Internet Horology Club 185
If Only Pocket Watches Could Talk!

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August 25, 2003, 17:05
Stephanie O'Neil
If Only Pocket Watches Could Talk!
After reading Steve Maddox's wonderful story regarding the history of Henry Platte Allen's pocket watch Steve purchased along with viewing those incredible pictures of Mr. Allen, his family, and their residence, I decided to post my article written several years ago. And yes folks, I had already named my article long before I read Steve's. Hats off to you again Steve for that wonderful story as well as photo documentation. I'll be looking for more!

By Stephanie O'Neil

Have you ever wondered how many people have preceded you in ownership of each antique pocket watch now in your possession, who those people were and what location of the United States or outside of U.S. they were from? - the genealogy of a watch, if you will!

These thoughts have crossed my mind a time or two as I look at my collection. Thoughts I know would never become reality, no matter how hard I try.

If we are lucky enough to have a manufacturer's name on a watch, we can certainly learn a lot more about a particular watch in question. We can learn where our pocket watches were made and even the year in which they were made if a serial number was imprinted on the watch movement. We can thank American manufacturers for doing just that as they serialized each watch and kept accurate records of serialization from a watch's inception.

I wish I could say the same for European manufacturers, who, excluding a handful, did not serialize their watch movements. But if a watchmaker's name was put on a watch, we can piece together a bit of information regarding our European watch. We can also establish the period of time our watch was made by comparing and researching watch movements.

Researched information has been published thanks to Cooksey Shugart, co-author of "The Complete Price Guide to Watches", who, after much dedication and research, wrote the guidebook as a result of his desire to learn more about a pocket watch he received as an heirloom.

There is yet another hint into the history of a pocket watch; by way of monograms, initials and inscriptions etched on or inside of watch cases. As minute as it seems, chances are such engravings were put on a watch case at the time of original purchase or shortly thereafter, thereby leaving indelible proof of original ownership. Whose initials or inscriptions is anybody's guess though. I think that's why I am so enamored by any kind of personalization etched on a watch case, not to mention the beauty in the fine detail of the workmanship. If you are lucky enough, you may even have the original owner's full name inscribed on your antique pocket watch! How wonderful is that!

Pocket watches do speak to us in many ways; take a closer look and see what a watch has to say, you may be surprised!

In the case of Steve Maddox's watch, he was so lucky to have a full name as well as an address, a dream come true!

I would not hesitate in the least in purchasing a pocket watch with initials, monograms or any personalization as it speaks of WHO owned the watch in times past! I have many personalized watches in my collection and really, it's what I like about these watches not to mention the style of inscription!

What do you say?

Stephanie O'Neil
NAWCC Member 143979

August 18, 2004, 21:50
Stephen L. Russell
It is the past owners and history of my oldest watches I get the most joy dreams of the 17th , 18th and early 19th centurys and the places some of these watches have seen...untoutched lands,a fine gift, cherished and proud ownership, sea battles and duel's...all these things were happening while this watch i am holding now was first wonder i love them.
August 28, 2004, 21:27
Tom Seymour
THIS WATCH IS SHOUTING, not just talking!!!

This is a 15j, Elgin, 16s.
I will try to get most of the information contained in this great case:

•Owned by Norris James Wagner 9/25/19
•20 birthday "aug 25 07"
•married 10/31
•glee club '10
•CSASBM Treas. 02 thrugh 1910 (each year listed separately)
•Sectr - '10
•May 1 - 11 David Lsystons' Sons Co
•May 29 - 12 Chicago
•Jan 14, 1915 to Cleveland
•Housekeeping aug 9, 1915
•Ch Ex c 1911
And various other symbols and numbers. One symbol looks like a Masonic symbol, the other a turtle.

The watch belongs to Ralph Rehner and the inscriptions were enough reason to add it to his collection. It is on loan to me, so that I may satisfy my curiosity and see what all the inscriptions are about.

Below are two pictures. One is a photo of the cover. For the second picture I used the first picture and then printed it out and went over all of the inscriptions I could make out with a black pen.


August 28, 2004, 21:28
Tom Seymour
This is the enhanced version.
Any insights into the symbols or other details of the inscriptions would be most welcome.

August 29, 2004, 08:24
Ralph Rehner
Great job Tom... I knew the far superior photographic skills and camera you have would achieve results. I tried many times to get a clear image with little success.

