What are Waltham pocket watches?

Antique Waltham Model 1857 Civil War Era 18s key wind pocket watch
Antique Waltham Model 1857 Civil War Era

Antique Waltham Model 1857 Civil War Era 18s key wind pocket watch
Antique Waltham Model 1857 Civil War Era

Learn about the foundation of the American Waltham Watch Company; plus a listing of the company’s most famous pocket watches.

A brief history of The Waltham Watch Company

Waltham pocket watches have been in existence for more than 150 years, having been made between 1851 and 1957.

The company was founded as the American Watch Company through a partnership of David Davis, Aaron Lufkin Dennison and Edward Howard, in 1850 Roxbury Massachusetts.

This fledgling company became the first watchmaker to manufacture watch movements on an assembly line.
The company’s earliest watch movements came with a label “Howard, Davis, and Dennison -Boston”, although the firm was in fact located in Roxbury.

The three watchmakers perfected their manufacturing processes by 1851, and renamed the company American Horologe Company.

In 1853, the firm was renamed to Boston Watch Company and changed its base from Roxbury to Waltham, Massachusetts. After the relocation, the partners faced financial problems in the next few years and the company was purchased by Appleton Tracy & Co., at an auction in 1857.

The Waltham Model 1857

Bearing the new company’s name, the next movements produced was the Waltham Model 1857, which is generally considered to be the first watch production with fully standardized parts.

Most of these antique watches were decorated with either bold Arabic or roman digits on the porcelain face. Appleton Tracy & Co. merged with the Waltham Improvement Company in 1859, and the firm was renamed the American Watch Company.

American Civil War

The firm and its products were gaining popularity as the company continued to grow. In fact, during the Civil War, President Lincoln owned a Waltham watch: Model 1857, upon his Gettysburg Address.

By late 1860s, the firm employed hundreds of employees, which was previously unheard of in the watch industry. However, just like any other company, the Civil War affected the production and business dropped almost to zero. Fortunately, the army needed watches during the war, so Waltham survived by meeting this demand.

20th Century Waltham pocket watches

In 1885, the firm changed its name this time to: American Waltham Watch Co., and remained like that until 1907 when the firm changed its name to Waltham Watch Co. and finally to Waltham Watch Company in 1925.
In addition to making consumer watches, Waltham also manufactured railroad pocket watches.

At the start of the twentieth century, Canadian Pacific Railway, following the continued reliability of Waltham movements, commissioned special railroad-grade movements.

Throughout 1920s and 1930s, Waltham did not embrace Art Deco as far as other watchmakers. Instead, the company focused on railroad-grade chronometers.

However, they did not neglect the respectable Vanguard brand, which was selling consistently all through the 1930s; even with the drop in pocket watch sales resulting from the popularity of the wristwatch.

World War 2 and bankruptcy

In the second World War, the U.S. Army contracted Waltham to make tachometers, chronographs, speedometers and other military equipment.

The firm therefore focused on the production of these equipment, and after the war, the production of pocket watches came virtually to a standstill in favor of wristwatches.

The Waltham Watch Company could no longer compete with cheaper imported movements, and was declared bankrupt in 1949. The company closed its doors, but several attempts to reopen failed for various reasons.

In 1957, all remaining watch inventory were sold to Hallmark Watch Company, and the rights to the Waltham trademark were sold to a new firm called Waltham Watch Company incorporated, Delaware. 1958, the company got out of consumer watch business fully, reorganizing into the Waltham Precision Instruments Company.

Popular Waltham pocket watches

All in all, some of the most famous Waltham pocket watches of the 19th century include:

  • 1857 Model
  • Crescent Street
  • Vanguard which had 23 jewels in its movement
  • Wm. Ellery

Other Waltham models include the Santa Fe, and the Lady Waltham which was a smaller watch specifically built for women. The Lady Waltham was, in fact, the first of its kind, prompting other companies such as Elgin to jump on the ladies’ pocket-watch production.

Identifying genuine Waltham movements

Most Waltham movements are difficult to find today and the collecting market is filled with people trying to sell fake Waltham pocket watches.

A genuine Waltham pocket watch has a the words “Waltham, Mass” on the movement. Look for this marking along with the movement’s serial number, which was engraved on every movement.

You can use the serial number to verify the identity of the watch using NAWCC Information Storage. It can also be used to estimate the production date of the watch.

Has a passion for and specializes in collecting antique clocks. An enthusiast who values and seeks out timepieces from the past, which range from centuries-old tallcase clocks to more recent mid-20th-century mechanical clocks. I help ensure that these valuable artifacts continue to be appreciated and passed down through generations.