Vintage Hamilton Spot Archive
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  1. #1
    WTF Veteran Rusty's Avatar


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    Default Vintage Hamilton Spot Archive

    To start, foghorn and I want to thank member and Hamilton vintage collector Will Roseman for his work in presenting this wonderful information and pictures from his fabulous collection.

    This thread will serve as the home of the Vintage Hamilton Spot initial posts after they have been presented to the members for review and commentary.

    Such wonderful information deserves to be available as reference for existing forum members and education for new members that will join us in the future.

    Thanks to Hamilton forum member and OIF moderator two21b for suggesting the creation of this archive.
    Last edited by Rusty; 07-22-2008 at 04:36 PM.

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    Vintage Hamilton Spot #1



    Hamilton's First Men's Wristwatch . . .

    When collectors think of Hamilton’s “first wristwatch,” the 6/0- size grade 986 “Cushion” of 1922 typically comes to mind. Though not particularly common, it is considered “plentiful” compared to its predecessor, the Hamilton “0-size” wristwatch, Hamilton's first wristwatch for men.

    0-sized wristwatches themselves are not rare, but of the many 0-size wristwatches offered by the various manufacturers (Waltham, Elgin and Gruen) between 1914 and 1923, the Hamilton 0-size men’s wristwatches are thought to be the rarest. This is in good part because so few were made, but it is also because of the few that were made, a good portion were likely melted down for their heavy silver and gold cases during the Great Depression. Occasionally, silver examples surface but the 14K solid gold round and cushion-shaped 0-size wristwatches, of which only 450 were manufactured in all grades (983, 985, and 981), are practically nonexistent today.

    The 0-sized wristwatch was introduced in 1917 and available with either the 983 17-jewel movement or the 985 19-Jewel movement. Both movements where originally manufactured as “ladies pendent” movements and in fact, all men’s 0-sized wristwatches which contained the 983 movement were labeled “Lady Hamilton” on the bridge of the movement itself.

    Naturally, Hamilton had to make a movement specifically for “men” as male customers who purchased a Hamilton “wristwatch for men” were not particularly happy to find “Lady Hamilton” written across the bridge of their new $46.00 “men’s wristwatch.” Enter the new 17-jewel grade 981 movement which was specifically manufactured for use only in a factory-cased men’s wristwatch model. This new Hamilton “Wrist Watch for Men,” grade 981, was a 0-size, nickel, 3/4-plate adjusted movement with 17 jewels in gold settings, and featured a Breguet hairspring, dou¬ble roller escapement, sapphire pallets, and compensation balance.

    The 981 was first manufactured in 1919 and continued until 1921, the year before Hamilton’s significantly smaller 986 6/0-sized Cushion was introduced. In fact, both watches appeared in the 1922 Hamilton Catalog at the same time (see above). But by 1922, “smaller” was “better” and popularity of the “large” 0-sized wristwatch was becoming a thing of the past. Men wanted the sleek and streamline 6/0-sized Cushion instead and by May of 1921, the grade 981 wristwatch was no longer available. Inventoried round cases continued to be sold into 1923 but they were no longer offered as an option to wholesalers.

    Though difficult to find, these 0-sized wristwatches containing grade 983 (17-jewel), grade 985 (19-jewel), and grade 981 (17-jewel) 0-size wristwatches, were unquestionably Hamilton’s “first wristwatch for men.” But just as importantly, they are also rare and historically significant timepieces and the beginning of what was to become, “America’s finest wristwatch.”
    Last edited by Rusty; 07-22-2008 at 04:19 PM.

  3. #3
    WTF Veteran Rusty's Avatar


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    Default Vintage Hamilton Spot #2



    When a Hamilton is a Howard . . .

    We all know that Hamilton purchased the Illinois Watch Company, but what is less known was Hamilton's purchase of another prominent watch company - the E. Howard Watch Company, the makers of the famous E. Howard and Howard pocket watches.

    E. Howard was known to make some of the finest American pocket watches of their era. In fact Howard pocket watches were very much respected by the Swiss as the "finest in mechanical timepieces." Hamilton recognized this as well and in 1931, three years after the purchase of the Illinois Watch Company in 1928, Hamilton purchased the goodwill and trademarks of the E. Howard Watch Company.

