Home / Analysis / The (Elgin) National Watch Company’s First Stem Wind Watches: Key Set

The (Elgin) National Watch Company’s First Stem Wind Watches: Key Set

As discussed in the previous article, the very first stem wind movements emerged from the Elgin factory in June of 1873. These movements were key-set and did not have a setting lever. This first production continued for about a year or less. The 1874 Elgin Almanac discussed the new style stem-wind watch, recognizing that it had been a slow process and the new mechanism was expected to perform with the best results. Yet again, the other movements (3/4 plate and Ladies) mentioned were not produced with stem-wind mechanism, unless “Later in the season” meant 4-5 years later.

The excerpt above calls out the Raymond, Culver, Taylor and Laflin grades. We have confirmed Culver and Taylor stem-wind/key-set movements. The stem-wind/key-set Raymond has not been seen by myself or anyone that I have had a conversation with; although it is likely that this was the first grade produced. The stem-wind Laflin has not been spotted as key-set either, and may not have been made until a year or so later, which would explain this. Since the almanac was published in 1874, it was likely written in late 1873, and things certainly change in the course of a year. The Great Panic of 1873 also cut the production of the company in half, which we will get into another time.

U.S. Patent #161262: “Stem-Winding Watches”
Issued to C.S. Moseley, March 23, 1875
U.S. Patent #161262: “Stem-Winding Watches”
Issued to C.S. Moseley, March 23, 1875

Charles S. Moseley, one of the many outstanding men in Elgin National Watch Co. history, patented the first stem-wind mechanism used by the company. This assembly worked on a “vibrating arm” that engaged the ratchet wheel when winding, but allowed the stem to be turned backwards so that it would not interfere with the operation of the watch. View the patent documentation at the Pocket Watch Database Patent Archive

By comparing the photo at the top of this article to the the patent illustrations, and you will notice it is almost identical. Interestingly. the device was already in use when the patent forms had been completed.

At the end of the patent, Mr. Moseley signs March 14th, 1874. The mechanism was actually in production for about 9 months before filing paperwork. Strange? I think so as well.

Current estimated production of stem wind/key set movements as of April 2021:

  • B.W. Raymond: 100 (very speculative estimate)
  • H.Z. Culver: 4-500
  • H.H. Taylor: 500
  • G.M. Wheeler: None observed (one unconfirmed possible report)
  • Mat Laflin: None Observed or reported. Unlikely to exist.
  • M.D. Ogden: 0

These are very much estimates which I calculated using the current observations, serial lists, and printed information. If you can prove me wrong, please do! I would love to see any information.

These are a very neat oddity in early Elgin production. To recap, the stem-wind/key-set movements date between 1873 to 1874. Production was very limited, possibly explained by a combination of the markets reaction to the key-set design and the Panic of 1873. Charles Moseley designed the stem-wind attachment, and patented it in 1874. To dig deeper into the compiled research, view the Elgin Stem-Wind Observations Special Research page on the Pocket Watch Database. There are very few key-set movements listed. The list contains “Model 2” movements with serial numbers under 1,000,000.

The one pictured in the top of this article was found in a key wind case, so always check your serial numbers! Maybe that nice National/Elgin key winder is not just a key wind, after all. Thanks for reading and have a great day!

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