi i have a burlington special pocket watch its a 19 jewel can u tell me anything about it?

  • tiffany

    hi i have a burlington special pocket watch its a 19 jewel can u tell me anything about it? im not sure what to do with it and in the back there are 7 differant RR numbers

  • Geigermann

    Thank you for this informative article.

    We recently acquired a H.S. Tanner Pocket Watch Serial number: 3147387 in a gold-filled case (C.W.C. Co. Trademarked on inner case) serial number: 2478417.

    This watch also has an inscription dated: July 14, 1921. Would this likely be the year of production, or a “re-gifting” date?

    We hope you can help us learn more about this pocket watch, or at least point us in the right direction.

    Thank you, Der Geigermann

  • Rae Suba

    Found a gold pocketwatch in my deceased moms belongings. Her family was mostly from Kentucky I think it was a family heirloom but can’t be sure. Heavy gold pocketwatch with Illinos Watch Co. Written on white face, black roman numerals, seperate second hand, red outer border numbers, engraved one side with what appears to be a house/church w flowers adornments with swallow type bird at the bottom (looks like an old school tattoo), other side same type of design but no bird and instead a sheild of some sort. Number inside case is 6680763. I don’t know how to get it open for movement view. Works great, hands move. One hand appears to be bluish grey in color, other hand is almost a dark purple color. Second hand part of watch has what appears to a bluish/purple circle in the middle anchoring the hand. Any and all help would be soooo appreciated. I’m trying to trace back in my lineage. Ps- unfortunately above the winder the loop is missing as is the chain.

  • Sandy

    Thanks for your article uncommon railroad watches.

    I just won a Trainman Special and now I know it is a little collectable. Inside it looks like a dollar watch movement marked made in USA. Little disappointed a real railroad man did not use it that it was only a marketing tool they used, but at least I know what it is. I bought it for my son and won for 15.00 working well. I copied this article to put with the watch.

    Inside it reads Patented Aug 19, 02, Jan 27 03

    The 02 and 03 mean 1902 and 1903?

  • Brian

    I have an Illinois 17J 16S pocket watch with a serial number that puts it in 1897 and the porcelain dial has OLD COLONY spelled in fancy script. This is marked for the Old Colony railroad any idea as to value it has wear, dial has hairlines and is in running condition.

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