    Interestingly, Howard never made a regular production "wristwatch" so it is a double oddity that Hamilton would do just that, make a "Hamilton/Howard" wristwatch. Although never active in the manufacture of "Howard" watches, Hamilton did produce a very small quantity under the "Howard" brand name and conducted tests in the market for this once famous timepiece.

    Apparently, the test results did not weather well as Howard wristwatches were never placed in full production. This rare Howard wristwatch pictured above, was the first in a series of Howard wristwatches made by Hamilton in an effort to protect Hamilton's trademark rights to the "Howard Watch Company" name. These wristwatches were distributed by select wholesalers to jewelers. Once supplies were exhausted, no other Howard examples were made with the exception of one other 14K solid gold example which was cased in a Hamilton Pierre case in 1942 and finally, an example which was sold in a 14K gold-filled Hamilton Stanford case in 1946.

    This particular example which utilized the 1935 14K yellow gold Seneca case (made by Wadsworth), used a redesigned Hamilton 980 17-jewel movement which was renamed H980 ("H" for "Howard"). The movement is identical to the Hamilton 980 series with the exception of the damaskeening on the base plates and circular damaskeening on the crown and barrel wheel.

    Hamilton/Howard wristwatches are very rare. Early Hamilton collectors thought of these watches as "franken-watches" (watches pieced together from different watches) and of the several hundred that were made in total, many were likely cannibalized or disassembled for parts.

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  5. #4
    WTF Veteran Rusty's Avatar


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    Default Vintage Hamilton Spot #3



    When Hamilton was more than Just a Wristwatch . . .

    In an effort to move mail more quickly, Assistant Postmaster General Otto Praeger instituted the first regularly scheduled airmail service in the world. It took just 200 minutes for a letter to travel from New York to Washington DC., fast by the standards of the time. Today, mail is more commonly sent via cyber "airway" - email, and it arrives at its destination almost instantly. Times have certainly changed.

    When the first regularly scheduled airmail service was established, the pilots were military officers and they carried with them two instruments to fly by - a compass and a wristwatch. Both instruments were necessary for what was commonly known as "dead-reckoning" flying. Pilots would quip at the time: “With "dead-reckoning," if you "reckon" wrong, you're dead.” And that almost came to pass.

    On May 15th 1918, airmail’s inaugural flight, two pilots were set to leave at the same time - one from Washington DC, heading toward New York and the other from New York, heading to Washington DC. The pilots quickly realized that they couldn't fully rely on their compasses and in fact, the flight from Washington to New York (with a scheduled stopover in Philadelphia), was unsuccessful as the pilot crashed just twenty-four miles away from his initial take-off. The plane flipped over but thankfully, the pilot, Lieutenant George L. Boyle was unhurt (the New York to Washington DC flight, went off without a hitch). As it turned out, the compasses that were utilized proved to be faulty as they were distorted by the metal in the plane. Not so with their other instrument - the Hamilton 0-size Aviation Model.

    This specially designed wristwatch was ideal for the mission - it contained a "double bezel" and "shatterproof" crystal that protected the watch from any inadvertent bangs or jars. But most importantly, the watch kept time by railroad standards and could be easily relied on for such a historic event. The time-keeper that was known as "The Watch of Railroad Accuracy" was just promoted to the "Watch of the US Mail Aviators.” Hamilton outfitted the entire fleet with the 0-sized Hamilton Aviation Model wristwatch and each one performed flawlessly.

    The New York Times heralded the achievement, reporting that the new mail service should be known as the “Cloudland Mail” service (mentioned as such in the Hamilton ad above) and as exciting as the accomplishment was, its prospect for “transatlantic” flights and longer domestic flights was even more exciting. In fact, it was Hamilton that timed the “longest airmail flight in the world” in August of 1920 – from New York to San Francisco.

    On August 12th 1918, the Post Office began carrying the mail themselves and subsequently, the military was no longer needed. But in a little less than three months, the Army made 270 flights carrying over 40,500 pounds of mail. These brave men battled inclement weather, several crashes and sixteen mechanical breakdowns - all while relying on the Hamilton 0-sized Aviation Model wristwatch.

