The 2002 NAWCC National Seminar, “Boston: Cradle of Industrial Watchmaking”

I had the honor of chairing and organizing the 2002 NAWCC National Seminar in Boxborough, Massachusetts, which was the first of two National Seminars I chaired. The Boxborough event assembled a list of leading scholars in the field to discuss the whys and wherefores of the origins of industrial watchmaking in the Greater Boston area beginning in the 1850’s. Beginning at that time, American watchmaking continued to define the state of the art in mass manufacturing technology for the better part of a century, on account of the large number of fine parts in a watch and the high precision required in their production.

This important national historic legacy transformed watchmaking worldwide from a craft serving the privileged few to a modern mass production industry based on interchangeable parts and automated machinery and serving the needs of ordinary citizens.  The 2002 Seminar produced a three-volume set of scholarly articles and monographs that was published by the NAWCC, together with an on-line record of one of the finest public exhibits of American watches ever assembled. The on-line catalog of the exhibit has since been further enlarged and enhanced.

Two of the presentations given at the 2002 seminar were expanded into full-length monographs, which were subsequently published as NAWCC BULLETIN Special Order Supplements.  Both works are available to NAWCC members from the NAWCC lending library.  They turn up on Ebay from time to time as well.

The first work, by my esteemed collecting colleague Ron Price, details the history and evolution of the Waltham Model 1857 watch movement, which was the basis of the first ever commercially successful “mass produced” watch. Waltham’s subsequent meteoric commercial rise would have been impossible but for the success of the Model 1857 movement design.

The second monograph, written by myself, is entitled A Study of E. Howard & Company Watchmaking Innovations: 1858 – 1875.  E. Howard & Co. watches are beloved of American watch collectors as unique amalgams of traditional craft and modern mass manufacturing elements.  Their allure is magnified by their individual, even idiosyncratic, and mystique-laden nature, their scarcity, and their association with the luxury market.

My monograph was published shortly after the surviving Howard factory production records became available for public study in 2001.  It remains today the most comprehensive and accurate discussion of early E. Howard & Company watch products in print, covering that company’s most historically important period up to the mid-1870’s. Some new significant data have come to light since that work was published in 2005, but they are consistent with, and quite gratifyingly, they generally tend to confirm my 2005 conclusions.

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