The Model 5 was Seth Thomas's flagship open-face watch, as one of America's oldest clockmakers decided to test the market of high-grade railroad watches, succeeding in spectacular fashion for well over a decade. The best and most imaginative patterns came early, with dazzling two-tone and flashed-gilt reserved for the higher jewel counts. The finishes got progressively cheaper and more plain as time passed, but that didn't prevent the company from making a last run of its highest grade - the 25-jewel Maiden Lane.
Several early 1890s publications list a Grade 510 as a 17-jewel nickel Model 5 with a double-sunk dial that was adjusted to temperature and position, like the Models 2 and 3 offering the Grades 508 and 506, respectively. The Maiden Lane, debuting around 1895, would have been subordinate to the 510, since the early Maiden Lanes were simply marked Adjusted. The problem is that while plenty of Grades 506 and 508 with Temperature & Position markings have been recorded, not a single early Model 5 has been logged with those markings, so it's assumed the only difference between the 510 and the 182 is that the 510 had a double-sunk dial, as stated in several later catalogs after 1904. These dials were produced by Duff & Solace, a local kiln in Plymouth Hollow that burned down in 1898, ending the supply of these dials.
The Grade 182 was defined in every publication as a 17-jewel lever-set adjusted Model 5 with a nickel or two-tone finish, and sometime after 1905 a pendant-set version was introduced with the numbers reversed as the Grade 281. Other than the setting function it's the same watch, and a single run could contain both mechanisms.
The Grades 47 and 57 found in the fourth SN block were lever-set at the beginning of the block for a few thousand numbers, but were produced in pendant-set later with no known grade change. This is likely because the early examples were produced in parallel with the higher grades at their debut in 1893.
The earliest known advertisement for the Model 5 is dated 1893, with no mention of it in the 1892 catalog. The highest and lowest were the 17-jewel Grade 510 and the 11-jewel Grade 58, with the Maiden Lane and the 21-jewel Grade 260 debuting two years later. The 7-jewel variants also appeared fairly early but were blocked starting at SN 300,000. The final runs of high-grade watches were produced from around 1909 until the end of production in 1913. Many private labels have been reported. Even though 200,000 numbers were blocked for the Model 5, fewer than half of that were actually made. Roughly 66,000 were turned out in all jewel counts, with production falling into five SN blocks:
The pattern variations were remarkable, changing on consecutive examples within runs, with plenty of named grades and private labels mixed in. The 21-jewel Grade 260 and 17-jewel Maiden Lane debuted at SN 205400. The regulators were all outboard and all the movements were lever-set. Jewel counts were 11, 15, 17, 21 and 24, and plate finishes came in gilt, nickel, flashed gilt and two-tone.
The pendant-set mechanism debuted on the Grade 281 at SN 229,801 and the gilt 11-jewel Grade 58 was dropped. The 23-jewel Grade 272 and the two-tone 21-jewel Grade 291 appeared for the first time. The patterns became redundant, the rosettes-and-arches damaskeening on the Grade 260 was simplified to pinstripes, and the jewel count on the Maiden Lane was raised from 24 to 25.
Jewel counts were reduced to two choices of 15 or 17 in this block and patterns were limited to gilt, nickel stripes, or one of three two-tone. The regulators went from outboard to inboard and nearly all of the movements were pendant-set. Most examples were unadjusted, and the highest grade was the 17-jewel adjusted Grade 281. No numbered-grade watches with counts higher than seventeen have been reported, though there were plenty of private labels and named grades, including the Lake Shore, found only in this block.
These were all 7-jewel movements in gilt or nickel finishes. No two-tone examples in this block have been reported, but named grades and private labels have turned up. There is evidence that the first part of this block was produced around 1893, since they are all lever-set and have outboard regulators with the earliest font. Starting at roughly SN 302,000 all are pendant-set, have an inboard regulator with the later block font, and were likely made after 1910.
This final block was all high-grade movements: Grades 260, 382, and Maiden Lane. All were lever-set with outboard regulators and equipped with double-roller escapements. Jewel counts were 17, 21 or 25, and the number of adjustments on Maiden Lanes dropped from six to five, with the patterns becoming identical in the first run.
The 248 was a 21-jewel / adjusted-3-positions nickel movement that was made with a single-roller pallet in the first and second serial number blocks. It came in two different variants - the rosettes pattern in the first block and pinstripes in the second block. So far it appears to have had the lowest production totals of all the numbered grades at possibly fewer than 200 made.
