Who Made These Pocket Watches?

James Russell & Co, Hartford Conn

(updated February 2, 2017)

Have you seen a James Russell pocket watch that appears to be an early custom/private label American Watch Co Model 57, and wondered what it was? So do I. Although each movement has something inconsistent with a M57, everything else looks correct. Indeed, the James Russell looks like some watchmaker made it from M57 parts, including in particular critical top and bottom plates. Even James Russell dials are surfacing separate from James Russell movements.

Many years ago I entered three James Russell watches in my monograph Origins of the Waltham Model 57 under the custom category. This was a mistake as I have since learned. Early on in my research fellow researcher Michael Edidin sent me his James Russell #20145 for hands on examination (shown above, click for larger view). In my hand I would have sworn it was a Waltham M57 until I measured some parts. Although close, they were not the same size as Waltham parts. A great copy! Or was the movement remanufactured?

Many collectors say these James Russells are just Swiss fakes. In fact this statement was made in a NAWCC Bulletin as far back as 1960 (#87, page 275). Amazingly these old timers were good observers without the treasure of documentation we have today. However, the James Russell watch is not like any Swiss (or English) fake I've seen. At least I've never seen a fake with plates essentially interchangeable with Waltham M57 factory plates.

As explained below, the production of James Russells watches was very well planned out with two specific grades and special Waltham-factory styled Arabic dials compatible with AWCo movements (see dial above). These movements also do not have characteristics typical of fakes (other than poor gilding) like scribe marks locating arbor holes. Moreover, there is evidence that the production of James Russell began around 1860 which is a little early for most fakes. Hundreds of movements were made. Clearly this was not an extemporaneous activity. Indeed, contributor Jeff Marcus advocates recognizing James Russell & Co much like Tremont Watch Company and Philadelphia Watch Company. Adding my perspective, any enterprise, foreign or American, that had the technological ability in 1860 to replicate two M57 grades in large numbers with equivalent tight tolerances and interchangeable parts had to be quite unique; I want to know who they were and why they wanted to replicate Waltham watches. I'm still looking.

Nearly half of the James Russells listed here look very much like an early AT&Co grade Model 57 and they all, except for a couple, have a Moorhouse-style dial with Arabic numerals (the pictures above are for James Russell #20145). The dials on #20716 and #20788 have Roman numerals, but note the signatures on all of the dials are in a straight line. All of the other James Russell movements listed here have a hidden stud for the hairspring under the balance bridge. That is, they look like an early 1860s P.S. Bartlett M57 grade, and their dials have Roman numerals with the signature in a curve (e.g., see #21147). The JR signature on the movements like #20145 is in block letters facing the center (i.e., like AT&Co grade) whereas the signature on the movements like #21147 is in script facing the edge (i.e., like PSB grade). The James Russell watchmaker clearly produced two distinctive grades of watches with characteristic dials. Where jewel count is known, all higher grade movements listed here are 15J whereas all lower grade movements are either 7J or 11J.

I originally thought perhaps James Russell movements were made in England in the 1860s and maybe finished here from different ebauches and parts. However, the train speed is the Model 57 speed of 16,200 beats per hour, not the earlier English speed of 14,400. Our English friends (e.g., Philip Priestley and David Penney ) think they are American built or with American machinery.

Interestingly each movement has a subassembly serial number stamped on the parts like Walthams, but the sub-number is not from the visible movement number on the barrel bridge, although a different sub-number is also stamped on the parts which does match the movement number; all of which makes one think "remanufactured Walthams" (#20146 shows such subassembly numbers). There are no scribe marks on the plates for locating holes; this indicates they were not handmade. Even if the James Russells were made to look like Walthams, there would be no need to make internal parts that are not visible to look exactly like Waltham parts. The potance (holds bottom balance arbor) and click ratchet bridge are such examples (pictured on the James Russell #22899 page). Additional comparisons of parts, including screws, can be found on the James Russell #20146 page. These examples give evidence that whoever made James Russell movements started with Waltham factory parts with matching sub-numbers.

