BOOKREVIEW: Schaaf: Schwarzwalduhren (4th Edition, 2008)

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Fortunat Mueller-Maerki

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Sep 23, 2001

Everything you wanted to know about Black Forest Clocks - and then some

Schwarzwalduhren, by Berthold Schaaf, with contributions by Douglas K. Stevenson & Scot W. Stevenson, and Egon Weissflog. Fourth, substantially revised and expanded edition, published September 2008 by G. Braun Buchverlag, Karlsruhe, Germany (; hardback, 432 pages, 20x27 cm; ISBN 978-3-7650-8391-4, over 400 color illustrations. (Text in German). Includes alphabetical directory of over 3,500 known Black Forest clockmakers. Bibliography of 85 titles, Index. Available from G. Braun publishers or for €68 (approx. US$85) plus postage, or borrow from the Library & Research Center at the National Watch & Clock Museum.

The serious scholar or collector of Black Forest clocks who does not read German is seriously handicapped. There are really only five titles in English that deal specifically with Black Forest clockmaking and its history, and each has serious drawbacks: (1) E. John Tyler's Black Forest Clocks is more a guide for beginning collectors than a piece of serious scholarship and was written over 30 years ago. (2 and 3) The two booklets by Karl Kochmann, Black Forest Music Clocks and Black Forest Clockmaker and the Cuckoo Clock, each only address a small specialty within the field, are also 30 years old, and are more an amalgam of somewhat random source materials than systematic analyses of the subject. (4) A Brief History of the Black Forest Clock, based on the work of the eminent scholars Mühe and Kahlert, issued in English in 2004 by the German Clock Museum, provides an excellent introduction to the subject, but with only 38 pages cannot provide in depth coverage, either. This leaves only (5), Rick Ortenburger’s Black Forest Clocks as the standard English-language book on the subject. But Ortenburger's book is close to 20 years old in its current form, and parts of it were written several years earlier. Much new material has surfaced in the last two decades and countless monographs in German have shed additional light on many aspects of this vast theme.

In short, this reviewer feels that it is impossible to seriously study the history of the Black Forest clock without consulting the German-language literature. That in practice has meant pursuing the two classic, broad based texts on the subject. The first is the two-volume, 1200+ page opus magnus of Gerd Bender, Die Uhrenmacher des hohen Schwarzwaldes und ihre Werke, and the second is Schwarzwalduhren by Berthold Schaaf. Bender’s first volume was published in 1975 (with the most recent re-edition in 1998) and the second volume followed in 1978 (with no more recent edition). A used set is hard to find, and would set you back around US$300. That price reflects not only the enduring worth of Bender's scholarship, but the fact that until recently nothing else was available of comparable depth on this subject.

Over the years Schwarzwalduhren by Berthold Schaaf has been playing “catch up” with the reputation of the Bender books. Schaaf’s book was first published as a slim 132 page, small format volume in 1983. It offered a well illustrated, concise but scholarly alternative to the Bender volumes, which are heavy with hundreds of pages of valuable, but hard-to-digest original source material. The second “significantly enlarged” edition of Schaaf in 1988 with 213 (larger) pages had more than twice the information of the first edition. The most significant addition was a 43 page alphabetical directory of known makers of Black Forest clocks with some 2,500 names, a list without comparison (then or now) as neither the new ‘Loomes’ nor the trusted ‘Abeler’ lists many Black Forest makers.. By the third edition in 1995 Schaaf’s name directory had grown to over 3,000 names and the book had grown from 213 to 326 pages, including additional chapters dealing with such issues as the Black Forest clock today, fakes, and valuation.

Just recently (September 2008) Schaaf’s Schwarzwalduhren has seen its – yet again much expanded – fourth edition. The makers’ directory now exceeds 3,500 names and takes up 75 of the -- again larger -- pages. More significantly, many more color illustrations -- now 410 of them -- have been added, documenting many additional hereto unpublished, historically significant clocks from the Schwarzwald. The basic structure of the book has been preserved, with the first section providing a chronological narrative from the earliest beginnings around 1680 to the late 19th century (the factory based clockmaking in the Black Forest in the late 19th century and the first half of the 20th century are NOT covered in this book), and the second section providing thematic depth, including a discussion of the special types of Black Forest clocks, such as cuckoo clocks, musical clocks (including organ clocks and trumpeter clocks), complications and automatons.

Once again, two completely new chapters, by new contributors, have been added: D.K. and S.W. Stevenson have written the first in-depth account of “Black forest Clocks in Amerika,” and Egon Weissflog writes on “Black Forest style clocks made in the Erzgebirge region of Germany.” Each of these new chapters is around 30 pages, has its own excellent pictures, and has its own bibliography.

There is no doubt in this reviewer’s mind that with the current 4th edition Schaaf has finally claimed the title of “author of the standard textbook on the history of the Black Forest clock” from Bender. Bender of course remains an extremely valuable source for much original material not reproduced anywhere else. But the newest edition of Schaaf undoubtedly is the most up-to-date, most comprehensive text available describing the history of clock making in the Schwarzwald region of Germany.

If you are a serious collector or scholar of Black Forest horology your library must contain this book. Hopefully you can read at least some of the German text, but even if you cannot, the makers’ directory and the images alone make this book a priceless reference tool.

Fortunat Mueller-Maerki
Sussex, New Jersey
November 30, 2008

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