Boston Watch Co. Dennison Howard and Davis

The early watch manufacturers didn’t do things consistently or exactly in series. The Boston Watch Company—the granddaddy of all American watch companies—is particularly annoying in this respect. Nearly every watchmaker in the United States was either European- or English-trained. Dennison was incorporating Eli Whitney’s mass production assembly line to the watch industry, which was going to make English and European watch production system obsolete. History records that in 1854, the Boston Watch Co. moved from Roxbury to a new factory in Waltham, Mass., and from that new factory, produced a run of 4,000 watches signed “Dennison Howard and Davis.” That’s what history seems to say at first glance, anyway..

In fact, the production history of DH&D is more complicated than it first looks. The Boston Watch Company failed in 1857 and was bought out and recapitalized as Appleton Tracy & Co. AT & Co. finished a fair number (perhaps 2,500) of DH&D watches that were in various states of assembly at the Boston Watch Co. when it failed. The wheel trains on these watches are the same as that on their descendants, the model 1857s. The third wheel pinion is below the wheel and the fourth wheel pinion is above the wheel. This can be called the “Waltham train.” Howard, backed by a businessman named Rice, competed with R.A. Robbins and Appleton at the bankruptcy auction to acquire the Boston Watch Co. Howard and Rice lost to R.A. Robbins, but managed to pull a few thousand unfinished movements out of the sale in lieu of Rice’s lost investment capital. Howard finished these old Boston Watch Co. movements and marketed them under the name Howard and Rice. Howard later severed his relationship with Rice and started his own watch company, which was later to become the finest American watch production company, E. Howard Watch Co. But that’s another story.

Another historical complication is that when Boston Watch Co. moved to Waltham, it took along a number of movements that were in process at the old factory in Roxbury. The train arrangement on the first several hundred DH&D movements is different from later DH&D’s and Model ’57’s. The third wheel pinion is below the wheel and the fourth wheel pinion is also below the wheel. Ron Price, the author of the current monograph on the origins and development of the Model ’57, refers to this as the Roxbury train, and points out that this unusual wheel arrangement is consistent with E.A. Marsh’s statement in his history of the watch company that the first “few hundred movements had been started in the Roxbury plant.”

The watch pictured with this article is a prime example of an early Boston Watch Co. Dennison Howard and Davis #1190 with Roxbury train. The movement is in overall excellent condition, with bright gilding, except around the winding arbor, which, consistent with early production, has no guard cup for the key wind arbor.

The watch is housed in an original, Eagle “Hallmarked” Case, #1151. Early cases for Boston Watch Co. watches were often marked with this eagle stamp, used by many American silversmiths to show the origins of a piece, and with an anchor used by Rhode Island silversmiths as W. Hauptman notes (NAWCC ‘Bulletin #106), “presumably from the Rhode Island seal ‘Anchor and Hope.’” The light engine turning is worn, but this remains a solid case.

In summary, the watch is a very early example of an important watch, in overall good condition. Hauptman, in the article referenced above, says: “A Dennison, Howard & Davis model, in my opinion, is the foundation of any collection of American watches …”

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