The Hampden Pocket Watch Company

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The Hampden Watch Company was known for its high quality watches while it was in business. Today, many of the watches made by this company are collector items. If you collect Hampden watches, you'll appreciate knowing more about the company history. Read on...

Company Origins

The Hampden Pocket Watch Company began its existence as the Mozart Watch Company in 1864. Established by Donald J. Mozart, the company was originally located in Providence, Rhode Island. After several failures, Samuel Rice joined Mozart and the name was changed to the New York Watch Company. It moved to Springfield, Massachusetts in October, 1867, where they produced two grades of watches; the 18 size, ¾ plate Springfield and the 16 size, ¾ plate State Street. In 1877, the company changed its name to the Hampden Watch Company.

Meanwhile, in Newport, Kentucky, John C. Dueber had established a company that made watch cases called the Dueber Watch Case Manufacturing Company. In 1886, he bought controlling interest in the Hampden Watch Company in order to protect his business from the Watch Case Trust. In 1888, Dueber moved the company from Massachusetts to Canton, Ohio. The watch company and the case company were housed in separate factories located right next door to each other. Advertisements for the company listed it as the Dueber-Hampden Watch Works, although the two companies were not formally merged together until around 1925.

Hampden Watch Company Factory

The Watch Trust

The Watch Trust included many different watch making companies. They formed the trust to restrict trade so that watch movements could not be sold without cases. It was common practise at the time for the watch case to be made by a different company than the movements, as was the case with Dueber's watch case company and Hampden Watch Company. They also made it difficult for jewelers to purchase movements and cases from any company that was not part of the trust. Dueber suffered from this practice and sued the companies involved, claiming that they wanted to form a monopoly and keep his company from competing in the market. Dueber won the case after several months' deliberation, but in 1896, the Trust was close to forming again. The Sherman Anti-Trust Act played an important role in bringing down the Watch Trust and the government filed suit against many of the companies that were in violation of the anti-trust legislation.

Railway Watches

Railroad pocket watches were an important staple for most watch companies. Standards had to be met in order for a watch to be used by railroad personnel. It had to be open faced, keep accurate time and have clear Arabic numerals in black on a white face. In its previous incarnation as the New York Watch Company, Hampden had an 18 size, 15-jewel Railway pocket watch that was one its highest grades. It remained at the top of the Hampden line after the reorganization. Soon a new model was introduced that used the stem to wind the watch. It was first made only in a hunting case. A hunting case is one that opens to show the watch and closes to protect it. The same watch was offered open face, but instead of being listed as a Railway grade, it was listed as grade 60. After the factory was moved to Ohio, the company began making an open faced Railway grade Hampden pocket watch. Years later, this grade was discontinued when Dueber introduced his new line of 17-jewel watches. Railway watches in the new lines were known as Special Railway and New Railway grades.

Some facts about Jeweled Watches

Watch JewelYou may hear of a 17 jewel or a 23 jewel watch, but what does it mean? The jewels are not for decoration; they are put into the mechanism to act as bearings on the gears. The jewels don't get worn away as do metal grinding on metal bearings, hence improving accuracy and enhancing the life of the movement. A watch with no jewels won't work for long. The jewels most often used in watch-making are rubies, diamonds and sapphires. Each wheel in the watch mechanism has a shaft that is threaded through a donut shaped jewel that reduces the friction. These industrial grade gemstones help define the quality of a watch. A lesser quality watch would only be made with a few jewels. The Hampden pocket watch started with 15 jeweled models in their early railroad watches, (15 jewels being the minimum standard for a railroad grade). Eventually they introduced 17 jewel watches, then 21 jewel and finally 23 jewel for their top of the line. It is also worth mentioning that some Hampden pocket watch makers added false jewels to give an otherwise fairly ordinary watch an undeserved "high quality" tag.

Hampden Pocket Watch Special Models

The Hampden Pocket Watch Company made some special models, or grades. The William McKinley grade was a thin, 16 size watch introduced in 1902 or 1903. It came in either 17 or 21 jeweled versions. The watch was named after President William McKinley, who had been assassinated a few years earlier. He was laid to rest in Canton, Ohio, where the watch factory was located.

The Dueber Watch Company grade was made in both 16 and 18 size, in 15 jewel, 17 jewel and 21 jewel models. The company placed ads listing them as passing inspection on all roads, which leads one to think that perhaps the watch in question wasn't acceptable to some of the railroads.

The Molly Stark was a 3 size, 7 jewel gilded ladies' watch. It was introduced in 1896. Another grade named after her husband, General Stark, was a 16 size, 17 jewel nickel watch that came in both open face and hunting case versions. General John Stark was a hero at Bunker Hill during the Revolutionary War. Since the watch factory was located in Stark County, Ohio, the company decided to honor the General and his wife by associating watch grades with their names.

Hampden Pocket Watch Sizes

Watch Size Inches mm
11/0 .833 21.17
8/0 .933 23.71
5/0 1.033 26.11
3/0 1.10 27.91
6 1.367 34.71
12 1.567 39.79
16 1.70 43.18
17 1.733 44.03
18 1.767 44.87

The End of the Hampden Pocket Watch Company

In 1925, the company was sold to Walter Vrettman. He went bankrupt in 1927 and sold all of the watch making equipment to Amtorg, a Russian company. It took almost 30 boxcars to remove all the equipment when it left Canton in 1931 along with 21 former employees of Dueber Hampden. They were contracted for a year to teach the craft of watch making to the Amtorg employees.

While little is known about what happened after the equipment left the factory due to the closed borders of the former Soviet Union, there is a note that horology professor Henry Fried of New York University reported seeing Dueber-Hampden machinery used in 1986 in China.

The Hampden name did not get sold along with its equipment. The brand name was purchased by the Clinton Watch Company, which was owned by the Wien family of Chicago. Apparently they still own the name as they have a facility in the Virgin Islands known as the Hampden Watch Company.

Collecting Hampden Watches

Hampden pocket watches are highly collectible, but you may not find them worth as much as the bigger, more well known companies like Elgin and Waltham. Hampden was known for making a good quality watch, however. Because they were made by a smaller company, new collectors may find Hampdens to be a good place to start. The material used for the case may affect value (whether it was gold, gold-filled or base metal), but the movement itself is the most important. Many excellent Railroad movements were put into less expensive cases. New collectors should read and research to learn as much as possible about the Hampden company and the watches they made. Knowing the little stories and histories of each model can make a watch more valuable. If you can find out personal history of the particular watch you want to collect, that adds value, too. This personal history is known as the provenance. Having a written record of the watch's provenance helps a lot when you get it appraised and can add to its value.

Happy Collecting!

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