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.
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 separate serial number blocks:
200,000 to 216,000
This first block was by far the most interesting from a design aspect. The patterns were gorgeous and the variations were remarkable, sometimes changing on consecutive examples within runs, with plenty of named grades and private labels mixed in. 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 on the highest grades.
220,000 to 239,000
The pendant-set mechanism saw its debut 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 280 appeared for the first time, the pattern on the 21-jewel Grade 260 was downgraded from rosettes to pinstripes, and the jewel count on the Maiden Lane was raised from 24 to 25.
275,000 to 295,000
Jewel counts were reduced to choices of 15 or 17 and pattern variations were limited to gilt and two each of nickel and two-tone. Most regulators were simple inboard and nearly all movements were pendant-set. No high-grade watches in this SN block have been reported.
300,000 to 309,000
These were all 7-jewel movements, with finishes of gilt or two nickel patterns. Some were lever-set, but all regulators were simple ones. No higher jewel counts in this block have been reported.
350,000 to 352,000
This final block was all high-grade movements: Grades 260, 382, and Maiden Lane. All were double-roller and lever-set with outboard regulators. Jewel counts were 17, 21 or 25, and the number of adjustments on Maiden Lanes dropped from six to five.
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 low-grade 7-jewel variants first appeared after 1900, and the final runs of high-grade watches were made from around 1909 until the end of production in 1913.
21 jewels, adjusted 3 positions, nickel finish available in rosettes pattern in the first SN block and pinstripes in the second SN block. No examples reported in any later runs.
21 jewels, adjusted 6 positions, nickel finish available in rosettes pattern in the first SN block and pinstripes in the second and fifth SN block, with a double-roller pallet in the fifth block.
17 jewels, adjusted 3 positions, two-tone in the square cloverleaf pattern, reported in the first and second SN block. This grade appears to have the smallest totals of the numbered grades.
17 jewels, adjusted 5 positions, two-tone in the round cloverleaf pattern, reported in single-roller in the second SN block and double-roller escapement in the fifth SN block.
The only known 19-jewel 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
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 only known 21-jewel non-Maiden Lane Model 5 with a two-tone finish. It's found so far in the starburst pattern from the second SN block in four separate runs totaling roughly 1,100 movements.
* These are all assigned grades. The factory number is not known.
The Railway is a two-tone 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 years the Complete Guide to Watches printed the existence of a 28-jewel Model 5, which would be the highest count of any American pocket watch produced during the railroad era, based on the observations of two of its authors and accompanied by a 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 going barrel with no serial number markings.
If this watch ever did have 28 jewels it does no longer.
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; in the photo a sign for #63 is visible. 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.
Roughly 1200 Maiden Lanes were produced in four standard jewel counts, with the rarest being the 17-jewel variant. Although the 25-jewel examples had the highest jewel count, it was the most common at around 750 made.
All 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.
The earlier 17 and 21-jewel variants were simply marked Adjusted, with no explanation of what that meant. Later examples with higher counts were marked Adjusted to either Five or Six Positions. 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 six known (four verified) private label watches 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 seventh and 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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Grade assignment for the Model 5 is based on all known advertisements and catalogs, and takes into account all of the attributes that define them. The company evidently viewed nickel and two-tone finishes as being the same, with gilt having separate grades.
The Grade 510
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 superseded the 510, since all the attributes were identical. 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. These were produced by Duff & Solace, a local kiln that burned down in 1898, ending the supply of these dials and the Grade 510.
Lever-Set vs. Pendant-Set
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 149, 159, and 169 in the third SN block have been reported in both setting configurations, and the Grades 47 and 57 found in the fourth SN block were lever-set early on but were produced in pendant-set later.
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.