The Elgin pocket watch story is fascinating. If you are searching for an antique vintage pocket watch built with incredible precision, accurate time, offering amazing value, and representing one of the most iconic American watch brands of all time.
The Elgin pocket watch is where to begin.
The Beginning of the Elgin Pocket Watch
In 1864, the National Watch Company was incorporated in Chicago, Illinois, by a group of men with various interests but one common goal. To build the best pocket watch company in the United States.
An article in Harper’s magazine was quoted at the time, “It was the genuine, audacious, self-reliant Western spirit.” A few months later, the new company name would change to the Elgin National Watch Company.
This eclectic mix of founders were from many different walks of life, but they all were proven successes in their fields.
Philo Carpenter was regarded as the first pharmacist in the state of Illinois. Another Elgin founder, George Montague Wheeler, was a famous mapmaker and explorer.
Having star power and name recognition within the original group of co-founders was a great tactic, but now, they needed watch-making expertise.
The Chicago founders visited the American Waltham Watch Co. in Massachusetts for an all-out recruiting blitz. During the trip, the pitch was made to seven watchmakers from Waltham to join the newly formed Elgin group.
Elgin Pocket Watch Expertise
These seven expert watchmakers were known as the “Seven Stars,” who would bring their knowledge to the Illinois start-up.
With the newly acquired watchmaking talent from an established east-coast competitor, Elgin was ready to grow into one of the great American watch companies.
One of the Elgin Watch Company founders was B.W. Raymond, the former Mayor of Chicago. After his time in politics, Benjamin W. Raymond has a successful business career. He started the first woolen factory in Elgin, Illinois.
Next, Raymond was president of the Fox River Railroad. Shortly after that, he was convinced by J.C. Adams, who was working at the Waltham Watch Company at the time, to invest in a new watch company.
Since the city of Elgin donated 35 acres to the group of watch entrepreneurs for their new headquarters, they decided to name the company after the city. The very first Elgin movements the company produced were labeled the Elgin B.W. Raymond.
The Elgin Dominance
The company began selling pocket watches as the American Civil War was coming to an end around 1867.
New Elgin watches sold for around $120 brand new. The company would produce over 60 million high-grade Elgin watches over the next 100 years.
These high volume production numbers make the company the largest American watch manufacturer by volume.
The Elgin Factory
Just a few short years after its formation, Elgin employed over 2,000 workers and turned out more than 7,000 watches per week. To become the largest American watch manufacturer, Elgin would need to mass-produce watch parts on-site.
The factory covering 170,000 square feet would allow the company to focus on machined, interchangeable parts.
Not only was mass-production important for new watches, but also critical for servicing existing watches with replacement pieces and spare parts.
If the company were to grow, it needed to service watch owners with replacement parts quickly, efficiently, and at a lower cost.
Elgin Expansion and Innovation
By 1910, huge sales of the Elgin pocketwatch enabled the company to construct its own Observatory to keep precise times for all Elgin watches.
The Elgin pocket watch was known for keeping “Railroad Accuracy” and was one of the most well-known railroad pocket watches.
In those days, keeping time to railroad industry standards was a serious issue. If the time was off, the train was off schedule. This could have grave consequences if trains were on the wrong tracks at the wrong times.
Elgin took railroad accuracy to heart and was rewarded with brand loyalty and watches that were in high demand by railroad workers from coast to coast.
The First American Wristwatches
Not long after that, the first wristwatches were released. The Lord Elgin and the Lady Elgin would become a few of the first American-made wristwatches.
World War I erupted, and Elgin was granted a government contract with the U.S. Army to train 350 employees to make watch repairs on the battlefield.
Later, when the second World War broke out, Elgin produced military watches, fuses for artillery shells, chronometers, and other defense industry components.
By its 100th year of production in the watchmaking business, Elgin would produce as many watches as all other American watchmakers combined.
The Iconic Elgin Brand Name
Very few people know that a Hall of Fame basketball player and an entire town were named after a brand of pocket watches. That’s right, Elgin Baylor, who played 14 seasons in the National Basketball Association, was named after the Elgin pocket watch.
The pocket watch brand also inspired a group of settlers to name their city, Elgin, North Dakota, after the company.
One of the citizens of the small town possessed their very own Elgin, possibly the only pocket watch of its kind for hundreds of miles.
The watch was so popular they decided to name the town after the watch. In 1910, the city of Elgin, ND, was established.
Elgin Watch Value
Vintage Elgin pocket watch values have continued to rise over recent years. Watch collectors snap up Elgin vintage pocket watches sold at auctions from a few hundred dollars to several thousand dollars.
Depending on the year and material used for production, the vintage Elgin pocket watch can be an extremely nice addition to anyone’s watch collection.
Purchasing vintage watches can be an expensive endeavor, but many high-grade Elgin antique pocket watches can still be found in excellent condition for relatively reasonable prices.
The Vintage Elgin Watch Market
The vintage watch market features every brand name in existence, but any sharp watch enthusiast knows for an epic and historic American watch, the Elgin is where to start.
There are many great resources for looking up the serial number of Elgin pocket watches. If you’re hunting for a great Elgin pocket watch or a historical antique pocket watch, I would highly recommend checking out ElginNumbers.
