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Many of you following this thread have been waiting with anticipation for the results of our "Elgin Canteen Database" effort. It has been for Paul "Foilguy", Enzo Liquori, and Seiji Kamiya a lot of long hours going through websites and archive data to find these results. These watches are difficult to find. Information on them is very scarce as these watches are relatively scarce.
We began the Elgin Canteen Database project to satisfy our own curiosity and dissatisfaction at the lack of substantial information on the Elgin Canteen watches.
Initially working separately over the course of several months, each had gathered some information on Elgin Canteen watches, but no source of information was publicly available to substantiate if Elgin 539 grade movement was a correct movement for Elgin Canteen watches. I feel many collectors have been unintentionally misled by lack of information into concluding that Elgin 647 grade movement was the only original movement installed on Elgin Canteens.
History is a subject area that strives for the truth, but often results itself in what is best described as a best fit framework for verified facts and information that has to date not been found in conflict to other information. Sometimes the undiscovered information causes viewpoints to be skewed towards wrong conclusions. Unfortunately, this type of pursuit is different from finding the filament that makes a light bulb. When do you know you are correct?
After we began discussing this problem, we concluded that the best approach was to gather information on these watches and look for the patterns. We made several assumptions as many have in the past:
With that, we spent the next few weeks searching the Internet for Elgin Canteen watches, auction archives, and MWR archives for data. The MWR data proved to be the most interesting data source, by the way. The data dates back before much of the debate over 539/647 began. Also, all data is of personally observed watches. By that, we mean we have seen the photos of the watches and the research can be repeated by someone else. When I was a research student working on my graduate degree, one of the most important aspects of research was the ability to reproduce the same results. The MWR archives are available to anyone that can purchase them and repeat the same research.
Please note that the data shown here is a good statistical representation of the "U.S.N. xxxx.C" type Elgin UDT Diver Canteens. The distribution of the data points covers from 200.C through 3000.C fairly evenly across the entire known serial number range. The data points also have very little variation, which is a good indication the sample is an accurate representation of the true population.
Much of this information is still preliminary; however, it does support some interesting avenues for further investigation.
We wish to also acknowledge the fine work done by the MWR site for compiling data into their invaluable archive DVDs,
which helped us with this early research results.
Also, for further information and the latest updates, please visit the German Military Watch Forum
Typical Elgin Canteen Watch
Typical Elgin 539 movement
Typical Elgin 647-E movement
Keywords: Navy UDT USN BUSHIPS Elgin Canteen Frogman Frogmen 18W8 Diver Watch Underwater Demolition Team U.S. SEAL NCDU
This post has been very helpful in my search for a genuine Elgin and I am now concluding a deal for R30929. I am wondering if anyone has seen anything on what strap the watches were issued or use with?
|IHC Life Member|
In the late 1980s a large cache of NOS Elgin dive watch cases came onto the market along with crowns, crown covers, chains, dials and gaskets. I purchased 12 of them at the time (along with parts) and quickly sold the cases except for one. They were all marked XXXC-XXXXC and none had original glass crystals installed and all were in mint condition.
Here are the serial numbers of the examples that I bought:
287C, 307C, 567C, 732C, 843C, 1477C, 1579C, 1598C, 2335C, 2521C, and 2888C.
The examples in bold font are on your database. The one example that I kept and built up with correct movement is 248C, which I sold and then bought back years later, is also on your list. Funny story about that watch another time... I recorded the serial numbers from the other batches that were sold but can't find them here with me presently. I'll try to find them when I go back home in May. They number about 60, 5 batches of twelve. I wouldn't be surprised to see more of the serial numbers of the NOS cases represented on your database.
If I would have known back then that these watches would command such a high price, I would have bought them all and built them up with G-539 movements which were/are still plentiful. As it was, the case that I kept was used to replace the case of a mangled example that had a chewed up lug that I had found. IIRC, one of the ones that I sold was used the same way but I can't recall the number. The others, I have no idea but according to your database, I now know that four were built up with G-539 movements. Finding correct G-647 movements is not/was not easy, hence all of the G-539 examples. I have never seen an example with the USN XXXC serial number that does not look pristine or has the required soldered glass crystal. More reasons to believe that these cases were meant as replacement cases. On the other hand you almost never find a USN BUSHIPS example in the same condition. They typically look well used.
Please explain how the case back numbers for the XXXC watches are GREATER for the earlier issued watches? That would mean that the Star Watch Case company manufactured the cases for the 1950s watches BEFORE the watches issued in the 1940s, according to your data. This does not make sense.
