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 in 2005 (see inset photo). Given the almost total lack of a paper trail - just the basics in the Fat Book and Ehrhardt volumes - it seemed the only way to reconstruct the factory's output was to document each and every movement that I could find. So . . .
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 solicited unreported examples on the Facebook page and spent weeks trolling the US Patent Office archives looking for those awarded to Seth Thomas for watches.
I called the Historical Society in the factory hometown of Thomaston, Connecticut and was told that there were no records, period. The NAWCC Library 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 a couple of fellow collectors from the NAWCC several times about a collaborative effort, but there was no interest. At the time the only known resource was Chris Bailey's book, published in 1981 with Dan Gaenger's help.
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Many collectors before me had such an interest in their particular niche that they published their work, whether in book form or online, so after a lot of thought I launched the Seth Thomas Research site in 2015. I run daily online searches, looking for new examples to add to the two dozen serial number charts that I maintain. 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'd be surprised how many well-known professional auction houses flat-out refuse to open the back of a watch and take a single goddamn picture.
I pay hundreds a year to maintain this little site of mine, updating the charts every week and still adding to my collection, some of which is visible on its pages. People write me often to ask about their watch and I'm willing to share what I know, so my sincere hope is that this Research site helps you to learn more about that little bit of history contained in the century-old heirloom that you hold in your hand. - - Eric Unselt
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