Sheaffer´S Pocket watches

By Ramón Campos.

1885 Fredonia. Only Jacob R. Sheaffer, Walter's father, private label.


Jacob Royer Sheaffer was a socially preeminent man, identified with all the progresive movement in the county, actively cooperating in every enterprise which would make for better business and social condition. He was made Master Mason, 1862, and Odd Fellow, 1863. He had the honor of composing Bloomfield Rebekah Lodge #1, holds the honored position of being the first Rebekah lodge of the world. For several years in the 1870s, he was elected Davis County Treasurer and later, at the beginning of the century, he was president of the Iowa State Poultry association.

The first jewelry location(1) of Jacob R. Sheaffer, Walter’s father, was on the Bloomfield´s West Side Square.

In the mid-1870s Jacob went bankrupt. The financial panic of 1873 and the derived failure of the «Great Western Insurance Company», an institution in which a number of Bloomfield men had invested. Several of them were crippled by its collapse and Jacob was counted among them.

Another possible cause of his economic problems was, probably, what the Davis county resolved to quitclaim the Bloomfield public square to be divided into lots. The proceeds of their sale to be given to the Chicago and Southwestern Railway Company, if they would build their road to Bloomfield, the amount to be given to the railway company was $40,000. J. R. Sheaffer and the other two businessmen were appointed and gave bond as trustees (in the penal sum of $80,000), for the sale of the lots above mentioned. But the company concluded not to come to Bloomfield, but went through the county five miles north, and thus secured no aid from this source. Whereupon the trustees quitclaimed the public square back to the county.

In 1876 Jacob Sheaffer because of his bankruptcy whatever cause, sold out his jewelry business to Samuel Parker Findley.

According to a business map of Bloomfield from about 1880, we see Jacob Sheaffer in jewelry business again. Now in the second location(2) at Northwest Square corner as «Sheaffer & Walton» (this last, surname of his political family) watches, clocks, jewelry, and repair.

Bloomfield Square.
1912 c. Bloomfield Square West and Northwest sides with Sheaffer´s jewelry locations.

Park Findley and his brother were in the process of beginning to construct new buildings directly east across the street from the north location. I assume that when Jacob suffered his financial setback, that Park Findley bought him out, and then when Park Findley decided to relocate to Beloit, Kansas, in 1884, he sold back to Sheaffer. This is the definitive location(3) of the store and where Walter and Jacob have been photographed.

1900 c. Jacob y Walter Sheaffer standing up in jewelry doorway of Northside Square (photo from a current Sheaffer's catalog)
1900 c. Another perspective of Sheaffer´s jewelry in Northside/Jefferson St. Bloomfield Square(3). Courtesy of Rudy Evans, Bloomfield historian.

Jacob R. Sheaffer kept in business this jewelry store until the same day of his death, January 25th, 1917, at the age of 78.

1915 c. Sheaffer´s jewelry store. Courtesy of Deborah Barker, Bloomfield librarian.

Walter Sheaffer went to work at the age of 12 for $1 a week as a printers devil. After that, he was a grocery boy and operated a peanut stand in the summer months. His first jewelry store job was in Centerville, Iowa. He slept into this store. Later, he worked in a jewelry store in Unionville, Missouri, from where he returned in 1888 to associate with his father in the Bloomfield store, so from this year in advance, we can already see in the engraving, J.R. SHEAFFER & SON on their pocket watch movements.

1898 Harward Special Pocket Watch. Sheaffer Hamilton grade 929.
1898 Harward Special Sheaffer Hamilton grade 929. Background, a Walter Sheaffer and friends invitation. Courtesy of Rudy Evans, Bloomfield's historian.
1899 Harward Special Sheaffer Hamilton grade 929.

All Sheaffer’S-Hamilton watches are furnished with fancy dials marked as «Harward Special» which differs from any other manufacturer where we will see the dials marked as «Sheaffer Special».

These Harward Special dials are arcane. Michael Fultz (RIP), e.g., was interested in looking for it origin.

A possible explanation could be found in Leroy S. Harward, a general merchant in Bloomfield who died in 1893 -just when the Sheaffers begin to market Hamilton watches-. It is possible that, at his death, the Sheaffers bought his stocks, which included these fancy dials that the Sheaffers furnished in their highest range of Hamilton pocket watches.

Walter Sheaffer himself explains to us in his Life Story the importance of these Hamilton pocket watches in his business and the sales techniques used.

1901 Harward Special Sheaffer Hamilton grade 925.
1902 Harward Special pocket watch Hamilton 924.
1903 Harward Special Sheaffer Hamilton grade 926.
1903 Harward Special Sheaffer Hamilton grade 940.
1903 Harward Special Sheaffer Hamilton grade 926.
1903. Harward Special Sheaffer Hamilton grade 940.
1904 Harward Special pocket watch Sheaffer Hamilton grade 975.

Fort Madison.

In 1906 Walter Sheaffer, who had combined jewelry with agriculture and poultry, trade by barter with Mr. Bowen his Bloomfield 188-acre farm in exchange for a jewelry store in Fort Madison.

1906 06 07 Sheaffer move to Fort Madison. The Ottumwa Courier.
1906 Chautauqua days. Walter Sheaffer jewelry in 732, 2nd Street (today Avenue G). At sign of large pocket watch. Photo from the State Historical Society of Iowa.

 As you can see, the dimensional zinc pocket watch sign was removed from Bloomfield (does not appear in the last photos there) and placed in the face of the Fort Madison store in 1906.

«This store was in a small building and was very dark and the fine stock of goods did not show up to good advantage. It had a widow, Mrs. Sadie Spreen, build a store for me near there and I moved in the new location by fall.«

Sheaffer's jewelries in Second street. Photo from a 1913 Sanborn fire insurance map. Library of Congress.
Sheaffer´s jewelry in 726 Second St. at sign of large pocket watch. In the foreground, Jules Axt drugstore. Years later, Axt would be vice president of W.A. Sheaffer Pen Co.

In this c. 1907 Hampden and later movement watches both stores, Bloomfield & Fort Madison, already appear:

A c.1907 Sheaffer-Special, Hampden, pocket watch with its genuine presentation box. Courtesy of Cyndie Reppert.
1908 Sheaffer Special Hampden.
1908 Sheaffer Special Hampden.
1909 Sheaffer Special Illinois pocket watch.

Curiously the engraving «SHEAFFER» of watches of this epoch has a certain resemblance -all capital letters and the initial «S» of greater height than the others- with the typography that years later Walter will use in the brand of his fountain pens.

1909 Sheaffer Special Illinois pocket watch movement.
1910 c. Sheaffer Special Swiss made pocket watch.
1910 Harward Special Sheaffer Hamilton grade 975.
1911 Sheaffer Hamilton grade 927 Harward Special.
1913 Sheaffer Special Illinois pocket watch.

In 1913 Walter sold his Fort Madison jewelry and music store to Mr. Lerche, his watchmaker, and W.L. Saunders, his brother-in-law to surrender completely to the manufacture of fountain pens.

1914 Sheaffer Special Illinois grade 304.
Sheaffer dial pocket wach wallpaper. Background Elk's Lodge. Fort Madison.
Sheaffer movement pocket wach wallpaper. Background Elk's Lodge. Fort Madison.


  • Rudy Evans, Bloomfield historian.
  • Deborath Barker, President Davis County Genealogical Society.
  • History of Davis County, Iowa. Desmoines Historical Co. 1882.
  • Walter Sheaffer Life Story.