Appleton Tracy Sporting Watch or Chronodrometer
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 One of the more curious, sexy, highly interesting, scarce and wonderful early American watches coveted by early American watch collectors and specifically Appleton Tracy & Company/early American Watch Company specialists is the unusual and odd (I'll get to that in a minute in the paragraph below) Improved Sporting watch, better known as the "Chronodrometer."

First finished at the factory in Oct of 1858 (although note that later runs have dials signed patented Feb 8, 1859 as they were finished in November of 1859 or later) these seemingly standard 1857 model watches are 18 size, full plate, gilt with 15 or 16 Jewels, key wind and set from the back, possess wonderful semi complicated hand painted dials in the classic form of the period in several styles, with three different signatures, require specific cases with differently placed winding holes in the cuvette when original and function separately as both a watch and a timer but not concurrently! The odd thing is that these watches (in which the timer functions with the click of a button on the side of the case) is that they completely stop when activating the timing function yielding the watch worthless as a time piece when using the timer function! Therefore, did one have to carry another watch to correct the time when timing something or did the watch serve mostly as a timer? Certainly curious and produced in just two basic serial number ranges beginning with 13,701 (the earliest known example, serial number 13,703 and the third one made, is plated here and published for the first time from my personal collection) and 14,501 just 400 of these watches were made with two different runs of 100 incorrectly totaled and reported by other researchers and collectors from incorrect data gleaned from the old 1954 Waltham serial number list were not made as shown in the original factory handwritten records which I have. With a production of only 400 movements, these watches obviously were not popular and sold poorly; according to (again) the original factory handwritten records, unfinished movements hung around and were finished up to and as late as 1866. This explains why two specific runs, 14,601-700 and 14,801-901 are listed as "Not Made" demand was simply not there! 

All examples (except for one known watch with a private label signed "J. A. Manning" and (Ex Wallace, Hanson Collections) are signed Appleton, Tracy & Co./Waltham, Mass" on the back plate and resemble nice early 1857 model watches except that the barrel bridge is smaller, the time winding hole lower than on a standard 1857 model movement and the time setting winding arbor which sticks through the balance cock, just left of the cock screw. Several cock designs of the period are recognizable while others are unusual or more scarce. All apparently are consistently signed as well as the stud, register, serial number all placed in the same position; however, the balance can be of several types, including steel, gold or compensated which must be considered very rare (I have owned three of these which were completely original and probably finished during production of these when the compensated balance was more in vogue/use. It is also possible that these were upgraded by the factory at a later date, a common practice at Waltham.

Originally cased Chronodrometers are legitimately rare, especially in fine or better condition. Most examples are recased, either cleverly or very poorly. Generally speaking first generation (and I'll explain this later) original cases are signed A.T.& Co. and a few of the later watch cases are marked "Am. Watch Co./eagle hallmark/Waltham./Mass" and possess low case serial numbers. Faked or misleading cased watches are a serious problem in today's collecting world as most collectors do not know how to tell an originally cased Chronodrometer. Many dealers routinely offer faked, baked and shaked up watches as original because they want to maximize profits but are as a rule very ignorant about what is original and what isn't; but worse, they don't care! It has become common place for recases to bring nearly the price of an original. Absolute original cases are a particular size, shape and design and most are lightweight silver of the period, although at least three are known in solid or low carat gold. Most were cased as hunting styles; however, Dr. Ron Schneider and I each own all original open face cased examples which are undoubtedly extremely rare in the style. Condition is also a tough factor collecting these for condition fanatics, as most of the truly original examples I own or have seen are well used. Only two examples approaching "new" or "crisp" are known to me--one well known and long admired ET silver hunting cased example from the famous Wesley Hauptman collection and a spectacularly engraved (with a hunting scene) watch from the great Dr. Robert Ravel collection (both examples scanned here for your inspection and enjoyment). I have observed several watches in later style cases that have not been altered, nor the old winding hole plugged or new ones drilled. These, unlike the faked ones with completely incorrect case hallmarks in addition to the tell tale proof of fakery, have early and unusual hallmarks consistent with factory recasing or these could possibly be unsold movements that laid around awaiting an order and cased at a later time frame. Clues for recased ones, include, hallmark of the case maker, case serial number, redrilled and plugged winding holes, case screw mark removal, movement locator pin alterations, style and fabric of case, movement fit, clarity of the timing numerals at the dial's edge, button addition or alterations, type of button, style of pendant, etc., etc. In my opinion one needs to study all examples offered or (better yet) seek the council of an expert when considering acquiring one of these truly unusual and sexy watches.

Lastly, dials: I consider these dials truly wonderful and one of the best aesthetic and appealing on any early American watch. Early ones are signed as follows: TYPE 1. "Improved Sporting Watch./JAs Appleton Jr. Waltham. Mass." (in black) below the center sweep; James Appleton Dialthese are, in my opinion, the most desirable and probably scarcer of the three major types of signatures. All examples examined by me have no company name at the top, above the time dial and are single sunk. Others are signed, TYPE 2. "Appleton Tracy & Co., Waltham. Mass" (in black or red) or TYPE 3. "American Watch Co." and/or "American Watch Co., Waltham. Mass." at the very top of the dial in black lettering--those signed at the top are all differently signed from the first type with "Chronodrometer (in red)/Patent Feb 8/1859 (in black)" below the center sweep seconds. I also have four examples in my personal collection which are double sunk and obviously extremely rare, typically others have either no sinking (characteristic of first type) or a sunk quarter seconds jump area (all others). The outside numerical lettering color alternates segments of 12 seconds (red, then three intervals in black, then red) covering each quarter of the dial equaling the 4 minutes in one rotation on the outside track. Of the nearly fifty watches or movements I have recorded or observed all are generally consistent and the time portion of the dials all have Roman numerals. Dials of TYPE 2 with the red lettering are most attractive and the rarest of the three types from my observations of over 40 years.

In summation I believe these are a very important part of the early Waltham story, being the first complication and another watch worthy of any early American collection, especially in original condition. Absence of that they certainly should command attention and study by serious early American specialists and collectors.

Jon Hanson, April 2005

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