There is a lot of circumstantial evidence indicating that James Russell was an 1860s watch, maybe even beginning in 1858 or 1859. In particular, Mike Warren's James Russell #20242 was carried through out the civil war by a soldier who mustered in on August 28, 1862 (actually the watch box is so marked, not the watch itself). The case on Dave Wallace's James Russell #331 is engraved '62 (1862 ?). The dial on James Russell #733 looks like an 1860s dial. As documented in Origins of the Waltham Model 57 the arm on the higher grade James Russell expansion balances with hole near the rim (see opening picture above) was characteristic of 1860s Waltham balances. Also the sprung under balances seen here were converted to sprung over around June1860. Similarly the hidden hairspring stud on the lower grade movements seen here was discontinued at the factory around June-July 1860 (see example James Russell #20242). Lastly the oblong ratchet bridge and comma click parts seen on the pillar plates here were replaced with a combined circular click and spring on Waltham factory movements around 1859-1860 (e.g., James Russell #22899 page).

There is more evidence of a Waltham connection. The dials on most of the higher grade James Russell movements listed here (about half of the above listing) have the same Arabic style numerals as dials on early Waltham AT&Co grade M57s possibly painted by Josiah Moorhouse; e.g., #6375 (Nov 1858), #6429 (Dec 1858), #6716 (Dec 1858), #15590 (Jan 1859), #16594 (Apr 1859), #17939 (Jul 1859) and #22070 ('59&'60). Also AT&Co M57 19194 (Sept 1859) has a James Russell dial, although it could be a replacement. Contributor Vahram Erdekian believes these dials were not made by Moorhouse. They do have Arabic numerals in a serpentine script style, but they do not have most of the other characteristics of a Moorhouse dial. For example, the proportions of the Arabic numerals are very poor, and the numerals do not have the Moorhouse "tails". Perhaps they were painted by an apprentice, but I am not aware of Moorhouse examples in this time frame; and also note this time frame was early in Moorhouse's career perhaps before he perfected his style (starting at Waltham in 1858, going to Nashua in 1859/60, and returning in 1862). Contributor Ken Habeeb noted a same styled E. Howard Series II dial of 1860-1862 vintage in Clint Geller's article on E. Howard dials (NAWCC Bulletin #285, Aug. 1993, Fig. 59, page 417). This painter sure got around. Ken also noted that the numerals on the later AT&Co dials (1859/60) and on the James Russell dials (1862+) are elongated more than on the 1858 AT&Co dials. This could be the result of a progression of style from a freelance artist or the result of more than one artist copying the style.

The abbreviation for Company on the dials of movements #19841, #19970, #20093 and 20146 is French, Cie (very strange). Both movement and dial are signed James Russell et Cie on #19841. These are the earlier production watches listed here, which sort of kills the idea of being English made, and the dials painted by Moorhouse who was English.

Mary Jane Dapkus, Secretary of NAWCC CT Chapter 148, researched documents looking for a James Russell watchmaker, jeweler, watch importer, company in Hartford CT in the 1860s/70s. She found none (and Mary Jane is an expert at genealogy). Ditto Michael Edidin's investigations. Therefore the signature on the James Russell watches was very likely a made-up, good-sounding name, although it could be for a real person. As Mary Jane found, there were two prominent James Russells in the Hartford area in the 1860s (James L., a soldier 8th CT Regiment, and James N., a boat captain that ran between Hartford and NYC). James L of Norwalk, CT, mustered in 9/23/1861, promoted to captain 2/22/1862, wounded 9/17/1862 at Antietam and resigned January 5,1863.

There actually was a connection between Hartford and the A.W.Company. Royal Robbins, owner of the AWCo, was born and raised in Kensington, CT, a suburb of Hartford; so Royal was familiar with the Hartford area. Mary Jane also discovered that a George W. Ford was an agent for the AWCo in Hartford in the 1870s, and moreover, two of Royal's brothers lived at Ford's residence. And even more interesting, Mr. Ford married Royal's sister, Martha Elizabeth, on October 20, 1864.

