The ticking Memory - 39 Curious Clocks & Watches at the Deutsches Uhrenmuseum

Bookreview by Fortunat Mueller-Maerki

‘Das tickende Gedächtnis – 36 kuriose Uhren’; by Agathe Wilhelm; preface by Prof. Eduard Saluz. Published 2009 by Deutsches Uhrenmuseum, Furtwangen (Germany), in German. Softcover, perfectbound, xx mm by xx mm, 80 pages, 79 color illustrations. ISBN 3 922673 28 7. Available at the ‘shop’ section of the Museum website for Euro 5 (ca.US$8) plus postage. NAWCC Members may borrowthis book from the Library in Columbia.

The important clock museums of the world all have numerous world class artifacts in their collections that dazzle through their artistry, their historical significance or their technical complexity. The great museums – and the Deutsches Uhrenmuseum (German Watch and Clock Museum) in Furtwangen certainly belongs in that class – have gone beyond that, and have also collected significant numbers of “everyday” timekeepers while recording the social and political context in which they were used.

Their new publication under review provides a short description of 39 such clocks, many of which were their featured ‘object of the month’ during the last few years. The timepieces are mostly utilitarian clocks or watches, but with unusual or curious histories or uses. The small booklet devotes one double page spread to each of these 39 objects, the left page devoted to a full page color illustration, the right page with an additional image related to the theme and short description of the item. and its function.

The list of objects covered is most varied: It starts with a ‘doll on swing’-pendulum clock by Lenzkirch von 1894 and ends with a 1963 TV set-top clock wired to record the viewed channel every 10 minutes for market research purposes. The books title refers to a British ca. 1900 clock by ‘The Automatic Memorandum Clock Company’, which will spit out small ivory tablets a preset times on which the owner has penciled reminders of what to do at that hour, like take his medicine, or attend a meeting. It includes such oddities as the Sessions ‘Lady’ model bedroom clock from 1965 with a discreet indicator on the dial telling (assuming the relevant data had been entered correctly) where the owner was in her fertility cycle. It includes several everyday pieces which are interesting due to their history, such as a ladies wristwatch from the 1930s, which was a wedding gift from her working class husband who died a few years later, making the object a lifelong special memento to its owner. Others reflect their time, like an improvised assembly of left over parts from bomb-timers used in 1946 in Germany to cobble together an alarm clock. There are many special purpose devices, like a bank-safe-timer, a pocket watch chain decorated with emblems of the baker’s trade, a pigeon racing timer, a watch built into a walking stick, or a load release timer for cold war propaganda leaflets carried across the iron curtain by helium balloons, as well as oddities such as a Russian made cuckoo clock.

The point of the publication is to demonstrate the infinitive variety of timekeepers that can be collected, many of humble origin, and the fascinating stories each one can tell us.

Fortunat Mueller-Maerki, Sussex NJ, August 15 2009