So, About That New 1932/33 Lone Eagle?

02/13/2013 12:43


Recently, my friend Bob Butler made a great discovery.  He found two advertisements for a never-before-seen Lone Eagle model.  As some of you know, the Lone Eagle is probably the most famous Bulova watch ever made.  There were actually quite a few distinct Lone Eagle models produced over the years, as Bulova knew a good thing when they had it.  The full story of the various Lone Eagle watches, along with advertisements showing all the models, can be enjoyed at Bulova Lone Eagle Series.


As is common when exciting new ads are found, there are naysayers who immediately cast doubt on the authenticity and reliability of the new information, without any evidence to the contrary.  The discovery of these new 1932 and 1933 Lone Eagle ads certainly has been no exception to that practice.


In fact, if you’ll allow me a moment on my soapbox, I must say that I was appalled by how these new ads were received on one watch discussion site.  When the ads were posted, the site administrator’s only response was “Lone Eagle Fail”.  What kind of analysis is that?  Where was the research?  How about any meaningful discussion?  At the very least, where was the common courtesy toward the person who took the time to do the research that turned up those ads?  His rude comment was an appallingly poor example for how issues like this should be handled in a public forum, particularly by those who routinely hold themselves out as experts on such matters.  Those who take the time to read sites like that one—and this one—deserve more and better for their time.  That’s why I’m writing this blog.  I have, based on the new advertisements, renamed one of my watches the Lone Eagle.  I will explain, in detail, why I made the decision to do that, rather than simply declare “Lone Eagle Succeed”.  Okay, off the soapbox and on to the facts that you're here for.


Here are the two new Lone Eagle ads.


Published September 1, 1932, Oakland Tribune


Published November 10, 1933, Oakland Tribune


UPDATE 02/22/13:  Two more ads for this new Lone Eagle model have now been found.  Way to go Bob!  Note that three of the ads were published in the Oakland Tribune, while the fourth one was published in the Bakersfield Californian.  The ads reference two different retailer locations.  So, we have three different dates from two different years, three different ads, two different retailer locations, and two different publication sources involved in the advertisement of these watches.


Published September 15, 1933, Oakland Tribune


Published September 1, 1932, Bakersfield Californian


Nice, clear ads--so far, so good, right?  And note that no one is taking issue with any of the other models listed in any of those ads--those watches are all believed to be accurately shown and described.  So, what's the problem with the Lone Eagle listings?   The watches in the above advertisements labeled "Lone Eagle" share some traits in common with a watch we have long known as the “Trident”.  In fact, watches that match those ads have long been considered to be variants of the Trident, because there was no other information regarding what they might be.  Now that we have ads showing them to be Lone Eagles, there is controversy regarding whether they are truly Lone Eagles, or variants of the Trident as originally believed, or some other unknown model.


There are lots of ads for the Trident, and we’ve had those ads for a long time.  In its day, the Trident was also a rather famous watch, as Bulova ran a nationwide contest to name it.   The contest offered $10,000 in prize money to participants.  The grand-prize winner, who came up with the name “Trident” for the watch, was awarded $1,000—a lot of money in 1932.  Typically, any ad that refers to the Trident also refers to it as “The Contest Watch”.  Even some replacement watch crystal catalogs list it as “Contest Watch” rather than “Trident”.  Here’s an ad for the Trident.


1933 Department Store Ad


See the similarities between the new Lone Eagle and the Trident?  See the differences?


So, here’s the question:  are those new Lone Eagle ads simply showing a misidentified variant of the Trident, or are they showing a legitimate new Lone Eagle model?  To answer that question, we need to look at the timeline for these two watches along with other Lone Eagle models, and we also need to take a close look at all the ads we have for the two watches.  Another important consideration involves how we interpret ads that Bulova produced versus ads created and published by retailers.  That latter point is one that I believe has been heretofore overlooked by most collectors.



1931:  The Third of the Lone Eagle Models

  • 1931 is the year of the last known Bulova-produced ad for the third model in the Lone Eagle series.  Although third-party retailers continued to advertise and sell that model, there are no other known Bulova-created ads showing it.  This point is important when considering whether there is evidence that Bulova produced two different Lone Eagle models at the same time.


June 1, 1932:  The Contest Watch

  • First known ad announcing the contest to name the watch that later became known as the Trident. 
  • These ads consistently price the watch at $24.75—a significantly lower price than the cost of the new Lone Eagle model.
  • These ads never show the watch with an engraved bezel or an engraved bracelet.
  • Below are a couple of examples of the contest announcements.  Notice how the second announcement puts great emphasis on the low price of the watch.  That's a detail that will be important when contrasting the various ads.


June 1, 1932

June 14, 1932


September 1, 1932:  The First Ad for the New Lone Eagle Under Discussion (shown above)

  • This is the publication date of the first of the two new ads for the never-before-seen Lone Eagle model. 
  • Note that this ad was run while the contest was underway, but at least a month before the contest ended and the “contest watch” was announced and offered for sale.
  • Note that this ad shows a watch with 1) an engraved bezel and matching engraved bracelet, 2) offers it in two different colors of gold fill, and 3) states the price as $37.50.  Contrast these details with those of the Trident ads.  All the details differ.


