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Member Profile Tom McIntyre
Tom McIntyre, member since 1971
For many pocket and wrist watch collectors it’s all about the stories—stories of a great and unexpected find, where the pieces were made, and under what circumstances. Tom McIntyre’s collection of elite Waltham pocket watches is a source of great stories.
McIntyre tells a horror story that undoubtedly is the nightmare of every serious collector. When he moved to Massachusetts, he left his burgeoning watch collection of about 60 pieces in the new house, while he and his wife stayed in a motel. Neighborhood adolescents broke into the house and stole the entire collection. “It was very ironic,” McIntyre says, “I figured they would be safer in the house than in a motel.” The incident turned him off watch collecting for about a decade, but an inspiring find convinced him to begin again.
When Tom was in England on business a number of years later, he asked a vendor at Portobello Market if he had anything that would be of special interest to an American. The vendor responded with two beautiful Waltham pocket watches: (1) a Waltham five minute repeating watch that indicates the time on demand with a musical tone and (2) an even rarer Waltham 20-size watch made in Nashua, NH, by a rogue contingent of Waltham employees.
The dealer, who was quite experienced, remarked it was the nicest keywind watch he had ever seen. McIntyre bought both. “I called my wife and told her that I needed to be wired a substantial amount of money, which she did, oddly enough.” McIntyre says, “It’s one of the prides and joys of my collection, and it got me interested in Waltham watches in general.”
This interest, sparked in 1981, led to a collection that today features every highest-grade Waltham made, which with examples from other makers, totals over 200 significant pieces. In addition to Waltham pocket watches, McIntyre owns some antique, eighteenth-century chronometers and other extraordinary timepieces.
It’s more than the chance meeting in an English market that made McIntyre fall in love with Waltham watches, though. He sees the way that they intersected with American history. In 1852 Waltham made the first watches using a machinery-driven, assembly line process. “The watch industry contributed substantially to the industrial revolution.
These watches marked the first precision industrial process.” He says, “It was an important time and those were important things in the development of our country. Because of that, I see Waltham to be the “father” of the computer industry and in many ways the automobile industry and all other industries.”
McIntyre knows that it is fascination with the stories of history that drives the collection of antique watches. Collectors are chasing after a distant moment in time, catching it, and holding onto it through the timepiece that might have been present there. “A watch represents a point in time,” McIntyre says. “Owning one is owning a piece of history.”
Sacrilege to most collectors is a fraudulent watch—one that has been fitted with modern parts that corrupt its historical authenticity. “If it was put together from various bits of history in the last five or ten years, then most of its merit is gone,” he says. One of the most interesting watches in his collection, the 1869 Charles Vander Woerd’s patent model, however, fits that description. McIntyre bought the original plates from one of the last master watchmakers at Waltham. “I had been looking for Vander Woerd’s patent watch for years and years out of curiosity,” he says. He couldn’t pass up the chance to own it, even if it was not all original. “As long as the story is intact and the description of the watch is accurate, I still want it.” He does, however, acknowledge that some of his watch-collecting peers deride it or consider it worthless, dubbing it as a “Frankenwatch.”
One of McIntyre’s most personal pursuits of a rare watch involved a short-lived, high-end pocket watch that coincidentally carried his last name. The McIntyre pocket watch was an attempt by two veteran watchmakers, Fred McIntyre and Charles DeLong, to produce an American pocket watch that would rival the mastery of Swiss luxury watches such as Patek Philippe. Unfortunate circumstances halted the production run before it began in earnest, leaving behind only a few prototypes.
“It’s such a romantic story that it appeals to me a lot,” he says about the McIntyre watch company. “The name is certainly what got me interested,” he acknowledges. “The watch itself though is an outstanding thing in terms of American watchmaking. It very well might have been the most significant thing ever.” In addition to being beautiful, the watch was incredibly precise and simple to repair. The prognosis that McIntyre holds is that if things had gone differently, McIntyre would have taken over the world of watches. With only a handful ever produced, Tom could not purchase one, but he did procure the original factory material inventory. He was recently able to purchase an example that had been finished in the 1920’s by DeLong and his student Vance LaPorte.
These stories—and others like them—will be carried on into the future; McIntyre isn’t worried about that. He acknowledges that its true that young people don’t collect pocket watches and that there are more convenient and technologically advanced methods of timekeeping. But, he explains the state of watchmaking and watch collecting and adds a wry laugh, “Watches, in all their forms, are historical artifacts, even the ones being made currently.”
McIntyre and his peers prefer that. “Watchmakers are artisans who are preserving those technologies and developing them further. It is an art form at this point. There is no end to the innovation, but it is innovation in an art form,” he says.
Waltham watches, and pocket watches in general, are tangible accompaniment to the story of American industrialization. In many ways, they run parallel and give structure to the story of McIntyre’s life as well.