    Times have indeed changed - More mail is now sent via email than carrier mail but that by no means takes away from the mail service’s long and distinguished history. So it is true with the Hamilton wristwatch – much has changed: from mechanical, to electric – the technological equivalent of “airmail to cyber mail.” Hamilton has a long and distinguished history marked by many great accomplishments and its history is intertwined with some of the most exciting technological achievements of the last century.

    The photo below is a Hamilton 0-sized Aviation Model as seen in the Hamilton ad above.


  6. #5
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    Default Vintage Hamilton Spot #4



    The Movement that Started it All . . .

    At first glance, one can easily look at the above pictured movement and wonder what it is that defines it as "special." Though it may not be much to look at, the movement pictured above is the prototype utilized initially in Hamilton's pendant watches and later in men’s wristwatches - it is the working model for the 0-size 17-jewel 983 movement; the movement that inhabited Hamilton's very first wristwatch for men.

    This 0-sized prototype came directly from Hamilton's archives and was stored in its original tin marked:

    Hamilton
    0-size
    Plate & Bridges
    patterned after
    Meylan watch
    No dial or
    case
    758

    No one knows what the "758" stood for - perhaps it was the suggested model number of this new movement, or perhaps it was the inventory number utilized in Hamilton's archives, or still yet, it may have something to do with the Meylan that it was modeled after. We may never know the answer to that question, but what we do know is that CH Meylan made some of the finest high-grade hand-finished watches in their day. Indeed, the 983 0-size is so similar to the Meylan, when one looks at an early Meylan comparatively; it takes a discerning eye to notice the differences between the two.

    The Meylan modeled Hamilton 0-size had an appearance that was reminiscent of Hamilton's Swiss competitors, however, unlike the Swiss, it was an incredibly robust movement - a trait distinctly indicative of American watch manufacturers. A watch collector and expert that I often refer to describes it best when he says while looking at the balance-wheel of a Swiss watch - "A fine Swiss balance-wheel glides with the fluidity of perpetual motion, while an American balance-wheel moves with the unstoppable momentum of a freight train." This may be in part, due to the finer tolerances Swiss watch manufactures incorporated in their “atelier” style of manufacturing, while American watch manufactures concentrated their efforts on interchangeability and assembly-line construction. One mode of manufacture is not necessarily better than the other as both have their strengths as well as their weaknesses.

    But the one thing that was similar with all 0-sized wristwatches was the size of the watches themselves. American 0-size watches of the late-teens were considerably larger than wristwatches made during the early 1920's. When one compares the 0-size to Hamilton's second generation wristwatch, the 6/0-size Cushion, there is little doubt from which "era" the 0-size came. The 6/0-size was a far smaller and more compact offering. In fact, it would not be until the nineteen seventies that wristwatches of the 0-size diameter would come back into vogue.

    The Hamilton 0-size wristwatch is exceedingly rare; perhaps the rarest of all production American 0-size wristwatches. Their rarity however, does not negate their importance in American horology, or the importance it played as the forerunner of every Hamilton wristwatch thereafter.

    The above prototype is a historic and significant exemplar – its decedents would set the standard for American quality and craftsmanship and establish watch manufacturing processes that would revolutionize the watch trade both here and abroad and proudly earn Hamilton the distinction as “America’s Finest Watch.”



    The 0-Size Family Clockwise starting at twelve - 0-Size Prototype, 0-Size Spring bar 1922, 0-Size Cushion Wire-lug 1920, 0-Size Cushion 14K gold 1919, Center - 983 0-Size Movement in Cushion Wire-lug 1918

  7. #6
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    Default Vintage Hamilton Spot #5



    A Trio of Classics . . .

    Prior to 1928, if one was interested in purchasing a new Hamilton, the choice was pretty simple – the Cushion, the Square, the Oval, the Tonneau or the Barrel. The defining difference in each model was the choice, “engraved” or “plain.” There was no choice in movement either – each model was offered with Hamilton’s workhorse, the 17-jewel 987 movement. All told, Hamilton's "Geometric" offerings spanned ten years - beginning in 1917 with the 0-sized Cushion and ending in 1927 with the Oval.

    But that all changed in 1928. Hamilton was preparing for the release of their new “flagship” movement – the 19-jewel, 979 movement and Hamilton wanted an exciting new model to showcase what Hamilton described as the “model built to meet the demand for a man’s wrist watch in the higher priced bracket.” Enter the renowned Hamilton Piping Rock!