My speculation; based on the data that I have collected over 20+ years of focused US military watch and data collection, is that these cases were originally made as replacement cases, stored and never used and then this cache was found and sold in the 1980s. This seems much more plausible than a bunch of watches made in the 1940s that had movement serial numbers dating from 1942 to 1944 but yet case serial numbers that differed by as much as 368,221 (greater) from those that FOLLOWED them, by your data. I would have an easier time believing your theory IF the collected watch movement serial numbers had some semblance of order but they do not. Why would Elgin manufacture an extremely minute number of watches (3000) yet have such a huge variance in serial numbers, ranging from 1942 to 1944? For instance serial numbers T30509 to T781609? Why would you see such a huge difference between individual movement serial numbers for such a small group of watches ~3000? Again, this does not make sense. You can statistically arrange the numbers based on assumptions to suit your expected outcome but at the end of the day, common sense says otherwise. Also, you can not apply statistical analysis to as little as 28 examples (out of 3000+?), at least not accurately. I've got data that show just the opposite up to just recently, 5+ years ago when these started to show up regularly. This is coincidently after the NOS cases hit the market by the way. Before the mid 1990s I have no data of USN XXXC G-539 Elgin dive watches. My database on Elgin dive watches contains 78 examples and shows basically the same information that you have collected, along with the date that I collected it and any other relevant information such as source or location of watch. These XXXC watches do not show up on my radar until 1999-2000, 1 in Dec 1999, 1 in Jan 2000, 1 in May 2000. Before then, between 1988 and 1999, I have 4 examples (XXXC) all with G-647 movements. Up to that point, I have a list of NOS cases only, which I archived as well. Out of your 28 examples, 5 are on my list of NOS cases, spread throughout your 28 examples. In other words, they are not grouped.
What I find most astonishing is the small number of examples in your database with G-647 movement, yet when looking at the data, it is obvious that they are not scattered as that seen in the G-539 movement watch but clustered much more closely.
My opinion is that early on when these NOS cases were bought, the majority of buyers were collectors who cased them with what they thought at the time (and which I thought then and still do think) was the correct movement, the Elgin G-647. Now you get into the early 2000s and beyond and people see how much these watches are worth no matter the movement installed and this produces the flow of G-539 Elgin dive watches that we have witnessed since 2005. In simple terms, why bother tracking down a relatively hard to find "correct" G-647 movement for a NOS case when you can just stick any old G-539 movement from an Elgin Type A-11 (very plentiful on eBay), no matter the year produced and sell to the uneducated buyer for $$$$$!
Also, please note that more than likely, 18W8(INT) issued in Dec 1, 1944, just happens to correspond to the immergence of the Hamilton G-987S which were marked the same as the later Elgin dive watches; USN BUSHIPS. Why would these Hamiltons from the mid-1940s be marked USN BUSHIPS and then the spec changed to XXXC for the Elgin G-539, and then back again for the later 1950s Elgin G-647 marked USN BUSHIPS? I hate to repeat myself but this does not make sense.
|IHC Life Member|
The strap would have been a two piece, molded plastic strap, reddish brown in color and stamped USN BUSHIPS. This is what was specified. I have an original watch (1951) with it's original one piece strap and it is dark grey in color with ordnance markings that differ. I don't know if this was a replacement strap or if they changed the specs at some point. I also have pictures of UDT members in the mid 1950s wearing these watches on these dark grey colored straps one piece straps, so I know it was in use at the time. It is very similar to the strap that the Elgin Type A-17As were supplied with except those (the A-17As) were a lighter grey. Other than that, they were the same.
It sounds like there is the problem that these are so high priced combined with a relative availability of parts that has resulted in more than a few modern marriages of parts. Such marriages introduce a toxin to the otherwise good approach of trying to look at a large number of examples to discern whether there is a pattern.
Of the ones listed in the table, which have very strong provenance as being authentic original watches? For example which were donated to a museum by a former diver or Navy man who wore it in his day, or some other relatively reliable provenance? If one could assemble a second table and limit the entries to only those that have strong provenance, that might provide some stronger evidence of whether there is a pattern.
The Elgin Canteen Watch Database project is a long term effort to record as much information as can be collected about the present conditions of these watches. With this developing resource, we hope to build up a collection of verified information.
At present, there is no evidence that these watches have been stored and later modified decades afterwards for use other than for their original military purpose. Also, there is no credible information brought to light about later repacement cases. There is much confusion and speculation based on the case numbers and movement numbers. There is some information that the team is examining regarding the known manufacturing processes used at Elgin that could result in the observed "no destinct pattern".
One of the basic premises that is being tested is: If a large enough population of watches can be examined, these watches will reveal how they were manufactured. If this premise is incorrect, all speculation based on various lists assembled by various collector's are all potentially incorrect. One of the fundamental premises of this research is that the majority of the watches in existance are in their original conditions.
