Author Topic: Pocket watches in the 1840's/1850's  (Read 11590 times)

Offline Wahkahchim

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Pocket watches in the 1840's/1850's
« on: December 01, 2011, 07:46:27 PM »
Were pocket watches with the vest fob in use yet in the 1840's/1850's? What did they use for timepieces, if any? And if so, what would be a good source of historically accuarate pieces? Thanks.

Offline Tascosa Joe

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Re: Pocket watches in the 1840's/1850's
« Reply #1 on: December 02, 2011, 09:59:07 AM »
That early all would be wound with a key.  We have one that had a family legend that Wife's GGF carried it during the War.  It was made in 1882 which blew the family story.  My guess would be most folks in the 40's and 50's did not have a watch unless they were a entreprenuer in one of the larger civilized areas i.e. East Coast, San Francisco, New Orleans, or a Southern Planter. 
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Offline Oregon Bill

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Re: Pocket watches in the 1840's/1850's
« Reply #2 on: December 02, 2011, 11:16:50 AM »
Joe: I expect you are right about who did and did not carry a watch. Folks used to being outdoors constantly, and especially involved with livestock or agriculture, pretty well knew what time it was by the position of the sun. And they rarely had reason to know it very accurately, unless meeting a train or a stage or some such. I doubt there was a lot of last minute stuff back then. Just a different pace to life.

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Re: Pocket watches in the 1840's/1850's
« Reply #3 on: Today at 10:43:10 PM »

Offline Tsalagidave

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Re: Pocket watches in the 1840's/1850's
« Reply #3 on: December 02, 2011, 12:36:38 PM »
Pocket watches were actually quite common back then. The industrial revolution played a large hand in that so by the dawn of the 1800s, the pocket watch was no longer a luxury item.  Although it is true that people in the 1800s were exponentially more conservative of their resources than we are today, most of them were not destitute poor like we assume either. The pocket watch was a necessary item that allowed people (from sailors to laborers, businessmen and scholars) to coordinate their daily activities with one another. They were not cheap but then again, you only had to buy one or a couple of them in your lifetime. Punctuality and efficiency were every bit as important in everyday life and business then as it is now. Perhaps, following the exact minutes was not necessary if you are out on the trail, a cattle drive or a scout but then again, there are many journals and official records that state the exact time of events day or night down to the minute (something that cannot be done when guessing "Indian time"). Although the rifle, fowler and shotgun were essential tools in frontier life, it can be arguably stated that one was more likely to own a timepiece before he bought a pistol.  Pistols are good for recreational shooting and self defense but a pocket watch was much more utilitarian for planning the events of everyday life.

I recommend a key-wound pocket watch for pre 1870's impressions. Attached is an open-faced german silver watch that I carry on most events.  I wrap it in an oilcloth when in the rain or fording. (Pocket watches do a good job keeping out moisture but immersion will probably ruin them so I don't take any chances.)

-Dave
Guns don't kill people; fathers with pretty daughters do.

Offline St. George

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Re: Pocket watches in the 1840's/1850's
« Reply #4 on: December 02, 2011, 12:45:52 PM »
This 'Note' covers more of the C&WAS timeframe that folks are most familiar with, but...

The pocket watch was a fairly high-dollar item at a time when pretty much everyone could tell time from the sun - it was not common, by a long shot.

It would 'become' common - but not in this era.

*********

St. George's Notes I - Pocket Watch Protocol...
« on: May 30, 2004, 09:31:43 am »     

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------


Sooner or later, a cowboy will want to begin to look more closely at his impression, wondering how to refine it a little.
As I write these, keep in mind that the notes are designed to do just that.

In C&WAS, you see the basic outfit - the boots and hats and vests and all.
Those  vests held all manner of things deemed important to a man at the time - tobacco, a Tally Book and pencil, and sometimes, even a pocket watch.

We'll talk about those today.

First off, not everyone had one.
They were relatively expensive, delicate and weren't really needed, since everybody could tell time by the sun.
Who'd need one?
Maybe a Foreman, most definitely a Railroader, a Banker or perhaps a Lawyer and maybe even an Army Officer.
Not the average cowhand, since most likely, he couldn't afford one and if he really needed one - most likely, the outfit would loan it to him for those duties he'd require it for.

Early pocket watches found in the West would've had what was known as a "Hunting Case" - meaning that the glass crystal was covered by a hinged cover that was a part of the case, as a protector.
It's that cover that you see being snapped shut with great finality.

Don't do that.

It may look "cool" in a Western for dramatic effect, but it doesn't do the watch any good at all.
The metal that serves as a catch is a fairly thin base metal and the catch itself is made of steel, so you can readily see how a hard metal - against a softer one will eventually damage the watch case.
If you're going to close the case, first push in on the latch and then close the cover completely with thumb pressure and relieve pressure on the latch in order for it to catch.
Your watch case will benefit and you'll look like you know what you're doing.

Now, there were several styles of pocket watch - Key-Wind, along with Stem-Wind, with the latter being the latest model.
Key-wound watches were wound by the use of a small key - carried on the watch chain.

The watch could be built by American Horologe Company - later Waltham Watch Company - first started in 1850 - and they were the innovators of mass-produced machine-made interchangeable parts for the industry - lowering prices for watches and many other mechanical things as well.
That key may have wound an "Eight-Day" movement - and you'd wind it on Sunday.
It could be a B.W. Raymond - a "Railroad Watch" first built by the National Watch Company - later the Elgin Watch Company - first built in 1867, or - it could be Swiss, since Swiss watches were common at the time.
If you really have something interesting - it could also be a "Repeater" where a button could be pressed to hear a chime striking to the nearest quarter-hour.
A "Railroad" watch was a watch known for superior accuracy  and was calibrated and regulated periodically to ensure such.