The website includes a complete database of every Elgin watch ever produced, searchable by serial number. Here you can track down any beautiful antique Elgin pocket watch on the market.
From the first Elgin watch to the most obscure wristwatch the company produced.
Vintage and Antique Elgin Pocket Watches
Re-sale values for one-hundred-year-old Elgin watches vary greatly, depending on the condition.
But there’s no denying the incredible value found with the Elgin Watch Co. Compare prices to other high-quality pocket watches and vintage, antique Swiss luxury brands.
For just a few thousand dollars, you can find vintage Elgin watches in excellent condition and still ticking perfectly.
The antique Elgin pocket watch above was recently sold on eBay for $6,400. It’s from 1897 with a boxed hinged multicolor, 14 karat solid gold case.
The antique watch features a grade number 169 with a rose dial and open-face gold accents. The previous owner describes the watch as “running strong and keeping excellent time.”
Pretty astounding considering the watch is over 120 years old. Vintage and antique watch collectors can’t ignore the value presented in Elgin pieces such as these.
The rare vintage Elgin watch shown above just sold for $2,995. The grade number 348, model 18S watch, was one of just 3,698 produced over one hundred years ago.
The gold Elgin pocket watch was considered a Railroad Grade and included 12-hour Arabic numbers fancy enameled white dial. It also has a 14-karat gold box-hinged double hunter case.
If you’re looking for a bargain vintage Elgin pocket watch, here’s the one for you. Currently selling on Esty for $560 is a 1948 Elgin 546 open-face pocket watch. Featuring a 10k gold-filled case and a mechanical movement.
Here’s another great bargain, a 1928 railroad Elgin pocket watch in good condition. This watch is currently selling for $150, although the Elgin pocket watch’s worth is found in the timeless craftsmanship that keeps it ticking for nearly one hundred years.
The quality behind the name keeps Elgin watches valuable after all these years.
Elgin made many luxurious pieces. The men’s 14k yellow gold case from 1880 in excellent condition is a stunning watch currently selling for $4,700.
The End of an Era
The final watches from the Elgin National Watch Co. were assembled with leftover parts lying around the factory.
Closing Down Elgin
By the late 1960s, equipment and the remaining material were sold, and all sales partnerships were terminated.
The one-hundred-year run as the top producer of American-made watches was officially over.
Elgin will go down in history as a great American watch company. An American watch brand dedicated to producing good quality watches, providing accurate and dependable timekeeping for people across the United States and around the world.
How Do I Tell What Year My Elgin Watch Is?
- Open the inside of the back cover and check the serial number on the inside of the movement
- Visit the Pocket Watch Database and search ‘Elgin’
- Enter the serial number from your pocket watch
- The Pocket Watch Database will identify the year of your watch according to the serial lookup chart
What is a Hunter Pocket Watch?
The “Full Hunter” pocket watch includes a spring-hinged metal cover to protect the watch dial. A hunting case sometimes featured intricate engraving and designs, while other hunter case pocket watches were clean and plain metal.
Some Elgin pocket watches were produced without full hunter, like the 1916 Model 3 7J you see below.
What is a Key Wind Watch?
The key wind pocket watch featured a small key, which winded the watch from the backside through a tiny hole in the watch case.
Since the invention of clocks and, eventually, pocket watches, the key winding was necessary to keep timepieces ticking.
On the first pocket watches prior to 1842, the dial at the top set the time, and you wound the watch with the key through the back of the watch case.
In 1842, Jean Adrien Philippe invented a solution to the inconvenient key wind pocket watch. A keyless wind system. A single mechanism operates two separate wheels for setting the time and winding the watch. The key wind was no longer needed.
What is a Railroad Grade Pocket Watch?
The railroad-grade pocket watch became a very important piece of travel equipment as railroads proliferated through the United States in the mid-1800s.
It suddenly became important for everyone to be operating at the exact same time, so railroad organizations began certifying watches for their accuracy.
Prior to 1900, each railroad had its own standards and qualifiers for “Railroad Grade Watches.” After 1900, railroads began organizing official timekeeping methods and developing standards across the entire industry.
One of the earliest standards was a required mechanism on the watch called a “lever-set.”
Rather than pulling the crown up, and setting the time, a lever-set pocket watch required the user to remove the entire bezel to access the watch movement and flip a lever to set the time.
The small but important step ensured the time on a watch was not changed unintentionally.
Little Known Facts About Elgin Pocket Watches
- Mass production using machine-made parts not only kept Elgin pocket watches affordable for buyers but also saved the company money when customers needed their watches repaired.
- A vintage Elgin pocket watch can be valued up to $5,000, depending on the condition. Most vintage Elgin watches are worth $200 to $500.
- To compete with American watchmakers in the 1950s and 60s, Elgin expanded their product offerings to include transistor radios, decorative clocks, and wedding rings.
- The first Elgin watch was made in 1867 and purchased for $15,000 by the city of Elgin.
- Elgin built their very own observatory in 1910 and was accurate to the tenth of a second.
- Elgin National Watch Company produced 60 million watches over its 100-year history. Now that the company no longer exists, a working vintage Elgin watch in fine condition is a valuable collector’s item.
Tell Us What You Think –
What are your favorite Elgin pocket watches?
Attic Capital – Writer, Editor, and Lifelong Collector
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