Unfortunately we still haven't yet been able to connect dots between a James Russel, George Ford, Royal Robbins and a watchmaker. By the way, a couple of James Russell jewelry items have recently been posted on eBay from CT locations, but they are from a modern store in Rockport, MA. See scan of business card.

Gerrit Nijssen describes two Model 57 look-a-likes (Hiram W. Smith and Nathaniel G. Wood) in his February, 2005, NAWCC Bulletin article "George P. Reed & Hiram W. Smith", pp: 3-24 (the Smith & Wood descriptions start on page 23). Dennis Murphy sent me pictures of his Hiram W. Smith, another look-a-like. Although not quite as similar to the Russells, one has to wonder if these Smiths and Woods came from the same maker; or maybe all English full plate movements of the 1850/60s era look like Model 57s.

My current theory (perhaps harebrained) is that the Waltham factory was selling "seconds" (i.e., rejected parts that didn't meet their specifications) and someone was re-fitting them to make James Russells as a business. The factory was adamant about interchangeability and they likely had many rejects in the 1860 period before advanced automatic machinery came into play. Moreover, the factory had a lot of parts in inventory when it went bankrupt in spring of 1857 (called insolvency then). Included were "100 movements 1/2 to 7/8 done, 1170 frames (pairs of plates), long list of parts in various stages of completion" [see my monograph Origins of the Waltham Model 57, Ref 106]. Note in particular the large number of top & bottom plates because the Russell plates measure exactly the same. Surely most, if not all, of these plates were consumed by the new company and by Howard & Rice, but it begs the question if someone didn't get some of them to remanufacture Walltham movements a couple years later. See use of these plates in web page description of AT&Co #5026.

Contributor Jon Weber points out the parts might not be so-called "seconds", but rather test runs or obsolete parts. He also points out that the plates, particularly the pillar plate, are the foundation of the movement. To be exactly the same, they would have had to come from the factory or replicated with similar massive equipment.

Fellow researcher Chris Carey provided a good lead sometime ago. He noted Chamberlain's book "It's About Time" states that Lyman Thompson, 1825-1910, bought hole jewels, train wheels, dials and springs from the Waltham Watch Factory sometime in the 1850's (pages 438-440). Lyman survived the Civil War and perhaps continued his watchmaking business after the Civil War, setting up a business for his son Avery Jay. That would correspond with the Russells which look like Circa 1860s. According to a federal census, Lyman W. Thompson, a jeweler, resided in Cherry Valley, NY, in August 1860 at age 34, along with wife Sarah (28 yrs.) and son Avery Jay (9 yrs.). [If you are wondering, Cherry Valley is close to Albany, long ways from Hartford, CT.] We traveled to the Cherry Valley museum in June 2013 where they have an exhibit on Lyman Thompson and family. Lyman's Chronometer is on display, but it is not like the James Russell.

Another good candidate for the James Russell maker is Jonas G. Hall, inventor of the staking tool and sometime Waltham employee. This was brought to my attention by Michael Edidin. See article in NAWCC Bulletin #184 (1976) which starts on page 436. On p 438, Fig. 4 shows Hall #23, which is very similar to the Russell (i.e., M57) except its balance is sprung over. It is signed Montpelier VT where Hall worked until 1858. Hall #45 Montpelier VT, another M57 look-a-like, was offered for sale at Bonhams auction in June 2014, but didn't sell (Bonhams photo). Hall is said to have designed the first ladies watch at Waltham, the 10 size Appleton Tracy and P.S. Bartlett models. The article says Hall made 65 watches from 1848 through 1858, which might have included Hall #23 and #45. He joined the AWCo in 1859 where he worked to 1862. Then he was self employed back in Montpelier during 1862-1863. Since Hall #23 and #45 are sprung over movements, I wonder if they were made in this period because AWCo introduced the sprung over balance around 1860.

I purchased Hall #42904 Montpelier VT with sprung under balance at Bonhams auction June 2014. I am convinced it was made with at least some factory Model 57 parts. See description page. The case is dated 1861 when Hall was still employed at the AWCo. Maybe Hall made the James Russells with factory parts after 1862 as a side business. The above NAWCC article says from 1864 to 1871 Hall spent time with E. Howard & Co., Tremont Watch Co., and again with E. Howard.

