Early 18 size Hampden and Hamilton Ball Observations
by Bill Kapp
The earliest Ball watches were manufactured by Hampden. The first known example was actualy a Ball Whitcomb serial number 9192 discussed in Bulletin 199, pp 179-181 by T. William Schroeder. The watch is presently in the NAWCC museum collection. Two Hampden movements (346262 and 372594) have been reported with Webb C Ball marked dials.
The first Ball Standard came a bit later. As seen in figure 1, the earliest known ad for Ball watches, the Ball's Standard was advertised as being of Hampden manufacture. These ads ran from July 1890 and into 1891. Note that the ad depicts a watch with a Hampden dial! All known survivors actualy have a Webb C Ball marked dial! From the 33 survivors known to me, I guestimate that between 300-600 were produced. This unscientific estimate is calculated by comparing reported sightings to actual production numbers. It would seem that approximately 5 to 10 percent of these early watches have surfaced.
fig 1, Ad from July 1890 BLE Journal Figure 2 plain Webb C Ball dial
Dials on these watches ran from the plain (fig 2) to very fancy. Many were similar to the Moorehouse dials seen on Howard watch's but were unsigned, leading me to believe that they were in the style of Moorehouse but probably not done by Moorehouse. (fig 3)
Movements were signed Ball's Standard, Adjusted and Hampden Watch Co. (fig4) There were 3 styles, High grade (3known) ,Cleveland O (5known), (one of which is the only known hunter! ) and Superior Grade (25 known).
fig 3 Moorehouse style dial fig 4 High Grade style movement
No other Hampden private label watch that I have seen has both the contractors name and the Hampden name on the movement! I would expect to see only the contactor's name on a private label movement. Another unusual aspect is that the Barrel bridge seems to be a replacement and added later to the movement! This can be seen from noting that the underside of the barrel bridge of the five that I have been able to examine have no serial number and that the damasceening is slightly misaligned. (fig 5) The usual practice on Hampden movements is to have each serial numeral individualy stamped unevenly on the lower left of the brige(underside). (fig 5A) As the watches are advertised as being of Hampden manufacture, it is reasonable to assume that Hampden took existing stock and replaced the barrel bridge to fill Ball's order. As the watches seem to appear from earlier random runs, I would further speculate that the movements were selected from older unsold inventory.
Fig 5 (Courtesy of Eric Engh) Fig 5A (Courtesy of David Abbe)
Over the years, many of the earlier Ball Hamiltons have undergone repairs for hands and dials. While it is impossible to declare that the foregoing is absolutely true, it is my opinion from observations, readings, ads and factory brochures that correct and/or original watches would have the following.
936 Ball Hamilton watches of which 87 were produced would have dials and hands as seen in figure 6. The hands are a variation of Webb C Ball patent designed hands that are seen on Howard watches, in that the ball is further up the hand shaft (fig 7). This patent was applied for in April and granted in August 1893. The pierced hand patent was applied for in March and granted in July 1895. (fig 8) Both designs are still shown in the 1902 Ball company catalog. Original pierced hands would be plum coloured. New Old Stock has been circulated with a different colour. I am not sure when the pierced hands gave way to other designs but I have observed very few after the 42k run.
Fig 6 (courtesy Joel W Sarich)
936 Hamilton Ball # 608
Fig 7 Courtesy of US Patent office Fig 8 Courtesy of US patent office
The 938 Ball Hamilton's would be expected to have the pierced hands as shown above in fig 8, examples of private label and Brotherhood dials in this early run have been seen in many bulletins. I am not aware of any surviving original ORRS Dial.
937 and 939 Ball hunter movements are extremely rare and I only have one report of each in my data base. Don Dahlberg at our fabulous NAWCC library research found records of 18 (937's) and 6 (939's) shipped to Ball. Rhett Lucke has records of a 7th 939. There is speculation that not all are signed Ball's. I have not seen hands or dials for these but would expect that they would conform to their respective open face counterparts.
I would expect the first 999 run from 13,001 -13400 to also have the pierced hands. The patd dial with the wavy 3 as seen in fig 9 and the fancy "A" in Cleveland as seen in figure 10, an ORRS dial, are not found in subsequent runs! It is possible that this dial was used on the 938's also.
Fig 9, Dial from a 13k first run 999 Ball Hamilton fig 10 Enlargement of logo to show the fancy A in Cleveland
Dials with the wavy top 3 would not be expected to be seen past the 28k run. (fig 11) Two Brotherhood watches with that design have been reported early in the 42k run. It is possible to say these were original "left over" dials. The flat top 3 dial is the style to be expected in the 42k and 118k runs. (fig 12) It and a double sunk version is also seen in the 170K run. Ball and Co dials are not found after the 170K run. I would not expect to find any Private Labels after the 42k run. One has been reported in the 170k run.