How the watch came to me is the fun part. I was on a watch hunt and found this rather common, nothing special Elgin in a pile of watch junk. Parts was my only thought when I picked it up to examine. Without my loupe on, the inside cover looked to be all scratched up in a manner that would suggest a lot of time in the service shop. Dial and movement were O.K. so I bought it. It was later on my bench that I realized someone had turned this into a personal diary. The inscriptions suggest that Norris has ties between Chicago and Cleveland. Tom's recent clarification may now make his story come to life. I have started researching Cleveland "Death Notice" archives for Norris with no results yet. At this point one can assume he had a good magnifying glass, a sharp scribe, and a steady hand. Outside of a cleaning and servicing, the watch will remain exactly as Norris James owned it. I think he would have wanted it that way.

Ralph Rehner, "The Clock Pup" and Longines Watch Guy
September 17, 2004, 20:33
Tom Seymour
Someone else must have another watch with interesting inscriptions.

September 23, 2004, 00:11
Stephanie O'Neil
Glad you satisfied your curiousity in hightlighting these inscriptions! Thanks for posting a treasure/trove of information housed in an unusual place. Somehow I get the feeling the etched information pertains more about a woman rather than a man Eek, i.e., Glee club, treasurer, secretary, housekeeping; things a woman would be involved in. Norris James may be her husband, as his b/d is listed. Just a thought.

Great find! Have you researched the full name of Norris James Wagner from the death roles? It appears that is his full name. Just another thought.

Stephanie O'Neil

September 23, 2004, 01:12
Ralph Rehner

You have thrown a whole new twist into the Norris James mystery that has got my mind stirring. I haven't been able to track him down yet and am focusing on the company name on the side. The concept that a woman might be talking to us puts a whole new flavor to this diary. I keep reminding myself that how men and woman talk today is not how they talked back them. Men were more boastful and carried big watches while woman were more quiet and reserved. Could just be that the mystery lady was ahead of her time and the watch belonged to her. My wife sure scribled my name all over everything before we were married. Funny that Norris doesn't say who he married, which leads me to believe that she is saying she married Norris. Set-up housekeeping in 1915...married in 1919. Don't think men talked about housekeeping that much back then, but it was big stuff with the ladies.

I'm seeing three storys now..
1) Norris owned the watch and scratched his story inside.
2) Mrs. Norris James Wagner owned the watch and Norris is one chapter in her
3) Norris allowed the Mrs. to scratch the diary in his watch. That might be
stretching it a bit.

Your hooking me on the woman idea Stephanie...Maybe Tom has some insight on this new possibility. Just remember we have to think 1904 and not 2004.

Ralph Rehner, "The Clock Pup" and Longines Watch Guy
September 23, 2004, 20:58
Tom Seymour
Just a couple of thoughts.

"Setting up housekeeping" may be an older term for moving out on ones own. It does not necessarily mean "I'm doing housework now". I think it may mean that he has set up a household of his own, away from parents. That was an important day. It seems that the officers jobs listed, including secretary, was for some fraternal or professional organization. That was probably a male only thing at the time this was engraved.

This is only conjecture on my part. The investigation continues.

October 31, 2004, 16:46
Stephanie O'Neil
Hi Ralph and Tom,

Any updates on the inscription mystery?

Stephanie O'Neil

July 18, 2014, 23:13
Marilyn Georgeson
Found this when I was searching for family members. Here is the some of the story.

•Owned by Norris James Wagner 9/25/19
It was not owned by Norris, but by his father, George James Wagner. He marked events from his life. His son, Norris, was born on September 25, 1919.

•20 birthday "aug 25 07"
This was the clue to George, whose birthday was August 25, 1887.

•married 10/31
George married his wife, Leona, on October 31, 1911.

The other events were fraternities, clubs, his jobs and travels.

George was born, married and died in the Cleveland area. I think that they traveled to Chicago for a short period of time, as I have found passenger lists for boat trips from there. But they were back in Cleveland by 1915. This is where Norris was born.

Housekeeping probably refers to the purchase of first house.

Unfortunately, George died in 1939.

You never found Norris in the Cleveland death notices, as he had moved to California and died there in 1966.

Thanks for a fun addition to our family history.

Marilyn Georgeson
July 19, 2014, 08:16
Dr. Debbie Irvine


Thank you for sharing about your family history and how the inscribe information relates to the image from August 28, 2004 in this topic!


July 20, 2014, 10:56
Buster Beck
This is too COOL !! Ten years it took for the information to be garnered/processed !! Fantastic & quite Amazing !!

I have a 16sz Bunn for sale with initals on the case that a prospective buyer doesn't like initials... Here is the perfect example that there is history in those initials and lends credence to where that case has been and its travels !!

Outstanding !!