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Lancaster Watch Company c.1880 “Grim Reaper” Penny-Farthing Trade Card

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Lancaster Watch Grim Reaper Penny-Farthing Trade Card, c.1880
Lancaster Watch Grim Reaper Penny-Farthing Trade Card, c.1880

The Lancaster Watch Company issued this iconic trade card around 1880 to promote “The Best Value Watch in the World for the Money.”

At the time, the company was still finishing movements in inventory from the Adams & Perry Watch Company era. One of these movements is prominently featured on the advertising trade card distributed by the company. The silvered ink print elegantly showcases the prestigious “Lancaster Watch” movement with twenty jewels, originally designed by Edwin H. Perry.


Lancaster Watch Grim Reaper Penny-Farthing Trade Card, c.1880 Closeup
Lancaster Watch Grim Reaper Penny-Farthing Trade Card, c.1880 Closeup

A skeletal figure representing the Grim Reaper is perched atop the watch movement, equipped with a pocket watch, hourglass, and harvesting scythe. For an unknown reason, the Grim Reaper is using the watch as a penny-farthing, an early version of the bicycle. Despite the omission of the back wheel, the pedal extending from the center wheel and the riding seat is undeniable.


Penny-Farthing Bicycle, c.1881 - Image Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Penny-Farthing Bicycle, c.1881 – Image Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Lancaster Watch Grim Reaper Penny-Farthing Trade Card, c.1880 Closeup Showing Penny-Farthing Pedal and Silvered Print
Lancaster Watch Grim Reaper Penny-Farthing Trade Card, c.1880 Closeup Showing Penny-Farthing Pedal and Silvered Print

The concept of the Grim Reaper originated in the early fifteenth century, symbolizing the one who harvests souls from the earth. Interestingly, there are parallels between the Grim Reaper and Chronos, the personification of time in Greek mythology – also known as “Father Time.” Both figures typically carry an hourglass and harvesting scythe. However, the Grim Reaper is usually depicted as a skeleton, while Father Time is generally exhibited as a wise old man with a long beard and large wings. This association likely influenced the artistic direction of the Lancaster trade card.


Father Time Trademark by the Elgin National Watch Company, 1888
Father Time Trademark by the Elgin National Watch Company, 1888

Other American watch companies utilized similar concepts in advertising. The Elgin National Watch Company employed the Father Time character in numerous promotions. The Hampden Watch Company also used variations of the Father Time figure – but mostly to humorously mock the concept used by Elgin.


Elgin Almanac 1873 - Cover
Elgin Almanac 1873 – Cover

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