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Illustrated Guide to Seth Thomas Trading Watches

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(A guest post by Jonathan Luysterborghs). At around the turn of the 20th Century, the Seth Thomas Watch Company was contracted by Sears, Roebuck and Company to produce several “models” of Private Label “Trading Watches,” which were 7-jewel, non-adjusted movements fitted with pivot covers resembling raised jewel settings; but holding only a ruby-colored translucent bead, and with false movement markings indicating that the movement had 17 or 23 jewels and that it was adjusted. The 18-size movements that Sears ordered were gilt damaskeened with an engraved locomotive and a micro-regulator. The 6-size movements were two-tone with simple regulators. These watches were sold in merchandise catalogs by Sears, Roebuck & Company to “middleman” peddlers who then re-sold or traded them as Railroad Watch look-alikes.  The Trading Watches that Seth Thomas produced for Sears, Roebuck & Co. included an 18-size “Century U.S.A.” Locomotive Fake variant sporting a gilt damaskeened top plate with a locomotive engraving and a locomotive on the dial; a 6-size “Countess Janet”; an 18-size “Engine Special”; and an 18-size “Trainmens Special”

Sears, Roebuck & Co. also contracted with other American pocket watch manufacturers and with Swiss pocket watch manufacturers to produce Trading Watches for sale in the Sears Catalog.  The same private-label “Trading Watches” manufactured by Seth Thomas for Sears & Roebuck were also produced by other domestic and foreign manufacturers with the movement configurations of their own product lines. The process of telling the individual manufacturers apart will be discussed later in this article.

Seth Thomas manufactured an 18-size “Tribune U.S.A.” trading watch for a jeweler, Sproehnle & Co., in Chicago.

Seth Thomas also manufactured an 18-size and a 6-size “Sentinel U.S.A.” trading watch; but it is not publicly known who had entered into contract with Seth Thomas to have it produced.


Known Trading Watches Manufactured by Seth Thomas

18-size – Century U.S.A. Locomotive/Fake Variant- Seth Thomas – Model 12 – Gilt Damaskeened

6-size – Countess Janet – Seth Thomas – Model 18 – Two-Tone

18-size – Engine Special – Seth Thomas – Model 12, Model 13 – Gilt Damaskeened

18-size & 6-size – Sentinel U.S.A. – Seth Thomas – Model 12, Model 13, Model 18 – Two-Tone

18-size – Trainmens Special – Seth Thomas – Model 12, Model 13 – Gilt Damaskeened

18-size – Tribune U.S.A. – Seth Thomas – Model 12, Model 13 – Nickel



How to Identify Seth Thomas Trading Watches

There is frequently confusion and consternation among pocket watch enthusiasts, collectors, historians, and watchmakers around the murky identity of “Trading Watches.” They were manufactured in a different social era that is difficult to relate to in modern times.  Because the specific Trading Watches manufactured by the Seth Thomas Watch Company are all Private Label watches, none of them are signed with the Seth Thomas name.  As with other Seth Thomas Private Label pocket watches, identifying the manufacturer requires knowledge of the shapes and configurations of the top plates of the many models of Seth Thomas pocket watches.  Use of the Ehrhardt American (EA) Numbered Drawings permits identification of any pocket watch manufactured in America between 1830 and 1990.  The shapes of a watch’s top plates and bridges, as well as the locations of plate screws, casing screws, pivots, balance wheel, regulator, and the mainspring, all contribute to accurately identifying a pocket watch movement by means of the Ehrhardt American (EA) Numbered Drawings. The EA Drawings for Seth Thomas pocket watches are numbered from EA 805 to EA 823.  Since Seth Thomas only produced Trading Watches in its Model 12, Model 13, and Model 18 it is simple to identify all of them quite quickly. 


The Seth Thomas Model 12 pocket watch configuration is identified as EA  813C. 


The Seth Thomas Model 13 pocket watch configuration is identified as EA  814A. 


