Seth Thomas made some dazzling watches, which is what caught my eye, and they produced movements with more pattern variations than any other American company, which is why I collect them. I discovered just how little information there was after winning my first one at auction in 2005 (see inset photo). Given the almost total lack of a paper trail it seemed the only way to reconstruct the factory's output was to document every movement that I could find.
I began by scrolling through past events from online venues, cataloging the photos on my PC, and finding enough adverts in the early jewelers supply houses to assemble a rough grade chart. I bought reprints of original Seth Thomas catalogs and modern Price Guides. I checked for web PDF scans from period trade magazines and the mail-order giants of the day to expand the list of known named grades, and started tracking private labels. I attended local meets and regional shows with my camera, pestering friends to take photos for me when I couldn't be there.
I called the Historical Society in the factory hometown of Thomaston, Connecticut and was told that there were no records, period. The NAWCC was absolutely no help and their library claimed they had no records either, which was hard to believe. I wrote to the larger NAWCC chapters asking for help and never heard back from any of them. I approached some of the officers and admins from the NAWCC several times about a collaborative effort, but they stonewalled me. There are also plenty of private collectors who won't share photos or data either.
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After launching the Seth Thomas Research site in 2015, I discovered that the biggest problem is photographs; even with the advent of digital cameras and smartphones, taking a decent picture is apparently difficult for some people. You can't believe how many auction houses simply refuse to open the back of a watch and take a single goddamn picture.
I pay hundreds a year to maintain this website of mine, updating the charts every month and adding to my collection, some of which is visible on these pages. People write me often and I'm willing to share what I know, so my hope is that this site helps you to learn a little more about the history contained in the centuries-old heirloom that you hold in your hand. - - Eric Unselt
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