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Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
The information below was written by Mr. Rene Rondeau in early 2005. I tripped over it recently, and after some recent discussions with friends here (Rene included), I thought that the WTF might be interested in some additional historical context relating to the study of Hamilton wristwatches. (I still wonder if somewhere in those boxes might have been important never-discovered Illinois information also?) Since Rene is truly the dean of Hamilton wristwatches, it might be nice to have a spot to assemble the important posts he has made and perhaps long forgotten. I will continue to add his old posts when I locate them. Perhaps the moderators have a better place for this, if so please feel free to move accordingly.

Rene wrote the following:

Over the past six years I’ve fielded many questions about my book “Hamilton Wristwatches,” and in reviewing this forum a bit I’ve seen a few references to it. Now that I’ve joined the chapter I thought perhaps this might be an appropriate place to give a little background.

I should point out right at the start that the book was never intended to be definitive. Watch research is always an ongoing process, as is obvious when you see how much new material is still being published about Hamilton 992 railroad pocket watches, a subject which collectors have been studying and writing about for many decades. Interest in wristwatches is much more recent and there is still much to be learned. I’ve been researching Hamilton for 20 years now and I’m very far from finished. And I’m not alone. There are others in the field, notably Jeff Hess, Roy Ehrhardt (who recently passed away, unfortunately), Bryan Girouard and Will Roseman, who have devoted enormous amounts of time and energy to further our collective knowledge. I’m very much indebted to all of these people for their hard work as well as their generosity in sharing newly uncovered information.

My Collectors’ Guide grew out of a personal need to have concisely compiled information at my fingertips. Over the years, after dozens of trips to Lancaster, PA, I’d amassed a large collection of catalogs, brochures, factory employee magazines, annual reports, and other materials. Leafing through old catalogs to identify a little-known style could be terribly time-consuming, even frustrating at times. Hamilton made thousands of styles with a vast number of variations and existing references covered only a fraction of them. I decided to create a card file to make it easier to document specific watches. To that end, I photocopied my collection of catalogs (which is nearly complete), augmented by all the remaining catalogs I could find in the library of the NAWCC. I created a separate card for each model, then organized them by shape and case metal. This narrowed the ranges into more manageable sizes but it was still very tedious to thumb through hundreds of index cards if I needed to identify an unusual style. I also lacked a cross index. That’s when I decided that assembling all this data into book form would make it much simpler, and that others might find it useful as well. I compiled all the information that was then available and published it in 1999 as “Hamilton Wristwatches, A Collectors’ Guide.”

I knew from the outset that it was inevitable that there would be omissions and errors. It goes with the territory, unfortunately. Hamilton’s catalogs are a fabulous resource but they are not complete. There have been a few watches that slipped through the cracks -- that is, watches released after an annual catalog was published but discontinued before the next catalog was issued. These watches were usually promoted to jewelers by sending out supplemental sheets or letters, but not all of these sheets have survived. I found some at the NAWCC library which enabled me to fill in some obvious blanks -- well-known watches which aren't in catalogs. Alas, the library does not have everything Hamilton ever published and many of these promotional sheets have not surfaced elsewhere. Some are only now being found. For example, Will Roseman recently documented a previously unknown and never-catalogued model called the “Vancott,” a very exciting discovery. Bit by bit the omissions are being uncovered, though I doubt I’ll see a truly comprehensive listing in my lifetime. (This is one of the things that makes the hobby so exciting to me – there’s always so much more to learn!)

The question I’m most often asked about my book is why it doesn’t have production numbers for the collectable watches of the 1930s. The answer is simple – no such records have been found. I don’t say they don’t exist. They may or may not, but I’m holding out hope that they will turn up someday. We are fortunate that there is a substantial quantity of material that has survived from the Hamilton Watch Company, though unfortunately even greater amounts were destroyed over the years. Many former employees kept documents about their work, which were later given to the NAWCC library. The library also has collections of catalogs, sales letters, and other invaluable information, acquired from many sources. However we all owe a particularly large debt to the late Dr. Robert Ravel for preserving much of Hamilton’s legacy.

Bob was an eccentric in the very best sense of the term, and I considered him a very close and endlessly fascinating friend. (I dedicated the Collectors’ Guide to him). He was a curmudgeon, and proud of it. He was also a brilliant cancer specialist and a fanatic collector, particularly of military horology. In 1971, as Hamilton was slipping into its darkest period just prior to being sold to a Swiss company, Bob Ravel bought the entire contents of the Hamilton research lab, production offices, advertising department, and much more. Over the course of a year or two he hauled several semi-truck loads of material and machinery from Lancaster to his home in Dover, PA. He stored this phenomenal trove in a dozen rented spaces, as well as in the townhouse where he lived. The amount of material defies imagination. Much of it was, I hate to admit, borderline junk. Massive machines that had no possible use today, literally millions of screws and unfinished parts, thousands of dial blanks etc. etc. Everything but the floor sweepings of the assembly department... But much of what he saved was heart-stopping treasure. Bob uncovered a King Tut’s tomb of wonderful material for me, but we only began to scratch the surface on my many visits. He literally had no idea what he had, and so much material was buried so deeply that it was inaccessible even if he had known what he wanted to look for. Every visit was a treasure hunt. While most came up dry, every once in a while we’d turn up something truly wonderful, as when we found the production records referenced in my book. (Since his death a few years ago, Bob’s huge stash of material has been sold and split up among several buyers. Parts and memorabilia from his collection turn up regularly on eBay. Much of the paperwork he had rescued has since been given to the NAWCC library, where it is still being sorted out. Much more information will surely come out in the future.)

