SMART COLLECTOR

In the world of vintage watches, even ‘Swiss fakes’ are collected

Posted March 09, 2012, at 2:17 p.m.
The hard rubber Jordan’s advertising figure brought $1,200 in a recent Morphy Auction sale.
morphyauctions.com
The hard rubber Jordan’s advertising figure brought $1,200 in a recent Morphy Auction sale.

Q: Have you ever Googled something and got zero hits? I’ve been looking for info on my grandfather’s pocket watch made by Cook County Watch Co. for years, but when I Google or research, nothing comes up.

A: The reader sent photos of the case, face, works and all inside marks of his watch. He provided a serial number, a shot of an attached tag and requested help deciphering marks on the tag.

Florida watch specialist Richard Gilbert, co-author of a popular price guide to watches, viewed the photos and told us why the reader came up empty handed on facts.

According to Gilbert, the reader cannot find anything because the Cook County Watch Co. never existed.

“It is a Swiss watch made to look like an American timepiece,” he told us. In the lingo of American watchmakers, it’s a “Swiss fake.”

“These are low grade watches,” he added, “that were sold through jewelry stores across the U.S.A. Tens of thousands were made with various American names.”

In the late 1800s, American companies turned out the best pocket watches in the world. Products, especially railroad watches, were premium. It follows that when anything is that desirable, knock-offs and fakes follow.

Widely available, the Swiss fakes were a cheaper alternative. Some even have gold cases.

But all is not lost. “The watch is still a collector’s item,” says Gilbert, “since many collect Swiss fakes.” Serious horologists don’t look at the fakes favorably, but still, they are collected.

The National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors, has a message board at http://mb.nawcc.org/showwiki.php?title=Swiss_Fake that covers Swiss fakes, down to providing examples and tips on characteristics. Look on nawccc.org for a local member chapter of the organization.

FYI: Gilbert’s book, the “Complete Price Guide to Watches: 2012″ (Tinderbox Press, $29.95), written with Tom Engle and Cooksey Shugart, covers over 10,000 pocket and wrist watches. It is available at tinderboxpress.com and amazon.com.

Q: Any value on my No. 32 drum major made by Wolverine? It is wound, but does not play. Also a toy car by Line Mar that does not run well.

A: Up front, I can tell you that vintage toys are avidly collected. Most buyers are adults of an age to have disposable income. Reasons for buying are myriad, but many buy back the toys of their youth or toys they wanted as kids but never got.

Toy buyers demand as fine a condition as possible. Top dollar goes to never-played-with toys. Absolute perfection is suspect — so many have been reproduced — but excellent condition is the goal.

We found prices online, but smart collectors will note that amounts are all over the place. Sellers can ask for the moon, but getting it is another matter. Wolverine drum major tin wind-up toys from the 1940s ranged from $12.99 to $298. Three No. 27 drum majors for sale on eBay ran $175 to $345. Sold No. 27s were $9.95 to $150. Condition made the difference. Model No. 32 did not exist.

Line Mar, a 1950s division of Marx, imported mechanical and battery toys from Japan. We saw a police car sold on eBay for $143.77, and a friction fire truck at $12.99. A friction sanitation truck brought $22.49. Top dollar goes to working cars in top condition.

Auction action

A hard rubber advertising figure 36 inches high in the shape of a hot dog sold for $1,200 recently at Morphy’s Auction in Pennsylvania. Dating from the 1940s, the figure was made for the Jordan’s Meats Co. in Portland, Maine. The advertising statue, used along with a better-known advertising figure, the Jordan’s pig, is so rare that only three are known to exist.

Collector quiz

Q: The watch world uses terminology from both Europe and the U.S. Can you match these terms?

1. Shagreen a. Gold gilding

2. Pave b. Cover

3. Chased c. Shark or sting ray 2 skin

4. Atelier d. Small workshop

5. Ormolu e. Grooved

6. Fluted f. Embossing

A: Answers are 1-c, 2-b, 3-f, 4-d, 5-a, 6-e. Source: The Gilbert-Engle-Shugart book.

Danielle Arnet welcomes questions from readers. She cannot respond to each one individually, but will answer those of general interest in her column. Send email to smartcollector@comcast.net or write Danielle Arnet, c/o Tribune Media Services, 435 N. Michigan Ave., Suite 1400, Chicago, IL 60611. Please include an address in your query. Photos cannot be returned.

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