by Derick Stackpole
IG: @stackpdr + @starcitywatchcollective
It was the annual 24-block yard sale and I found myself rummaging through a cardboard Avon box full of knickknacks. Already on my short list secondary to a bag full of old Timex watches I had found under the same carport the previous year I let out an audible, “ohh $#*!”
“How much?” I asked lifting the object out of the box and into the purveyor’s view.
I went into my wallet and handed him a crisp ten-dollar bill. Scratch that. I looked at my dad.
“Could I borrow some cash?”
Walking away onto the next driveway Dad made a good point.
“You lose all bargaining power when the guy hears your excitement.”
I probably would have paid the man whatever he wanted honestly. This thing was unique. I had only glanced through the pages but knew I had found a piece of what old-timers, nostalgic grandmothers, antiquarians, ancestry.com users would call “history.” I just thought it was cool and it would be one more thing for my wife to comment, “Do you really need another book?”
After acquiring a few more wonderfully dated and useless objects to clutter my shelves I made it back to the house and started to study The Watchmaker’s Combined Register. This business ledger recorded every transaction, including cleanings and part replacements conducted by R. J. Myers between October 2, 1930 and July 18, 1936. Each column in the book is specific to a watchmaker’s craft:
Date of Sale or Repair - Name of Owner - Number of Movement - Kind of Movement - Kind of Case - Number in Case
Private Running Number - Extent of Repairing Done - Charges for Repairing - Amount of Sale
I have learned a lot about R. J. Myers and his endeavors through studying these columns, but there are still many questions.
A professor in college always remarked, “You must use your imagination when interpreting an object from the past.” She cautioned that this can lead you astray and into some absurd territory, but it can also lend itself to insights.
Was R.J. Myers a man or women. We can’t know their gender for certain, but given the times and occupation, probably.
Starting a new business in 1930 would take serious gumption. The stock market had crashed in October of the previous year and this was only the beginning of a long and harsh decade.
One could argue that this book was a continuation from a previous ledger; however, the first transaction took place on 10/2/30 for a James Ligue charged $3.50 for “Bal staff & Jewel clen” on a 7J Elgin pocket watch.
Holy crap!!!! Side note:
The meticulous record keeping in the ledger and the awesomeness of the internet (http://www.elginnumbers.com) has enabled me the opportunity to look up the serial numbers for the Elgin watches listed on the pages. This company, based out of Chicago, produced over 32 million watches by 1930 according to the website.
This means that I now know that Mr. Ligue’s watch was produced between 1888-1898, his specific model is from the year 1897 and had a gilded finish! The thing was already over three decades old when Mr. Myers was working on it. This is not atypical either, most of the watches listed are from the turn of the century. These watches had a long service life.
Now, back to Mr. Myers. It seems there were no more transactions until 11/24/30. Close to two months without work. The next two customers listed are a M.A. Myers and O.R. Myers. Both watches are Elgins.
Think on this. Both listed on the same day and both with the same last name as the owner of the business ledger. Hmm… I can just imagine his mother-in-law:
“Now Mathew, we know Richard is struggling and it would be really nice if you and Oliver would help him out with some business.”
Well things picked up after that. Starting in December more customers appear on the pages with a total of twenty-five customers in 1930.
In 1931 he had 272 patrons. He hit his peak in 1932 with 284.
In 1931 the average yearly wage was $1,850. Some quick math shows that Mr. Myer made around $800 dollars in 1931 off his work. After expenses are considered, this must have been a side job or maybe a retirement gig. Who knows.
In 1933 he had 242 customers. This falls to 229 in 1934 and then nothing for 1935. The entries just stop.
Then in big numbers taking up two rows he writes 1936. I don’t believe he wrote the entries in a different book for 1935. The Private Running Number picks right back up from 1061 written on 10/12/1934 to 1062 on 7/7/1936. The transactions for this year were written over just two days. He seems to have liquidated his stock and performed a couple of repairs for named customers on the 7th. Then the word “stock” is listed for fifteen entries ending on 7/8/36.
The final job simply reads “cry.” Now, this most likely stands for watch crystal, but one can always read a more poetic end to Mr. Myers endeavor.