Watch Papers at the American Antiquarian Society

This summer, Graphic Arts intern Dominique Ledoux, a student at Wellesley College, created an inventory of the Society’s collection of 464 watch papers. Watch papers are round decorative papers placed between the inner and outer case of a pocket watch to protect its inner workings. They also served as advertisements for watchmakers as they often included names and addresses along with elaborate designs. Popular iconography included Father Time, Aurora in her chariot, cherubs, allegorical women, Masonic symbols, hourglasses, clocks and eagles. Most of the papers are engraved, although a few are letterpress printed. Famous engravers including Peter Maverick, Paul Revere, and Nathaniel Hurd are represented in the collection.

Currently, the collection is being digitized and by December 2011, the images will accompany Ledoux’s inventory in an electronic resource on the Society’s website.  If you just cannot wait until then, we have put a selection of watch papers on display in the AAS reading room for you to examine.

Published by

Lauren Hewes

Andrew W. Mellon Curator of Graphic Arts, American Antiquarian Society

17 thoughts on “Watch Papers at the American Antiquarian Society”

  1. Hi Lauren and thanks for this : good news!

    I did a post based on the British Library’s collection of watchpaper prints here:

    I mention this mostly to draw your attention to one of the comments I added that includes an important reference with respect to watchpaper prints (1948). I’ve actually dropped that person a line to tell them of this blog entry of yours so if you want to request a copy of the article from him, drop me a line if you wish.

    1. great news….. i have a collection of over 80 papers, new york,long island, costal conn, ri, and a few other places.
      all belonged to the dominy family clock makers in easthampton long island during the federal peroid.can’t wait to see your collection !!

  2. Thank you for your quick comment! Ms. Ledoux had seen your posting about the British Library’s collection and particularly appreciated the photograph of a watch paper in a case. She and I recently visted the Willard House and Clock Museum (Grafton, Mass.) where we saw a similar case with a Willard watch paper inserted. We would love a copy of Mr. Knaster’s 1948 essay. Dorothea Spear’s 1952 essay “American Watch Papers,” published by AAS is a good resource for American papers. We look forward to putting the entire collection online and hearing from more watch paper enthusiasts!

  3. These are great! I can’t wait to see the whole collection online. Congratulations on putting together such a terrific resource!

  4. Stephen Manheimer, I am delighted to hear about the Dominy family collection of papers. We have completed the photography of our collection and are building the web resource as fast as we can! We hope to launch at the end of December, so keep checking back.

  5. how is the watch paper site developing ?

    i actually have 93 papers, if you get alot of hits, when posted, i would be willing to let you scan mine for achedemic interest. keep me posted thanks

    1. Hello Stephen, We are still building our web resource. It is looking great, but is not yet ready to go live. I hope we do get a lot of hits, and hear from other collectors of watch papers. Thank you for your offer to include your Dominy material. I am not sure how the logistics of that might work, but I am open to talking with you more about it!

  6. Hi Stephen! We are so pleased that you are excited about the resource! We are still working on the inventory and aiming for the Summer. There will be a nice blog post announcing it when its ready – so stay tuned!

  7. Hi,
    I was recently given 7 pocket watch papers to try to sell for a client. I had no idea they even existed, much less how many different makers there were. In my research I have found that they do not sell for that much, which to me is quite puzzling. You would think something so old and delicate that has managed to survive this long would be worth more. I was wondering if there is any type of guide as to the value of these little gems.

  8. Hello Melanie Moran,

    As a research library AAS is not able to give market prices for ephemera like the watch papers. There is no value guide that I know of for these specialized objects. You may want to have a look at the Ephemera Society of America’s webpage to see if any of the dealers listed there have handled watch papers in the past. Contacting one of them might be useful. Are your papers American or British?
    Lauren Hewes, Andrew W. Mellon Curator of Graphic Arts, AAS

  9. Watchpaper posting. My collection of 90+ papers all from one watch/clockmaker family, have been digitized. It was done by the Easthampton Library, Long Island collection. There was a total of 500 documents scanned inclusive of the watchpapers. It will take some time to post all but this serves as a heads-up. The collection is called Stephen Manheimer Dominy Family Collection, found under Digital Long Island. As of today papers not visible, stay tuned.

    1. Stephen Manheimer. Congratulations! I am pleased to learn that your collection of 90+ papers will be available online soon. This winter we will again take up the challenge of building a more interactive web resource for our watch papers, so stay tuned here as well.
      Lauren Hewes

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