The Seth Thomas Model 18 pocket watch configuration is identified as EA  821.


Documentation Over Time

The 18-size Private Label Trading Watches manufactured by Seth Thomas are described in the Seth Thomas Clock Company Catalog of Watch Models and Grades compiled by Daniel J. Gaenger. They are described as being Model 12, Century grade, with 7 jewels, non-adjusted, with a micro-regulator, flat hairspring, lever set, open face orientation, with two-tone finish, and having fake markings of “23 Jewels, Adjusted”. As with records of this era, there is frequently some variation from what we have observed since the time production ceased.


The six Private Label Trading Watches manufactured by the Seth Thomas Watch Company have been identified and cataloged in American Pocket Watches: Identification and Price Guide (Revised 1999) by Roy Ehrhardt & William “Bill” Meggers.  The following descriptive listings are included.

The Century U.S.A. Locomotive Trading Watch is listed on page 135, seen highlighted in red.  The listing shows four models but only two EA numbers.  The Ehrhardt American Numbers listed here are EA 813 (Model 12) and EA 814 (Model 13).  The Model 12 Century U.S.A. Locomotive Trading Watch is described as an 18-size, 7-jewel, open face, gilt, lever set, non-adjusted, Century grade movement.  This variant group represents the only ‘Century U.S.A.” signed movements manufactured by Seth Thomas that are not nickel-finished. It is unknown how many of these movements were produced. The description of the Model 13 version is the same as Model 12 except for its orientation being hunting.  There are descriptions of Model 10 and Model 11 versions, but those have not been observed.


The Countess Janet Private Label Trading Watch is listed on page 139, seen highlighted in yellow.  It is identified as a 6-size, hunting cased, lever set, nickel movement.  The Ehrhardt American Number listed here is EA 820.  Countess Janet is also shown in the Seth Thomas section of the Complete Price Guide to Watches by Gilbert, Engle, and Shugart – 2012 on page 393.

The Engine Special Trading Watch is listed on page 146, seen highlighted in yellow.  The Ehrhardt American Number listed here is EA 813C.  The description is not detailed.



The Sentinel Trading Watch is listed on page 197, seen highlighted in yellow.  The Ehrhardt American Numbers listed here are EA 813 (Model 12) and EA 814 (Model 13). The Model 12 version is described as an 18-size, 7-jewel, open face, lever set, non-adjusted, Century grade movement.  The Model 13 version is described as being the same except for the movement’s hunting orientation. The 6-size Model 18 version is not listed, but we know that it does exist because I own one.  Sentinel is also shown in the Encyclopedia and Price Guide of  American Pocket Watches Volume 1 (June 1982) by Roy Ehrhardt on page 206.


The Trainmens Special Trading Watch is listed on page 203, seen highlighted in yellow.  The Ehrhardt American Number listed here is EA 813. The Trainmens Special is described as being an 18-size, open face, lever set, non-adjusted, Century grade movement.  Trainmens Special is also shown in the Encyclopedia and Price Guide of  American Pocket Watches by Roy Ehrhardt on page 206.  The Trainmens Special is also included in the Complete Price Guide to Watches – 2012 by Gilbert, Engle, and Shugart on page 391.


The Tribune U.S.A. Trading Watch is listed on page 204, seen highlighted in yellow.  The Ehrhardt American Numbers listed here are EA 813 (Model 12) and EA 814 (Model 13). The Model 12 version of the Tribune is described as an 18-size, 7-jewel, open face, nickel, lever set, non-adjusted, Century grade movement.  The Model 13 version is described as being the same except for the movement’s hunting orientation.  Tribune is also shown in the Encyclopedia and Price Guide of  American Pocket Watches by Roy Ehrhardt on page 206.


