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Reality sinks in: Spiro Agnew watch isn't the real thing

Sunday, January 26, 2003

Now, I'm really upset.

You know how you save something because you think maybe it will have value some day? You keep moving it to the side as you clean drawers, and you can't part with it.

I was never smart about my Shirley Temple doll. I played with it until her blond curls were pulled out and her lovely dimpled face cracked from too much crayon rouge followed by vigorous scrubbing with hot water.

That the doll might be valuable some day, because it was an original, never entered my mind. And I'm glad. What was I, 6 or 8 years old?

I don't know about the leather ET doll, bought for my son when the movie was first released, but I keep it. I also have tucked away the autograph of the late silent film actor Ramon Navarro and a personal note from the late Joan Crawford.

But a Spiro Agnew watch?

This was something I saved since I received it in the early '70s.

I certainly never wore it. I kept it in a desk drawer at the office, never quite knowing what to do with it but allowing it to make me smile because it was created to lampoon Richard Nixon's vice president.

The name was kind of lyrical -- Spiro Agnew.

As a recent story goes, Agnew at first considered the watch "attractive and clever" (so much for his taste, because attractive it never was) but later changed his mind and tried to sue the man who dreamed up the watch, Hale E. Dougherty, because it invaded Agnew's privacy.

That's what I read when the obituary for Dougherty, an Orange County, Calif., physician, appeared in the Post-Gazette on Jan. 2.

What made my heart go pitter-pat was thinking how clever I was to save this watch. I had been so wise, although nobody was knocking at my door asking to buy it and place it in the Smithsonian or some such hallowed place.

No, as I read on, I realized that, after all these years and the drawer space it took, my Spiro was not the real thing but one of many knockoffs whose creators were eventually sued by Dougherty for copyright infringement.

It appears I have one of those. Phooey.

After reading the obituary, still thinking I had the real thing, I wondered just where I had put it for safe keeping.

I do that these days. I put something in a safe place and then can't remember where that safe place is. I know when I cleaned out my desk at The Pittsburgh Press 10 years ago, I had that watch among my belongings.

I finally found it in the back of a dresser drawer, still in its white plastic case.

I immediately compared it to the picture shown with Dougherty's obituary (they showed not his picture, but a picture of the watch!), and, to my dismay, there was no true match.

While the caricature figure of Agnew is almost exactly the same, right down to the number of lines in his furrowed brow and his striped patriotic Mickey Mouse shorts and shoes, the hands that tell the time and also serve as Spiro's arms, are not wearing funny gloves. Also, there is no Dirty Time Co. trademark on the face of the watch, which is on the original.

There's more. While it says "Spiro Agnew" in bold letters and has the word "original" in small print underneath, as on the assumed original design, mine does not have "Swiss Made" in small print at the numeral 6. At the top of the face on the authentic watch, the numeral 12 can be seen behind Spiro's head.

On my watch, there is no number 12, just 3, 6 and 9 and little stars for the additional hours.

My watch has a round face and gold stretch band. The authentic one looks to have a round face set on a another shape, which is a rectangle, rounded on the sides but straight at the top and bottom.

I'm disappointed because I still don't want to throw this watch away. Maybe, just maybe, I tell myself, I have the original.

It's not likely. Although the box it came in has "Nationally Famous" in gold letters and the watch nestles on red velvet, on the back, in small print, it says, "Patents pending."

Another clue this watch is but an imitation: Mine has no second hand spinning around as seconds and minutes are counted. I had never noticed that. This is not a working timepiece!

My guess is, someone just decided to send these watches to fashion writers across the country as a gimmick.

I'll never know. I wonder whether mine has any value at all, beyond recycling the plastic box in which it resides.

I also wonder if the real Spiro Agnew watch has any of the assumed value I imagined, beyond the $14.95 it originally sold for.

If it's a lot, please don't tell me.

Barbara Cloud can be reached atbcloud@post-gazette.com .

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