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Geneseo Republic - Geneseo, IL
  • Treasures: A 23-jewel watch is popular with collectors

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  • Dear Helaine and Joe:
    I traded for this watch 50-some years ago. It is 23-jewel, in excellent running condition and keeps perfect time. Could you please tell me something about it and how much it is worth?
    Thank you,
    J.O., Cleveland, Va.
    Dear J.O.:
    Please understand that we are not pocket-watch specialists, but we will do the best we can to offer what information we could find.
    The Springfield Watch Co. was founded in 1869 in Springfield, Ill., largely through the efforts of J.C. Adams, with the first watch being made in 1872. The first directors were J.T. Stuart, William Miller, John Williams, George Black, George Passfield and John Bunn.
    The company changed names several times and eventually became the Illinois Watch Co. It made its first nickel movement in 1879, and its first mainspring watch in 1882. Illinois used a large number of names on its movements, and collectors find such designations as “Benjamin Franklin,” “Army and Navy,” “Baltimore and Ohio R.R.,” Chesapeake & Ohio,” “Comet,” “Commodore Perry,” “George Washington,” “Stuart” (which was the name of the first movement the company made), “Adams Street,” “Mason,” “Bunn” or, as is the case for today’s watch, “Bunn Special.”
    The size of this watch is probably 16. It has 23 jewels, adjusted temperature and six positions, motor barrel, 60 hours and appears to be model 163A. It has a serial number of 5456916, which indicated it was made around 1931. This was after the Illinois Watch Co. was sold to the Hamilton Watch Co. of Lancaster, Pa., which happened in 1927.
    The question might be asked whether this is a railroad watch. And that is a good query. The genesis of these so-named watches began with the great train disaster that happened on April 19, 1891, when an engineer’s faulty timepiece caused two trains to collide near Cleveland, Ohio, with 11 casualties.
    After this tragedy, a commission was established to adopt universal guidelines for timekeeping standards for all railroads. A railroad watch per se was required to meet the standards for accuracy that were in place when that particular watch was manufactured. This is certainly a railroad-style watch, and a very fine timepiece, but whether it meets the technical requirements is not certain.
    We have not seen the inside of the screw-off lid that covers the back of this piece, but we feel certain that this particular watch is in a white-gold-filled case and is not a “solid gold watch.” This is an open-face watch with bold black lettering in the railroad style, and a circular seconds dial.
    The Illinois Watch Co.’s 163A Bunn Special, 23 jewels, 16 size pocket watch is very desirable to collectors and is not inexpensive. We have seen examples retail for as much as $4,200, depending on the condition.
    Pocket-watch collectors can be picky, and a “pristine mint watch” is factory-new and in the box. “Near mint” has faint marks that can be seen only with a jeweler’s loupe — not by the naked eye — and “extra fine” looks as though the watch has had very little use.
    Page 2 of 2 - We feel the watch in today’s question is worth at least $3,000 to $3,500 for insurance purposes, but J.O. needs to consult a specialist to be sure.
    Helaine Fendelman and Joe Rosson are the authors of “Price It Yourself” (HarperResource, $19.95). Contact them at Treasures in Your Attic, P.O. Box 18350, Knoxville, TN 37928. Email them at treasures@knology.net.
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