Bonkers Barn Find Vintage Watches
Who doesn’t love a good barn find story?
We all know the feeling when we hear about yet another barn find watch story; amazement and excitement mixed with a bit of jealousy and sadness (okay, maybe a lot sometimes). It is genuinely amazing to those of us within the community that barn finds are still possible. Firstly, everybody says that the vintage market dried up years ago. Secondly, because it seems almost impossible that not everyone in the entire world is aware of the luxury watch market…
We feel excitement for the fact that there’s hope that you will also find something cool one day. Jealousy, well, that’s pretty obvious. Lastly, sadness when reality hits you and you realize that you never even won €5 with a scratch card and you are not the lucky type. What are the odds, right?
Wrong! You need to keep the faith, look for watches in the right places and, with a bit of luck, Fortuna will smile down upon you. Besides a cool barn find watch does not necessarily have to be a €50,000 vintage chronograph… I mean, it would be nice if one of those just happened to drop into your lap for twenty bucks, but don’t hold your breath…
What is a barn find?
The term barn find is something that we, watch guys, stole/loaned from the car community. Originally it refers to a car — or cars, in some cases many — that their new owners found in old barns, garages, or other secured locations. These are usually automobiles that their previous owners stored away then forgot about them or had no chance to come back and collect them. Time went on, and during the many decades, the vehicle gained value among collectors. Until finally someone found them, removed the junk, dust and other stuff covering them and realized that they had struck gold. Obviously, a barn find can be a motorcycle, an aircraft, a rare gas station sign — anything, really. Though I think cars are the most obvious. These stories are all over your usual car sites. There are multiple YouTube channels dealing with the subject as well.
Barn find watches
When it comes to watches, we refer to timepieces that their new owners found in places like old drawers, at the flea market, perhaps at an old watchmaker’s estate sale. We have heard many such stories. God knows how many of them were actually true, though. During my early days in the watch community, I frequented watch forums. Many of us did that I think and I’m sure those of you who did remember such stories. It was always something like; My dad passed away and when we went through his stuff, we came across this watch. Sometimes these were relatively cheap timepieces. However, every once in a while, you had your occasional chronographs or military issued watches. Hardly any Patek, unfortunatley (maybe I was in the wrong forum). Sometimes there were stories about flea market finds, although sellers these days usually are smart enough to check what they’re selling (keep your fingers crossed for an off day).
Flea markets, attics, and roadshows
The most famous flea market or, should I say, car boot sale find was the famous Breitling Top Time that Sean Connery as James Bond wore in Thunderball. The owner of the watch bought it for £25 in the UK back in the early 2010s, I believe. Then you have the story from a few years ago about the pristine condition Speedmaster 2915-1 that its lucky owner found in a box in the attic. According to the story, the watch belonged to his father who had not really used it, put it away, and forgotten about it. The watch — the very first Speedmaster reference — is in amazing original condition. Both watches went for auction and sold to a collector. As a matter of fact, we had the chance to interview the buyer of the Speedmaster in question.
Another place where one can come across such stories these days are TV shows about vintage objects. We covered the story not too long about the army veteran who bought an early Rolex pre-Daytona chronograph. A few years ago, many of you might have seen a similar story of another veteran and his Rolex GMT 6542. Oddly enough the British version of Antiques Roadshow has much more to offer. For example, the gentleman and his vintage Speedmaster Ultraman that he’d bought back in the day for £45. And another gentleman with a pre-Daytona chronograph that he wears occasionally without knowing its real value. Some of you might have seen the story of this navy veteran who later in his career worked for Comex and as such had a Rolex Comex. Great stories. It’s heart-warming stuff.
The above examples from Antiques Roadshow might not be considered barn finds for many since the original owner still has the watches. Though they were tucked away for many years, well kept by their owners who had no idea about the real value of their pieces. If you are a loyal reader you might remember that our very own Tomas wrote an article about his vintage Seamaster 300 which he calls a “pub find”. That’s a hell of a story to read. Lastly, I also have a story to share regarding one of my watches. As some of you might know, I’m a bit of an Angelus nerd. I love the brand, collect their watches, and have therefore written about the brand many times on Fratello. This is the story of how a gentleman came across my articles and sent me an email.
He had a very rare Angelus 215. It was unusually large (38mm) for the era, and he needed some information. I told him about the watch that it had wrong hands and in general gave him a rundown about these models. He wanted to know the service cost, how sturdy they are and so on. When I asked him where he got the watch from, he told a story that is every vintage hunter’s dream. According to him, he bought an apartment in Budapest and when he went down to the cellar, he realized that the ex-owner had some stuff still in there. He called him and asked if he could remove his belongings. The man answered that those belonged to his later father and he does not need them. The gentleman was asked to throw the stuff out, which included an old kitchen cabinet. Reluctantly he went through the drawers.
It was full of old paint cans, hand tools, and the usual nick-nacks. However, in one of the drawers, he found an old box with three watches: an old, cheap Russian watch, a Casio which was not working and this Angelus. In the box, there were also many military id books and medals. They all belonged to the previous owner’s father. This watch was a significant piece for my Angelus research, so I asked him if he’d like to sell it. I gave him my offer and waited. For weeks I heard nothing from him so I thought he changed his mind and kept the watch. Until about a month after my last email, he got back to me. He apologized for the delay and accepted my offer. He took the watch to a friend and fellow collector’s shop in Budapest who even managed to source me the original hands.
Although many of these above stories are about timepieces that have astronomical prices, this is not always the case. And it should not be. Not every barn find is expensive, but this is not the aim. These should be watches that we lust after. We hunt them down and if we eventually come across them, even in the oddest of places, we are able to get them. Whether that’s a first series Speedmaster or a cheap — but perhaps personally significant — watch for your collection, really ma,es no difference. We collect watches for what they are, but often also for their stories. Their provenance gives us some form of connection. Something that you now own has been here or there, or owned by this or that person. Through the watch, you connect to people and places. This is why we collect. And you don’t need to find a six-figure chronograph to realize the value in that.