B O O K R E V I E W

A Brief History of Clock and Time

By Carmen Haas and Eduard Saluz

Published 2007 by the Deutsches Uhrenmuseum, Furtwangen (Germany); saddlestapled, 39 pages, many color illustrations, ISBN 3-922673-23-6 (concurrent editions in German 3-922673-21-x, and in French 3-922673-22-8), available from the DUM giftshop ( http://www.deutsches-uhrenmuseum.de/ ), approx. $5 plus postage, or borrow from the Library & Research Center at the National Watch & Clock Museum.


Over the last three years the Deutsches Uhrenmuseum (German National Clock Museum) in Furtwangen has set new standards for publishing concise horological museum guides: In 2004, they reissued the classic text by Kahlert/Muehe on the History of the Blackforest clock in a compact format, on 40 pages, richly illustrated with examples from their collection. In 2005, the same format was used to present an overview of their recently expanded wristwatch exhibit, and in 2006 –under the title “Modern Times” - a booklet dealing with standard time, electrical horology and time-systems followed. The title under review “A Brief History of Clock and Time” is the fourth in the series. A fifth and final volume, dedicated to pocket watches, is expected next year.

Even if the series is not yet complete it is appropriate to review it as a whole. There are many well written and expensively produced texts summarizing the history of horology; and there are some very good museum catalogues out there that address the documentation needs of horological scholars and enthusiasts (E.g. the 2002 Catalogue of selected pieces of the Musée International d'Horlogerie, La Chaux-de-Fonds, comes to mind). But there are few publications which address the needs of the average visitor to a horology museum: the family or tourist who wandered in more or less by chance, got intrigued by what they saw and are looking for a small and cheap publication to either learn just a bit more, or to remember the visit better, but who are neither willing nor interested in buying an expensive, heavy volume. By keeping the publications short (40 pages each), and by breaking the whole museum exhibits into five booklets, DUM managed to keep the retail price around $5, making the booklets impulse purchases for museum-goers. DUM has also taken a trailblazing role in publishing all 5 booklets concurrently in three language editions (German, French and English).

The format is also conducive to the informal browsing habits of our impatient, quick satisfaction age: Each booklet is broken down into 9 “themes” of 4 pages (2 page-spreads). Each theme page-spread starts with a full page image; text is limited to the right hand page, which typically includes at least one additional image. The easy to digest format however is deceptive. The individual themes (typically a concept or an idea rather than a specific timepiece) in spite of their brevity, are dealt with in a creative, intellectually stimulating and scholarly rigorous manner.

In an attempt to cover those areas of the museum not covered elsewhere the current booklet, in contrast to the other four, more specialized subjects deals mostly with broader themes, typically concerned more with time or timekeeping in history and society, rather than a specific type of timekeeper. Its nine themes are: 1. Time and Eternity, 2. The first geared mechanisms, 3. Spring driven clocks, 4. Calendars as instruments of Faith and Power, 5. The Precise Time (i.e. the pendulum clock), 6. Clocks as Class and Status Symbols, 7. Models of the Cosmos (i.e. astronomical clocks), 8. A New Era in Time (the French Revolution), and 9. Clocks for the Millions (massproduced clocks as started in Connecticut).

Like the other books in the series, this does not try to be an in-depth, scholarly treatise of any horological subject, but a very affordable, popular introduction into an array of highly important horological themes on which there are few - if any - publications written for the non-specialist. In the opinion of this reviewer all the booklets in the series are texts which every horological collector should have read, especially if they cover areas outside of his/her primary collecting interests. Unfortunately, horological books by smaller German publishers are notoriously hard to find in the USA, but these little texts deserve to be carried by horological booksellers around the globe. Even if that doesn’t happen, you can always borrow them from the NAWCC lending library (even in French or in German if you wish).


Review by Fortunat Mueller-Maerki, Sussex NJ
July 2, 2007
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