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Illinois Vintage Pocketwatches

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The Illinois Watch Company, founded in 1869, in Springfield, Illinois, began by manufacturing the larger 18 size hunter cased (as opposed to the open face -- the Hunter Cases are those cases where there are metal covers on the watch, often on both the face and back of the watch, the coversopeningon hinges at the bottom or side of the watch). The front cover usually snaps open with a spring, while the back cases, usually two, an outer cover and an inner cover that covers the movement, are opened with a watch opening tool. However, RR Grade pocketwatches in hunter cases never had a cover over the dial of the watch, the specifications for RR Grade forbid it.

The Bunn Special was named for John W. Bunn, one of the founders of the company, and it is his signature that is engraved on the movements of all Bunn Special watches.

Illinois manufactured pocketwatches of all sizes and grades until late 1927 when the company wasbought by the Hamilton Watch Company of Lancaster, PA. However, Hamilton, while infusing some of their designs, movement additions and modifications, essentially allowed Illinois to continue manufacturing some of their own models in Springfield, under the Illinois name until 1933, when Hamilton closed the Springfield factory and moved all Illinois operations to Pennsylvania, where Hamilton manufactured the Illinois brand watches in their own factory in Lancaster. The Illinois brand name was discontinued by Hamiltonmany yearsbefore Hamilton ceased operations in 1970.

The Illinois Bunn Specials are claimedto be some of the most collected of all RR Grade Pocketwatches, and any Bunn Special model continues to be one of the most desired RR Grade PW of all brands. The original 18 size watches came in 20 variations, while the RR Grade 16 size came in 22.

The Bunn Specials were graded by number, that number being the model number of the watch, and engraved on the movement. The choice movements, in decending order were the Illinois 163A (the most expensive and top Illinois PW, and one of the more expensive watches to collect), followed by the Illinois 163, 161A, 161, and then the Illinois 60 hour models. However, all models 163A, 163, 161A and 161 were 60 hour mainspring watches.There were numerous other Bunn Special models, but these were the top grades and the most expensive to purchase. The Illinois 163A is considered equal in collectability and value to the rare Model 13 Illinois Sangamo Special (a 17 size RR Grade PW that I featured in a separate post here on WF).

This first picture is of the four Bunn Specials that I have selected from my collection to display --- top center is a white gold 163A, left is a 161 with the Montgomery dial, right is a 60-hour, and bottom is a 161A:

Taking these four watches, one by one, the pics begin with the top Illinois RR Grade 163A. The dial is one of the more rare Bunn Special dials in that almost all 163A dials did not state both 23J at the top plus 60 hour 6 positions at the bottom. The crown and bow are sharp and tight, indicating little or no carrying of this watch.

This next photo is of the back of the pristine case -- no stains, corrosion, scratches, dents, dings or other imperfections are present on this case:

This photo is the movement alongside the inside of the case back. The Bunn signature can be seen engraved on both the movement and inside the case back. This case serial number is original to the watch and is traceable to this particular watch. There are no service markings found on either the case or the watch movement. This watch keeps near perfect time.

This photo is of the beautiful fishscale damaskeened (the fishscale damaskeening was a trademark of the Bunn Special movements) movement of the 163A. Note the movement grade, 163A engraved between the winding wheels. The serial number on the movement, 5457831 indicates this watch was manufactured in 1932, after Illinois was purchased by Hamilton, making this watch 77 years old. .

This photo is a model 161 with the Montgomery dial:

The case back of the 161:

The movement and inside case of the 161:

The movement of the 161 -- the serial number on the movement, 5441886 indicates manufacture in 1932. This movement, while very nice, is not perfect in that some of the black paint inside the engraving has faded, and there is evidence of service markings on the movement and in the screw heads. The movement runs perfectly and keeps excellent time and is considered a movement in fine condition.

A beautiful60-hour Bunn Special --- the case, dial, hands are in exceptional condition for a 60 hour Bunn Special.

