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THE AMERICAN CIVIL WAR (era) WATCH "Click" to Login or Register 
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Picture of Greg Crockett
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This subject can be approached from various angles. It might be appropriate to run it in the pocket watch forum as well as the military.

So far, I have found no documentation of Federal, Confederate or State Govt. purchases of watches during the American Civil War (1861-1865). Such information may exists, but it is unknown to me. It is likely that records exist of chronometers and deck watches purchased by the USN and CSN, but timepieces for ground forces appear to have been private purchase. It was expected that officers would purchase their own watches along with most of the rest of their equipment. Other ranks often owned watches and it was common for the men to barter with them. English watches appear to have had the best reputation, and lower quality Swiss watches often were engraved with English names to fool the unknowledgeable.

This example is engraved on the front cover with an image of an officer binding a wound to his leg. A sword can be seen under him.

 
Posts: 1865 | Location: East Lansing, Michigan USA | Registered: November 24, 2002
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On the back cover is engraved an image of a soldier reaching into a cartridge pouch to load his musket. Each man has a cap of the sort popular in various armies of the mid-1800's.

 
Posts: 1865 | Location: East Lansing, Michigan USA | Registered: November 24, 2002
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The covet has a bogus attribution to Tobias of Liverpool. One of several English victims of this dubious form of flattery.

 
Posts: 1865 | Location: East Lansing, Michigan USA | Registered: November 24, 2002
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The movement is a common Swiss bar type with a lever escapement. These movements are capable for good service if found in good condition.

 
Posts: 1865 | Location: East Lansing, Michigan USA | Registered: November 24, 2002
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The multi-color, porcelain dial on this watch is rather unusual. It has a silver escutcheon of a gazelle. More common are dials of white porcelain or engraved metal.

 
Posts: 1865 | Location: East Lansing, Michigan USA | Registered: November 24, 2002
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Of no less interest to dedicated reenactor and collector alike is the proper chain and fittings. Here we have an example of the “shepherds hook” which was popular back then. This example has a silver link added which enables it to be locked into a button hole. More often the hook is seen without any sort of locking loop.

In a photograph of President Lincoln, a shepherds hook can been seen in his button hole. Other period photographs indicate that the T-bar was also popular during the Civil War.

Regarding watch chains, old photographs are not always clear. Strings and chains also may have been attached to eye glasses, or even a compass.

Best regards,

Greg

 
Posts: 1865 | Location: East Lansing, Michigan USA | Registered: November 24, 2002
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Very neat, Greg. Thanks for sharing. (That shepherd's hook is especially interesting.)
 
Posts: 203 | Location: North Carolina in the USA | Registered: December 05, 2006
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Greg,

That was really interesting and educational.

Thanks.

Regards,

Bob
 
Posts: 183 | Location: Ona, West Virginia USA | Registered: May 01, 2005
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This is a more fancy form of shepherd's hook - this one in the form of a hand holding a whip. it's attached to a cord made of woven human hair. This image was posted a few years ago.
 
Posts: 1865 | Location: East Lansing, Michigan USA | Registered: November 24, 2002
posted
I imagine a large percentage of Civil War era watches were Swiss. The problem is that they are nearly impossible to date to any better than three decades. Your watch could just as well and most probably was produced after the war. My reasoning is that the Civil War scenes were most often used to make capital on the nastalgia that former soldiers had for the war and on the patriotism of the public after the war.

A few years ago a lady came into the Library with a pile of letters written by her great grandfather, who had served in the Civil War. He was a watchmaker as was his father and brother. The letters tell how he serviced watches by campfire. His father would send him watches that he would sell. Most of these were Walthams that they purchased for about $3 and sold for about $12. He wrote his father that he could sell as many as he could get his hands on. Nancy transcribed the letters and we handed out copies at the library in connection with the Civil War exibit at the library a few years ago.

Don
 
Posts: 173 | Location: Columbia, Pennsylvania U.S.A. | Registered: July 13, 2004
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Don, You hit the nail on the head.

The difficulty of dating Swiss watches is a problem, given that they made watches of this type from the 1850's and throughout the rest of the 19th century. It's likely watches w/military engravings were made post-war. On the other hand, the Swiss were aware of the American watch market during the war and they sold alot of watches at that time. People with metal detectors have found Swiss watches of this type at Civil War camp sites.