The watch face would feature the numerals in the Roman style, with the earlier version of "4" being read as "IIII" and later, "IV".

Incidentally - these watches were pretty good-sized affairs - the size acting as a shock absorber.
Smaller ones would be for dress and for the guys in town.

In order to accurately date your watch - you need the serial number from the watch movement - not from the watch case.
Gently pop the catch or unscrew the back cover and look at the movement's number.
Then, go to your Search Engine and type in the brand of watch and "serial numbers" and you should see one of the many collector and factory sites that have the lists available.
The serial number list for Elgin will give you movement size, number of jewels, number built, and date of manufacture.
Nice stuff to know and easy, besides.

A pocket watch was carried on a chain and on a fob.
Watch chains had a toggle on one end for a button hole and a spring-loaded hook on the other for the watch itself.
They came in both base metal as well as precious metal, with the plated metals being most common and practical, since they were the strongest, but when you do find a nice gold-plated one, a bit of polish will quickly restore it to its former glory, so keep your eyes open.
There are a lot of styles, so pick one you really like.

Watch Fobs are another matter entirely.

Quickly, they featured a thin leather strap, with doubled ends - one for the watch - the other for a small metal (usually) charm or advertising piece, and were carried in the vest pocket or watch pocket of the trousers - the strap allowing for easy removal to check on the arrival of the Stage.

We'll talk about those at a later time, along with the small watch charms.

Scouts Out!




"It Wasn't Cowboys and Ponies - It Was Horses and Men.
It Wasn't Schoolboys and Ladies - It Was Cowtowns and Sin..."

Offline Tsalagidave

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Re: Pocket watches in the 1840's/1850's
« Reply #5 on: December 02, 2011, 01:12:07 PM »
Good post St. George. This is a great discussion. If we are talking about the life of someone living as a mountain man or some other persona  living outside of society (towns, etc.) a fair argument can be given that time could me determined with relative accuracy (without a watch) as we still learn how to do so today in either scouting or the modern military. So in those terms, you could do without a watch.

I agree with the folks here that not everyone had a pocket watch just like not everyone carried a pistol then or in today's terms, not everyone has a laptop or an iPad. However, archaeological evidence, diary entries, surviving store inventory ledgers, photographs of common people, the production records of both US and European manufacturers,  surviving periodical advertisements, handbills, etc. lend strong evidence that pocket watches were far more common in the 1840-60s than they are given credit for.

I personally think that all people who practice woodcraft should be skilled in telling the approximate time without a watch but keep in mind that most people of the 1840-60s plains era spent a considerable amount of their time engaged in business just like we do today and punctuality was just as important then as it is now. They may not have needed to use a watch every day, but when interacting with other people and their schedules or doing a military impression (especially as an officer or NCO), the evidence is overwhelming that you are better off with one than without.

*End note, Most watches in the 1840-50s were imports from Europe and US-made watches mostly used European imported mechanisms previous to the late 1850s. My open-faced key-watch has an 1875 manufacture date and has survived years of bouncing in my pocket either running on foot, or on horseback in rain or shine, dust storms and hard camping without fail. I can say the same about the 1850s manufactured watch that one of my pards still uses.

-Dave
Guns don't kill people; fathers with pretty daughters do.

Offline Oregon Bill

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Re: Pocket watches in the 1840's/1850's
« Reply #6 on: December 02, 2011, 01:43:42 PM »
Great stuff guys. St. George, you're a veritable walking encyclopedia.
Dave: I surely do admire your writing chest and the goodies sitting on it. I continue to be impressed with the extent and extreme quality of your kit.

Offline Wahkahchim

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Re: Pocket watches in the 1840's/1850's
« Reply #7 on: December 02, 2011, 03:35:41 PM »
Bottom line: a relatively affluent 57 year old patriarch who brought his family west to California in, say, 1846 would probably have one?

Offline Tascosa Joe

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Re: Pocket watches in the 1840's/1850's
« Reply #8 on: December 02, 2011, 08:43:23 PM »
I rode a horse into a flood in 73 and my pocket watch did not survive the dunking.  Luckily it was not one of the better type that I have managed to aquire of late.
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Offline Wahkahchim

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Re: Pocket watches in the 1840's/1850's
« Reply #9 on: December 02, 2011, 11:34:59 PM »
Where do you get historically accurate pocket watches? Any suggestions?

Offline St. George

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Re: Pocket watches in the 1840's/1850's
« Reply #10 on: December 02, 2011, 11:46:39 PM »
: Quality Gear Question
« Reply #9 on: June 03, 2010, 07:02:08 am »     

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Older pocket watches abound in antique malls and at antique shows - try there, first.

Once cleaned and oiled properly - they're as good as new - even the really old ones.

The one I carry is a 'lever-set transitional' made in 1884 - it keeps better time than my Rolex.

Vaya,

Scouts Out!
"It Wasn't Cowboys and Ponies - It Was Horses and Men.
It Wasn't Schoolboys and Ladies - It Was Cowtowns and Sin..."

Offline Oregon Bill

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Re: Pocket watches in the 1840's/1850's
« Reply #11 on: December 03, 2011, 08:03:39 AM »
Joe: Why did you ride a horse into a flood?

 :o

 

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