How to Buy Antique Railroad Pocket Watches

Antique Railroad Pocket Watches are another popular collectible item with both train and timepiece enthusiasts. If you’ve considered buying an antique pocket watch like this what are some things that you should be aware of? Who were some of the major players in the railroad watch market? What were some of the specifications for railroad watches? What should you take into consideration when you buy an Antique Railroad Pocket Watch. We’ll take a look at these questions in this article.

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Let’s first take a look at the specifications for an authentic railroad pocket watch. First, these watches were only manufactured in the United States, only unofficial replicas or knockoffs were made elsewhere in the world. Official railroad watches had to have a size 18 or size 16 movement. Another notable difference is that railway standards called for the watch to be open faced and not enclosed in a hinged case and the stem had to be at 12 o’clock. Specifications also called for railroad watches to use Arabic numerals, rather than Roman numerals, and to have precise markings.

The real test of these pocket watches was their accuracy. A railroad pocket watch had to use a minimum of 17 jewels in its movement. The watch had to be able to deal with temperature and positional variations and maintain accuracy with in 30 seconds a week. Setting the watch required using a lever so that the stem could not be inadvertently left out resulting in an inaccurate time. Pinpoint accuracy of these watches was required not only to insure that trains ran on time but to protect the lives and property traveling on them.

Some of the companies that met the strict railway specifications for pocket watches were the Waltham Watch Company, the Illinois Watch Company (famous for their Bunn Special railroad watch), Elgin and Hamilton. While there are other railroad watch companies, these are the major ones that most railroad watch collectors concentrate upon. Many watches by these companies exceeded the railway and government specifications and had special features that make them attractive to pocket watch collectors today.

What should you look for in an antique Railroad Pocket Watch? First, remember that antique means over 100 years old while vintage means more than 20 but less than 100. Railroad pocket watches fall into both categories but you’ll often see a considerable price jump between antique and vintage. Be careful about fakes and replicas. Many replicas are fine pocket watches but don’t have much collectible value. Fakes are sometimes made using old, inferior, watch parts that don’t meet railway specifications. Sometimes people will call an old pocket watch a railroad watch by mistake because they don’t know the specs for one. Before buying always investigate the reputation of the seller to insure a good buying experience.

I hope this overview of How to Buy Antique Railroad Pocket Watches has been helpful to you.


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Comment by Fergus Mayhew
2008-07-16 13:08:05

There’s a Hamilton railroad pocket watch that popped up as one of the eBay listings on this page that is just beautiful.

It’s a little spendy for me right now, but this may have to go on the birthday list for my dear wife. She always complains that it is hard to buy me presents — perhaps I can make it easier for her this year.

Comment by Cect 168 Phones
2008-07-16 14:19:08

What a coincidence — I recently bought an authentic railroad pocket watch for my husband, and he loved it.

But Fergus, the question is: What will you be buying for your wife’s birthday? If she comes through with that Hamilton railroad pocket watch, you’re going to have to choose something pretty special for her, huh? :-)

2008-07-16 13:10:47

Fergus I agree, the Hamilton railroad pocket watch is beautiful. But the one that caught my eye was the Elgin 23 jewel watch — that really is very, very elegant.

2008-08-03 01:29:19

What a funny coincidence… my husband just told me that what he’d really like for his upcoming birthday is a railroad pocket watch. There are some absolutely lovely ones coming up in the eBay listings on this posting, but they are a little more pricey than I imagined they would be.

However, since he really seems to have his heart set on an antique railroad pocket watch, I may just have to search a little harder between the sofa cushions and see if I can manage to buy one of these for him.

Comment by Restorer
2008-10-29 13:24:14

“First, these watches were only manufactured in the United States, only unofficial replicas or knockoffs were made elsewhere in the world.” - but I saw great Swiss railway chronometers. It’s fake?

Comment by jfc
2008-10-29 15:04:15

Hi Restorer,

As I understand it, officially sanctioned railroad watches had to be made in the US. That was, of course, back in the days before international free trade agreements like the Common Market and NAFTA. The US was protecting its internal markets as were European governments.

This doesn’t mean that Swiss railway chronometers of the same time period are fakes or not any good, just that they would not meet the requirements to be referred to a railroad watches in the US collectors market.

Comment by Restorer
2008-12-01 02:53:21

Now everything is clear, thank you for your reply!

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