Fob Fellows!

| February 2003

Bonanza was the number-one show on television and a first-class postage stamp cost only five cents in 1967 when Ray Rothlisberger from Burlington, Iowa, started collecting watch fobs. Today, Ben Cartwright is but a memory, and a first-class postage stamp costs more than seven times what it did back then, but Ray is still collecting fobs.

He's up to about 1,600 vintage fobs now. Most date from 1910 to 1930, and they sport general advertising, construction or farm images. He's also active in the International Watch Fob Association - organized in 1968 to help collectors connect with each other - and he's the secretary, treasurer and a charter member of the Midwest Watch Fob Collectors, Inc., founded in 1970. Members of both groups collect the same types of fobs as Ray, along with fobs that feature sailing, military, political and social motifs.

Watch fobs are ornaments about half the size of a policeman's badge or smaller. They are designed to be attached to a short ribbon, chain or leather piece that, in turn, is attached to a pocket watch. This style of timepiece was mass-produced from the early 1850s until after World War II in the United States, and during its heyday around the turn of the 20th century, it was favored by both men and women. The owner tucked his or her watch into a special 'watch pocket' that was routinely sewn into the clothing of the era. Trousers, skirts, vests, blouses and even overalls came with such pockets sewn discretely inside. Blue jeans and overalls today still come with those hidden pockets.

The fob, attached to the watch, was grasped when pulling the watch out of the snug, little pocket to check the time. During World War I, wrist-watches were developed for military pilots and apparel fashions changed, too. Both contributed to the decline of pocket watches, and consequently, fobs. Although both continue to be produced and used on a limited basis, especially among farmers and construction workers, most fobs still around are vintage pieces.

Many antique fobs are made of metal - from sterling silver and gold to brass and lesser-expensive materials. Some have Celluloid, bone or pearl insets, or those materials are used in other creative ways. A series of John Deere fobs that Ray owns features small, metal deer affixed to larger pieces of Mississippi River mother of pearl. Almost all of the fobs collected today are made of lesser-expensive metals and hang on a leather strap. Many offered for sale on Internet sites are sterling silver reproductions, a material rarely used on original fobs.

Early-day fob manufacturers, whose names sometimes appear on the backs of their products, include Metal Arts Co., Bastian Bros., Greenduck Co., S.D. Childs Co., Leavens, Robbins Co., Whitehead & Hoag and Ohio Badge