BOOKREVIEW: Miles-Synchronome – Masters of Electrical Timekeeping

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Fortunat Mueller-Maerki

NAWCC Star Fellow
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NAWCC Fellow
Sep 23, 2001
Frank Hope Jones and the Synchronome Clock Company

A Bookreview

Synchronome – Masters of Electrical Timekeeping, by Robert H.A. Miles. Published 2011 by the Antiquarian Horological Society, Ticehurst, England. ISBN978-0-901180-50-6 . Hardbound, dust jacket; 288 pages, 32 cm high x 25 cm wide; 332 illustrations, mostly color photographs, exhaustive Index. Available for UKP 50 (ca. S$ XX) plus postage from .

All too many horological collectors seem to forget that for more than half of the 20th century - the embodiment of a highly precise timekeeper was the electrically driven pendulum master clock, sending impulses to numerous slave dials. These time systems were ubiquitous in schools, factories, corporate and government offices, railroad stations etc. and sometimes also in private homes, and therefore are a key, but under recognized component of our horological heritage.

The most important and most visible person associated with that key segment of horological history is the Englishman Frank Hope-Jones (1867-1950) and the Synchronome Company. Over the decades numerous articles have covered various aspects of his life, the company he started, and the resulting products and technologies. But there never was an authoratative, encyclopedic publication on the subject. The book under review fills that void.

Author Robert Miles, with the support of James Cowsill and Paul Joyce, over a period of 15 years gathered information and materials, and wrote detailed technical descriptions of how the technology works. A few years ago a group of his fellow enthusiasts of electrical horology from the Electrical Horology Group of the Antiquarian Homological Society, notably James Nye and his partner Lucy, realized that the broad scope of this undertaking required additional input to finally get the book published. This lengthy process has now resulted in a publication of unprecedented breadth, thoroughness and quality.

The book is partly a personal biography of Frank Hope-Jones and the corporate history of the Synchronome company in its various re-incarnations, but the bulk of the text is devoted to a thorough and exhaustive, profusely illustrated documentation of the Synchronome clock system, through all its forms, variants and uses from 1894 to 1980, and also covering such ancillary components as programmers, distribution boards, slave dials, batteries etc. Two chapters explore the ‘scientific cousin’ of the Synchronome, the astronomical observatory regulators of William H. Shortt (including an appendix listing the history of all 102 Shortt clock systems known to exist). There are separate chapters devoted to the wireless transmission of time signals, and the Synchronome Marine (i.e. on board ship).systems. The final and 13th chapter deals with practical matters not covered anywhere in the published Synchronome literature, such as the set-up, maintenance and repair of Synchronome timekeepers.
While the text is very readable, this is the kind of book that few readers will read cover to cover, but many will want to use as a reference when researching a particular theme or looking up a specific fact. How well that need is served depends on how well a book is organized and how extensively it is indexed; and this publication excels in both regards, the index lists nearly 1500 key words, a feature unfortunately found in very few scholarly horological books, but of enormous value to many readers. Indexing is a tedious and thankless job, and this reviewer hopes other horological authors of future books will try to match the new gold standard of indexing set by this book.

His book is a ‘must buy’ for anybody with a serious interest in precision horology, electrical horology or time systems, but will also provide a good introduction to these subject areas for the general horologist attempting to broaden his or her knowledge.

Fortunat Mueller-Maerki, (Sussex, New Jersey, USA) Sept 29, 2011
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