Monday, November 22, 2010

Mid-Ohio Insulator Show Raises Questions about Dueber-Hampden Watch Crystals

Uncovering treasures in Springfield, Ohio
Springfield, Ohio is home to Wittenberg College and Clark State Community College, as well as Frank Lloyd Wright's Westcott House. Built in 1908, this house is an example of Prairie style architecture. The design of this house extended Wright's concept of relating the building to the other landscape elements, by using the pool, the terrace, and the garden.

Besides this architectural gem, Springfield has some 78 miles of hiking and biking trails. Just a few of the treasures waiting to be discovered when you have a chance to visit this city west of Columbus. But what I stumbled upon quite by accident in Springfield was the Mid-Ohio Insulator show. The show is held every year the first weekend in November at the Clark County Fairgrounds.

Mid-Ohio Insulator Show turns out to be nice surprise
Steve Blair in the early days,
as a lineman for the telephone company
The Mid-Ohio show was started by Steve Blair. Steve started his career in 1963 at Western Reserve Telephone and moved on to Ohio Bell in 1967 as a cable repair man where he worked though all the systems, and ended up as a digital repairman.
Steve said he started out as a basic lineman. One day he climbed a telephone pole and found a nice olive-colored insulator which he still owns. From that day on, Steve's interest in insulator collecting began to grow. Because his children were small he wanted to start a show close by so people could come share their collections of insulators. Steve organized the first Mid-Ohio show back in 1971 in London, Ohio. There were about 40-plus tables and cost a quarter for admission. This year more than 500 people exhibited or visited the 40th anniversary of the Mid-Ohio show to browse the collection of insulators from around the country.

Over the years, Steve had some help with the show from Glenn Drummond, a hydraulic engineer for the Corp of Engineers. Glenn is from the Cincinnati area and likes history. He begin to dig around the Ohio River and found pieces that were from the Hemingray Company that was once located in Kentucky. Glenn and Steve's collaboration started about three years after the first show and has continued through the years. Steve said the show has continued to grow. This year, there was even a collector from Great Britain. Some of the states represented by collectors, included Alaska, Montano, Ohio, Alabama, Kentucky, New York, Virginia, North Carolina, and California.

Lou Hall, President of the National Insulator Association talks about the telegraph & insulators
Speaking of California, I had the pleasure of meeting Lou Hall from Fresno, California. Lou is the president of National Insulator Association (NIA). This group was founded in 1973. Lou in his first year as NIA president said he felt he needed to make the pilgrimage to the one show every insulator collector must attend. Mid-Ohio is one of the largest shows of insulators in the country, with the most variety. There was something for everybody, including battery covers, and electrical plates.

Steve Blair and Lou Hall share a moment at the
40th Mid-Ohio Insulator Show in Springfield, Ohio.
Lou said the first use of insulators was for the telegraph line that ran from Philadelphia to Washington, D.C. in about 1840-1843. The telegraph replaced the transportation system in delivering the news. Before the telegraph, it took news about three months to travel from Washington, D.C. to San Francisco by boat, and four weeks by stage coach, or 10 days when it was carried by the pony express. The telegraph cut this time to 10 seconds. Lou said it took the 10 seconds because the message needed to be keyed in at each different station.

The Overland telegraph line from
Carson City, Nevada to Salt Lake City, Utah was completed in October 1861. All military and government communication was free, but all other messages cost, and the cost was steep. To bring competition to the telegraph line and lower the cost of sending a message, in 1864, another line was built. Ironically though, both lines ended up being owned by same company. In 1869, the line moved along the transcontinental railroad, and the original line was abandoned.

Lou is a member of the transcontinental research group who are tracking the transcontinental telegraph line from anything west of the Mississippi to California. For the last 10 years, uncovering any part of the original line that was abandoned is Lou's interest. He also spends time collecting pins and brackets that the lines were attached to. His interest began in 1967, when Lou's dad bought a small ranch in Clovis, California and during the process of cleaning out a barn Lou and his father discovered a feed sack of insulators. This discovery sparked Lou's interest that has been growing ever since.

Lou's favorite piece currently is a Goodyear Rubber insert in a wooden shield clamp on a wooden thread-less pin, probably created in 1858 or possibly earlier. The thread-less insulators are extremely early, they were pushed down on a pin or on a metal bracket. These were the very first because no way had been invented yet to create the thread inside the insulators.

Louis Cauvet, a carpenter, invented and patented the threaded pinhole design
According to the website, A Brief History of Insulators, Louis Cauvet, a carpenter, invented and patented the threaded pinhole design in July 25, 1865. The threading inside pinhole of the insulator was the method that helped the insulator to be screwed down on a threaded wood or metal pin. This design is the one that many collectors still find in insulators lying along old railroad tracks throughout the country. Cauvet’s threading process is an excellent way to identify how old your insulator might be.