The 260 was their first high-grade watch, immediately preceding the Maiden Lane. It was same as the 248, but adjusted to 6 positions with a production of roughly 1,450 pieces. They were made in the first (rosettes/single roller), second (pinstripes/single roller), and the fifth (pinstripes/double roller) blocks in seven known runs.
Swapped barrel bridges with the 248 have been reported.
The only known 19-jewel Model 5 variant is inscribed with 7-13-04, a possible production date, even though it's equipped with a double-roller pallet, which debuted a few years later in 1909. The extra jewels are on the mainspring arbor, making it a motor barrel.
Courtesy of the AC&WM, Bristol, CT
This is the only known 23-jewel variant of the Model 5, produced with the unique nickel "fishscale" pattern and reported in a single block of 200 movements from SN 238,201 to 238,400. A majority of them have been found with the light Montgomery dial.
The 282 was a two-tone movement with 17 jewels and adjusted to 3 positions, so it would not have been considered railroad-grade. It was produced in small scattered runs totaling roughly 400 pieces with the square center pattern in single-roller. It's been found in the first and second serial number blocks with the smallest reported survival totals of the numbered grades.
This is the only known 21-jewel non-Maiden Lane Model 5 with a two-tone finish. It's been reported so far in one pattern from the second SN block in four runs totaling roughly 1,100 movements.
Grade assignment is based on one known catalog of New York jeweler Nicholas Gamse, who had an office at 54 Maiden Lane; corporate offices of Seth Thomas were across the street at #51.
The 382 was the same as the 282, but adjusted to 5 positions and was their third and final railroad-approved watch, appearing in the second serial number block around SN 220720 with a rough total of 700 produced. They were made in the second serial number block in single-roller with the square center pattern and in the fifth block in double-roller with the round center.
Reported so far with 15 jewels on nickel plates in lever set in the first and second serial number blocks in small runs. They were likely named for the Chautauqua Institution, located in Western New York.
Also marked with The Accurate Timer and fronted by a PL dial for Morris Feinberg from Ironwood, Michigan. They occupy a block of fifty from SN 225451 to 225500 with 17 jewels on two-tone plates.
The Lake Shore is a pendant-set 17-jewel nickel Grade 281 reported in only the third serial number block from SN 290501 to 290900 with a matching dial. It is not known what this grade is named for.
Made for Rogers, Thurman & Co, a Chicago wholesaler in jewel counts from 7 to 17 on gilt, nickel, and two-tone plates. This is the most common of the lesser grades, found in the second, third and fourth SN blocks.
The Olympia mimics the Grade 260 in jewel count and pattern, occupying a block of a hundred from SN 223501 to 223600 with a matching dial. They were evidently made for Chicago wholesaler Lapp & Flershem.
This grade is similar to the Cosmopolitan, in that all examples front a PL dial for the Bromfield Jewelry Co in Boston. They have 17 jewels on two-tone plates and were blocked from SN 234701 to 234800.
Very little is known about this grade, other than all reported examples have 17 jewels on flashed gilt plates and fall between SN 207301 and 207340. The DS dials all have the letters A, C, O and W intertwined.
The SMS grade has its own matching dial and all examples exhibit the same pattern and jewel count. They have been reported in the first and second SN blocks in a dozen small runs, totaling roughly 200 produced.
Private labels were made for individuals like jewelers or retailers and usually had a location, town, or state marked on the dial and/or the movement. Named grades were made specifically for a wholesaler using a name or word of their choosing without a location. The Metropolitan grade is marked with Springfield, Massachusetts and so was classified as a private label. Others, like the 15-jewel variant of the Railway, are marked in quotes and are also classified as private labels. Still others have been reported with only a single known example and may be considered as a private label.
The Railway is a 25-jewel prototype built on the Model 5 pillar plate of SN (2)08,989, though the train plate is marked with the possible date of 8.1.99. Like the Grade 262, it has a double-roller escapement that is too new by a decade to agree with the plate markings.
Courtesy of Jones & Horan Auctions
For many years the Complete Guide to Watches printed the existence of a 28-jewel Model 5, which would have been the highest count of any American pocket watch produced during the railroad era in the late 1880s, based on the observations of two of its authors and accompanied by a grainy black-and-white photo.
