What’s It Worth? Watch Papers: A Fascinating Glimpse Into The Past

Sometimes it’s the little things. Old pocket watches are fun. While finer examples cost hundreds to thousands of dollars, people also collect watch papers. American colonial watch papers often bring only $1-$10, but some bring much more; they’re affordable and fun to collect. (Google it!)

Last week we bought a 200-year-old pocket watch. It struck my eye because of its age and because of the
incredible repoussé silver Roman scene. Made by Charles Reynolds, it runs with the use of a normal balance wheel and a chain drive (a tiny actual ½ mm chain that pulls power from the mainspring).
Imagine making this with only daylight for illumination and a foot-powered lathe and crude tools! I bought it for $350 … knowing I could get $450 for it.

watch papers

The real treasure lurked inside the watch: one of the watch papers (small bits of paper, sometimes just rags or snippets of old books but often an advertisement for the watchmaker that serves as a wicking element and a shock absorber to the second case in “pair case” watches). Apparently John Dovaston, noted poet, botanist and politician, and a friend of Keats and Reynolds, owned this watch! Born in 1782 in West Felton, Shropshire, he was an attorney’s apprentice turned farmer and scientist after a trip to the West Indies to learn botany.

American Colonial Watch

According to online research, he was a “Unitarian well versed in Hebrew, Anglo-Saxon, and Latin; in 1798, he founded the Breidden Society that for several decades met annually to enact pseudo-Druidic rituals.” He was for some reason called “Crazy Jack from Christ’s Church,” possibly because of his varied skills and interests (he was a humorist, and at one time a theater critic). He once sent a letter to a friend asking his friend to come visit, writing, “Come to visit, we have excellent tobacco, roast beef and ditches to study insects in and should you ever chance to visit, there are beds for you and yours, tho’ I go and lie in the pig sty, or with any other learned brethren.”

Likely in Dovaston’s handwriting, the watch paper notes that it was a gift from Englishman
Richard Hill Waring, a noted botanist and attorney of his time. While ownership may not add much value, it makes it more desirable and much easier to sell.

Go ahead. Google us. Three former sothebys.com associates and two art
historians on staff. You read about us in the Wall Street Journal,
The New York Times and Fortune magazine. We have sold the contents
of museums and worked with USF and the U.S. Bankruptcy Court.
Let us bid on your items. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

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