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BOOKREVIEW Devices for time measurement in Museum Boerhaave - A Descriptive Catal

  • Thread starter Fortunat Mueller-Maerki
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Fortunat Mueller-Maerki

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BOOKREVIEW
Telling Time - Devices for time measurement in Museum Boerhaave - A Descriptive Catalogue
by Hans Hoijmaijers


Hardbound, 88 pages, fully illustrated, ISBN 90 6291 14), published in English; available from Museum Boerhaave (http://www.museumboerhaave.nl/museum-/e_algemeen/e_publicaties.html/ Publication No. 311), approx. Euro 35 plus postage. Also available for lending at the National Watch and Clock Library in Columbia, Pennsylvania.

The Boerhaave National Museum of the History of Science located in the university town of Leiden (The Netherlands) is probably best known to horologists as the institution that houses the earliest extant pendulum clock (inv.no.9853), made in 1657 by Salomon Coster of the Hague based on the invention of Christiaan Huygens. While Galileo had observed that pendulums beat regularly and thus are good time standards, and had made some sketches on equipping a clock with a pendulum, there is no evidence Galileo’s design was ever executed. According to Huygens’ notebooks, the idea on how to connect the clockworks through a crutch to an impulsed pendulum (rather than to the then prevalent –but less accurate- balance hoop) occurred to him on Christmas day, 1656. On June 16th, the “States-General of the Netherlands granted Coster an exclusive right (a “Privilege”, today we would say a patent) to produce pendulum clocks according to Huygens’ invention. The Coster clock in Museum Boerhaave, is one of the first pendulum clocks built, possibly the very first ever, as it is the only known one with a 1657 date.

The rest of the horological holdings of Museum Boerhaave is much less known, mainly because the majority –up to now- have never been published or exhibited in recent years. The timekeeping related exhibits at the museum have primarily been limited to three categories:
• Some early masterworks of significance, beside the Coster clock, this included such timekeepers as e.g. the 1670 observatory regulator by Isaac Thuret in Paris, probably made for Huygens himself
• The series of nine historic astronomical regulators of the Leiden observatory (by van der Cloese, Snellen, Knebel, Utzschneider & Fraunhofer, Kaiser, Hohwü, Knoblich and Rhode & Strasser. (By the way these clocks are currently superbly displayed, out of their cases, on plexiglas mounts that allow a detailed examination of the mechanism, and are the subject of a separate 1992 publication “The Time-keepers of Leiden Observatory” by van Gent and Leopold, ISBN 90 6292 099 3, which contains only little additional data beyond the book being reviewed here).
• A limited selection of their marine chronometers.

The book under review fills a blatant gap in published horological documentation by providing exactly what the subtitle promises, a “Descriptive catalogue”. All 71 objects in the museum’s collection that are classified as timekeeping devices (i.e. exclusive of sundials, which actually are time-indicators not timekeepers) are listed with makers’ names, date and place of manufacture, dimensions, inventory number, and a short description, plus black & white illustrations. The most important pieces granted one or two pages, with up to three images, while the majority of the chronometers get half a page, and less important timekeepers get 1/3, ¼ or even 1/6 of a page.

This reviewer especially enjoyed reading about some of the lesser known or odd items, including e.g. the 1871 Chronoscope by Matthäus Hipp (to measure intervals as short as 1/1000 of a second), or a series of “seconds counter mechanisms” for observatory use. It also turns out that hidden in the depot of the museum are such major pieces as a ca. 1803 Table clock by Janvier, or a ca.1710 longcase clock signed Fromanteel & Clarke Amsterdam. By far the strangest device is inventory number 25121 and labeled an “Atmospheric clock”: Made by Whiteman & Bass in London in the late 19th century, it functions similar to a sand-glass, featuring a vertical glass-tube sealed at both ends with semiporous material, allowing a glob of mercury to descend slowly indicating the time on a scale, before the whole tube is flipped upside down every 24 hours.

Hans Hoijmaijers is the curator in charge of timekeepers (as well as other categories) at Boerhaave, and he and the museum deserve credit for compiling and publishing this catalog which adds to the recorded horological knowledge. The aim was apparently never to produce a flashy, colorful coffee table book, or an entertaining text for the general public, but to create a complete and accurate documentation for use by horological researchers and scholars. That the book does well.