40th Mid-Ohio Insulator Show in Springfield, Ohio

Many in the NIA have a different focus on insulator collecting.

Kevin Jacobson inspects a potential insulator
to add to his collection.
 Another exhibitor at the Mid-Ohio show was Kevin Jacobson. After building his new house in Phoenix, Arizona with several large book cases, his wife told him he really needed something to fill them, so the couple began visiting antique shops, when they found insulators. He bought about six insulators for around eight dollars. Much to his surprise he bought an insulator worth about $2500. He didn't know this for about six months. The internet turned out to be the best source of information and Kevin spent a lot of time looking at colors and style. He kept coming back to his own piece that was a cornflower blue insulator, patent Dec. 19, 1871. Kevin said he was lucky because people in the hobby aren't as lucky at finding a prize piece. As an electrical and computer engineer who runs his own business from his home, what could be more perfect for Kevin, then insulators.

Kevin said he likes to specialize in anything embossed in the patent Dec. 19, 1871 because of the first piece he bought. The model number tells the unique shape which is for the unique design and that goes for different applications. The Hemingray Company, located at one time in Covington, Kentucky and later moved to Muncie, Indiana, made the largest amount of insulators.

Insulators raise questions about Dueber-Hampden Watch crystals. 
Where did the crystals come from?
The more I looked at the insulator collections, the more it raised the question of where did John Dueber find all the glass for his watches. Dueber-Hampden collector, Edward Thouvenin said that most of the watch crystals for Dueber-Hampden watches came from France, and many of the watch makers bought from the same glass maker.

Robert "Bob" Arnold said he believes John C. Dueber bought watch crystals unique only to cases he was manufacturing at the best price ready to install from companies that specialized in this product. He added that the crystals were cut and formed from hot glass sheets in different thicknesses, with as much automation and little grinding, polishing and hand-work as possible to keep the costs of the finished watches down. Bob said he has seen labels on crystals that are manufactured by V.T.F., A.I.J., J.H.P. &S., and distributed by watch material supply houses located in major cities in the U.SA.

Bob added that, “these companies had a good thing going in that they sold beautiful wood cabinets (see image right) with a lot of drawers containing crystals of every possible diameter, thickness and curvature. The downside of this is that only a few of these were in common usage. When these old cabinets are offered for sale today there are usually some compartments (of just the size that you happen to need!) that are empty and most that are still full. Years ago individual sizes could be ordered without buying the whole cabinet but today these companies are mostly out of business and supplies are dwindling or gone. Now, some "collectors" are hoarding glass crystals from watches they are selling by replacing them with plastic. The reaction to this is that other collectors won't buy a railroad grade pocket watch unless it has a glass crystal,” said Bob.

Thanks for sharing your expertise!
Thanks Ed and Bob for helping to expand our knowledge on Dueber-Hampden crystals and watches, and more history of the Dueber-Hampden Watch Works.

Special thanks to Kevin who gave me the Mid-Ohio Show photographs to use on my blog and the video. Thanks Steve, Glenn, Lou, and all the NIA collectors at the Mid-Ohio Show for sharing your collections with us. See you next year. And Springfield, next time I bring my bike.

If you found this interesting, please consider joining us on Dueber-Hampden Facebook, or tweeting the link

Arnold, Robert. "question on Dueber glass." Message to the author. 10 Nov. 2010. E-mail.
Blair, Steve. Personal interview. 6 Nov. 2010.
C & E Marshall Co. Advertisement. Marco 1925: 3-8. Print.
Farrar, Floyd. ""Confederate Eggs" or Southern telegraph pole wire insulators…." A BRIEF HISTORY OF INSULATORS. The Drum Barracks Civil War Museum , 2001. Web. 21 Nov. 2010. .
Hall, Lou. Personal interview. 6 Nov. 2010.
 Jacobson, Kevin. Personal interview. 6 Nov. 2010.
 Thouvenin, Edward. Personal interview. 09 Nov. 2010.

C & E Marshall Co. Advertisement. Marco 1925: 3-8. Print.
Jacobson, Kevin. Mid-Ohio Insulator Show Images. 2010. Photographs. same.


  1. Great site ! Thanks for the Insulator hobby exposure. Steve Blair

  2. Hey Steve—wishing you and all the members and collectors of the NIA the best. Thanks for sharing your collections with us. Hope next year’s show is even better.

  3. Very impressive! A family watch collectors and i like those watch crystals. rolex watches

  4. Ladyheart--thanks for your comments about the watch crystals.

  5. I say this because you will likely want to click on the photos below to see more detail and that will stop the podcast from playing in the browser Watch Collector