BOOKREVIEW: The Gerd Ahrens Collection of Pocket Watches

Discussion in 'Horological Books' started by Fortunat Mueller-Maerki, Dec 30, 2006.

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  1. Fortunat Mueller-Maerki

    Fortunat Mueller-Maerki National Library Chair
    NAWCC Star Fellow NAWCC Life Member

    Aug 25, 2000
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    BOOKREVIEW
    The Gerd Ahrens Collection of Pocket Watches


    “Die Taschenuhrensammlung von Gerd Ahrens”, published [in German] by Christian Pfeiffer-Belli, with contributions of Wolf Brueggemann, Norbert Enders, Peter Friess, Martin Otzenberger, Joseph M. Stadl, and Susanne Stadl. ISBN 3-7667 1668 3, 2006 Callwey Verlag, Muenchen (Germany). Limited edition of 1200 numbered copies. Two volumes in slipcase, 655 pages. Price: Euro 128 (approx. USD 170) plus postage.

    The pocketwatch collection of Gerd Ahrens, the legendary German collector, who recently passed away in Switzerland, must have been one of the most significant private collections ever assembled documenting the technical history of the pocket watch. Over a span of 50 years, Mr. Ahrens systematically sought out watches with unusual escapements, striking mechanisms or winding systems, covering everything from the 16th to the early 20th century. A total of over 750 significant pocket watches, many of them unique, were acquired over a lifetime. The 538 most interesting of these form the basis of the publication under review.

    Christian Pfeiffer-Belli –longtime editor of the magazine “Klassik Uhren”- assembled a team of experts, writers and photographers, and led one of the most ambitious projects ever to fully document such a rich collection. The resulting publication is massive in more ways than one (it weighs about 10 pounds). The two large format books were produced on heavy stock, and come in a substantial slipcase. But the “content” is just as imposing as the physical dimensions.

    Fundamentally, the book is a detailed descriptive catalog of the 538 “best” watches from an extraordinary private collection of pocket watches of technical interest. It is organized into seven chapters, based on types of escapement: 1. Verge escapements (68 watches), 2. Cylinder escapements (75), 3. Duplex escapements (27), 4. Chronometer escapements (65), 5. Tourbillons (8), 6. Specialty escapements (24), and 7. Leverescapements (272). The book starts with a short biographic sketch of the collector; each of the seven chapters starts with an illustrated discussion on how that particular type of escapement functions.

    The bulk of the publication is devoted to the individual watches. Each is presented in its own one or two page spread. Each of these 538 descriptions includes a live-size picture of the watch from its dial side, and a picture of the movement (at 100% or 150% of original size). In some cases, there is a third photograph, e.g. of the case back, the signature, or a technical detail. In addition the majority of the entries have their own line-drawing illustrations explaining the escapement (most are from the pen of David Penney, who in the opinion of this reviewer is the most talented horological illustrator alive). About half of each page is devoted to text, describing movement, case, dial and hands in detail, including all signatures and marks. Comments from the handwritten catalog of the collector are quoted, and unusual features are described. Exact dimensions (diameter and thickness) are given in millimeters. The provenance is given, and there are bibliographic references (books and auction catalogs, down to specific pages) for each watch.

    It should be clear by now that this is not a pretty coffee table book on pocket watches, but a very serious work of horological scholarly documentation. Befitting the nature of the book there are several indices, by Maker, Location and Type of escapement. The general bibliography in the appendix is not very extensive.

    This is not the book a novice pocket watch collector should buy to get an overview of what is out there to collect. This is not a book that is easy and pleasant to browse through; studying the history of the pocket watch through this book is hard work; yes there is lot of interesting and useful information, but there is no easy to follow “story”.

    While the horological scholar in me is delighted that this book was written and published, I can not help but wonder who the intended buyers are. It was published in 1200 numbered copies, and sells at price of Euros 128 (plus shipping). While two hundred US dollars landed cost is not cheap for any book, it is self evident to this reviewer that this price reflects merely the approximate marginal production costs of one set – if that, and that the enormous one time expense for gathering and organizing the data and creating the illustrations and layout must have been underwritten by a third party.

