Internet Horology Club 185
Hampden build quality?

This topic can be found at:

May 30, 2010, 15:11
Chris Hughes
Hampden build quality?
Out of curiosity, what's your take on the general build quality of Hampdens? I'm not someone who works on watches, I just collect them and have my friendly neighborhood watchmaker do the heavy lifting, so I can't evaluate the relative merits (or lack thereof) of Hampden engineering. What I do see is a contingent of people who seem to look down their noses at Hampden. It's frequently referred to as a 'second tier' manufacturer, and some seem to feel that they're not as solidly built as Illinois and Hamilton. Others find them less aesthetically pleasing, which is completely subjective, so I have no problem with that.

I find the examples I own to be just as accurate and reliable as my other watches, more so in some cases and I really like some of the movements from an artistic standpoint. I tend to agree that they're generally under valued, but I've also seen them referred to as 'beginning' collector's watches, as if 'serious' collectors move on from them at some point.

I'm soliciting honest opinions here, not seeking validation for my interest in them, so don't pull any punches. What's your take on Hampdens generally and their build quality specifically?
May 31, 2010, 02:14
Richard Romero
As far as quality goes there's nothing wrong with Hampdens. They were and still are fine quality watches with no 'second tier' manufacturing. I think it's important to remember it's not fair to compare Hamilton's later models that utilized technological advances to improve quality. That would be like comparing a 1957 Corvette with fuel injection that was technologically advanced at the time to a 2010 model.

Manufactures improve tooling, production techniques, design, quality control, and metallurgy as we advance. Of course there are exceptions to this but in general that's true. After John C. Dueber passed away the company eventually couldn't keep up with the competition. Perhaps that's where some might classify Hampden as 'second tier' manufacturing.

From what I've read Mr. Dueber was frugal and that's putting it lightly. To some degree I think that philosophy was built into his watches. Some had extra fine ruby jewels but weren't marked ruby jewels as many of the Illinois are. The marking of ruby jewels isn't going to make a watch run better but it sure appeals to some people. It seems Hampdens were oriented towards keeping good time rather than keeping up with the Joneses.

.02 cents,

July, 1910 The Railroad Telegrapher

May 31, 2010, 18:59
Theodore J. Brown Sr.
Chris, I think the fact that Hampden Railroad watches were quite popular with railroad men speaks for itself.I'm not a watchmaker, but I've had a few Hampdens apart, and the finish work looked fine to me.Also, the fact that when Hamilton went in business making 18sizes, they pretty much copied Hampden's design.That says a lot right there.
June 01, 2010, 19:21
Chris Hughes
Great info, you guys. I'm always surprised when people downgrade Hampden, but as I said in my opening post, I'm not a watchmaker so I don't have the knowledge to rebut the claim that they're mechanically inferior. Your comments confirm my impression that they're not of lower quality. I guess some (if not all) of the snobbish attitude towards them comes from a dislike of their aesthetic. They do seem somewhat more utilitarian than some of the others, but I really find the low sheen damaskeening on some of the models to be extremely attractive. I also like the very mechanical look of the early 16 size watches.

In the long run, I think most will come around on Hampden, and those of us who have been focusing on collecting them will be very happy indeed.
October 04, 2010, 20:47
Richard M. Jones
Chris, Hampden popularity is in my opinion influenced by a some unfortunate history. 1. John Dueber was a hard nosed old German case maker who refused to bow to the Elgin, Waltham etc. watch trust and cut his prices. The trust tried to ruin him and drive him out of business. Mr. Dueber bought Hampden and made it a competitive company ready to do battle for the market. Where possible the trust impugned Hampden watches and that has stayed with us, particularly with the early collectors. 2. Hampden was sold to the Russians and the records are gone, so no easy data base. 3. When Mr. Duebers son sold the company a bunch of financial speculators pretty well ruined the Hampden name with some poor watches in the last few years. 4. Hampden was never one of the top makers in terms of size. 5. Most people who dismiss Hampdens have never had the fun of comparing a Hampden Railway grade with an equivalent Illinois, Hamilton or Elgin. I have done that and I can tell you I have a 105 that does as good or better than my Bunn Special and I love them both. 6. In my part of the country Hampdens were frequently carried by farmers and workmen because they were a bit cheaper and were solid. I have been to many farm sales where well used Hampdens showed up and they did not get that way in sock drawers. Truly the orphan company and if you want to have fun see how many 16s 21j New Railways show up on Ebay compared to 16s 21j Bunn Specials.

August 15, 2011, 17:13
Claude Griffith
Just for the record "Deacon" is correct not many show up, the "16s 23j Special Railway" even less often. I will put this one up again my Bunns, BWR's or 992 anytime.

September 08, 2011, 14:31
Chris Hughes
Beautiful movement!
September 13, 2011, 21:28
Richard M. Jones
Claude that is a beautiful watch. Personally the damasceening on the 16s New railway is my favorite. I have several 23j 16s Special Railways, OF and Hunter, and I think they run with the best comparable Hamilton and Illinois watches. Further if you take a good look at the 18s Special Railway and the Hamilton 940 and 946 you will see how similar they are. Maybe because the man who designed them was Hampdens chief designer and went to Hamilton. My personal estimate is 1 16s New Railway for every 150-200 or so 21j Bunns is what is on the market. Rarity though does not equal demand and that is good for those who like the "orphan company."

October 20, 2011, 11:49
Mark Cross
My late Great Uncle's watch was an 18s 17j 'John C. Duber Special' that he carried everyday as a telegrapher for the B&OSW and N&W, and dates from 1890. It's as good a timekeeper as my Elgin 21j FT model 367 railroad watch from 1910.

My Great Uncle was Ohio born, but his father was born and raised in Germany. Considering John Dueber was German, and located in Ohio makes me think that's why a Hampden was purchased for his employment time on the railroad.

One of MY regular carry watches is my 17j 1894 Hampden Special Railway open face. It's in my pocket as I write this, as a matter of fact, and is one of my most accurate pocket watches in my collection.

What I find so odd is that according the fat book, my watch is worth about $125 in the condition it's in (excellent), where a comparible Elgin is double to triple that price.

Good for us who like Hampdens to purchase, but not a good measurement when comparing watches. Like I said, it keeps perfect railroad standard time just like my big Elgins, or even my Ball 999B.

They're all dependable, solid timekeepers.

Regards! Mark