Boston Watch Co.’s Howard & Rice watches

The pioneering American watch company, in its incarnation as the Boston Watch Company (formerly Waltham Watch Company) struggled through 1854 to produce 10 watches a day. Even this was too much for the trade to absorb and the company chugged along through 1855 gradually getting its watches accepted in the trade, but barely making ends meet.

The company’s situation went from precarious to bankrupt in early 1857, and the company was sold at a bankruptcy auction in April 1857. Along the way to the auction, Boston Watch Company raised money on a mortgage to Charles Rice, a Boston shoe dealer, secured by watch material among other things.

The story of the auction is well known. Rice, acting for one of the principals of Boston Watch Co., Edward Howard, tried to buy the factory but was outbid by Royal Robbins, who bought it for $56,000, a lot more than he had planned to pay (some things never change). He also got less than he thought he would.

Rice took the material and machinery that were security for his mortgage and brought it all back to the original B.W. Co. factory at Roxberry. There, workmen under the supervision of Edward Howard finished Boston Watch material into complete watches signed “Howard and Rice.” (paraphrased from Michael Harrold’s “American Watchmaking , NAWCC, 1984).

There must have also been some development work, since the escapements on Howard and Rice watches have massive upright pallets, rather than the more conventional pallets of Boston Watch Company (Dennison Howard and Davis) watches. However, the main parts of the movements were old BW material and the BW assembly numbers are stamped on the movements. Judging from the watch I am selling, there were also spare BW cases in Rice’s haul and these were used to case the finished movements. There may have been 500 watches assembled in this way, in the year before Edward Howard brought out his own style of American watch, the Howard series I, in 1858.

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