Burlington Pocket Watches

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2015-06-26 11:21:25

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Burlington pocket watches are railroad pocket watches produced by The Burlington Watch Company.

Background

The Burlington Watch Company, was a mail-order sales company. By selling directly to the consumer The Burlington Watch Company were able to eliminate the expensive sales and distribution channel.
Watches were sold on the "instalment plan," which allowed balances to be paid off at $2-$3 dollars per month, making high-quality watches available to those who otherwise might not be able to afford them.

The majority of watches sold by Burlington were "privately labelled" movements made under contract by the Illinois Watch Company i.e. they are Illinois watches.

Some contend that the Burlington Watch Company was a subsidiary of the Illinois Watch Company, but this claim has not been documented.

Burlington also sold a small number of movements made by Henry Moser & Co, in Switzerland. These movements may have been sold only in Canada and appear to have been cased in Canadian-made cases. Most American Burlington watches were sold in Burlington-signed gold-filled cases of good quality.

In the early years, most of the watches sold by Burlington were 16-size, 19-jewel movements, based on the Illinois Model 5 and Model 9. Many were designated "Burlington Special" and were so signed on the dial. It is curious to note that the "Burlington Special" designation only appeared on the dial, and not on the movement. The 19-jewel watches were discontinued in 1917 when the company began selling a complete line of 21-jewel watches, adjusted to temperature and positions. The most common of these was based on the Illinois Model 9.

Burlington claimed that the sales and distribution practices of the major watch manufacturers were unfair to consumers because they "fixed prices" and forced consumers to pay too much to the "middlemen." Whether this was just a marketing ploy is unknown, but Burlington often advertised their watches as "Anti-Trust" watches because they were sold directly to the consumer with "no middleman." Burlington's direct-sales, instalment payment model was intended to put "… the highest watch value within reach of all."

Burlington also contracted with Illinois to produce a small number of 16s, 21-jewel movements in Sangamo grade, which was widely accepted for use in railway service. It is unclear how many other Burlington models were actually accepted for railway service (some certainly were), though Burlington advertised heavily in Railroad Brotherhood Journals, and other publications which catered to railway employees.

In Canada, Burlington sold a Swiss made 16-size, 21-jewel watch which met Railroad Time Service requirements. The watch appears to have only been used for railway service in Canada, and was approved by the Canadian Railroad Time Service. Many American railroads required approved watches to be American-made, so these Swiss-made watches do not appear to have been used in America.

One of the more popular Burlington watches was the 16-size, 21-jewel Burlington Bull Dog. It was sold in a Burlington-signed heavy railroad case made by NAWCO, and was signed "Burlington Bull Dog" on the dial. Otherwise, it's identical to other 16-size, 21-jewel Burlington watches and has no additional markings on the movement.

In our opinion, Burlington watches still represent good value to the watch collector. You are essentially buying a higher-grade Illinois movement, but Burlington watches can sometimes be found at lower prices than an equivalent Illinois watch.

Collecting information

Anyone can walk into a dealer and purchase a new watch. Vintage watches are much more exclusive and elusive, not for their prices, but for the small number of collectors who wear and trade them. Finding a good vintage piece requires hunting, research, and sifting through dozens of examples until you find “the one”.

For highly collectible pieces the price does not reflect the essential value of the piece, it only reflects the rarity.

Being a vintage collector means having a different set of criteria for what you expect from watches. Where many people would gravitate towards a perfectly restored and polished examples, a true collector will scoff at those pristine rebuilds in favour of one that is entirely original (and probably well worn). This means the case was never re-polished, the dial and hands are original and nicely patina’d, and the bracelet is original to the watch.

The railroads provided a ready market for pocket watches made to exacting specifications, including the number of jewels and adjustments.

The term “Adjustments” implies the watch has been specially calibrated to keep constant time regardless of position, adjusted to work in the vertical position, the horizontal position, the left, right, upside down position.

Jewels are bearings on the various gears to reduce friction. A watch with no jewels is metal grinding on metal and soon will stop.

On a very high-grade watch, every single wheel or gear would have a jewel, one on the front and one on the back, plus cap jewels to prevent it from going up or down.

Lower-grade watches would only have them on the gears moving the fastest and a really poor quality watch would only have one or two jewels or maybe none. These are not gem-quality jewels, but industrial type jewels (rubies, sapphires, and diamonds are so hard they make very good bearings because they don’t wear). A watch must have at least seven jewels to be considered a jewelled watch, and standard high-jewelled watches have 23 (and sometimes even more – the McIntyre Watch Company had a watch with 25 jewels). High-jewelled watches are rare, and therefore sought-after by collectors.

Price guide

Burlington: 21 jewelled, serial #3124738 - MONTGOMERY DIAL - RAILROAD GRADE - GOLD PLATED CASE - GOOD CONDITION - $100 at Woody Auction LLC in October 2012.

Burlington: 19 jewelled, serial #2014870 - RAILROAD GRADE - GOLD PLATED CASE - GOOD CONDITION: $160 at Woody Auction LLC in October 2012.

Two pocket watches A.W.Co. Burlington Special: $250 at Clars Auction Gallery in September 2012.

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