The major disappointment for this reviewer was that the mechanized orrereys of the museum are not covered in the text, although they could well be classified as timekeepers. Boerhaave has some spectacular examples, including Huygens’ own planetarium (made 1682 by van Ceulen), and the fabled Leiden Sphere (Rotterdam, late 17th century, by Steven Tracey, for details see Dekker, The Leiden Sphere, ISBN 90 6292 071 3). Given that timekeeping is a relatively minor function in these glorious artifacts I can understand why they were left out, even if I regret that they were.

Given the nature of this book it seems unlikely that the publisher will even recover their out-of-pocket production costs, let alone provide any return for the efforts of the author. All the more reason to be happy that the book exists for the benefit of those few serious horologists who care about such things. I just wish more museums around the globe would follow the example set by Museum Boerhaave, and systematically catalog and describe the horological treasures languishing in their storerooms in a format that is accessible to the interested public.

Review by Fortunat Mueller-Maerki, Sussex NJ, USA
E-mail: horology@horology.com
October 13, 2005
 
M

Maurice Richesson

REVIEW Devices for time measurement in Museum Boerhaave - A Descriptive Catal

Fortunat,

Thank you for this review and for your other reviews as well. A real service that is much appreciated.

Maurice Richesson
 

Dr. Jon

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REVIEW Devices for time measurement in Museum Boerhaave - A Descriptive Catal

I blundered into this at the Boerhaave this summer. It is a beautiful book and very modestly priced. If you are anywhere near Leiden go there, see the Boerhaave, and buy this book.


In addition, I recommend the catalog of Time Keepers from the Leiden Observatory and the booklet on the Huygens collection for anyone intersted in horology. These are all available in at least English and Dutch.

The Huygens catalog has a few pictures of the Orrerys, which may be why they were not included in the Devices for Time Measurement Catalog

This is one of the great science musea of the World. Clocks and watches are a small part of fabulous collection of wonderful objects.

Almost every thing is labeled in Dutch and English.

Leiden itself is a wonderful place to visit.
 

Fortunat Mueller-Maerki

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REVIEW Devices for time measurement in Museum Boerhaave - A Descriptive Catal

The full bibliographic information of the titles discussed in this thread is below:

# Title: Telling time - Devices for time measurement in Museum Boerhaave
SubTitle: A Descriptive Catalog
# Author: Hans Hooijmaijers
# Publisher: Museum Boerhaave
Keywords: catalog
Other Keywords: Boerhaave Leiden Coster 1657 Huygens Oascal Oosterwijk Visbagh van Ceulen
ISBN: 90 6292 145
Language: ENG
Notes: A scholarly catalog of all mechanical timekeeping devices at the Boerhaave National Museum on the history of Science in Leiden, the Netherlands, including the earliest extant pendulum clock (Huygens/Coster 1657), illustrated, indexed, bibliography
Edition: 2005, 1st edition -- Copyright: 2005
Kind: Book
Type: Clock (general)
Geographic area: Netherlands
Topic: History
Organization: Museum
Pages: 87 -- Height in cm: 27
Print Status: 1 (1 means in print - 2 means out of print)
BHM ID: 7165
_______________________________________

# Title: Christiaan Huygens 1629-1695
SubTitle: Museum Boerhaave, Leiden
# Author: Boerhaave, Museum
# Publisher: Museum Boerhaave
Keywords: biography catalog
Other Keywords: Huygens Boerhave museum Leiden
ISBN: 90 6292 073 x
Language: NET
Notes: catalog of ther Huygens related items at the National Science Museum in Leiden and biography of Huygens
Edition: 1988 -- Copyright: 1970
Kind: Book
Type: Timekeeper (general)
Geographic area: Not Geographic
Topic: History
Organization: Person
Pages: 40 -- Height in cm: 25
Print Status: 1 (1 means in print - 2 means out of print)
BHM ID: 5781
____________________________________

# Title: Time-keepers [The..] of Leiden Observatory
SubTitle: Museum Boerhaave, Leiden
# Author: Gent, Rob H. van, J.H. Leopold
# Publisher: Museum Boerhaave
Keywords: catalog astronomical highgrade precision specific clock
Other Keywords: Leiden observatory Boerhaave museum catalog
ISBN: 90 62392 099 3
Language: ENG
Notes: museum catalog of Bierhaave museum in Leiden (Netherlands) of the 11 precision pendulum clocks formerly at the Leiden observatory
Edition: 1st edition, 1992 -- Copyright: 1992
Kind: Book
Type: Watch (general)
Geographic area: Netherlands
Topic: History
Organization: Museum
Pages: 48 -- Height in cm: 25
Print Status: 1 (1 means in print - 2 means out of print)
BHM ID: 5782
__________________________________
 

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