Pawn shop owner showcases presidential watchPublished 12:01am Thursday, June 14, 2012
NATCHEZ — When George Washington had a custom watch crafted for a principle chief of the Native American Creek tribe in 1790, the president probably never thought the watch would wind up in the hands of a small-town pawn shop owner.
But four months ago, the 222-year-old Humbert & Mairet watch was brought out of storage and presented to Concordia Gun and Pawn owner Finley Hootsell.
“Anytime you can hold something that has a direct connection to George Washington, it’s a great feeling,” Hootsell said. “This is a significant piece of American history.”
Washington gave the watch to Alexander McGillivray as a gift to convince him to sign the Treaty of New York in 1790, Hootsell said.
In that treaty, Creek leaders gave up a significant portion of their grounds to the U.S., while the U.S. granted the Creeks the right to punish non-Indian trespassers in their territory.
Apart from his affiliation with pawnshops, Hootsell is also an avid historian and said he jumped on the chance to become part owner of the watch.
“There are several other interests in the watch, so it’s not just mine,” Hootsell said. “Those people don’t want to be in the limelight or involved much, so right now I’m the main interest in trying to find out more about the watch.”
In an effort to get more information, and possibly a sticker price, for the watch, Hootsell agreed to take the watch to Alexandria and be featured on the History Channel show “Cajun Pawn Stars.”
The show follows Silver Dollar Pawn and Jewelry Center in Alexandria, its owner Jimmie “Big Daddy” DeRamus and his staff as they appraise, pawn and trade.
“The DeRamus family have been good friends of ours for many years, so when we were talking one day and he asked if I had anything interesting, I said ‘Oh, yeah,’” Hootsell said. “I told him all about the watch, and he asked if I wanted to be on the show.”
Hootsell packed up the car with his family, and the historic watch, and drove to Alexandria for an entire day of filming and production for the show.
Because of the distinct engravings on the back of the watch, Hootsell said film crews spent extra time finding creative ways to document every inch of the watch.
“At one point, they were holding a loupe (magnification device) up to the watch and filming through that to try and get the perfect shot,” Hootsell said. “It was interesting to see all the behind-the-scenes work.”
During the filming, the Alexandria pawnshop owners brought in an expert to get a second opinion on the watch’s authenticity and value.
Dale Genius, yes, that’s his name, Director of the Louisiana History Museum, examined the watch on the show and said he estimated the watch’s value at $100,000.
“He was very knowledgeable, and I understand he doesn’t want to overestimate something, but I think it’s a million-dollar watch,” Hootsell said. “A lot of it is also that here things don’t bring in what they would in other parts of the country.
“We don’t have the museums and big collectors like other cities do.”
After getting an original offer of $35,000 and then a second offer of $50,000 from the Cajun Pawn Stars, Hootsell left the store with the watch still in hand, but said the experience was worth it all.
“Part of the reason I went to do the show was to help promote Natchez,” Hootsell said. “If I can get them interested in our area, they could end up venturing to Natchez for the TV show.
“Even if they’re only here for a day, that would be some great exposure for Natchez.”
In the meantime, Hootsell has returned the watch to its secure bank vault location and said he will continue doing his own research before considering selling it again.
“I’m hoping this helps people realize just how much history is under their feet here in Natchez, Adams County, Vidalia and the surrounding areas,” Hootsell said. “If the economy turns around and I get an offer, I might consider selling the watch.
“But for now, this will remain a piece of American history right here in Natchez.”