Revisiting the idea that the James Russell was imported from England, at least the ebauche, Charles Crossman in "A Complete History Of Watch And Clock Making In America" claims Dennison modeled his watch after the English Robert Perry watch. (Personally, I think Crossman made up the reference because the Perry watch was probably popular at that time in America.) In any case, following the dots, Michael Edidin has an 1852 Bigelow & Kennard jewelry ad in a Boston paper advertising the sale of Perry watches. Low and behold, the Harvard Baker Library Historical Collections has a ton of documents for the jeweler. Chris Carey and I spent a day at the Library to look for who was shipping the Perry watches. Chris believes it was Ellis Samuel Yates according to the documents he saw. Yates and another supplier said in letters that they could supply other names, styles and grades of watches. Although we were focusing on the 1850 time frame, seeing these letters beg the question could they have been the supplier of James Russell watches in the 1860s. We didn't find any such references, but a lot of documents are in the collection and maybe we should go back for another review.

Contributor Jeff Marcus reports his firm purchased two James Russell watches from southern estates. He suggests the James Russell instigator could have been a Confederate sympathizer (as were some French and Swiss at the time of the Civil War). This furthers his contention that James Russell movements contained " back door" Waltham plates and bridges finished in Switzerland or France. An interesting idea, although I list examples from all around the country and also Canada. Chris Carey has another "back door" theory involving Dennison, Kennard and Tremont for making James Russell watches. The thing about these foreign-built James Russell theories, though, is that we need a distributor (agent) in the States. Here's an action plan. I suggest looking for a watch agent in newspaper ads (etc.) who has an AWCo connection and who imports watches from a Swiss distributor much like the Bigelow and Yates situation for the English Perry watch. Three possible examples are George W. Ford in Hartford; Tracey Baker & Co in Philadelphia (original partners with Robbins); and Jonas G. Hall in Boston and Montpelier areas. And further study should be done with Dennison with this idea in mind.

With an approximate 10% survival rate as seen with Boston Watch Company watches, the James Russell watches listed here represent a sizable production of watches. This was a big business for a watchmaker in the 1860s!

Below are links for more information and pictures on each James Russell watch (HL for High and Low grade respectively); also the Hiram W. Smith watches. Please respond to I'd appreciate your comments.

Thanks for your help
~ Ron

L #19841 October 2006 information provided by Robert Niemeyer

L #19970 May 2007 eBay ad

H #20076 January 2017 pictures and information from Jeff Marcus

L #20093 February 2011 eBay ad

H #20145 October 2006 information provided by Michael Edidin

H #20146 October 2012 information provided by Ron Price

H #20191 June 2014 Bonhams auction

L #20242 February 2008 information provided by Mike Warren

L #20493 October 2008 information provided by William Meggers (no pictures)

H #20501 April 2013 information provided by Ron Price

L #20590 from Derek Foster (September 2011 observations by Ron Price)

H #20677 February 2014 eBay ad; follow up by Jeff Marcus

H #20687 January 2001 eBay ad#20687 January 2001 eBay ad

H #20716 November 2015 eBay ad; follow up by Jeff Marcus

H #20788 December 2014 eBay ad; follow up by Jeff Marcus

L #21010 March 2013 information provided by Paulette Katz

L #21147 February 2010 provided by Ron Price

H #21283 February 2007 information provided by Alan House

L #22177 February 2007 information provided by Alan House

H #22899 January 2011 provided by Ron Price

H #23283 July 2007 eBay ad

L #24301 August 2012 eBay ad

H #24353 December 2015 eBay ad; follow up by Jeff Marcus

L #24608 April 2010 eBay ad

L #24862 December 2013 eBay ad; follow up by Jeff Marcus

H #297 April 2011 by Richard Newman

H #331 November 20016 by Dave Wallace

H #448 October 2012 eBay ad

H #733 November 2013 eBay ad

 Hiram W. Smith watches