In a box buried under and behind dozens of others, we discovered several file folders totaling a couple of hundred pages of production records. Apparently sometime in the 1940s an unnamed employee was given the task of consolidating and distilling scattered production data from previous decades, and writing a chronology of key elements of letters to wholesalers. It was obviously an attempt to make order out of chaos, and the resulting pages are a priceless resource which indicate the actual quantities made of watches with 401, 979, 986 and 987 movements, along with their variants such as 987F, 987F etc. However, the information is not organized in a particularly orderly manner. In fact, it’s so scattered across hundreds of pages that compiling totals is a fairly daunting challenge. (Bryan Girouard, with whom I’ve shared the raw data, can corroborate that!)

It also appears that these records are not 100% complete. The person who created the files obviously did the best they could, but it’s inevitable that some things were missed and some numbers may have been copied incorrectly. Still, it’s the best information we have and as long as we accept the fact that little in Hamilton’s history is strictly black and white – there’s an awful lot of gray -- the numbers constitute a very useful resource.

Unfortunately, while the files include a great deal of information about 980 and 982 movements and watches, these sections did not have breakdowns of production by case style. More’s the pity. For now we can only speculate on possible production of desirable rarities like the Otis and Brooke.

I’ve been gratified by the positive response the book has received over the years, but as I indicated at the start of this posting it’s not the last word, nor was it intended to be. My view of the book has always been modest – it is meant to be a reference guide to aid in identification, not the final word on the Hamilton Watch Co. The idea was to consolidate as much information as possible in as handy a format as possible. I have never stopped collecting information, and if I can ever find the time to break away from my workbench I plan to publish a vastly expanded and revised edition in the future.

This has always been, first and foremost, a labor of love.( I can assure everyone that writing books in a field as narrow as Hamilton wristwatches is no way to get rich! Michael Crichton is not quaking in his boots, worrying that my rank on Amazon.com is about to outstrip his....) But I’ve always believed that knowledge is power, and I also believe that knowledge should be shared. That’s one thing that makes forums like this such a wonderful resource for collectors today.
 

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Thanks!

Thanks, Ham_IL for re-posting this. Very interesting writing. I had wondered about another issue of the Rene's collector's guide. This explains it all, and puts it in clear perspective. If it ever happens again, I will be the happiest child on Christmas morning opening my copy!

I am a "real novice" to all that is Hamilton, and find it mesmerizing. I appreciate all of the "pearls" I can gather from those who know and have been there. Especially, from some of the members here who live and breathe Hamilton history and give new life to "art" created by past generations.

Rob
 

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whoooooooooooaaaah now.

i was not suggesting or even hoping for such a thing!

i, in previously poorly chosen words, am always surprised when intellectual property that is in any kind of demand isn't copied onto the web. that was my thought. my only thought.
 

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Discussion Starter · #15 · (Edited)
Out of print, but not out of copyright. :wink: I still do hope to do a revised edition someday, but first I need to figure out how to pack 40 hours into a 24 hour day...

Simple! You just need to find a clock that runs really SLOOOOOOOW. Do you know a really bad watch repair person who can properly break one? ;)
 

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Couldn't the copyright owner license or otherwise allow copies to be distributed under limited conditions, if they wanted to? I wouldn't mind getting a look at this book. I mean, I've seen unicorns and leprechauns but I can't get a peek at this book.:biggrin:
 

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Discussion Starter · #18 ·
Couldn't the copyright owner license or otherwise allow copies to be distributed under limited conditions, if they wanted to? I wouldn't mind getting a look at this book. I mean, I've seen unicorns and leprechauns but I can't get a peek at this book.:biggrin:
I would classify this book more along the lines of a Coelacanth. ;) It's out there... someplace... just VERY rare and mostly in unusual places.

Actually, that is a good idea. Rene -- have you thought about selling a PDF version of your book? It might also be a good way to locate all of the Hamilton collectors new to the hobby since the the originall book sold out.
 

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I have seriously considered reprinting it through Lulu or another print-on-demand service. However I am very reluctant to simply reprint it in its now 12 year-old form. There's a wealth of new information which really must be added, as well as some inevitable errors which need correction. Whenever I start to think about those ramifications I realize that even a modest update to an otherwise (mostly) exact copy of the old format will still take a major commitment of time and effort, and it still wouldn't be the fully-updated revised edition I envision. I'd like to take this to the next level, just as I did with "The Watch of the Future." When I look at the 1999 edition of that book I'm actually embarrassed, the 2006 edition is a whole new thing.
 

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I own a 1920s era !8k Tiffany wristwatch with Hamilton 987a works. A collector told me the Rene’s book noted this watch as being extremely rare. Unfortunately, I cannot locate a copy of his book, but would appreciate anyone who may know more.
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