BOOKREVIEW: Modern Times – Timekeeping on its Way to the Present -- by Johannes Graf

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Fortunat Mueller-Maerki

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Sep 23, 2001
Modern Times – Timekeeping on its Way to the Present

By Johannes Graf

Published 2005 by the Deutsches Uhrenmuseum, Furtwangen (Germany); saddlestapled, 39 pages, many color illustrations, ISBN 3-922673-19-8 (concurrent editions in German 3-922673-17-1, and in French 3-922673-18--X), available from the DUM giftshop ( ), approx. $5 plus postage, or borrow from the Library & Research Center at the National Watch & Clock Museum.

Most horological museums treat timekeeping – and timekeepers – that came after the mechanical clock and watch as an afterthought or as a footnote. The Deutsches Uhrenmuseum (German National Clock Museum) in Furtwangen last year reemphasized and expanded its exhibits in this whole area after they were able to acquire the ca. 1845 electromagnetically impulsed clock by Alexander Bain when the rest of the holdings of the former Time Museum in Rockford, IL were dispersed in 2004. Bain invented the electric clock in June 1840 and made about 40 of them. A mere dozen survived to the present, and the one now in Furtwangen is believed to be the only one outside of the UK.

Johannes Graf, the deputy Director of the museum, and the intellectual father of the improved exhibit has now created an illustrated booklet that does double duty as a short stand alone history of post-mechanical timekeeping and as a guide to that sector of the Deutsches Uhrenmuseum. The format –both physically and structurally- follows the precedent set with two earlier publications (Black Forest Clocks; A brief History of the Wristwatch). All three booklets start with a social history perspective to examine an era of horological technology. By doing so they captivate the non-horologist, history-minded visitor of their museum and without the reader even noticing transmit substantial horological history and technical knowledge. These booklets will all appeal to the casual museum visitor and the dedicated student of horology alike. Parenthetically I must laud their practice of concurrently publishing three language editions (German, French, English) of all their recent books, a practice that should be adopted by many more major museums.

This book briefly covers the key ten timekeeping inventions of the last 150 years: 1. The first electrically driven clocks; 2. The breakthroughs of Matthaeus Hipp; 3. Synchronizing clocks (master/slave systems); 4. Railroad time; 5. A worldwide time sytem; 6. Time zones; 7. Greenwich Mean Time; 8. Quartz timekeeping; 9. Atomic time; 10. Radio controlled timekeepers. Each subject is introduced by a brief text and illustrated by a few pictures, mostly good-sized color illustrations of interesting or unusual timepieces from their exhibit.

This is not an in-depth, scholarly treatise of 20th century horology, but a very affordable, popular introduction into an important chapter of horological history on which there are few - if any - publications of interest to the non-specialist. In the opinion of this reviewer it is a text every horological collector should have, even if he/she is never going to own a non-mechanical timepiece. Unfortunately horological books by smaller German publishers are notoriously hard to find in the USA, but this little text deserves to be carried by horological booksellers around the globe. Even if that doesn’t happen, you can always borrow it from the NAWCC lending library (even in French or in German if you wish).

Review by Fortunat Mueller-Maerki, Sussex NJ
June 8, 2006


Aug 8, 2004
REVIEW: Modern Times – Timekeeping on its Way to the Present -- by Johannes Graf

Just a note to note that this volume is now available in the US from Timesavers


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