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In Sync, July/August 2004 Book Review Excerpts

Did you see Fred’s book? For a week I had been getting e-mails and calls about Fredric J. Friedberg s new book The Illinois Watch: The Life and Times of a Great American Watch Company. Yesterday, my copy arrived. My response: Wow!

I suppose I need to back up a bit. I knew the book was coming; I had helped a little with the technical editing; I had read some of the galleys; I had contributed images of some watches; so why am I blown away? Because the final product is really, really good. What makes it good? The answer would have to include the research, the images, the history of the company and its watches, the historical notes on world developments, the appendices and, especially, the care that has gone into the writing and photography.

You reviewer has collected Illinois pocket watches and wristwatches for more than 20 years. Illinois pocket watches have always been a strong collectible because the company made some of the finest mechanical railroad-grade watches. However, Illinois wristwatches have been sort of a forgotten treasure. There were not many of these watches made and few survived the gold scramble of 1979. In the past few years, Illinois wristwatches have become some of the most collectible of American-made wristwatches, surpassing Hamilton, and now they have their own wonderful book.

The identification portion of The Illinois Watch will be priceless to most collectors struggling to rationalize Illinois’s wide range of styles and models. The chapter on Case Makers and Cases has long been needed, and the chapter on Ephemera, Memorabilia and Miscellany is an excellent source for new ideas on what to collect. There is a price guide, too. All this information is placed in proper historical context with vignettes of the times. The watch material is highlighted with interviews of Illinois Watch Company employees and with some stories by and about Illinois watch collectors and their watches. There is even a section for the ladies models, the remaining bargains in Illinois wristwatches.

Collectors of Illinois pocket watches will not be disappointed, either. Especially fascinating are the restored images taken from the Illinois Watch Company s 1923 silent film, The Making of an Illinois Watch, featuring a Bunn Special! Many of the other sections, especially those about the people and the history of the company are equally valuable to both pocket watch and wristwatch collectors.

This is a rather large book, 9 by 12 inches and 272 pages. All of the modern images are in color, and the layout and illustrations are even better than Schiffer’s typically fine quality.

This book is a worthwhile purchase, even at $80. I am sure that many watch collectors will save much more money than the cover price by reading the two brief passages titled Caveat Emptor: What to avoid when buying an Illinois and Illinois Didnts, which contain some of the book’s most valuable reference material. The sections detailing which case, movement and dial combinations were assembled and advertised by the factory are the last word on determining which watches are original and which ones have been assembled by dealers from available parts. This information may save the reader from an unfortunate and embarrassing purchase. The Illinois Watch is not only for Illinois watch collectors; it will lead readers into the fascinating subject of American-made watches.

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