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What Happened to Paul Morphy’s Waltham Watch?

Illustration of Paul Morphy’s Custom Chess-Themed Pocket Watch

The magnificent hand-painted dial by John Webb is the only known part to survive from Paul Morphy’s chess-themed pocket watch presented to him by the New York Chess Club.

Today, this dial resides at the National Watch and Clock Museum in Columbia, Pennsylvania. Natural curiosity leads us to consider the whereabouts of the rest of Morphy’s watch.

Fortunately (or unfortunately), based on a report from W.J.A. Fuller, we know that Morphy ultimately pawned the watch to help fund a legal dispute, likely around 1867. A large sum of money was given to Morphy by Arnous de Rivière in exchange for the custom watch.

The next account of the watch is given by A.W. Modegredien. In 1921, he was offered an opportunity to purchase the watch from the heirs of Arnous de Rivière for 6,000 francs. However, at the time, he did not have the funds to complete the purchase.

Sometime after 1921, the original watch was disassembled. It is plausible that the gold case was scrapped and the movement discarded or relegated to a parts box. The dial is the only known surviving part of the original watch.

While the case has likely been destroyed, the movement could still be out there for discovery – American Watch Company movement marked “P.S. Bartlett” and “No. 9240.”

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