A fascinating sub-category of watch collecting are the named grades and private labels. Personal connections can be made through private labels for those doing research on their family tree or home town, and another aspect to focus on are the named grades that were made for the retailers of the day, which were often supplied by more than one factory.
Seth Thomas made nearly fifty known named grades, with probably more yet to discover. The PL charts have logged close to 400 examples, sorted by name, state and serial number.
Private label watches were those with the name of a jeweler, local retailer, or even a private group inscribed on it. Orders were placed through regional jobbers, who acted as distributors for the factory, in quantities as small as one or two watches and as many as several hundred. They made up a fairly large percentage of the factory's total output, accounting for roughly 13% of all logged production in those models known to have private labels. This figure was probably much higher, since private labels have no factory markings on the dial or movement to identify them as a Seth Thomas.
A double-signed private label is one with matching signatures on both the dial and movement. Any such example is very likely an original combination, though private label movements with factory dials are certainly possible if the customer chose to simply not pay the extra cost of a custom dial. Private labels have been reported as both single pieces within runs and in small blocks.
Other factories charged extra for special markings, though no prices for this service appears in any of the surviving Seth Thomas catalogs. The matching dials for the various named grades were offered at cost.
The use of named grades was likely a marketing strategy, one that would be mimicked by automakers decades later, with impressive appellations such as Criterion, Monarch, Providence and Sentinel. There were also those special grades for people and places, like the Henry Molineux, a close friend of Seth Thomas's grandson, and the Maiden Lane, the location of the company's corporate offices in New York City, and many more that the origins of which will almost certainly never be known.
Another source of named grades were those made specifically for retailers, such as the 20th Century for mail-order giant Montgomery Ward or Sears, Roebuck & Company's popular Edgemere line. They were blocked during regular production for large runs of hundreds or even thousands at a time. Others, like the Olympia Special, were made specifically for jobbers (wholesalers) like Lapp & Flershem, New York supplier R&L Friedlander, and jobber AC Becken in Chicago.
In 1904 the company published a trade catalog with all of their current models and announced a running total of some million and a half watches, with a decade of production yet to come before the end in 1914. Despite this statement, the total factory output in all sizes and models appears to be a little under two million watches, based on serial number ranges of reported examples, though there are an unknown number of 7-jewel Models 10 through 13, most of which did not have full serial numbers on the upper plate.