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The Illinois Sangamo Special, Model 13 RR Grade Pocketwatch

The Sangamo Special, one of the highest quality pocketwatches ever made by the Illinois Watch Company, and one of the highest quality pocketwatches made by any watch company of that time in U. S. history, has a storied, but sparkling legacy, even though a very short manufacturing span where very few watches were ever made.

There were four different models of the Sangamo Special, models 8, 9, 10, and 13 (no models 11 or 12) which, collectively, had a production run of only 20 years, beginning in 1913, and is believed to not have ended until 1933, continuing a few years longer than the recorded serial numbers indicate, the difference in years being that the movements were all manufactured by Illinois prior to its sale to Hamilton, and bore earlier year serial numbers, but the watches were not assembled and cased until well after Hamilton bought Illinois in 1927. It is thought by many collectors that Illinois would have produced many more Sangamo Specials, the Sangamo being its highest quality watch, had the stock market crash and great depression not occurred, the events that threw the Illinois Watch Company into receivership, resulting in its purchase by the much more profitable and stable Hamiltion Watch Company.

Illinois produced a total of 32,260 Sangamo Special pocketwatches, a very low total number for such a high quality watch, a watch in high demand by railroadmen, making this watch, today, one of the most desirable and collectable watches of all Railroad Grade watches. Many Railroad Grade pocketwatch collectors do not consider any RR Grade collection, regardless of its size, to be complete, unless it contains at least one Illinois Sangamo Special, preferably in a 17 size pocketwatch.

No expense was spared by the Illinois Watch Company in the manufacture of the Sangamo Special RR Grade pocketwatches. Only the very highest quality materials available at the time, along with the highest known standards of watch manufacturing perfection were used to create these magnificent watches. The Sangamo Special Models 8 and 9 were all 16 size pocketwatches and had 19, 21, or 23 jewel movements. The Model 10 came in both 16 and 17 size movements and all were 23 jewel movement watches with 60 hour mainsprings.

The last model, the Model 13 were all 17 size watch movements and all had 23 jewel movements. All Model 13 watches had 60 hour mainsprings as well as solid gold 2nd, 3rd, and 4th wheels in the movements.

Of the 32,260 Sangamo Specials produced, 17,000 of them were 17 size watches. The 17 size watch movement is approximately 1/30 of an inch larger in diameter than the 16 size movement but it was housed in a noticeably larger and thicker case, a feature that many railroaders loved.

Of all the millions of RR Grade pocketwatches manufactured by all watchmakers collectively, it has been estimated that the 17 size movements and cases made up less than 100,000 watches total, making the 17 size RR Grade pocketwatch very rare, indeed, as it was the 16 size movements and cases that were the most common.


This Sangamo Special, RR Grade Model 13, 17 size pocketwatch shown here is the only Sangamo Special in my collection of 57 RR Grade pocketwatches, and is one of the more valuable watches in the collection. With the movement serial number of 4,642,673 this watch was manufactured in a small run of only 1,000 watches, and was cased in 1925 making it 84 years old. It runs perfectly and keeps very good time.

There were only 11 runs of 1,000 watches each, plus one short run of 200 watches for the Model 13 Sangamo Special, creating a total of only 11,200 Model 13 watches. This very small number also adds to the rarity and scarcity and the value of this watch. Additionally, the movement on this watch is more unique in that it contains a diamond end stone in the gold balance cup. Most Sangamo watches, all models, contained flat sapphire stones in the balance cups, but a very few Model 13 watches were made with the diamond end stone, being special manufacture movements, and raising their value considerably.

This Sangamo Special is housed in a Rigid Bow 14k gold filled triple-hinged, open face, hunter case, the case being original and traceable to the watch and its movement.

All Sangamo Special pocketwatches were factory cased by Illinois (except for the few that were sold later by Hamilton after purchasing Illinois -- those few were, of course, cased by Hamilton, but only the original authentic marked Sangamo cases were used -- no Sangamo Special watch was ever cased in any other case than an official Sangamo case).

All Sangamo Special cases were either solid 14k gold or 14k gold filled, and all cases manufactured specifically for Illinois by Wadsworth, a premier case company located in Kentucky and all cases were engraved with the Sangamo Special name. Cases came in three basic versions, but several distinctive designs within each version. The three basic versions were: moveable bow, stiff bow, and rigid bow (note that the bow is the loop above the crown where a chain would be attached). Within these three categories there were the hunter cases and the screw-back cases, but all cases were of the highest quality available.

Dials and hands on the 17 size Sangamo Special watches were also unique. Illinois used only the “kite-shaped” hands, and these hands were in a furnace blue/black color rather than the usual purple hands that Illinois used on all its other pocketwatches. Dials contained only Gothic or Arabic numerals and the seconds sub-chapter on the dial was slightly larger in diameter than the standard size seconds sub-chapter used on all other watches. Sangamo dials were all white porcelain fired over steel and the numbers and markers were always black; no other coloring was ever added to the Sangamo Special dials (note that some earlier Sangamo watches, NOT the Sangamo Special, had red coloring in numbers and markers on their dials) and no nomenclature as to the watch, except for the Illinois name was present on the Sangamo Special dials.

Pic 1 - the dial and face

Pic 2 - the case back

Pic 3 - all three covers open

Pic 4 - the inside movement cover

Pic 5 - the two back covers open showing the movement

Pic 6 - the magnificent movement of this near-perfect 84 year old watch

Thanks to all of you who have taken the time to read this long post. I feel that when I picture my vintage pocketwatches, the only true way to do them justice is to include historical facts with them. There will bemany more of these vintage watches pics and histories to come, I will post them here on WF if there is an interest in them.
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