Bookreview
The History of Englands Most Enduring Tower Clock Company

The Smiths of Derby – A Journey Through Time; by Maxwell A.J.B. Craven. Published 2011 by Smith of Derby, Derby UK. ISBN# 978-0-9570846-1-2; vi and 278 pages, hardboard, dustjacket. Many illustrations (majority in color, reproductions of historic photographs and documents). Six appenices: .... Available from the publisher at www.smithofderby.com for UKP25 plus postage, or NAWCC members may borrow from the Library in Columbia.

Horological books get written and published for all kinds of reason and it is wise for the reader to be aware of why the book was created when deciding whether to purchase the volume and when evaluating the content. In this regard books published by commercial enterprises documenting their history should never be take uncritically at face value, but they nevertheless may provide mounds of hereto unpublished data and provide an inside perspective on portions of horological history not available anywhere else.

The 2011 release of the corporate history of ‘Smith of Derby’, a British family owned clock making firm known primarily for the production of tower clocks, provides the reader with glimpses into a corner of horology not usually covered in the horological literature. Because Smith was - and continues to be - a family owned enterprise the information is up close and personal, and is more a history of the family and of the people who have worked there (and the details of their business practices, both technical and commercial), than a macro-economic analysis of the tower clock business of the last 140 years. The fact that the author who was hired to write the book is a local historian of the town of Derby also tilts this publication more toward social and labor history than a technical description of their products

Once the horologicly inclined reader accepts those constraints the book can be enjoyed for its strengths: Through its anecdotal narrative (largely driven by whatever ephemeral documents have survived in the family and business archives) it provides varied and unprecedented perspectives of the daily issues facing both labor and management in a English horological manufactory environment from ca. 1870 to the late 20th century. This reviewer particularly enjoyed the sections dealing with the selling, installing and repair of tower clocks, spread over a vast area in an era that provided few of the transport, travel and communication infrastructure we take for granted today.


For the sake of the completeness of the published record, it is nice to have the extensive genealogy of the family and its predecessors (the Whitehurst dynasty of clockmakers) in print, although many readers may end up skipping over the details in this part of the book.


The world of horological books would be richer if more firms followed Smiths lead and opened their archives and did publish a history of their brand.



Fortunat Mueller-Maerki, Sussex NJ 07461 August 2012

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