The beautiful high-polish case back of the 60-hour housed in the Classic Case:

The movement and inside the case back of the 60-hour --- please note that the serial number on the case back is not the serial number of the watch and does not determine when the watch was manufactured. The serial number on the watch movement is the manufacturing serial:

The movement of the 60-hour. The serial number on the movement, 5022409 indicates that this watch was manufactured in 1927, the last year that Illinois was a private watch company. Shortly after Illinois was purchased by Hamilton:

The face and dial of a beautiful 161A:

The high polished case back of the 161A:

The movement and inside case back of the 161A:

And finally, the movement of the 161A, serial number 5481743, indicating manufacture in 1933.

Thank you for your time in viewing this long post.
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Awesome post and watches. Any idea what happened to the Bunn family. Did they stay involved in watches after getting bought out?
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TVDinner wrote:
Awesome post and watches. Any idea what happened to the Bunn family. Did they stay involved in watches after getting bought out?
TV -- John W. Bunn had quite a history, watchmaking only being a small part of his life. A longtime friend of Abraham Lincoln, Bunn was a banker, owned a grocery business, manufactured shoes and boots, owned an iron and steel mill, was involved or a director of several railroads, was involved in the insurance business heavily, and was deeply involved in politics. There were two other Bunn family members involved in the Illinois Watch Company, but once it was sold to Hamilton, the Bunns gradually left the watch business. But, they had built what was recognized as the finest watchmaking in the USA at the time, one reason Hamilton wanted it so badly. When the depression took hold, it was a good time to sell, and the Bunns divested their interests to Hamilton.

If you are interested at all in reading about the Bunn history, here is a link to Wikapedia that has a long and detailed narrative of the Bunn men.
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AWESOME link - such great history to read
at the time of Henry Bunn's death in 1859 he left an estate valued at a quantity in excess of $34,000.00
$34K in 1859 must have been like millions today. So John has some money in his family his entire life...and then he becomes one of Abe Lincoln's closest friends and supporters! What a life.

Beginning as an entry-level employee in the wholelsale grocery house owned by his brother, John rapidly ascended to increased levels of responsibility, not only within the grocery enterprise, but within a diverse array of additional commercial and civic organizations in Illinois, and throughout the United States as a whole.[23] The J. & J. W. Bunn Grocery Company generated approximate sales of $200,000.00 around the year 1871.[24] During the period when John W. Bunn acted with executive leadership within the J. & J. W. Bunn Grocery Company, the profitability of the firm increased, and in 1880 the sales volume of the firm reached $450,000.00, with prediction in 1880 of sales volume growth to $500,000.00 for the year 1881.[
These guys were literally printing money well before they even got into the watch business.

Illinois Watch Company
John W. Bunn was an active participant in the development of industrial production of pocket watches for the railroads, and served as a founder, director, and Vice President of the Illinois Watch Company of Springfield, Illinois.[26] The Illinois Watch Company, a globally significant corporation with respect to the railroad logistics industry, operated branch corporate offices in New York City, Chicago, and San Francisco.[27] The assets of the Illinois Watch Company were sold, during the years 1927/1928, to the Hamilton Watch Company of Lancaster, Pennsylvania for a sum in excess of $5,000,000.00.[28] John Whitfield Bunn also worked with Jacob Bunn and Benjamin Hamilton Ferguson in the management of the Illinois Watch Company.[29] The Illinois Watch Company was estimated by one source to have paid out nearly $20,000,000.00 in employee wages by approximately 1920
If you keep reading that information the Bunn family literally went from one successful business to the next for a very very long time.

Amazing stuff! thanks again.
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Man do i ever get so jealous everytime i see your pics.Those watches are so pristine.It must have taken you quite sometime to amass such a beautiful collection.You must get so much joy just looking at these everyday.Please keep posting.This will probably be the only way i will be able to see such fine pieces.Thank You.
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It's informative to read about the quality that went into manufacturing the Bunn Specials.

These are incredibly beautiful and mesmerizing to stare at. My words don't match my awe!

Thanks for sharing this pocketwatch, your info, and your pics!
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Interesting article. Thanks

Not Bunn Special but:b:b:b:b:b:b:bits my

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