Fobbing Off…

Interesting and impractical alternatives to the pocket watch – Part I

There is something deeply and primitively attractive about the wearing of a pocket watch on a chain. It recalls a utopian time when trains were reliable; units of measurement were entirely incomprehensible; David Cameron’s birth was decades off; and when a man could adorn himself with shiny metal without those around him taking him for a homosexual or a criminal.

Edward Elgar

Elgar, showing a cheeky flash of chain, but what lies beneath?

As tempted as one may be to dabble in the sepia-tinted world of pocket horology, there are a few barriers that can make it a little bit of a bother. Primarily, good pocket watches can be expensive and rather fragile. They contain dozens of tiny, delicate moving parts that can break with a sudden jolt, can be very pricey to repair, and require servicing every few years if the watch is to be used regularly. I have a small pocket watch collection of my own and have enthusiastically defended my hoard against these criticisms by insisting that I would only want to wear them on special occasions anyway. Of course, the sad truth is that weddings, balls and suchlike things usually end in some kind of debauchery, and it is a truth universally acknowledged that Pocket Watches and ‘Come On Eileen’ should never be mixed.

Obamas dancing

"Careful, Michelle, you'll break my balance staff..."

What is more, whenever one wears a pocket watch out and about, no matter how great one’s faith in its timekeeping ability or quality, it is impossible to check the time without immediately referring to a wristwatch or mobile phone for comparison.

So what can one do? Pocket watches can very often be good conversation starters – often on seeing somebody with a chain tucked into their waistcoat pocket, people will ask “Have you a watch on there?” or “May I see your pocket watch?” Sadly, in my experience, most people aren’t as interested as they let on and are not at all prepared to listen to a eulogy about jewel counts or timekeeping in the golden age of railroading in the United States. What better way of striking up the most interesting of conversations than if one is able to answer “No, it isn’t. It’s a device used by pioneering photographers of the late 19th and early 20th century to measure light levels and calculate appropriate exposure times”? How erudite and worldly your acquaintances will think you when you extract some wholly unexpected and similarly useless vintage or antique gadget from your pocket.

But what sorts of things? You may well ask. You may wonder what to hide at the end of your fob chain, how to track down and acquire these curios, or what exquisite trivia you can use to dazzle your friends and convince them of just how cool you really are. If these be your concerns, read on.

The Watkins Bee Exposure Meter

Watkins Bee Meter

Watkins Bee Meter, 1904

When I first saw this, my second response was MY GOD! DOES IT MEASURE BEES??? (My first response was: A shiny old gadget-y thing in it’s original packaging? I MUST HAVE IT!) In fact they are quite often found in their original packaging, presumably because they are so impossibly complicated to use that most Edwardian hobbyist photographers took one look at the instructions and put them carefully back in the dresser, never to be touched again. I won’t bore you with how they work or what you use them for, you can read that elsewhere, but the important thing to note is that they are compact, attractive, and invented by Herefordian Alfred Watkins. The bad news is that they don’t measure bees.

Late C19th Post Office Pillar Box Key with Reward Fob

Post Office Key & Fob

Whoever finds this key will be entitled to 2s 6d on returning it to the nearest Police Station

Honestly, if I need to explain how cool it is to have a mysterious old key, with attached brass fob bearing the above legend, chained to your navel at an elegant gathering, nothing I say will convince you.

Early C20th Railway Whistle

GWR Whistle

Brass Great Western Railways Acme Thunderer, c.1930s

Everyone loves a little bit of railwayana, and what better than a whistle. There are roughly three distinct kinds available: whistles bearing the railway company’s initials, official issue whistles with departments and issue codes, and ‘button whistles’ displaying the company’s logo or arms. All are appealing in their own way. They come into their own at more rowdy soirees where a disc jockey may be tempted to play There It Go (The Whistle Song) by Juelz Santana. If this happens you will be the coolest person in the room.

Stay tuned for Part II…



Filed under Accessories, Morning Dress

5 responses to “Fobbing Off…

  1. Charles Henry Wolfenbloode

    Pretty jealous of you fobs!

  2. Well, Bee meters are literally all over eBay at the moment. Sometimes there are none at all but just now there’s a bit of a tidal wave of them. Occasionally people go over the top with the prices they ask for them (and sometimes they sell for ridiculous prices) but with a bit of patience one shouldn’t have to part for more than £10 or so for a decent one in a box.

  3. Nico

    I would like to have my very own Bee metre. I’ll add that I was already aware of their function, having read a biography of Alfred Watkins. I’ve looked at his photographic plates in the museum store too. They’re amazing.

  4. hi!,I love your writing very so much! proportion we communicate more approximately your post on AOL? I need a specialist on this area to resolve my problem. Maybe that’s you! Having a look ahead to see you.

  5. Peter

    i found a key fob, but i have no key, could you possibly tell me what its worth?

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