I'm fairly confident that the watch pictured in the Guide, captioned as 28-jewel, and the Railway are the same watch. I had the opportunity to document this piece in June of 2017 and there are several aspects of it that indicate that this watch was almost certainly a one-off prototype, such as the outboard hairspring stud, the inverted balance foot, the star regulator, the re-milled jewel pockets on the upper plate, and the tapped holes for the missing regulator index. The fact that it carries the standard Adjusted marking and not Adjusted to 5 or 6 Positions is also telling.
When the Railway was here in 2017 it had 25 jewels, with seven for the balance assembly, four on the pallet staff, four on the escape wheel, three on the 4th wheel, four on the 3rd wheel, a pair on the center wheel, and one for the mainspring barrel. There was in all likelihood a matching barrel jewel on the pillar plate, broken at some point and replaced with a brass bushing. That would've made for a 26-count, and had the watch been equipped with a jeweled motor barrel it could conceivably have had 28, but it was a standard barrel with no serial number markings. If this watch ever did have 28 jewels it no longer does.
The watches logged in the M5 chart are all reported examples or verified from photos.
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Maiden Lane was an actual location - a street in Lower Manhattan in New York City close to the Brooklyn Bridge, where many watch companies had offices. Seth Thomas occupied 51 Maiden Lane (as well as 70 Wabash Ave and 215 W Randolph St in Chicago), printing it on several advertisements. It was one of the first streets in the city to be illuminated by gas lamps and was regarded for years as the center of the jewelry district.
The company named their highest grade after this street, introduced in 1895 as a 17-jewel model for $25, with the 21-jewel variant being offered for the same price the following year. By 1904 the jewel count had increased to twenty-five, and continued until the 1913 Centennial Catalog, when the count dropped back to twenty-one. Advertisements showing the 24-jewel count are scarce.
The Shugart Guide contains a captioned photo stating the Model 5 as a Maiden Lane grade, leading some to believe that any Model 5 is a Maiden Lane, no matter the markings or finish.
The plates must be marked Maiden Lane for it to be one.
Between 1,025 and 1,050 Maiden Lanes were produced in four standard jewel counts, with the rarest so far being the 17-jewel variant, with roughly 75 produced. Although the 25-jewel variant had the highest jewel count, it was the most common at around 720 made.
Maiden Lanes came in jewel counts of 17, 21, 24, or 25, with one reported example having 22, and all known examples have two-tone plate finishes. Unlike the earlier Models 2 and 3, the center wheel on the pillar plate was consistently jeweled. Diamond cap stones on the balance wheel and the company address appeared on some of the final blocks.
All earlier variants were simply marked Adjusted, with no explanation of what that meant. The first known example to be marked for positions was SN 209,780, a 24-jewel example adjusted for six positions, and all later examples after that were adjusted to either five or six positions, regardless of the jewel count. The double-roller feature debuted in the sixth block of a hundred at SN 350,100 and continued on all watches to the end of production.
There are seven known (five verified) private labels within runs, having similar patterns and jewel counts as the surrounding Maiden Lanes. Whether they can technically be called a Maiden Lane is open for debate, but we believe it must be clearly marked to be one.
Production was divided into a total of nine separate blocks, with the final one broken out into at least three smaller runs. The first half-dozen blocks saw incredible patterns with no two alike, changing on consecutive numbers within the runs. By the start of the final blocks in 1909 the factory had evidently decided on a single pattern. All of the known Maiden Lanes are reported examples, verified by photographs.
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The earliest font on the serial number chart, starting at SN 200,001 up to 209,700 and again in the 300,000 block.
The most common signature, appearing at SN 205,400 right to the end. A variant was used for the Maiden Lanes.
A block font used on the vast majority of named grades and private-label Model 5s in all five serial number blocks.
The only cursive font and a very rare one, reported so far in just the first SN block and only on private-label watches.
Another block font using all upper-case letters found on a few select private labels in the first SN block.
A Gothic or Old English calligraphy font used exclusively on the Monarch and the Cosmopolitan named grades.
Found on medium and high-grade movements in the first, second, and fifth SN blocks.
Reported on a few Model 5s in the first SN block and roughly half of those in the fourth SN block.
Found so far in the third SN block, which contained only low and medium-grade watches.
Used on only low-grade watches (the 7-jewel Grades 47 and 57) in the third and fourth SN block.