While one would like to deal in absolutes, variations that do not meet expectations are always possible. Most of these variations (in my opinion) can be explained by understanding that a great many repairs and replacements have occurred over the last 115 years. Movements can be checked for matching serial numbers under the plates but dials do not have serial numbers.
fig 11, dial found on 14 and 28K ORRS watches fig 12 flat top 3 design
Railroad Watch Co
There was a small run of 200 of these 999F Hamilton made for Ball watches (20801-21000). This was a 16 jewel watch with no Ball signature on the dial or movement. (figs 13 & 14). Kent Singer and Ed Euberall in Bullerin whole number 338 have picutres of a Ball's Standard Railroad Watch Co (999E) from the preceding run. (28501-28800). According to Dr. Laser's list a few hundred more railroad watch co movements were produced in the mixed 90k run but those examples were marked Ball and Co on the movement and had 17 jewels. The 90 K run was comprised of Brotherhood's, 999E's, 999F's, commercial standards, ORRS marked single roller watches and ORRS movements marked "A" and both single and double sunk dials. I haven't seen enough watches in this assorted run to competently discuss them.
Fig 13 999F dial fig 14 999F Mvmt
Two final observations
Hamilton factory and finishing room records have often given Ball's 999 production designations such as A,B,C,D,E,F etc.
I see an extremely high correlation after reading Dr Laser's list that compiled these production numbers in a meaningful way.
999B would appear to be ORRS, either Ball and Co or Private Label. This appears to be true thru the 28k run.
999C would appear to be brotherhoods, most likely BRT at least thru the 13 and 14K runs.
999D would appear also to be brotherhoods, most likely BLF at least thru the 13 and 14k runs.
The 28 k run is less clear. All the B's are still ORRS, PL's and Ball and Co, but C's and D's seem to be randomly Brotherhoods in this run.
By the 42K run, they all seem to be designated only as 999's.
With over a century of repairs and alterations it is difficult to say anything with absolute certainty, but I have enough confidence in the mathematical probability of this correlation to state that:
I would definitely want to inspect the bottom of the plates for serial number matches before purchasing a watch that did not conform to my expectations.
The A designation has two BLF's reported but I can offer no conclusion on what signifies it being an A.
999E's and 999F's have long been understood to be Ball's Standard Railroad watch and Railroad watch Company grades.
Early Ball Hamiltons of the 938 and 999 designations are divided into 3 groups. Ball and Co ORRS, Private labels and Brotherhoods. Thru the 42K run (excluding the 500 999E's and F's found from 20501-21000) , judging from my data base, they seem to be almost equaly divided! The run of 100 938's has no Brotherhoods reported and the 42k run has only two private labels reported but the proportion of these 3500 watches seems to be about 1/3 of each! My data base has only a few hundred observations of approximately 4100 Hamilton Ball watches produced thru the 42 k run, but just as polls rely on a small percentage to predict mass behavior, so have I.
My thanks to the many posters on the NAWCC message board who have contributed to my data base and understanding of the earlier Ball watches. These include but are not limited to Rhett Lucke, Kent Singer, Ed Euberall, Jeff Hess, Greg Frauenhoff and Fred Hansen. My apologies to those whose names I may have forgotten to list. My thanks also to Tom Brown and Gerald Zimmerman for showing me the way to the US patent office and locating those design patents for me and to Eric Engh and Joel Sarich for permission to use their photo's. All photo's without attribution are from the Bill Kapp collection. Don Dahlberg has been amazingly generous in his efforts to make old Hamilton records available.
Additional data has been culled from numerous bulletins, price guides, and misc publications. Observations at marts and internet auction sites has also contributed to the data base.
Where possible I have given attribution in the text. For the most part this article correlates mine and other's observations in a statistical analysis and is not heavily reliant on citing facts already in print.
All knowledge by necessity has to be derived from others, but the interpretations in this article are the authors and any errors or omissions are my sole responsibility. Corrections or comments can be addressed to firstname.lastname@example.org. or discussed on the NAWCC message board that I monitor almost daily.
About the Author
Bill Kapp is a 19 year NAWCC member who has contributed two previous articles to the Bulletin. He is a graduate of UCSB in Economics and has been employed in both finance and law enforcement. Besides watches and clocks he and his bride of 40 years enjoy travel and Tennis.