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  1. #1

    Thumbs up BOOKREVIEW: Johann Wolffgang Hartich – Masterpiece, Augsburg. By Dr. Ludwig Oechsl

    Bookreview by Fortunat Mueller-Maerki

    Johann Wolffgang Hartich – Masterpiece, Augsburg

    Johann Wolffgang Hartich – Masterpiece, Augsburg. By Dr. Ludwig Oechslin, 1st edition, English translation by Cecilia Hurley. 90 black and white and 60 colored illustrations. Published 2006 by Institut l’homme et le temps-Musée International d’Horlogerie, La Chaux de-Fonds (Switzerland), and Athena Verlag, Oberhausen (Germany). 168 pages; Hardcover, 290x185mm. ISBN 978-3-89896-277-3 (English edition). Concurrently also published in the original German edition (978-2-940088-21-80) and French Translation by Gauthier de Salis (978-3-89896-276-6). Order for Euro 54 plus shipping at www.athena-verlag.de.

    Most horological collectors –and also many museums- want the timekeepers they exhibit to look perfect or as “good as new”. However, if the piece has any history, especially a long history, that is likely to have left a trail of visible evidence; parts of case or movement may have broken over time, they may have been lost, repaired or replaced. But few owners are willing to display this history; they want repairs that are “invisible”, they prefer restoration techniques whose results look like they were part of the original artifact.

    The Musée International d’Horlogerie (MIH) in La Chaux-de-Fonds (Switzerland) – in the opinion of this reviewer possibly the best horological museum in the world- was recently able to acquire a clock that shows these issues with unusual clarity: The piece that Johann Wolffgang Hartich made in Augsburg around 1712 to qualify with the local guild as a master clockmaker. The movement that Hartich had to submit to the guild in 1712, while very complex and of high standards of craftsmanship, was already an anachronism when created. The clocksmiths of Augsburg, who, in the 1500s, were among the most sophisticated horologists in the world, wrote down in great detail what a then “state-of-the-art” clock looked like in the 1530s; they described what we would now call a striking, four-sided, renaissance tabernacle clock with astronomical indications, including an astrolabe dial. This definition of the required masterpiece was updated once (in 1577) but stayed in force until the 1730s.

    By the time master Hartich made his movement in 1712, technology, functionality, and taste had evolved significantly, and there was no market anymore for this kind of clock. The guild required only the submission of a movement (the ornate precious metal cases were made by different craftsmen), so many of these “old-fashioned” masterpieces were not cased at the time. That apparently was also the fate of the Hartich movement, which is known to have been in the private collection of a pioneering scholar of antiquarian horology, Hans von Bertele, in Vienna, in the mid 20th century. Per chance, Dr. Ludwig Oechslin, now the Director of the MIH, then a young horological scholar, was asked in 1987 to analyze and document the movement for a Viennese dealer charged with disposing parts of the von Bertele estate. The Hartich movement was subsequently sold to an unknown buyer in Germany, where the trail temporarily gets lost.

    But in the fall of 2004 it resurfaces: a well respected German auction house is offering Hartich’s masterpiece, now in a case that even to the experts looks as if it were contemporary to the movement. For reasons unknown the piece fails to sell at the auction allowing the MIH to subsequently acquire it thanks to the generosity of a donor. Fortuitously, its current curator is the same horologist who documented the naked movement so thoroughly 20 years earlier. Furthermore, the generous donor to the museum is willing to also underwrite a publication about this clock. The result is the book under review. By the way: the MIH now displays the naked movement separately, at some distance from the disassembled case components, but in the same display case, providing the museum with a unique paedagogical opportunity.

    In many ways this book is as unusual as the history of the clock it describes. It consists of four distinct and very different parts. The first section recounts the history of the piece as I have summarized it above. In the second part, Oechslin develops some creative ideas on the nature and definition of what is a fake and what is a genuine or an original artifact. (This includes a detour exploring the issues concerning the restoration of pre-pendulum clocks to their “original” balance wheel). The third (and largest) part reproduces the highly detailed 1987 movement description in its entirety: This section includes a descriptive text of all functions, as well as a parts list describing the function (including teeth-counts and dimensions) of each of 51 wheels, and the 215 load-bearing or mobile parts of the movement. Complete gearing schematics accompanying the text make it possible to mentally walk through all the functions of the movement. This third section also includes 42 pages of detailed photographs (all to the same scale) of every movement part laid on graph paper and photographed from every side. The final and fourth part consists of 30 pages of detailed photographs of all the components of the late 20th - century, renaissance-style case by an unknown “artist”.

