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In-Depth My Hunt For John Glenn's Watches

In-Depth My Hunt For John Glenn’s Watches

[Editor’s note: Phillips “Distinct advantages” auction, to be hung on December 10, 2019, in New York City, will incorporate two watches claimed by space explorer and U.S. Congressperson John Glenn. The watches are a Breitling Cosmonaute Ref. 809 “Scott Carpenter” model and a uniquely designed Jaeger-LeCoultre Ref. 3027 “Fortunate 13” watch. The two watches were bought at an estate sale of Glenn’s own property in March 2018. HODINKEE benefactor Jeff Stein bought three watches in that sale. Here he recounts the story behind the sale, how he sought after John Glenn’s watches, and how that pursuit prompted the disclosure of a formerly obscure watch gave to NASA’s seven unique Mercury astronauts.]

Lot 14 of the upcoming Phillips “Distinct advantages” sell off is a Breitling Cosmonaute ref. 809 recently claimed by John Glenn.

Lot 13 of a similar closeout is this surprising LeCoultre Lucky 13 watch, likewise from the estate of John Glenn.

As a watch gatherer living in the Eastern time region of the United States, mornings are the most energizing piece of the day.  By the time my screen awakens by 5:30 or 6:00, my “watch companions” in Europe and Asia have been talking. There are new watches recorded available to be purchased on numerous sites and there is normally some breaking news in the watch world. On the greatest days, there are refreshes from UPS or FedEx that a bundle will be conveyed during the day. The talks proceed for the duration of the day, however the plan ordinarily frames in the a few hours.  

Late-morning on Thursday, March 8, 2018, I got a brief message from a pal: “What’s this all about?”  He connected a screen shot from an Instagram account “Watchknut,” referencing that a Breitling Cosmonaute chronograph had quite recently been sold in the John Glenn estate sale. Watchknut found out if any of his Instagram companions may have purchased this watch. The picture on Instagram showed four watches, with the enormous, dark Cosmonaute predominating the other three. The Instagram comments offered a greater number of inquiries than answers. Why had nobody found out about the John Glenn estate sale? Where was the sale being held? It is safe to say that we are ready to buy watches on the web or by telephone? The inquiries could be altogether summed up as “WTF?”

My quick response was a sort of horrible torment that might be extraordinary to the individuals who gather uncommon, old things and endure the injury of seeing a novel fortune vanish, much of the time, gone forever. I have been a fanatic of Colonel John Glenn since 1962 and have been keen on his watches since 2006. This specific variant of the Breitling Cosmonaute, worn in space by Scott Carpenter, had been at the highest point of my “Generally Wanted” list for a few years. 

John Glenn’s Breitling Cosmonaute Ref. 809

How could a plate of John Glenn’s watches have been offered in an estate sale without me catching wind of it? Checking the standard conversation gatherings and online media, it appeared to be that the estate sale had gone under the radar of the whole watch gathering community. Most disturbing was the psychological picture of the nearby estate “pickers”, leaving the Glenn house with those watches.  

There was no Christie’s or Sotheby’s. No online index. Simply a neighborhood estate sale company auctioning off John Glenn’s assets, as though he were only a conventional guy.

My rage immediately transformed into research. A Google search affirmed that a company called “More noteworthy Washington Estate Sale Services” was directing a sale of the estate of John Glenn, Thursday, March 8, through Sunday, March 11. It was being held in the previous Glenn home, in Potomac, Maryland, 641 miles from my office in Atlanta. 

Glenn’s assets in plain view at the estate sale in his previous home in Potomac, MD. (Photos politeness of Greater Washington Estate Services.)

So, there was no Christie’s or Sotheby’s. There was no online list, nothing to look or peruse. No official statement or full-page promotion in The New York Times. Just a neighborhood Washington, D.C., estate sale company, auctioning off John Glenn’s effects, in his previous house, as though he were only a customary guy. 

Photograph of watches from the John Glenn assortment from the Greater Washington Estate Services site. (Photo graciousness of Greater Washington Estate Services.)

A page on EstateSales.net offered 263 little photographs, showing the large number of things available to be purchased. There was the calfskin flight coat that Glenn wore while in the Marines, and two Beanie Baby dolls named “Bongo” wearing space suits. From precious stone to cologne, and digging tools to sleeve fasteners, the house was loaded with ordinary things, just as many endowments that Glenn had gotten as a space explorer and a United States senator.  And in everything, there was this plate with eight wristwatches.    

Mickey or Willie?