October 1932:  The Contest Ends and the New “Trident” is Released

  • Per numerous newspaper articles published on October 10, 1932 and thereafter, the contest ended sometime in early October and prizes were awarded shortly thereafter.  The name “Trident” for the watch was revealed to the public at the conclusion of the contest.
  • The first known post-contest ad to sell the new watch (without naming it) was dated October 7, 1932.  The watch was listed for $24.75.
  • The first known post-contest ad to advertise the contest watch as the “Trident” was dated November 4, 1932.  The watch was again liste for sale at $24.75.  Quite a few ads follow it, as advertising for the Christmas season had begun. These ads consistently price the Trident at $24.75, or marked down on sale from that price.  The ads never show the watch with an engraved bezel, and they never indicate the watch was offered in white or yellow gold filled.  In fact, the Trident ads consistently describe the case only as “white”.
  • Below are one of the newspaper ads announcing some local winners along with a few of the early ads for the Trident / Contest Watch.


October 7, 1932

October 10, 1932


November 4, 1932

December 2, 1932


 November 10, 1933:  The Second Ad for the New Lone Eagle is Published (shown above)

  • The second known ad for the new 1932 Lone Eagle was published on November 10, 1932.  It lists the price as $39.75, shows the watch with an engraved case and matching engraved bracelet, and advertises it as available in white or natural gold filled.  The details are consistent with the first ad for this model, although the price is even higher, presumably due to it being a year later.



Okay, so those are the facts as we know them right now, but what do they mean?   Here are the crucial observations that allow us to properly judge the reliability of these new Lone Eagle advertisements:

  • There is no evidence that Bulova produced the third model in the Lone Eagle series after 1931.  All known advertisements after that date for that model were created by third-party retailers.  Thus, the first advertisement for the new (fourth) Lone Eagle in 1932 post-dates the last known Bulova-produced ad for the third Lone Eagle model.  That would tend to undercut any argument that Bulova produced two different Lone Eagles at the same time.
  • The first advertisement for the new (fourth) Lone Eagle in 1932 pre-dates the naming and release of the Trident.  That counters the argument that this new Lone Eagle was really just a variant of the Trident.
  • The advertisement for the new Lone Eagle in 1932 lists a price of $37.50, and the second ad in 1933 lists the price as $39.75, both of which are considerably higher than the consistently advertised price of the Trident.  Recall the second contest announcement that made such a point of what a great value the watch was at $24.75, a price in the range of 40% lower than the price of the new Lone Eagle.  That fact also indicates that this watch is not a variant of the Trident, which had not even yet been released at its well-advertised, much lower price.
  • The advertisement for the new Lone Eagle in 1932 shows a watch that is engraved and describes it as offered in both white and yellow gold filled.  In contrast, every known ad for the Trident—of which there are many—shows it with a plain case and describes it as offered only in a “white case” with a matching plain bracelet.  The different descriptions would tend to explain the different prices and indicate that they were two different watches.
  • The last known advertisement for the new Lone Eagle was published in 1933, making it unlikely that the first ad published a year earlier was a simple mistake.


So, that’s why I believe the new Lone Eagle ads show a watch that is clearly not the watch shown in the advertisements to be the Trident.  Does that conclusion alone make it a confirmed Lone Eagle?  No, but there’s nothing whatsoever to show that it is not a Lone Eagle, and we have two beautiful ads showing us that it is one.  The only guidance we have currently regarding what to call these watches are the new Lone Eagle ads.  We simply have never seen another hint of these watches from any other source, so there is no directly contradictory information to consider.


Another point worth considering is how we rely on ads produced by third-party retailers versus those produced by Bulova.  This may seem irrelevant to this discussion, but hear me out.  One of the points I’ve seen made about these watches is that the version of the Lone Eagle produced by Bulova in 1931 (the third in the Lone Eagle series) continued to be produced through 1933, based on the fact that we have third-party retailer ads offering it for sale during those later years.  From that information, it has been deduced that Bulova would not have produced two different Lone Eagle models at the same time, leading to the conclusion that this new Lone Eagle must be bogus.  Well, that, in my opinion, is faulty logic leading to a faulty conclusion.  Retailers advertise what they have in stock, ready to sell.  That may have nothing whatsoever to do with what Bulova is, or is not, manufacturing--or itself advertising--at that time.  In fact, Bulova may have long since moved on to another model—or version of a model—while retailers are still advertising and clearing out the old inventory.  A good case-in-point involves a much later but equally well known series of watches—the Academy Award models.  A recent discovery of retailer advertisements shows that Academy Award models were still being sold through 1960, long after anyone believes Bulova was still manufacturing or advertising those watches under the Academy Award name.  If we used those later ads to determine dates of manufacture, I believe we would be making a big mistake.  We should not make that same mistake here regarding the Lone Eagles.


Lastly, I want to address the argument that, if the watches depicted in those ads were actual Lone Eagles, we would have Bulova-produced ads showing them.  Well, maybe. . . but maybe not.  Let's look at the Trident again, as an example of why this is not a strong argument.  The Trident was a very famous watch in its day due to the $10,000 naming contest.  Judging from the number of retailer ads for the contest itself, as well as the number of ads for the Trident / Contest Watch that followed the conclusion of the contest, you would think we'd have a Bulova ad for it as well, right?  Well, we don't.  All we have for the Trident are third-party retailer ads, just like those new Lone Eagle ads currently under consideration.


Having said all that, if someone found an ad that shows an engraved Trident, I would, most likely, change my mind about this.  But all we can ever do in this murky world of watch collecting is fairly and openly assess what we know today.  Someday, we may find a conflicting advertisement for these watches that changes this picture.  But, to paraphrase a line from one of my favorite movies, “today is not that day”.  So let’s do the best we can with what we know now.