    This catalog was intended as a tribute to Gerd Ahrens on occasion of his 85th birthday in September 2005. Production delays caused this deadline to be missed, and Mr. Ahrens died in December 2005. Maybe it is therefore appropriate to see the fact that the Ahrens collection now is so superbly documented as his most valuable gift to posterity. Horological researchers and scholars for generations will cherish the few copies produced, even the readers who may not be fully fluent in German. Contact the publisher at www.callwey.de if you want to own one of the most comprehensive documentations on the technical history of the pocket watch ever created.

    Fortunat Mueller-Maerki, Sussex, New Jersey
    December 28, 2006

    -------------------------------------
     
  2. Fortunat Mueller-Maerki

    Fortunat Mueller-Maerki National Library Chair
    NAWCC Star Fellow NAWCC Life Member

    Aug 25, 2000
    1,486
    49
    48
    Male
    Horological Bibliographer -
    Sussex New Jersey USA
    Country Flag:
    Region Flag:
    REVIEW: The Gerd Ahrens Collection of Pocket Watches

    BOOKREVIEW
    The Gerd Ahrens Collection of Pocket Watches


    “Die Taschenuhrensammlung von Gerd Ahrens”, published [in German] by Christian Pfeiffer-Belli, with contributions of Wolf Brueggemann, Norbert Enders, Peter Friess, Martin Otzenberger, Joseph M. Stadl, and Susanne Stadl. ISBN 3-7667 1668 3, 2006 Callwey Verlag, Muenchen (Germany). Limited edition of 1200 numbered copies. Two volumes in slipcase, 655 pages. Price: Euro 128 (approx. USD 170) plus postage.

    The pocketwatch collection of Gerd Ahrens, the legendary German collector, who recently passed away in Switzerland, must have been one of the most significant private collections ever assembled documenting the technical history of the pocket watch. Over a span of 50 years, Mr. Ahrens systematically sought out watches with unusual escapements, striking mechanisms or winding systems, covering everything from the 16th to the early 20th century. A total of over 750 significant pocket watches, many of them unique, were acquired over a lifetime. The 538 most interesting of these form the basis of the publication under review.

    Christian Pfeiffer-Belli –longtime editor of the magazine “Klassik Uhren”- assembled a team of experts, writers and photographers, and led one of the most ambitious projects ever to fully document such a rich collection. The resulting publication is massive in more ways than one (it weighs about 10 pounds). The two large format books were produced on heavy stock, and come in a substantial slipcase. But the “content” is just as imposing as the physical dimensions.

    Fundamentally, the book is a detailed descriptive catalog of the 538 “best” watches from an extraordinary private collection of pocket watches of technical interest. It is organized into seven chapters, based on types of escapement: 1. Verge escapements (68 watches), 2. Cylinder escapements (75), 3. Duplex escapements (27), 4. Chronometer escapements (65), 5. Tourbillons (8), 6. Specialty escapements (24), and 7. Leverescapements (272). The book starts with a short biographic sketch of the collector; each of the seven chapters starts with an illustrated discussion on how that particular type of escapement functions.

    The bulk of the publication is devoted to the individual watches. Each is presented in its own one or two page spread. Each of these 538 descriptions includes a live-size picture of the watch from its dial side, and a picture of the movement (at 100% or 150% of original size). In some cases, there is a third photograph, e.g. of the case back, the signature, or a technical detail. In addition the majority of the entries have their own line-drawing illustrations explaining the escapement (most are from the pen of David Penney, who in the opinion of this reviewer is the most talented horological illustrator alive). About half of each page is devoted to text, describing movement, case, dial and hands in detail, including all signatures and marks. Comments from the handwritten catalog of the collector are quoted, and unusual features are described. Exact dimensions (diameter and thickness) are given in millimeters. The provenance is given, and there are bibliographic references (books and auction catalogs, down to specific pages) for each watch.

    It should be clear by now that this is not a pretty coffee table book on pocket watches, but a very serious work of horological scholarly documentation. Befitting the nature of the book there are several indices, by Maker, Location and Type of escapement. The general bibliography in the appendix is not very extensive.

    This is not the book a novice pocket watch collector should buy to get an overview of what is out there to collect. This is not a book that is easy and pleasant to browse through; studying the history of the pocket watch through this book is hard work; yes there is lot of interesting and useful information, but there is no easy to follow “story”.

    While the horological scholar in me is delighted that this book was written and published, I can not help but wonder who the intended buyers are. It was published in 1200 numbered copies, and sells at price of Euros 128 (plus shipping). While two hundred US dollars landed cost is not cheap for any book, it is self evident to this reviewer that this price reflects merely the approximate marginal production costs of one set – if that, and that the enormous one time expense for gathering and organizing the data and creating the illustrations and layout must have been underwritten by a third party.