    I am absolutely delighted that this book was published. It not only documents the fascinating – but probably not uncommon – story about the history of a “museum quality” clock, but also provides ample food for thought about what is genuine and what is a fake. That part is relatively easy to read, enjoyable, and thought provoking. But all of that together takes no more than 20 out of 168 pages.

    The remainder feels like a completely different book: The 100 page section three, describing the movement in detail, includes some of the most challenging reading any horologist is ever likely to encounter. To keep up with the description of the functionality of all parts will require both strenuous mental gymnastics, as well as constant page turning between the narrative, the schematics, the parts list and the part photographs. It would be difficult enough to analyze and logically understand such a complex movement if it sat on your desk and you could touch and move all the various parts. But for mere horological mortals a hands-on, physical exploration of this kind of object, usually in the possession of a museum, is out of the question. Therefore, the detailed printed information offered in this book is the only realistic path to understanding such an object; this alone is justification for publishing the book.

    Even if I have serious doubts that a substantial number of horologists possesses the combination of intellectual curiosity and stamina to work through the core of this book, it is an important addition to the horological literature, and I am especially glad that MIH choose to (and had the funding to) publish this text concurrently in three different language editions. Thanks to Ludwig Oechslin, to the MIH and to its donor, the horological literature has gained a valuable, even if somewhat obscure new element.

    Fortunat Mueller-Maerki (Sussex, NJ),
    February 14, 2007


    Fortunat Mueller-Maerki, -Chair NAWCC Library Com./ Editor & Publisher of BHM
    Mem.NAWCC Mus.Coll.Com. / VP, USA Sect. Antiq.Horolog.Soc.

  2. #2
    John Nagle

    Default Re: REVIEW: Johann Wolffgang Hartich – Masterpiece, Augsburg. By Dr. Ludwig Oe (By: Fortunat Mueller-Maerki)

    tremendous story!

  3. #3

    Default Re: REVIEW: Johann Wolffgang Hartich – Masterpiece, Augsburg. By Dr. Ludwig Oe (By: Fortunat Mueller-Maerki)

    What really impressed me was the extent & detail of the original movement documentation. Oechslin couldn't have known, then, that he would ever have occasion to publish this; he must have done his simply for his own edification, & to better understand the movement.
    One wonders how many other clock & watch restorers perform this sort of labor of love?

  4. #4
    John Nagle

    Default Re: REVIEW: Johann Wolffgang Hartich – Masterpiece, Augsburg. By Dr. Ludwig Oe (By: Fortunat Mueller-Maerki)

    Kathleen Pritchard
    Archie Perkins
    George Daniels
    Jesse Coleman
    Stacey Wood
    George Eckhardt
    Karl Kochman

    I doubt any of the aforementioned profited from their publishing efforts.

  5. #5

    Default Re: REVIEW: Johann Wolffgang Hartich – Masterpiece, Augsburg. By Dr. Ludwig Oe (By: Fortunat Mueller-Maerki)


    I think the point Bill Ward was trying to make was more that Oechslin did the thorough documentation work for knowledges sake and not necessarily for later publication.

    But your basic point that there is no money in horological publishing is correct nevertheless, nobody ever got rich for writing or publishing scholarly books on horology.

    The only books that sell in great numbers are price and identification guides, and those sell to people interested in making a buck off horology rather than people who are seeking insights and knowledge.

    Ironically many of the truely great horological books over have been great investments. Many of the classic texts like Lee on Knibb, all the Mercer books on CHronometers, the Erbrich precision pendulum book, GOulds Marine CHronometer book, Salomons Breguet book etc etc now sell as used copies for many hundreds of dollars, but their authors and publishers never got rich on them.

    Fortunat :o:o
    Fortunat Mueller-Maerki, -Chair NAWCC Library Com./ Editor & Publisher of BHM
    Mem.NAWCC Mus.Coll.Com. / VP, USA Sect. Antiq.Horolog.Soc.

  6. #6
    John Nagle

    Default Re: REVIEW: Johann Wolffgang Hartich – Masterpiece, Augsburg. By Dr. Ludwig Oe (By: Fortunat Mueller-Maerki)

    True, I have often wondered how much info is just waiting to be discovered. My uncle and I have kept records of many unusual things we have encountered. I have a friend who completely documents everything he considers to be of importance. I think many have as I have often encountered notations and inserts in many of the older books I have purchased. Unfortunately, I bet much of this info is discarded when cleaning out contents of shops or storage of now gone horologists.

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