Flipping through all the photographs of Glenn’s own things returned me to the 1960s. In those days, kids pull for the Mercury space travelers a similar way they pull for sports groups, competitors or musicians.  Mickey Mantle or Willie Mays; the Dodgers or the Giants; Ford or Chevrolet. From each blending, a child could pull for one (and just one). There were John, Paul, George and Ringo, with my companions proclaiming their top pick there, as well.  

The Mercury 7 space explorers, left to right: Carpenter, Cooper, Glenn, Grissom, Schirra, Shepard and Slayton.

So, as well, with the seven Mercury space explorers. Their names are as yet carved in my psyche – there were two Cs; two Gs, and the three Ss: Carpenter and Cooper; Glenn and Grissom; Schirra, Shepard and Slayton. A few companions picked their top choices dependent on the part of the military they had served in – Navy, Air Force, or Marines. The media showed us their grins, their mind and – obviously –  their wives. 

John Glenn acquired six Distinguished Flying Crosses in World War II and the Korean War.

Colonel John Glenn had consistently been my top choice of the Mercury seven. He was the solitary Marine among the seven, and had flown in World War II and Korea, acquiring six Distinguished Flying Crosses.  In 1957, he completed the principal cross-country trip to average supersonic speed. Also, obviously, in February 1962, he was the main American to circle the Earth, becoming a particularly significant legend to his country that he would not be permitted a second trip on Gemini or Apollo, for dread that he could be lost.    

I thought back about the Mercury space explorers, yet immediately got back to the main jobs – examining the photographs of the seven leftover watches, attempting to sort out whether there was one that I should seek after, and whether it would even be conceivable to buy one of these watches.  

Identifying the seven watches ended up being the simple part. I could see two “time in particular” military style watches, Hamiltons from the 1940s or 1950s; two watches from LeCoultre, one with a genuine 24-hour sign dial, the other with every hour stamped “13”; a two-register Bulova chronograph from the mid-1960s; a plastic Seiko Pulsemeter chronograph; and a gold-plated Hermès world time pocket watch. (The sale additionally incorporated a couple of base-metal watches, including a pendant watch and an animation character watch.) It didn’t take long for me to make my nonexistent “selection.” 

A Poor Man's Heuer

I gather mechanical chronographs from the 1930s into the 1980s, and there was just one of those on the plate, the two-register Bulova chronograph. As I contemplated the hazy photograph of the watch, I turned out to be more eager. For quite a while, I have been a major devotee of the “helpless man’s Heuers,” the chronographs made by Heuer however sold under other brand names (for instance, Hamilton and Zodiac). I realized that Heuer had made a few chronographs for Bulova, and this absolutely appeared to be one of them. The dial and case gave off an impression of being indistinguishable from the Heuer Reference 404.  

Glenn’s two-register Bulova chronograph, gained by the author

The next test was the most overwhelming: how to purchase the Bulova chronograph from an estate sale many miles away, without any game plans for on the web or phone purchases.

The site for Greater Washington Estate Services incorporated an email address, a contact structure that could be submitted and a phone number. By 12 early afternoon on the primary day of the sale, I had sought after each of the three channels. Nobody picked up the telephone and the post box was full. I sent a short instant message communicating my advantage in any or the entirety of the excess watches. I called each hour. By eight o’clock at night, the time had come to quit. 

I have purchased many vintage chronographs over my 20-year gathering profession, however putting this watch on my wrist was unique in relation to all the others.

Late Thursday night brought an achievement. Karen Jones, the proprietor of Greater Washington Estate Services, reacted to my email message. She disclosed to me that a portion of the watches had been sold during the day, however that few remained available.  Subsequent late-night messages to and fro affirmed that the Bulova chronograph was accessible, alongside the LeCoultre with 24-hour sign and both Hamilton military watches. She advised me to call her the next morning, and we could examine potential game plans for a purchase.  

The wear on the tie demonstrated that Glenn wore the watch often.

I spent a significant part of the night attempting to discover photos of John Glenn wearing this Bulova chronograph, without progress. In any case, the way that John Glenn possessed the watch was sufficient for me, with the wear on the lash recommending that he had worn it often. 

On Friday morning, before the entryways opened for the second day of the estate sale, I called my new closest companion, Karen. I dialed up the Southern intonation (and appeal), dialed down the watch-hawker tone, and affirmed that I needed to buy the Bulova chronograph. Before the day’s over I had masterminded installment, and the Bulova chronograph showed up a few days later.  

The Bulova watch was made by Heuer and has a dial and case indistinguishable from the Heuer Ref. 404.

