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The Mozart Hunt

by: Hanson, Jon; on: May 2nd, 2008

About 40 years ago when I lived in So Calif. I used to frequent watch folks and one day I drove down to Long Beach to see an old timer and watch repair fellow named O. R. Brown. Brownie, as everyone called him, also was called "one arm Brownie" because his left arm from just above the elbow was missing. He was fairly good in pocket watch repair using his right hand to repair and holding the movements on a movement holder with his left arm stub! It was something to behold to watch him work in his usual long sleeved white shirt pound away on watches.

He specialized in 18s PWs, recasing and repairing them then selling these pocket watches and other American watches watches to the watch buyers; he especially liked the larger size as they were easier to repair. One problem was that he was prone to over clean his movements and switch parts--anything to get them to run well and look good. I remember many were cased in either silveroids or glass backs. Occasionally, I would buy the odd watch and resell it but mostly I just looked at his stuff (he was usually 25% too high) and yack with him at his little office out in the back of his house. He was a nice, friendly old guy but he never had anything rare; if he did Albert, a local, would snag it, especially of it was a Waltham

One day I walked in and after some small talk he showed me a watch that was in for repair! I couldn't believe it, but in front of me was an early New York Watch Co., Springfield SW with its original DS dial, serial number 85 cased its original silver case with matching serial number. Now, this was probably the best watch Brownie ever had in the shop and IT WASN'T HIS. "Who owns it?" I barked and he told me Pat (a friend of mine from Long Beach, an antique jewelry dealer); he called her and I made a deal to buy the watch for $225. He had repaired it INCORRECTLY (I sat with it for years until Buffalo Bill Tapp fixed it correctly for me). Anyway, now the story REALLY gets good.........

Meanwhile one arm Brownie now proceeds to tell me of a watch that Charlie Rosenberg evidently bought out of the same deal as the NY (I didn't know it at the time)...........a MOZART. I almost had a heart attack. I quickly left Brownies and drove directly over to Charlie's apartment on N. Maple Drive in Beverly Hills going 90 miles an hour on the freeway north back to LA! I walked up to his door, no answer, stood there awhile, continued to ring the bell, look in the window, and finally sat down on the back door step adjacent to his, the back apartment. I SAT THERE FOR THREE HOURS AWAITING HIS RETURN. Finally, he arrives home, close to dinner time and invites me in (my Mom and Pop were wondering where I was as this was long before the days of the cell phone). I immediately ask, "Where is it?" He replies in his usual distinctive raspy voice , "What, where is what?" I state, "the watch!" He says, "What watch?" I ask again and he continues to horse me around and around admitting nothing and stringing me along. This went on for 45 minutes over a coke in his living room and he continues to change the subject. Finally he says, "I don't have it!" and I ask "what do you mean you don't have it!" and he dances me around some more, on and on. (Charlie was a true character, was a real wise guy from Brooklyn (I think), NYC and always playing jokes, laughing and wise cracking--he was an old guy, retired and widowed, short and slightly stout, really funny and always was telling jokes and wise cracking. WISH I HAD RECORDED HIM AT THE CHAPTER 4 WATCH MEETINGS). Finally, he admits that he has it but it is out for repair and I go nuts because I am afraid that some other repair butcher might be fowling it up. He says, "Don't worry, Kid (many of the old timers used to call me Kid); I'll get it back soon and it is yours." "What do you mean mine," I ask. He says, "I promise to sell it to you, it is yours and we'll agree on a price." And I keep screaming, "I GOTTA HAVE IT!" And readers here, do not forget, THS IS AN EXTREMELY RARE and IMPORTANT AMERICAM WATCH!

So, Charlie tells me he will bring it to the upcoming small regional in Santa Barbara, Calif. in a few weeks and I can take possession of this newly discovered Mozart there (more sleepless nights). Some relief but I still have yet to see the watch (what is the case, is it original, the condition, the serial number, etc., etc.?). Now, for some more background.......there was this other old timer, Sidney Schimmel, who lived off La Cigena Blvd. on Croft Ave. just outside of Beverly Hills and very close to Charlie Rosenberg. I was also very friendly with Sidney and used to go over to his house to trade watches 3-4 times a month. Sidney was an old time lawyer from NYC who actually did real estate law for "the boys" for many years in the East long before he moved to California. Sidney had many "isms" and was also a funny character with many stories. I started selling him common watches (I met him through a 'watches for sale' ad he ran in the Sunday Times), then better stuff; he eventually began a watch list for mail order advertised in the mart. For some reason Charlie and Sidney HATED each other! They just could not get along. Sidney was rather nosey and Charlie was a smart ass. Each would make cracks to me about the other. Anyway, Sidney attended all the watch functions in So. Calif. as he had his wife, Lee, drive him everywhere and these two would usually have heated "run-ins" with each other at these events. (back to the story)

So, my Dad and I drove up to wonderful Santa Barbara (at the time) on a Friday to this neat little motel with a convention room on the beach side of Pacific Coast Hwy., about 1 1/2 hours north of Malibu. What a great place for a watch and clock show; we left in the afternoon to beat the traffic and be in time for the evening mart setup. Of course, I was all excited to see the Mozart and consummate the deal with Charlie. In the meantime the word had leaked out to the watch community that a great and rare American watch had been discovered and, of course, Sidney smelled something. So my Dad (who can't believe all this drama) and I head from the small convention room before the mart closed and proceed with Charlie to his motel room along this winding walkway lined with trees and large bushes. Suddenly Charlie senses that someone is following us back aways, but hiding behind a shrub when we stopped and looked back. Meanwhile I spot Sidney and Charlie yells out out, "It probably is that fu..... Schimmel!" We go up the stairs to Charlie's room and Schimmel is still following us. We go in, relax, Charlie pulls out the watch, I examine and buy it (WOW, all original watch in Ex Fine condition and an unbelievable new find of a great rarity) for several thousand dollars, we have a laugh, and then Charlie says, "Don't show the Mozart to that fu..... Schimmel--he is one nosey bastard!" We barely get out the door and down the steps and here is Sidney waiting and asking "Jon, what did you buy; show me what you bought!" Still following us, with Charlie making wise cracks, we headed back along the winding path to the mart room. Sidney wouldn't leave me alone that night and the next day--the more I denied buying anything the more crazy it drove him and he continued to badger me the whole next day during the mart. Nope, I followed Charlie's orders............. I did not show him the watch!

So it be told, an old, old story of intrigue, thrills, cloak and dagger, anticipation, and eventual capture! Such is the fun of the hunt and the cast of characters in the game!


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