Artifact Corner: Waltham Watch

Hi Everyone, and welcome back to another artifact corner. Happy 2022! We will be starting out the new year with this beautiful pocket watch. This is a swing out case pocket watch, and the case is made of sterling silver. This clock was made by the American Waltham Watch Company, based in Waltham, Massachusetts. When doing the research for this video, I found that in our accession materials, it was labeled that this clock had “no opening in back or front.” This meant that they were not able to see the serial number, or any of the other information on the watch. It seems like this case stumped our previous collections crew, and to be perfectly honest, it did for us as well. Thankfully, there are wonderful videos online to explain how to open all sorts of pocket watches. In order to access the inner workings of this clock you need to carefully unscrew the glass, and then gently pull up on the stem. This should release the movement section of the watch, and it swings out, hence the name. Let’s learn a bit more about the American Waltham Watch Company.

The company was founded by David Davis, Aaron Dennison, and Edward Howard, in 1850 in Roxbury, Massachusetts. Their goal was to make affordable quality pocket watches for the masses. Production began for them in 1851, but the first watches from the company did not hit the market until 1853. In the same year, the company was renamed, “The Boston Watch Company.” Over the next seven years the company went through a number of owners and name changes. In 1860 it became the “American Watch Company”. In 1861, the American Civil War began. The business came to an almost stand still, and the company looked poised for bankruptcy. The company downsized, and operated at bare bones levels, and managed to keep going through the war. According to the biography by Carl Sandburg, Abraham Lincoln owned and carried a Waltham “Wm. Ellery” watch. The company continued to make watches and later clocks until 1957, when they ceased production altogether. It is still possible to purchase modern quartz watches that bear the Waltham name, but these watches are unrelated to the “genuine” American Waltham Watch Company. In fact, a 1961 ruling by the Federal Trade Commission prohibited any inference that a relationship to the original Waltham Watch Company exists.

In doing the research for this video, it highlighted something that museums need to contend with all of the time when evaluating their collections. Not every person can know every thing about every type of object. We here at KDHM have thousands of artifacts in our collections, and we have a few people who work directly with these pieces. For those of you who do not know me, my name is Samantha, and I am the museum director for KDHM. This allows me close access to artifacts, and I am quite good at dealing with metals, jewelry, clothing and textiles, and some fine art pieces. Does that make me an expert on Edwardian watches? Not at all. But, with careful research and using trusted sources, anyone can learn a great deal about an object. We’ll be discussing more about how deal with our collections in upcoming videos this year.

This beautiful, and still functioning watch was made in 1923. We now know this thanks to the serial number on the watch’s movement. The case and the stem have some wear on them, which is very common with item that are worn and handled many times a day. Overall this piece is in very good condition, and we are so lucky to have it in our collections. All of us at KDHM wish you a happy and healthy New Year! And as always, thanks so much for stopping by.

Music: Acoustic Breeze by Benjamin Tissot,