Robert Gary at the 2013 NAWCC Symposium
The 2013 Ward Francillon Time Symposium:
A "Time Blowing" Experience by Robert Gary
The brochure promised: “Time for Everyone is a unique opportunity to learn about the origins, evolution, and future of public time from some of the foremost authorities in multiple branches of time measurement." That has to be the understatement of the year! The guest list was both impressive and intimidating: a Nobel Laureate in physics; the Chief of the Time and Frequency Division of the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology; the Senior Curator of Horology at the Royal Museum at Greenwich, London; professors from the CalTech faculty, Baylor University, and other renowned universities; famous authors of horological texts, to name only a few. Even the venue was intimidating, the California Institute of Technology—the famous CalTech, home of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (the JPL).
As I stepped onto the CalTech campus for the first time, I feared that the “brain-o-meter” would detect my presence and activate force fields to halt my forward progress, as the general alarm, “Inferior intelligence quotient detected. Inferior intelligence quotient detected” blared across the campus. My fears were baseless because no such device exists, and the faculty, staff, and students went out of their way to welcome and assist all attendees.
The presentations covered diverse and fascinating topics concerning time: measuring it across centuries, across biological species, across space, even across atoms, in addition to how the human brain comprehends and processes time, and how humans measured time in different historical eras. Each of the speakers had an amazing ability to convey extremely complex information in a manner that even the most uninitiated could understand and enjoy.
Dr. Lynn Rothschild, an evolutionary biologist/astrobiologist with the Ames Research Center, explained how different species evolved over time and, with easily understood graphics, just how long life’s time period on earth actually is.
There were discussions on tower clocks (turret clocks, as Chris McKay called them in his presentation); discussions on American-made clocks and how their low selling prices brought timepieces to the common man around the industrialized world; and a presentation about how society measured time accurately over the centuries between 1650 and 1900. Chris McKay took us on a virtual tour of the most magnificent turret clocks in the United Kingdom, including the double-frame, brass, three-train Smith turret clock of 1777 housed in the Osborne House on the Isle of Wight. This movement has a unique waterwheel escapement.
Guest speakers were Dava Sobel, author of Longitude and Galileo’s Daughter, among other books, and Anthony Turner, author of books on antique scientific instruments. Presentations on time were given by representatives from such illustrious institutions as the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles, the Science Museum, London, England, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, Boulder, CO, and the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, England, among many others.
In addition to antique clocks and watches, the most modern of atomic clocks was discussed by at least three of the renowned speakers. Dr. Thomas O’Brian, of the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Boulder, CO, delved into the making and uses of the most accurate clocks ever made. The most accurate clock at the moment will be off by no more than one second per 300 billion years, but further improvements in the technology are expected. Tom Van Baak, a precision clock enthusiast, described taking his children on a drive up Mount Rainier in a van full of atomic clocks so they could record the frequency difference between the elevation of his home and that of the mountain.
We experienced the presentations of these renowned experts and met them in person, one-on-one, at the reception and information exchange held on Friday evening. In addition to meeting and asking questions of the guest speakers, numerous participating institutions, such as the Antiquarian Horological Society; the British Horological Institute; the Musée Internationale d’Horologerie; the Worshipful Company of Clockmakers, London; and the Museum van het Nederlandse Uurwerk (the Dutch Clock and Watch Museum), had tables and representatives offering information about themselves and the programs and services they offered. In my conversations with several of the guest presenters, they each mentioned how highly impressed they were with the broad range of excellent symposium presentations. If they were impressed, think how impressed we attendees were!
The crown jewel, the pièce de résistance, of the event was the exhibition of timepieces created by the renowned British clockmaker of the seventeenth century, Thomas Tompion. The exhibit was stunning and actually overwhelming to experience. This alone—the largest display in one location ever in North America of the work of this incredible clockmaker—was worth attending the Symposium. Shown in the exhibit are ornate clocks, tower clocks, and repeating pocket watches crafted for seventeenth-century aristocrats. The owner of the collection sought a fitting way to celebrate the 300th anniversary of the making of these British National Treasures. There was no better way than to exhibit his collection at the 2013 NAWCC Time for Everyone Ward Francillon Time Symposium in Pasadena, CA.
The generosity of the collection’s owner did not stop with the Symposium. Following the closing ceremony of the Time Symposium, the exhibit was shipped to the National Watch & Clock Museum in Columbia, PA, for a limited two-month engagement. This second exhibit, called Majestic Time, was opened on November 22, 2013, and will run through January 19, 2014. NAWCC members and the general public may experience this incredible era in horological history by seeing the Tompion clocks.
Robert Gary received his MA from the University of Northern Colorado. He and his wife, Susan, owned and operated a business together for over 25 years before retiring this past January. They both have a background in marketing. Robert is a member of Ventura Chapter 190. He has written articles for local chapter newsletters and has had several articles published in The Bulletin. Robert began collecting about twenty years ago. He has recently been active in assisting the NAWCC in preserving old 35mm slide show/cassette tape programs by converting them into video productions. Robert's wife Susan is also an active member of Chapter 190. She received her MA from the University of Denver. Susan began collecting and repairing her newly acquired clocks about two years ago. She assists Robert in the converting of the slide show/cassette programs. In addition, both Susan and Robert videotaped all 19 hours of the presentations given at the 2013 Ward Francillon Time Symposium held in Pasadena in November. These will soon be available for lending to NAWCC members.