BOOK REVIEW: Graf - Der kunstreiche Uhrmacher

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Fortunat Mueller-Maerki

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Sep 23, 2001
The following bookreview has been accepted for publication in the March 2011 issue of
The Journal of the Antiquarian Horological Society, Ticehurst, United Kingdom
and is reproduced here with the permission of the publisher.

A Comprehensive Catalog of Early German Horological Literature

Der Kunstreiche Uhrmacher – Kostbarkeiten aus der Bibliothek des Deutschen
Uhrenmuseums – Katalog der Sonderaustellung vom 15. November 2010-20. März 2011
; (“Der Kunstreiche Uhrmacher”- Treasures from the Library of the German Clockmuseum – Catalogue of the temporary exhibit November 15, 2010 to March 20, 2011). By Johannes Graf. Published 2010by the Deutsches Uhrenmuseum, Furtwangen (Germany), as Volume 3 in the series ‘Furtwanger Beiträge zur Uhrengeschichte, Neue Folge’. ISBN 3-922673-29-3, 190 pages, 29 x 21 cm, 261 black & white illustrations. Index, bibliography. Available through the online museum store at for Euro 20 (approx. US$ 30) plus postage, or borrow from the National Watch and Clock Library, Columbia PA.

Virtually all horological collectors own not only timekeepers, but also some horological publications that help them understand and evaluate their artifacts. Over time for many of us acquiring fine horological books has become a collecting activity that offers its own satisfaction and rewards, beyond the background knowledge it provides us regarding our mechanical marvels. Most horological museums are in the same situation as the collectors: They start assembling a horological library as a working tool, but over time the bookshelves become a valuable collection of their own.

The Deutsches Uhrenmuseum in the Black Forest town of Furtwangen is an old institution. It started out in 1852 as a ‘historic study collection’ when the local clockmakers school (the oldest horological school in Germany) was founded. It was felt that much could be learned by studying the horological masterpieces of the past. That history shapes the museum to the present day; not only does the museum share a building with the what is now called Furtwangen University, but legally it is a department of the University, and thus primarily government funded. What started as the library of the clockmakers school became part of the university library. Once local professional training for horologists ceased it became a physically separated museum library, but organizationally it remained part of the university library.

Given this unique history and structure it is not surprising that the library of the Deutsches Uhrenmuseum always had a substantial horological library of mainly German language publications. After the current director, Eduar Saluz, first got appointed in 2003 he switched from a more opportunistic to a more strategic collecting policy. Like the museum, the library too would focus on its core mission: concentrate on German horology. The person in charge of the museum library, Dr. Johannes Graf, is not only a historian, but a bibliophile. About seven years ago he did a systematic bibliographic inventory of their ‘early’ publications, defined as those published before the founding of the school, i.e. published before 1850. He discovered that while they owned a significant collection of late 19th century texts, they had only about a dozen titles published before 1850. By combining all published horological bibliographies (incl. Baillie, Tardy, Loeske) Graf determined that there were around 140 known titles in that universe. It also became apparent that no other public German library was systematically collecting this material. The museum therefore started a low key, but systematic effort to “fill its holes”.

Running is shopping list twice a month through e-bay, as well as the metasearch sites of the antique book trade, over several years the DUM was able to acquire about 40 of the titles it was looking to buy, including several titles bought for only very nominal amounts. But the yield of the effort eventually began to shrink, and at that rate it would take a long time to reach the goal. But then in 2004 Hans-Jürgen and Klaudia Ketz decided to dispose of their horological book collection, which focused on mechanical timekeeping in the 18th century. The museum was thus able to acquire in one swoop about 70 of the missing titles, thanks to a grant from a local
foundation. Over the following year the majority of the remaining holes were filled tenaciously one at a time. Now the only remaining gap consisted primarily of some rare early German language sundial books. In the spring of 2010 the oldest books of the Uhrenmuseum Abeler in Wuppertal were auctioned of, and the Furtwangen Museum bought those sundial related titles
where the bidding stayed within reason. And over the next few days they bought the remaining missing titles in the open market. Over the course of the project they had also newly discovered – and bought – around a dozen books that had not been on their initial list, German language horological books pre 1850 that had had never appeared on any bibliographers list.

To celebrate the completion of the project the Deutsches Uhrenmuseum decided to produce a temporary exhibit (19. November 2010 to 20.March 2011) called “Der kunstreiche Uhrmacher” (The artificial clockmaker) named after the first German printed title on mechanical clocks (A German translation of William Derham’s classic book, published as an appendix to Welper’s sundial book in 1708 in Nuernberg).
While this reviewer is delighted that a clock museum finally did a special exhibit on horological books, the real and lasting value of this special exhibition is the resulting richly illustrated catalog. That catalog not only is a visual delight to thumb through – there is at least one illustration for every one of the 132 books in the catalog – but it is a major scholarly bibliography of the German language horological literature prior to 1850. The book is structured into seven chapters, corresponding to the seven sections of the exhibit: 1.) Books on the non-mechanical clocks of the renaissance and baroque eras, 2.) Books on astronomical clocks, 3.) Textbooks for mechanical clockmakers, 4.) Books for clock and watch users, 5.) Books on
the history of timekeeping, 6.) Calendars and chronology, 7. Pendulum & Pertetum Mobile – Horological Science and Horological Obscurities.

Each chapter has a 4 to 8 page introductory essay to the subject, followed by the individual catalog entries. Catalog entries take anywhere from half a page to two pages each, and start with a comprehensive bibliographic record of the title, followed by one or two paragraph of remarks on the content or importance of the book. Each catalog entry is accompanied by one to four illustrations. In the majority of cases we get a facsimile of the title page, more often than not accompanied by the frontispiece and/or the reproduction of selected plates. Illustrations (all in grayscale only) range from quarter page size to pull pages, large enough to read the texts and capture the details of the many technical illustrations. The abundant images make this is title of interest even to the horologist who does not read German.

The author and publishers deserve the gratitude of the community of horological scholars and enthusiasts for creating the exhibit, publishing the catalog and for making it available as a future reference work on the early German horological literature for the very reasonable price of only Euro 20. In addition this reviewer feels that the story on the exhibited (and cataloged) artifacts came to be acquired, over many years, due to the tenacity of the museums management once they realized that their mission statement mandated a systematic effort because no other institution focused on that subject, should and can serve as an example and inspiration to other institutions in their area of collecting. The fact that the Deutsches Uhrenmuseum not only collected the physical objects, but also took the final step and produced and published – for the benefit of posterity- a scholarly catalog of what they had collected represents museum operations
at their finest.

Fortunat F. Mueller-Maerki, Sussex NJ

December 2010
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