    Few vintage or modern watches have the cache of the Piping Rock. This distinctly American wristwatch was unique in many ways – it was the first to utilize Hamilton’s new 979 movement, it was Hamilton’s first foray into the “high-priced” market (it sold for $125.00) and contained a dial without numerals as the numerals where raised gold Roman numerals incorporated into an enameled circular bezel, and finally, the Piping Rock utilized a “hand-made” case by S&W (Schwab & Wuischpard), one of the finest watch case makers of the time.

    The use of enamel was by no means unique to Hamilton as both Waltham and Elgin released enamel wristwatches that were the Piping Rock’s contemporaries as well as competitors. But both company’s examples lacked the classic styling that would later establish the Piping Rock as the “quintessential” vintage wristwatch.

    The Piping Rock, with its sleek design and handsome looks, would likely be included in almost every “short-list” of “must have” vintage watches – both American and or Swiss. Its classic lines and conservative symmetry make the Piping Rock as striking today as it was when first introduced in 1928.

    But the Piping Rock was not alone – in an effort to capitalize on the Piping Rock’s success, Hamilton introduced two additional models for what was to become a “Trio of Classics.”

    In 1929, Hamilton issued the Spur, approximately seven months after the Piping Rock’s introduction. The Spur, without question, defines the era in which it came. It can easily be described as small and somewhat feminine for a man’s wristwatch but when push comes to shove, few people would argue that the Spur is likely the “greatest vintage watch of all time.” It is unique unto itself and the rarest of the three enamel watches that Hamilton produced.

    The Coronado was also introduced in 1929, and had significantly more in common with its earlier sibling, the Piping Rock than it did with the Spur. The Coronado utilized the Piping Rock’s back and center case pieces but substituted the Piping Rock’s circular bezel with a broad bezel that hid the Piping Rock’s skeletal center case piece.

    These three watches, the Piping Rock, Spur and Coronado stand alone in American horology as some of the most striking and revolutionary designs of the Art Deco era. Fortunately, the Piping Rock, and less so, the Coronado, can still be found at comparably reasonable prices. The Spur however, is a rarity that is not easily found, and as such, sells for considerably more than it earlier siblings.

  8. #7
    WTF Veteran Rusty's Avatar


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    Default Vintage Hamilton Spot #6


    The Hamilton Cushion – A Variation on a Theme . . .

    When Hamilton first introduced the 6/0-size Hamilton “Cushion Round Opening” in 1922, it was not unlike the Cushions introduced by its competitors of the time – Illinois, Waltham and Elgin. Indeed, the “cushion” shape was so popular, Hamilton resurrected the design on three separate occasions and the offering was available almost continually from 1922 until 1949 – No other Hamilton enjoyed so long a “run” as the Cushion. Certainly, there were models that Hamilton sold more of than they did the Cushion, but no other Hamilton enjoyed a twenty-seven year run that the Cushion enjoyed, and subsequently, the Cushion can arguably be described as Hamilton’s most successful model.

    The earliest version of the Cushion, the Cushion Round Opening was introduced in 1922. The Cushion Round Opening, pictured above is a 14K solid gold version of the classic Hamilton Cushion and the case lug design differs slightly from the silver manufactured Cushions of the same period. Like its later examples, the case was manufactured by Wadsworth and was introduced to the public in “silver only” and contained the 17-jewel 986 movement. It was unquestionably Hamilton’s most popular Cushion Round Opening model with 22,507 examples produced in silver, 14K white, green and yellow gold and 14K white, green and yellow gold-filled. Production of this example ran from 1922 until 1926 when it was replaced by the updated "Cushion Form Opening."

    The "Cushion Form Opening" was similar to the "Cushion Round Opening" only the dial opening was “cushion shaped” as opposed to “round shaped.” This variation ran from 1926 until 1932 and was a very popular model.

    But in 1930, the Cushion Round Opening made its second appearance. It was known as the Cushion “B” and was designed to appeal to “sportsmen.” As America quickly slipped into the Depression, Hamilton concentrated their marketing efforts by promoting models that were named after famous American explorers, adventures and pilots. The Glenn Curtiss, Byrd and the Captain Rice were three such examples.