Ehrhardt American (EA) Numbered Drawings

With a little bit of practice using the EA Numbered Drawings it becomes less difficult to recognize any Private Label pocket watch in the Seth Thomas product line.  The entire collection of EA Drawings can be found in American Pocket Watches: Identification and Price Guide by Roy Ehrhardt & William “Bill” Meggers.  The book is an invaluable tool for anyone who is trying to gain their footing in exploring the wide world of the pocket watches.


Below we will be presented with an example of each Private Label Trading Watch that Seth Thomas manufactured.  Unfortunately, photographic examples of each model of these Seth Thomas Private Labels are not publicly available for us to examine.

The importance of making historical background information freely available to all who have interest in the roots of the American clock and watch industry cannot be overstated. Information that is not freely shared not only confounds the research of present day horologists; but will likely become information forever lost to the future generations of horologists.

The Pocket Watch Database, serving as a collective repository for the studies and research of many, is playing the greatest role in collecting, organizing, consolidating, and freely disseminating invaluable information to the horological community and the public at large. 


Practice Using the EA Numbered Drawings

An example of the 18-size – Century U.S.A. Locomotive Trading Watch Variant – Seth Thomas – Model 12 – Gilt Damaskeened Trading Watch is pictured on the Pocket Watch Database.  The following link will bring you to the Collection Page for that pocket watch:

Pocket Watch Database Photo of Seth Thomas Serial # 1066094

The Seth Thomas Model 12 pocket watch configuration is identified as EA  813C.  By carefully comparing the diagram below to the top plate of  #1066094 it can be confirmed as Seth Thomas Model 12. It is then a simple matter to view the  Database Lookup to verify all of the information about this movement.  I have an example of the Century U.S.A. Locomotive dial in my collection.


The 6-size – Countess Janet – Seth Thomas – Model 18 – Two-Tone pocket watch configuration is identified as EA  821.  By carefully comparing the diagram below to the top plate of  #962426 it can be confirmed as Seth Thomas Model 18.  It is then a simple matter to view the Database Lookup to verify all of the information about this movement.  Collection Page


The 18-size – Engine Special – Seth Thomas – Model 12 – Gilt Damaskeened pocket watch configuration is identified as EA  813C.  By carefully comparing the diagram below to the top plate of  #1091017 it can be confirmed as Seth Thomas Model 12.  It is then a simple matter to view the Database Lookup to verify all of the information about this movement.  Collection Page


The 6-size – Sentinel U.S.A. – Seth Thomas – Model 18 – Two-Tone pocket watch configuration is identified as EA  821.  By carefully comparing the diagram below to the top plate of  #3256317 it can be confirmed as Seth Thomas Model 18.  It is then a simple matter to view the Database Lookup to verify all of the information about this movement.   Collection Page  There are no photographic examples of the 18-size Sentinel U.S.A. Trading Watch publicly available for viewing.


The 18-size – Trainmens Special – Seth Thomas – Model 12 – Gilt Damaskeened pocket watch configuration is identified as EA  813C.  By carefully comparing the diagram below to the top plate of  #1010272 it can be confirmed as Seth Thomas Model 12.  It is then a simple matter to view the Database Lookup to verify all of the information about this movement.   Collection Page


The 18-size – Trainmens Special – Seth Thomas – Model 13 – Gilt Damaskeened pocket watch configuration is identified as EA  814A.  By carefully comparing the diagram below to the top plate of this movement that has no serial number; but was entered into the Pocket Watch Database as #TRAINMENS13A it can be confirmed as Seth Thomas Model 13.  Because this pocket watch has no serial number, complete information cannot be found through the Database Lookup, but the Collection Page can be viewed.


CONCLUSIONS

Trading Watches represent a stage in the history of American Pocket Watch production when manufacturers felt vulnerable to foreign incursion and exploitation, from products that we now refer to as “Swiss Fakes”, and rose to supply the products in demand for this niche Private Label market domestically.  From a historical perspective, Seth Thomas Private Label Trading Watches are valuable and collectible artifacts to be preserved, shared publicly with the horological community, and enjoyed.

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