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    Thumbs up REVIEW: Fox (2012): Henry Playtner and the Canadian Horological Institute


    The Unlikely History of the Canadian Horological Institute and Henry R. Playtner

    Canada’s Master Watchmaker – Henry R. Playtner and The Canadian Horological Institute; by Gary Fox. Published 2012 by the author. ISBN# 978-0-9867307- 02 and 173 pages, hardboard, black cloth, dustjacket. 130 illustrations (majority B&W reproductions of historic photographs and documents. Four appenices: Directory of Students, Glossary, Name Index, Reference endnotes. Available from the author at chi_information@yahoo.ca for US$60 plus postage, or NAWCC members may borrow from the Library in Columbia.

    Few USA based horological enthusiasts will ever have heard of the Canadian Horological Institute (CHI) or its Director, Henry Playtner, and only dedicated collectors of horological books will be familiar with his 1895 book „An Analysis of the Lever Escapement“, possibly the most comprehensive book ever eritten in English on the subject, originally a lecture, later a nine part series in American Jeweler magazine. The book went through several editions early in the 20th century and is still available in facsimile editions.

    The only previous publication on the subject is a 1987 NAWCC Bulletin article (No. 248: June 1987, p.163-190, by Varkaris and Fuller). The author in 1999 coincidentally stumbled on a stash of original technical drawings by a student of the CHI and has spent much of the last dozen years hunting down additional source material.
    CHI was a Toronto, Ontario based, high-quality watchmakers’ school operating from 1890 to 1913, and except for part of its first year Playtner was its sole owner, Director and only instructor. The school followed the European tradition of having the long-term, full time students build their own watch from scratch (although the majority of attendees were shorter term “Improvers”, practicing watchmakers following a narrower curriculum. Throughout its existence the school was ranked among the best horological schools in North America.

    The book under review makes for captivating reading for any reader interested in the history of the horological trades in North America in general, and specifically the state of horological training at the turn to the 20th century. The author has discovered much hereto unknown material, and painstakingly tracked down the offspring of many graduates, gaining access to mementos and records previously unknown to horological history buffs. In 12 well written chapters he weaves a fascinating story based on the copiously reproduced surviving source material, offering insights not only into how CHI operated, but also the personality and style of Playtner, the life of many of his students, but also –just as fascinating- the state of the horological repair trade during the turn-of-the century era.

    Of particular value are the 130 illustrations, most of them facsimile reproductions of historic black and white photographs and documents, including pictures of many of the unique – and often complicated – watches produced by the CHI graduates, as well as reproductions of many of the technical drawings students had to complete as part of their education in horological theory.[/h]

    It is always an unexpected pleasure to stumble on a well-researched, new publication that –while nominally focusing on a narrow specific subject- provides the reader with many facts and new insights regarding the general state of horology in times past. I would recommend this book for anybody who has a general interest in early 20th century horology in North America.

    Fortunat Mueller-Maerki, Sussex NJ 07461

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    Last edited by Fortunat Mueller-Maerki; 07-29-2012 at 08:54 PM.
    Fortunat Mueller-Maerki, -Chair NAWCC Library Com./ Editor & Publisher of BHM
    Mem.NAWCC Mus.Coll.Com. / VP, USA Sect. Antiq.Horolog.Soc.

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