    Often mistaken for the earlier Cushion Round Opening of 1922, the Cushion "B" utilized a very similar case construction. The dial variations however, offered what Hamilton believed to be a more "sportsman" like style and attempted to appeal to aviators - the Cushion "B" was one of the first Hamilton watches marketed specifically to aviators - an avocation that was very much in its infancy in 1930. The Cushion "B" pictured above utilizes the rare "aviation dial." The aviation dial was made to appeal to pilots while simultaneously promoting Hamilton as the watch of adventures. Even with its similarity to the early Cushion Round Opening and its marketing to aviators, the Cushion "B" was not very popular and production ceased by 1934.

    We would not see the Cushion Round Opening again until 1940 only this time, the Cushion Round Opening was known as the War-time Cushion.

    During World War II, government restrictions required that Hamilton production concentrate on the war effort and indeed, no “regular” consumer models were manufactured during the war with the exception of the 10K gold-filled Cushion. These war-time Cushions are distinct from the 1922 Cushions and the 1930 Cushion “B” as they were produced in 10K gold-filled and the case manufacture, "Wadsworth" was stamped on the outer back of the case (there are examples of 14K gold-filled variations in white gold-filled but they are very scarce). Also, war-time Cushions utilized obsolete 986 and 986A movements which were out of production for nearly 20 years.

    The vast majority of these Cushions were manufactured during war-time and in an effort to conserve war-time essentials such as brass and stainless steel, many were made of vermeil - 10K gold over a sterling silver base.

  9. #8
    WTF Veteran Rusty's Avatar


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    Default Bonus Vintage Post from Will Roseman

    Joe DiMaggio is as much a part of Americana as Hamilton is - both represent the best of American culture and refinement and both served as the finest examples of American excellence. As such, I find it only befitting that the Hamilton Seneca* below was Joltin' Joe's favorite wristwatch and it was a watch that he wore with great pride (you can see the watch on his wrist in the picture below - I have more pictures if anyone is interested). During his career, Mr. DiMaggio received over fifty wristwatches, some as gifts, many as awards or presentations - but this watch meant something more to him, according to his grand-daughters, it was one of Mr. DiMaggio's favorite watches and he kept this watch in his jewelry box up until the day that he died.

    This watch had particular significance for Joe as there were three things that the "Yankee Clipper" was particularly proud of - this Catholic faith, his Italian heritage and his working-class up-bringing. "Giuseppe Paolo DiMaggio" was raised by his Sicilian parents in San Francisco and was named "Giuseppe" after his father and "Paolo" after Saint Paul, his father's favorite saint. Joe's father was a fisherman as were previous DiMaggio's before him though Joe had no liking for the profession. Thankfully, his talent with a ball and bat saved him from a fishing career but Joe never forgot where he came from; so when the St. Raphael's Holy Name Society presented him this 14K gold Hamilton Seneca, he took particular pride in knowing that it came from an Italian congregation from the Italian fishing village of Bridgeport, Conn.

    On September 19th 1937 Joe traveled all the way up to Bridgeport Connecticut to meet the congregation of Saint Raphael and the Saint Raphael's boy's baseball team. He took the team back with him to Yankee stadium where they were given the honor of watching Joe at his best. He was heard saying that it was "one of his proudest nights in the stadium" and that "his greatest wish was to live up to these boys expectations." Just prior to the game, the team made a special presentation to Joe in the presence of tens of thousands of fans - the Hamilton Seneca. I had the privilege of interviewing an individual who assisted in the presentation to him and though he was well into his eighties, he remembers it as one of the most exciting times in his life. He told me that the Hamilton was chosen because it was considered the finest watch made at the time and they had it engraved in his honor. The team members contributed to the watch's purchase and this kind gesture struck a note with Joe as it reminded him of himself as a boy and he told them that he "would wear the watch as a reminder of where he came from and the sacrifice of this parents and all Italian immigrants that came to this country for a better life."

    Regards,

    Will
    * The Seneca was offered as one of a new series of 14K solid gold Hamilton's containing the newly introduced 982 19 jewel movement. This new design series was constructed "curved to fit the wrist" and even included a unique curved dial construction. Of the solid gold "first generation" models to utilize the 982 19-jewel movement, the Seneca holds the longest production record. Originally named "Seneca," Hamilton changed the name of this model to "Sherwood" shortly after release. There are no existing Hamilton records which indicate the reason for the name change.

