Home / History / Private Label Trade Names on American Pocket Watches: “Burlington Watch Co.” Part 32: The “Little Guys”

Private Label Trade Names on American Pocket Watches: “Burlington Watch Co.” Part 32: The “Little Guys”

Members and Guests at the Annual Meeting of the Michigan Retail Jewelers’ Association at Detroit, Jewelers’ Circular, July 1908.
Pictured: Members and Guests at the Annual Meeting of the Michigan Retail Jewelers’ Association at Detroit, Jewelers’ Circular, July 1908.

While the Burlington Watch Company strategically positioned itself in the market against the methods of the “watch trust,” independent retail operations and jobbers began to suffer on both fronts. Many of the “watch trust” requirements forced smaller businesses to comply with strict guidelines to remain favorable in the supply chain. At the same time, mail-order companies like the Burlington Watch Company were able to undercut prices set by the watch trust, prices that retailers and jobbers were compelled to follow.

The challenging issue of the mail-order business was discussed at the Michigan Retail Jewelers Annual Convention in July 1908. A report published in The Jewelers’ Circular-Weekly detailed the conversation, specifically mentioning the Burlington Watch. A representative from the Illinois Watch Company provided insight into how the company approached the rising mail-order business:

“A question was asked in regard to the Burlington watch, sold by Babson Bros. It was stated that the Elgin Watch Co. has discontinued making it, and that the watch is now made by the Illinois Watch Co. J.W. Armbruster, of that company, explained the position of his firm, which holds that it is better to make watches under a separate brand for the mail order trade than to sell their regular brands to such houses. 

The following resolution was then passed: “Resolved. That we endorse the Illinois Watch Co.’s policy in keeping their regular named line of watches out of retail mail order catalogues, by making watches under a special name and brand for these firms.

Walter H. Beck declared that mail order houses have come to stay and advised that retailers take measures to meet such competition.”The Jewelers’ Circular-Weekly, July 15, 1908

Interestingly, the Elgin Watch Co. was identified as an original manufacturer of the Burlington Watch. However, no evidence has been found, nor have any surviving examples surfaced to support this claim.

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