I have gotten many vintage chronographs over my 20-year gathering profession, yet the experience of putting this watch on my wrist was unique in relation to all the others. The watch looked much the same as the other Heuer Reference 404 chronographs in my assortment, yet there was an otherworldly thing about fixing the tie on my wrist. This was the watch worn by John Glenn, and after 50 years, it was currently immovably joined to my wrist.   

A Weird Quartermaster

With the adventure of wearing this Bulova chronograph, I chose to have one more gander at the unsold watches. The Hamilton military watches were associated with a significant period of Glenn’s vocation, yet military watches  are not actually my thing. So my center moved to the little dark LeCoultre watch with the 24-hour dial.  

NASA gave this LeCoultre to the Mercury 7 space travelers since they circled Earth at regular intervals and required a watch with 24-hour indication. 

I have consistently been an enthusiast of watches with genuine 24-hour sign, yet this one looked truly abnormal. I was dubiously acquainted with a LeCoultre watch with genuine 24-hour sign, called the “Officer,” yet the John Glenn 24-hour watch (which we will call the LeCoultre “Mercury 7”) looked altogether different. The Quartermaster has colorful applied metal numerals for the even numbers, with emotional pointed stones for the odd-numbered hours, summoning the style of the mid-1950s. A “railroad track” with finely-printed numerals circles the dial.

Glenn’s Mercury 7 LeCoultre (left) close to the LeCoutre Quartermaster watch

By contrast, the numerals and markings on Glenn’s Mercury 7 watch were rough, the get done with being great underneath that of the Quartermaster. It gave the idea that, to make the Mercury 7 dial, somebody had taken a Quartermaster dial, stripped the markers and paint, and reapplied the numerals and hash-marks utilizing a jug of “white-out”. I posted a photograph of the watch two or three driving watch gatherings and got the sort of reactions that I anticipated. The LeCoultre specialists announced it to be a phony or a low quality resurface of a Quartermaster. The military watch folks gave no data by any means. In any case, there was a fascinating thing about this watch, and I urgently needed it to be authentic.  

Watch authorities can invest an excessive measure of energy on Google, Getty Images and other photograph destinations, attempting to recognize our legends wearing fascinating watches. Those exploring space travelers and their watches face the test of wealth. NASA has distributed large number of high-goal photos of the early space travelers (from the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs), covering each part of their lives – preparing for missions, at question and answer sessions, on their flights. Navigating photographs of the seven Mercury space explorers, trying to recognize their watches, is a brain desensitizing endeavor.  

NASA distributed large number of exposure photographs of the Mercury 7 space travelers, similar to this one of them preparing in the desert.

Finding great photographs of John Glenn wearing watches was particularly testing. More than different space explorers, he would in general wear long-sleeve shirts. And keeping in mind that a great many people wear their watches with the dial on their wrist, Glenn perpetually wore his watch with the dial within his wrist, offering the public a fine perspective on the arm band, however no perspective on the watch itself.  

A 24-Hour Time Trainer

Visits to the “CollectSpace” online discussion turned up something that I had not heard previously. A section in the self-portrayal of Mercury space traveler Wally Schirra, “Schirra’s Space,” proposed that a NASA engineer named Harold Johnson had requested eight watches, with genuine 24-hour sign, for every one of the seven Mercury space explorers and one for himself.  Apparently, engineer Johnson accepted that while circling the earth at regular intervals, and going from sunlight to murkiness and back to sunshine so habitually, the space travelers would require watches with 24-hour sign. The Mercury 7 watches would get them acclimated with perusing 24-hour time. 

With so numerous NASA photographs, thus many watch fans zeroed in on the watches worn by space travelers, was it conceivable that Mercury space explorers wearing this watch during preparing might have gone unnoticed?  We know the sequence of the early space explorers and their watches: the Heuer stopwatch, the Breitling Cosmonaute, the Omega Speedmasters, the Bulova Accutrons. Could there be one more space travelers’ watch not known to the gatherers’ community?   

Glenn wearing the LeCoultre Mercury 7 after a preparation run on a sea shore in Florida

Off I went, into the NASA documents, searching for any proof that the Mercury space travelers may have worn these odd little LeCoultre 24-hour sign watches. Proof came rapidly. I found a tremendous photograph of Alan Shepard wearing the LeCoultre Mercury 7 watch on the front of Life. Also, one of Scott Carpenter wearing this amusing looking little watch, as he talks about a report with Glenn. What’s more, John Glenn wearing the LeCoultre Mercury 7 long before his flight, running on the sea shore in Florida and remaining at the platform. Also, Glenn again wearing a similar watch, days after his flight, sitting close to President John F. Kennedy in a limousine, as the nation praises his flight.  

Could it be that there was one more space travelers’ watch not known to the authority community?  