    PS - I am writing an article about the watch and it's presentation for the NAWCC Bulletin and will post the article here once completed (if allowed, I am not sure what the rules are regarding the posting of complete articles here).


  10. #9
    WTF Veteran two21b's Avatar


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    Default Vintage Spot - The Difference between Scarce and Rare . . .


    The Difference between Scarce and Rare . . .

    I am often asked if a particular Hamilton is "rare" or “scarce” and surprisingly, that question often gives me reason to ponder - exactly what is the difference between "scarce" and "rare," or for that matter, “rare and "ultra rare?" The question is further complicated by "scarce" Hamilton's that have "rare" dials, or a Hamilton that is "rare" in yellow gold, but "ultra rare" in white gold.

    That question will likely never be answered in a clear and concise manner and it brings to mind Supreme Court Justice Potter's colloquial expression when describing the indescribable - “I can’t describe it, but I know it when I see it." With watch collectors, a better expression when describing the differences between “scarce” and “rare” would be "I can’t describe it, but I know it when I don't see it." Simply put, "rarity" has a direct correlation to "surviving examples." When was the last time you saw a Hamilton Oakley - the fact that few people have ever seen one, or even seen a picture of one is proof positive that it is a "rare" watch - correction, an "ultra rare" watch.

    Let’s use the Hamilton Coronado as an example to exemplify a point. No one can deny that the Coronado is "scarce" though some might say it's "rare." There were 2,407 made in 14K white gold between 1930 and 1932. But the question is - does the production of 2,407 examples qualify as "rare?" I've certainly seen enough E-Bay titles heralding "Rare Hamilton Coronado for Sale!" But as we all know, just because E-Bay says it is, doesn't mean it's so.

    But in this case, I think E-Bay might be right. 2,407 watches is not a lot of watches - especially by today's standards, therefore, the white Coronado, in my opinion, would qualify as "scarce." However, over the course of the last seventy-nine years, a major depression, numerous recessions and gold reaching highs regularly, my guess is that there are significantly less white Coronado's today than there was in 1930. How many less, no one knows for sure, but I would bet it’s at least fifty percent less as I am confident that at least that many have been melted down or accidentally destroyed. Subsequently, I would say that the Coronado, though originally "scarce," can now be confirmed as "rare."

    But what about “rare” and “ultra rare?” A quick glance of the picture above, one might not immediately notice a difference between the two Coronado's, but let's use this picture as an example defining the differences between "rare" and "ultra rare." We know from our discussion that the white Coronado on the left is "rare." But, the Coronado on the right is one of only twenty-five examples made (If you notice, it has a Roman numeral bezel as opposed to the far more typical Coronado which sported an Arabic numeral bezel (on left)).

    The Coronado was the last of the three enamel Hamilton's made between 1928 and 1929 - The Piping Rock was introduced first, followed by the Spur and then, the white Coronado, which was issued in May of 1930 (yellow examples were released late 1929). It's interesting to note that both the earlier Piping Rock and Spur utilized an enamel Roman numeral bezel just like the Coronado on the right. In keeping with conformity, one would naturally think that the Roman Numeral bezel was issued before the Arabic Numeral due to its similarity to its earlier siblings; but that's simply not so. The first Coronado's had Arabic numerals, not Roman numerals. It was not until June 11th 1930 that the Roman numeral example was made – almost a month after the original Arabic numeral variation. Were the Roman numeral versions special orders? Were they issued by mistake? Did Hamilton think that they might offer both examples to their customer base? I think most would agree that the Arabic numeral is the more beautiful Art Deco design, so why would Hamilton make the Roman numeral example and why make so few of them?

    These are questions that we'll likely never know the answer to, just like we’re likely to continue our discussions defining the differences between terms “scarce,” “rare,” and “ultra rare.” But these Coronado examples do serve one purpose – we can now plainly and without question discern the difference between “rare” and “ultra rare” - at least for this example.
    [SIGPIC][/SIGPIC]
    "Pipes are occasionally of extraordinary interest. Nothing has more individuality, save perhaps watches and bootlaces." - SH

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