Following a previous post featuring the “Chronodrometer” horse timer watch engineered by the American Watch Company in the late 1850s, questions were raised regarding the extravagant retail price quoted.
This price was extracted from an advertisement published by A.J. Alexander in the February 17, 1860 issue of The Dearborn County Register. While the “American Sporting Watch and Chain” is listed with a value of $250, the advertisement was a promotion for a raffle, presenting the Chronodromer as one of many prizes awarded to lucky winners.
A skeptical approach to this valuation is warranted since Mr. Alexander would benefit by inflating the perceived values of potential prizes.
So, if this is an unreliable source to obtain an unbiased retail price for the watch, how can we estimate the original retail price for the Chronodrometer?
Interestingly, the sporting watch was repeatedly utilized to entice buyers to purchase raffle tickets, with valuations ranging from $150 to $290. This wide variance further implies that the valuations published in these raffle advertisements are unreliable.
Fortunately, a booklet distributed by the American Watch Company around 1860 provides additional insight into pinning down a possible retail price for the Chronodromer. Among a lengthy collection of favorable testimonials, we find an intriguing review submitted by the N.Y. Spirit of the Times:
“The American Timing Watch. – As an ordinary time-keeper it is perfect. I have tried it the present week for timing races, with several imported watches costing from $150 to $350, and find it inferior to none, and superior to some of them. It has not once failed to start or stop instantly; and, in short, a more accurate time-piece, or a better timing watch, no many need want. When it is generally known that my watch cost but $50, and that similar work, put in an elegant gold double case can be purchased for $100, the demand for them will be very great.” N.Y. Spirit of the Times (c.1860 Promotional Booklet Distributed by the American Watch Company)
While not entirely unbiased, this testimonial provides a more reasonable retail price for the Chronodrometer – around $50.00 in a silver case and $100 in a solid gold case.
The testimonial also mentions imported horse timers as being available at $150-350, aligning with the valuations published in the raffle ticket advertisements. This supports the notion that timers were generally perceived as a premium watch in the market, and raffle organizers like Mr. Alexander likely exploited this perceived value to promote the Chronodromer prize with an inflated valuation.
Factory Sales Records
Sales records maintained by the American Watch Company in November-December 1858 show the Chronodrometer watches were generally sold from the factory at the following wholesale prices:
Chronodrometer, Silver Openface: $39.00
Chronodrometer, Silver Hunting: $43.50
Chronodrometer, 14K Gold Hunting: $91.87
Chronodrometer [uncased]: $30.00-$32.50
For comparison, these prices were roughly $5.00-$7.00 more than the Appleton, Tracy & Co. movements sold from the factory during the same timeframe.
The retail markup for Waltham watches during this era was approximately 30%. Using this figure as a guide, the $50.00 mentioned in the testimonial by the N.Y. Spirit of the Times would align with a reasonable markup from the $39.00 wholesale price.
Although some period promotions indicate that the Chronodrometer Horse Timer watch manufactured by the American Watch Company was valued at more than $250, company sources suggest the Chronodrometer fitted in an openface silver case could be purchased for around $50.00 – equivalent to approximately $1,800 in today’s economy. If a customer desired a gold case, the price would be roughly doubled to $100.00.
Read the original article: The Chronodrometer Horse Timer Watch by the American Watch Company