Hamilton Pocket Watch: A Vintage Collector’s Guide

The Hamilton Watch Company was incorporated in 1892 in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

They released their first watch in 1893. They continued American operations until 1969, when they were bought by the largest watch manufacturing company in the world, the Swatch Group.

Along the way, they produced many different types of watches. Some of the most notable were the watches they shipped overseas during World War II, when commercial watch manufacturing ceased.

They made marine chronometers, deck watches, and pocket watches for the U.S. military as well as allied troops.

However, a vintage Hamilton pocket watch is a thing of beauty, and if you can find one in pristine condition today, you’d be ever so lucky.

History of Hamilton Watch Company

The Hamilton Watch Company succeeded from three other watch manufacturers in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

The Lancaster Watch Company was bought out by Abram Bitner, who started the Keystone Standard Watch Company.

Keystone had a patented dust proof watch design that they created with a mica window covering the opening in the plate of the movement.

In 1891, Keystone merged with a watch company out of Illinois called Aurora Watch Company.

Hamilton Watch Company Lancaster PA
Hamilton Watch Co., Lancaster (Image Credit: Niagara / CC BY-SA)

Unfortunately, in that same year, Keystone went bankrupt and was bought by the Hamilton Watch Company. Stockholders originally wanted to name the company Columbian, but the Waterbury Watch Company had a trademark on the name.

They eventually decided on Hamilton, named after James Hamilton, who was the son of Scottish-born lawyer Andrew Hamilton. He founded the town of Lancaster and was the original owner of the land where the factory was built.

Their first watch was an 18-size pocket watch with 17 jewels. For the first fifteen years, they only manufactured an 18-size and a 16-size.

During the railroad expansion leading up to World War I, Hamilton manufactured pocket watches and owned 56% of the market. Their first series of pocket watches was called the Broadway Limited and was known as the “Watch of Railroad Accuracy.”

The first wristwatch was made in 1917 and was a 0-size, 17-jewel, 983 movement marketed to men, even though the design was originally intended for women’s pendant watches. They switched over to manufacturing only wrist watches after World War I.

During World War II, they dropped their consumer products and focused on their business model to serve the allied military forces.

Hamilton enjoyed it’s last decade of being a powerhouse of American manufacturing in the 1950s.

The release of a celestial time zone clock for the Astra-Gnome project modeled what cars would look like in the year 2000 and the first electric watch was worn by Elvis in the movie Blue Hawaii.

Broadway Limited Railroad Pocket Watch

s l1600
Image via eBay

Most Broadway Limited pocket watches are 16-size, 17-jewel watches. They feature the name HAMILTON displayed prominently on the face. Each minute is identified by a black tick mark and every five minute interval is marked with a red number. There is a dial with a second hand situated where the 6 should be.

The watches are encased with a plain, solid back and a clear cover on the face. Under the back cover is the mechanism, etched with “Hamilton Watch Co Lancaster, PA” and the number of jewels.

If they still work, the Broadway Limited series of pocket watches go from about $200 to $500 or more, depending on condition. Because Hamilton built watches so well, many work, even if they were heavily used.

These are some of the most collectible pocket watches Hamilton made, and they’re highly sought after by collectors everywhere.

Hamilton S18 Pocket Watch

s l1600 2
Image via eBay

While not as valuable, the S18 pocket watch, manufactured around 1897, is much more ornate. It’s a unique find, and you’ll pay less than $100 for it. It’s much less likely that these still work if you find them, but they’re definitely vintage.

The case is made of a silver ore. Once again, the back is plain and the cover on the front is clear, giving visibility to the face without opening it up. The inside of the back is typically stamped with the silver’s patented date.

The face features “Hamilton Watch Co” in a beautiful scripted font.

Each number is a Roman numeral, the minutes are identified with black tick marks, and every five minute interval is marked with a red number. The second hand is positioned where the VI would go.

Underneath the back, the mechanism is marked with “Hamilton Watch Co. Lancaster PA.” in an Old English font, but this one isn’t marked with the number of jewels. It’s an 18-size, 17-jewel watch.

Related: Best Pocket Watches for Vintage Time-Keeping

992 Railroad Pocket Watch

s l1600 3
Image via eBay

This is another notable collector’s piece, featuring many of the same design aspects as the first two, with minute markings on the face and a second hand at the bottom. It says HAMILTON on the face and is a 16-size, 21-jewel pocket watch manufactured around 1908.

In 1950, Hamilton released the 992B model, which was a commemorative model based on the original. It said HAMILTON RAILWAY SPECIAL on the face and rested in a 10K gold filled case.

This 16-size, 21-jewel pocket watch features ornate scrollwork on the casing and was manufactured around 1908. The mechanism is marked with “Hamilton Watch Co USA,” the number of jewels, and the model number.

Both of these models are equally collectible and go for around $300 depending on condition.

Final Thoughts

If you’re in the market for a vintage Hamilton watch, you’ll find plenty of them around. Many still work, but you’ll pay a pretty penny for those in great condition. They’re well worth it if you’re a true collector. However, there are others that are just as fun to collect and won’t cost you that much at all.

About Sarah Caldwell

Sarah is a God-fearing wife and mother of four. She enjoys spending time with her family and the great outdoors. Experiences over things is her mantra, and she loves rustic farmhouse decor, wood burning stoves, and old-timey practices that need to make a dramatic comeback.