Given that the above watch is not marked with the name of the country of origin, it appears to have been made prior to the 1869 import law. Unless the importer was able to sneek it in somehow. Roll Eyes

A copy of the transcribed letters would be greatly appricited - I'll have to see if the library still has them.

Best regards,

Greg
 
Posts: 1865 | Location: East Lansing, Michigan USA | Registered: November 24, 2002
posted
I have no facts one way or the other, but it would seem reasonable to me that the engravings may have been done in the U.S. at some point by the importers or retailers rather than in Switzerland. The likelihood of their being post war seems pretty high to me as well. My great-great grandfather was a mercenary during the War, fighting first with a Connecticut infantry regiment, then later with a New Jersey infantry regiment, and he ended up being a regular participant in the GAR (Grand Army of the Republic) encampments that were held every year by pretty much every regiment throughout the Northern states for many decades after the war so long as there were veterens still alive. There is a fair amount of collectable material from those big reunions where all kinds of "stuff" remembering the war was marketed to the vets. I makes sense to me that less expensive watches like these could very well have been a major staple of that kind of mass marketing to the vets in those decades.
 
Posts: 858 | Location: Baltimore, Maryland USA | Registered: September 20, 2004
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Does this watch fit the GAR profile?

First, the above watch has rather genaric military engravings. The men depicted could have been in the Confederacy or the Union, or even the French army for that matter. Whoever engraved this watch left the end market wide-open. At least the fake Tobias engraving makes it more likely engraved for sale in the American market.

Over the years, I have had alot of GAR items, including a rather nice watch fob (which I will post latter). All of the GAR stuff has been well marked with - "Grand Army of the Republic", U.S. flags, U.S. Shields, Abe Lincoln, U.S. Grant, location of the "encampment," unit number, reunion date, etc. (All of this informaiton makes GAR items interesting to collect.)

The above watch does not have any GAR nor even any Union specific markings. There is no obvious GAR connection. That being said,I like the GAR theory, and will keep it in mind as other information is located.

BTW, does anyone have any other Civil War related time pieces to post?

Best regards,

Greg
 
Posts: 1865 | Location: East Lansing, Michigan USA | Registered: November 24, 2002
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Greg,

I have a Swiss lever watch in a sterling hunting case that is roughly that vintage. I'll post about it with some pictures.
 
Posts: 203 | Location: North Carolina in the USA | Registered: December 05, 2006
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Here is a G.A.R. combination fob/medal. It was manufactured by Whitehead & Hoag Co., of Newark N.J. It consists of a well made metal, attached to a red, white, and blue silk ribbon. At the top is a pin-back with two pin clasps on the back. The front of the pin-back is marked: “Souvenir G.A.R. Encampment 1907 Saratoga, N.Y.

 
Posts: 1865 | Location: East Lansing, Michigan USA | Registered: November 24, 2002
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The top of the unit with the pin-back removed

 
Posts: 1865 | Location: East Lansing, Michigan USA | Registered: November 24, 2002
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A close up shot of the medal.

 
Posts: 1865 | Location: East Lansing, Michigan USA | Registered: November 24, 2002
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Assigning a date to Swiss watches is at best a guessing game. But for gold and silver watches from England, there are date-letter codes to at least check to see if the watch was made before or during the Civil War.

This example was hallmarked in London in 1831. Although this was made 30 years prior to the Civil War, it is within the useful life of a watch like this and makes this watch a possible Civil War era watch.

 
Posts: 1865 | Location: East Lansing, Michigan USA | Registered: November 24, 2002
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The movement is an ordinary verge-fusee. Note that it has no jewels, no address, and no maker's name. This is indicative of a British trade-watch, of the sort exported to America. It was up to the retailer to engrave his name and address on the movement. Some retailers added jewels, although this one is still unjeweled.

 
Posts: 1865 | Location: East Lansing, Michigan USA | Registered: November 24, 2002
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...
 
Posts: 1865 | Location: East Lansing, Michigan USA | Registered: November 24, 2002
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An assortment of watch chains of possible Civil War vintage. The two human hair watch cords at the top may or may not be Civil War vintage. So far, I have not seen thick watch cords like these in 1860's vintage images.

 
Posts: 1865 | Location: East Lansing, Michigan USA | Registered: November 24, 2002
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An assortment of Shepherds hooks attached to the above chains and cords. Keep in mind, that the T-bar was also widely used during the early 1860's.

 
Posts: 1865 | Location: East Lansing, Michigan USA | Registered: November 24, 2002
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