Pocket watch keys

W.M. Lyon, Chester Depot pocket watch showing watch key on winding post. Photo by Ron Patch

It was over a year ago, I was buying antiques from an elderly lady who had been an antiques dealer most of her life. Some may recall my referring to her by saying, “She’s been around since Moby Dick was a minnow.” She asked if I had a key for her key wind pocket watch. “Yes, but I don’t know where.” The other day I found my pocket watch keys. Of course, I was looking for something else.

Some readers will be familiar with winding a pocket watch by turning the crown on the top of the watch back and forth. Before this advancement in watch technology, pocket watches were wound with a tiny key. When you open the rear cover and expose the movement, you’ll see a square steel post.

The key is placed on this post to wind the watch. The same end of the watch key is used to set the hands. Open the glass cover, and put the end of the key on to the arbor the hands are attached to, and turn the key. This advances the hands.

The history below is from “VERMONT CLOCK AND WATCHMAKERS, SILVERSMITHS, AND JEWELERS 1778 – 1878, by LILIAN BAKER CARLISLE 1970.” It’s an excellent book.


Worked in Brattleboro. First listed 1878.

Partnership of Bethuel Ranger and Henry H. Thompson, watchmakers and jewelers, working at 79 Main Street in Brattleboro. The firm was commenced by Isaac Thompson about 1817, then worked by his son Daniel B. Thompson until 1843 when Bethuel Ranger became a partner. After Daniel died in 1876, Ranger became the senior partner and Henry H. Thompson succeeded to his father’s interest. The firm dissolved on Ranger’s death in 1895 and Henry H. Thompson carried on the business alone until joined by his son Alfred H. Thompson who carried on the business until a few years ago.

“Walton’s Register” lists the firm as Thompson & Ranger until 1878 and as Ranger & Thompson thereafter until Ranger’s death.

Three watch keys. Center key is Ranger & Thompson winding key. Photo by Ron Patch

Henry H. Thompson

Worked in Brattleboro. Circa 1866.

After Henry H. Thompson graduated from Brattleboro High School in 1866, he immediately entered the employ of his father’s firm, Thompson & Ranger, jewelers and watchmakers and merchants of watches, jewelry and fancy goods, including buggy and harness trimmings – one of the best assortments in Vermont…

Bethuel Ranger

Worked in Brattleboro. Circa 1843

In 1836, when Bethuel Ranger was a lad of 14, he came to Brattleboro to learn the jeweler and watchmaker trade with Deacon D.B. Thompson. Ranger purchased an interest in the business Oct. 1, 1843, but in Walton’s Register he was listed separately until about 1851 when the firm became Thompson & Ranger. Deacon Thompson died in 1876, age 76; Ranger became the senior partner and Henry H. Thompson succeeded to his father’s interest. The firm thereafter was listed as Ranger & Thompson. The firm was dissolved in 1896.

Wesley M. Lyon

Worked in Chester Depot. First listed 1878.

Wesley M. Lyon located in Chester Depot in 1877, and, “by industry and keeping good goods, he has worked up a trade second to none in that vicinity. He makes a specialty of repairing and has a fine run of work in that line.” Lyon also sold jewelry and fancy goods, musical instruments, stationery, books and novelties, confectionery and cutlery. He was a watchmaker and jeweler and had his store on Depot Street. Mrs. E.F. Harrington in 1883, kept a millinery and fancy goods shop in rooms in Lyon’s jewelry store and Lyon employed one assistant, Walter M. Wright, a jeweler. (Child, Gazetteer of Windsor County, 1883.)

In 1883, Chester Depot was described as a small village gathered about the depot of the Central Vermont Railroad. There was one hotel, a wholesale and retail hardware store, a coal and flour store, one general store; Lyon’s Jewelry establishment and one chair stock factory. The usual complement of other mechanic shops also included a furniture store, machine shop, and engine house.”

W.M. Lyon trade card. Photo by Ron Patch

I’ll call Minnow and tell her I found my watch keys. Watch keys come in several sizes. I might try several keys before I find the correct size for her watch.

The Ranger & Thompson key I have would be hard to find today. One side reads “Ranger & Thompson Main Street Brattleboro.” The other side reads “Watchmaker and Jewelers.”


This week’s old saying sums up how I feel about the world I find myself living in: “We don’t know where we’re going, but we’re on our way, and making good time.”

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