Glenn with individual Mercury space explorer Scott Carpenter, who is wearing the LeCoultre Mercury 7 watch. 

I thought about how NASA had chosen this LeCoultre watch and where these unique Mercury 7 watches had been made. Be that as it may, a few things were sure beyond a shadow of a doubt. This was the watch that had been given to the seven Mercury space explorers. This was the watch that Glenn had worn in the time frame preceding and following his February 1962 flight. Furthermore, this was the following watch that had a place in my assortment. I called Karen Jones, and three days in the wake of sending the bank check, I got the watch.  

Glenn’s Mercury 7 watch is presently claimed by the author.

Putting this little watch on my wrist brought a feeling of stun. John Glenn wore this watch in February 1962 and now I was wearing it. In a portion of the NASA photographs, I saw an enormous scratch in one of the connections of the arm band; this delightful mark was still there, yet now on my wrist. I thought about the gatherers who had purchased Paul Newman’s Rolex Daytona and Steve McQueen’s Heuer Monaco, and considered how they felt wearing those watches.  But I could sincerely say, in any event to myself, “Fail to remember those folks. I’m wearing John Glenn’s watch.” Newman and McQueen were entertainers given a role as saints. John Glenn was a genuine saint, celebrated around the planet. More than that, he was my hero.    

One Watch Too Many?

The abundance of wearing Glenn’s Mercury 7 LeCoultre carried the inclination to add another Glenn watch to my assortment. It was presently over seven days after the sale, however the two Hamilton military watches had not been sold. One of them had all the earmarks of being more established than the other, with a sub-seconds hand at the lower part of the dial, and military markings on the caseback. The fresher watch had a middle mounted second hand and had no military markings on the caseback.  

Military markings on the rear of the Marine-gave Hamilton watch Glenn wore in World War II.

Some fast visits to military watch gatherings and sites affirmed that the more seasoned Hamilton would have been given by the Marine Corps around 1944. Wikipedia affirmed that Glenn had joined the Marines in 1943 and that he had sent out to Hawaii in mid 1944.  That was sufficient data for me. I bought that watch, realizing moderately minimal about Marine-gave Hamilton watches or Glenn’s military vocation, yet fulfilled that the examination could come later.

When it showed up and I opened the container, my first response was that I had gotten one watch too much. The gem was somewhere close to yellow and green, the hands were canvassed in rust, and the crown would not move to wind or set the time. Indeed, the markings on the caseback were pleasant, however now it was a more a keepsake than a watch.  

Glenn’s 1940s Hamilton watch before the creator had it adjusted (left) and after.  

All this changed when I got the watch back after servicing.  another precious stone showed that the dial was sensibly new, the crown worked appropriately, and the development hurried to inside the first military details. The man of his word who reestablished the watch affirmed that this was one of the watches gave to Marine Corps pilots at the time Glenn had enlisted. 

The three John Glenn watches the creator bought in the estate sale.

In the 20 months since the John Glenn estate sale, I have had every one of the three of the watches overhauled and I wear them routinely. In reality, these three watches address a large number of the things that I appreciate most about watch collecting: the rush of the pursuit and the fulfillment of teaming up with great individuals to find out about the historical backdrop of the watches, to get them, and to reestablish them. However, eventually, the happiness regarding these specific watches comes from wearing them, realizing that a youth legend of mine likewise wore them, more than 50 years ago.

Today, fans banter the genuine reason for wearing watches.  Beyond showing the time, filling in as design adornments or social explanations, or giving us the joy of working fine mechanical instruments, watches associate us with individuals or things that we appreciate, maybe our legends or our history. Watches can likewise give a feeling of getaway, from the present time and place to a significant era.

Glenn wearing the LeCoultre space explorers’ watch in a motorcade with President Kennedy after Glenn’s 1962 Friendship 7 space flight. Glenn is seen wearing the watch with the dial within his wrist, similar to his custom.  (See inset in the upper right corner.)

John Glenn wore the Mercury 7 consistently – while preparing for his flight, running on the sea shore, and riding with President Kennedy. On a given day, I wear this equivalent watch, sitting at my work area or in a gathering. I can slide up my sleeve and check the time, and it returns me to February 1962. I see my family’s high contrast TV showing Friendship 7 taking off from the platform, and I hear Scott Carpenter saying “Godspeed, John Glenn”. There is a portion of the very fervor that I felt as a six-year-old, seeing my youth saint riding a rocket toward the stars. 

The dispatch of Friendship 7 on Feb. 20, 1962

For extra data about the watches of John Glenn, see the OnTheDash posting, “Watching John Glenn”.

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