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I have been collecting wrist watches for a number of years. I am very interested in collecting american railroad pocket watches but I don't know where to start. I rarely see any for sale except on Ebay and I am wary of buying there as it doesn't seem like a good place for a beginner. Are there reputable sellers/dealers that you can recommend?
Is there a website where these watches are traded and sold? How hard is it to maintain these watches? Sorry for all the newbie questions but pocket watch collecting seems to be in a separate universe from wrist watches.

Thanks
 

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First thing you should do is go to the NAWCC forums, and read all you can. Search for "railroad".

Before you start spending money, choose a brand that speaks to you and research it. Forums will help, but there's often other information to be found. Choose a model to start with, and search Ebay for it, especially sold listings. Take note of the prices paid. This will allow you to establish what a good example goes for.

Service is the hidden cost of collecting. A professional service on a time-only watch costs $100-200. And generally, you should assume any watch you buy will need it. DO NOT buy a non-running watch!!! The discount will never cover the cost to repair it.
 

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It's very important with vintage pocket watches (any vintage or antique watches for that matter) to have a good watchmaker/repairer who is conversant with the watches and has the interest and resources to properly repair and service them. Even watches acquired running will require servicing and there's just no end to the variety of things that have been done to them over the decades that need fixing, and that's apart from normal wear and tear. They may be running, but often not running well. A repairer's capacity to analyse the problems and them fix them is vitally important to getting the watches running as they should. Buying non-running watches is often not such a problem as it may seem. A watch with a broken balance staff won't run, but perhaps will have less issues to get it running again than a running watch with a myriad of problems. However, initially, it's best to go for running watches in the hope that this will minimise the potential issues, (maybe :) )

I have a liking for American watches and would recommend them. There's a vast range in styles, grades, and sizes, and prices are still generally very decent. Very good quality is available even in the mid-grades, and the higher grades offer marvelous watches/movements. Always factor in the expense of servicing.

I believe eBay IS the best source for the watches, but it does require having a decent knowledge of what you are after and what to avoid. That will really only come with time and experience, looking at many, many watches and reading what you can about your area of interest.

Watch Pocket watch Fashion accessory Metal Jewellery
 

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Also try the search function and read previous threads. I remember a number of previous threads on this topic, but I don't have time to search at the moment.
 

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Buy this book first. Mines 2014 and old but buy current version. Great price guide and tons of great info. My experience is most picket watches can be bought around the ABP - average buying price( this is dealer buying price supposedly) or if its an abundant movement less. I agree Ebay is a good source. I started my amateur watchmaking hobby by buying pocket watches to learn on and ended up loving them and became fascinated with their history especially the Railroad watches. Just amazing they could build these watches most during a time when electricity was nonexistent!

Be careful its a very addictive hobby! You can watch your local Craigslist and pawn shops but most that I fund are grossly overpriced. Estate sales are hit and miss but I have found great deals there. The only problem with estate sales with watches is you have to be one if the first in line to get the deals. Lots of books and articles on pocket watch collecting. I recommend only buying 16s and 18s watches. 12s are actually great watches but not nearly as collectible and wont generally appreciate in value. Bargains can be found in this size though and if you want to learn how to clean and repair them this is the size I recommend. You can find plenty in the $40-50 range running with a decent case.

I wouldn't recommend collecting anything under 17 jewels. I only collect American PW simply because there is more history information available and parts are MUCH easier to find.

My favorite RR grade Pocket Watches are first the Illinois Bunn Specials and second Hamilton 992 and 950 models. Elgin Veritas are beautiful damasking. Waltham maximas are cool too. The Bunn Specials are IMO the easiest to find on ebay simply because they made so many And tons of different models within the Bunn Special series. They made them for years!

Lastly- I disagree with most who say get everything cleaned at a watchmaker. If you are going to wear it and use it then yes by all means do it but most of us rarely wind one up more than twice a year! Then we put it back in its storage place for a year never to be wound again! Why spend $150-250 just to wind it and watch it run for 5 minutes twice a year? Doesn't make sense to me. Unless the movement is visibly dirty and doesn't present nicely then whats the point? I want it to run of course but if it has a nice swing to the balance wheel and keeps reasonable time why spend all that money ( most times more than the watch is worth) to clean it? We look at our PW we normally don't wear them daily. Save that cleaning money and buy more watches! The average cost of my small collection of RR watches is probably $300. If I paid to have them cleaned it would cost $200 each watch and it won't increase the watch value more than $50. Now if your rich and collecting $3000 rare bird watches with 14k solid gold cases that's different. Go for it you can afford it. Lol
I recommend just wind the watch enough to get it ticking nice. If you wind it all the way it'll run 35-60 hours and if its dirty that does create wear so just let it run for a couple. Remember you're just going to sit it down and walk away anyway after admiring it.
I have since taught myself how to clean my own watches so I do try and clean them all as time permits.

Rant over lol enjoy it I love the hobby!

Glenn

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Different collectors have different priorities. For me, I won't buy a watch I won't wear, and I keep the watches in my collection ready to wear/carry, because wearing/carrying them is an important part of collecting them. If you want to use them, they need to be serviced. That's why I learned how to service them, because a lot of the watches I'm interested in have a market value considerably below the cost of professional service. The other thing is, being able to take them apart, clean them, and get them running well is a joy in itself, for me.

I have a small collection of later Elgin railroad watches, which I wind daily, because their accuracy is a big part of their appeal. In fact I posted about that just last week. They've all been serviced, all but one by me (it had a jewel issue that's beyond my current technical capability).

OTOH, I also have a Hamilton Model 23 Chronograph that was last serviced more than 20 years ago. No way I can service it myself, and no way I can justify the expense of servicing it. So, I only wind and carry it a couple days a year.
 
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