Thanks for your reply and longer posts James, very helpful as always. Sent you an email too.
One data point for time that I can contribute is remarked on in CDR Francis Fane's book on the history of the NCDUs/UDTs, "Naked Warriors". He notes that a box of waterproof watches was lost overboard in Hawai'i whilst loading it in Pearl Harbor. From the dates around the event, this happened in either May or June of 1944. Apparently the NCDU divers grabbed their kit and recovered most of the watches. He does not state whether they were Elgins or Hamiltons however.
There is an assumption being made in drawing conclusions from the Elgin database that is not being explicitly stated, nor is the origin of that assumption clear to me. The assumption I'm referring to is that the WW2 canteen watches issued to NCDUs and UDTs were made by Elgin.
I tend to rely on and believe Wesolowski when he writes that the canteen watches issued during WW2 were made by Hamilton and that the Elgin canteens came later and were issued in the 50s. Everything about the design and materials of the watches, the movements and the dates of the MILSPECs supports this.
Therefore, I don't think Enzo's point about the availability of the 539 in the mid-40s (in the other canteen thread) has any bearing on the situation. Since Elgins were not issued until the 50s, when 647 movements were available, the earlier availability of the 539 is not a valid reason why they might have appeared in the Elgins as original equipment. The points made above and elsewhere about the characteristics of the 539 (in that they don't meet the specifications) only further cast doubt on whether they were originally present in Elgin canteens.
This is just my personal observation. There are far more Elgin Canteen watches with 539 movements that have been sold than there are 647 movement watches, based off of the information that has been recorded over the last 10+ years. If far more 647 exist than 539 movement watches, this is statistically a highly improbable event.
One other possibility exists, which is even more interesting. It maybe possible that there are so few Elgin Canteens surviving that several dozen "Put Together" watches could represent a large majority of the remaining population. Which do you believe?
Please look at the photos in the Elgin Canteen Database to see the actual condition of these watches. Many do have the original crystals and sodder. Many do show cyrstals scars consistant with contact with rocks and coral. Many have chips that indicate hard impact and still have the original sodder. These are not NOS watches.
We will welcome data on the 78 watches Delgato has recorded. More information will better help all of us better understand these watches. We have shared our information and will continue to share our information.
Please look at our list of 60 watches in the DB as of 6/6/2010. We have a representative watch going across all the known range of issue numbers from about 200.C through 3000.C, with an almost even distribution of the numbers. Were these all replacement cases? Did they all belong to the same collector/restorer/watch-maker? The counter argument explanations don't seem to fit well with the patterns we observe.
Have you been able to determine whether any of the watches in the data base have provenance back to their original Navy sailor to which it was issued? Are any in museums where the original Navy sailor donated them? Do ones with this kind of unquestionable provenance share any features?
Your approach of taking a census of all possible watches to discover patterns is excellent and I know it takes a lot of work to do it, but the extra challenge with canteen diver's watches is that they have been so desireable and collectible for so long that there has been a very strong incentive for several decades for someone to come along and put together parts to create more of them to sell. All it would take is one or two such people who had access to surplus parts and they could create dozens or scores of such watches and confuse everyone. I see such creations of all kinds of military watches and timepieces on Ebay all the time, especially from sellers from Eastern European countries and Asian countries, and especially with wrist watches of various kinds.
One interesting observation is that two recent sets of watches and parts on e-Bay have shown up. One is for 1293.C and 1624.C. The interesting thing about these watches is that they are rusted 539 movements. These watches are very valuable as we all know now. Why would someone sell rusted 539 movement watches? 1293.C is was sold by someone knowledgeable about these parts. He could have done much better with a new movement. 1624.C is a similar case. In about 1 month it will be easy to find on e-Bay an Elgin A-11 with a good 539 movement and sell the complete watch for much higher prices.
Everyone is welcome to look at the pictures in the yahoo database, we have done our best to keep track of all the photos with the watches and data.
1552.C was sold by the son of a UDT diver. It has a 539 movement in it. There is also a retired U.S.N. UDT diver we are contacting to get a statement about his watches.
Also note, if you carefully look at the numbers on all the XXXX.C watches, they appear to use different engraving techniques as time passes. Once several consecutive issue numbers are found, it will be possible to determine if they were done in different batches as might be possible.
Updates to the database are occuring. I have posted for database members a draft update of the database. There are 60 watches on record.
As soon as all the updates are made and the members have had a chance to comment on the update, a new version will be posted on IHC185 and other sites.
You may or may not have access to the below link to the draft. My appologies if it asks for passwords; hopefully, all can see it.
The Elgin Canteen Database is located at:
FoilGuy(Paul), Lige(Enzo), SeijiKamiya welcome you to join this teams efforts.
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