    This catalog was intended as a tribute to Gerd Ahrens on occasion of his 85th birthday in September 2005. Production delays caused this deadline to be missed, and Mr. Ahrens died in December 2005. Maybe it is therefore appropriate to see the fact that the Ahrens collection now is so superbly documented as his most valuable gift to posterity. Horological researchers and scholars for generations will cherish the few copies produced, even the readers who may not be fully fluent in German. Contact the publisher at www.callwey.de if you want to own one of the most comprehensive documentations on the technical history of the pocket watch ever created.

    Fortunat Mueller-Maerki, Sussex, New Jersey
    December 28, 2006

    -------------------------------------
     
  3. Modersohn

    Modersohn Registered User

    Nov 15, 2003
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    REVIEW: The Gerd Ahrens Collection of Pocket Watches

    Is the Nawcc Library going to purchase the book?

    If so, would this be a circulating or non-circulating book? (not that I can read enough German)

    Modersohn
     
  4. Modersohn

    Modersohn Registered User

    Nov 15, 2003
    286
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    0
    REVIEW: The Gerd Ahrens Collection of Pocket Watches

    Is the Nawcc Library going to purchase the book?

    If so, would this be a circulating or non-circulating book? (not that I can read enough German)

    Modersohn
     
  5. Tom McIntyre

    Tom McIntyre Technical Admin
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    REVIEW: The Gerd Ahrens Collection of Pocket Watches

    I created a shortcut for this topic to avoid duplicate threads.
     
  6. Tom McIntyre

    Tom McIntyre Technical Admin
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    REVIEW: The Gerd Ahrens Collection of Pocket Watches

    I created a shortcut for this topic to avoid duplicate threads.
     
  7. Clint Geller

    Clint Geller Registered User
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    REVIEW: The Gerd Ahrens Collection of Pocket Watches

    I certainly hope the NAWCC Library will acquire a copy. I agree that this work sounds much more like a reference text for horological research and advanced collectors than a "story of the..." book. Does anyone know what has happened, or is happening to the Ahrens collection itself now that the collector has passed on?
     
  8. Clint Geller

    Clint Geller Registered User
    Gibbs Literary Award NAWCC Fellow NAWCC Member

    Jul 12, 2002
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    REVIEW: The Gerd Ahrens Collection of Pocket Watches

    I certainly hope the NAWCC Library will acquire a copy. I agree that this work sounds much more like a reference text for horological research and advanced collectors than a "story of the..." book. Does anyone know what has happened, or is happening to the Ahrens collection itself now that the collector has passed on?
     
  9. Fortunat Mueller-Maerki

    Fortunat Mueller-Maerki National Library Chair
    NAWCC Star Fellow NAWCC Life Member

    Aug 25, 2000
    1,486
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    Horological Bibliographer -
    Sussex New Jersey USA
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    REVIEW: The Gerd Ahrens Collection of Pocket Watches

    The Library in COlumbia does own one copy of the book( which I ordered to my European mailing address to save the 30$ postage) but I have not been back to EUrope since I ordered it so it is not yet available.

    A decision on ordering a second (lending) copy has been delayed until the libraian sees the first copy .

    Fortunat
     
  10. Fortunat Mueller-Maerki

    Fortunat Mueller-Maerki National Library Chair
    NAWCC Star Fellow NAWCC Life Member

    Aug 25, 2000
    1,486
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    48
    Male
    Horological Bibliographer -
    Sussex New Jersey USA
    Country Flag:
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    REVIEW: The Gerd Ahrens Collection of Pocket Watches

    The Library in COlumbia does own one copy of the book( which I ordered to my European mailing address to save the 30$ postage) but I have not been back to EUrope since I ordered it so it is not yet available.

    A decision on ordering a second (lending) copy has been delayed until the libraian sees the first copy .

    Fortunat
     
  11. Dr. Jon

    Dr. Jon Registered User
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    Dec 14, 2001
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    REVIEW: The Gerd Ahrens Collection of Pocket Watches

    I just received my copy and it is wonderful.
    I do have a couple of quibbles.

    1) It has nothing from Audemars Piguet. This is one of Swiss major houses and there is not a single example. Was there a reason for this.

    2) The selection of American watches is far from the best, at least IMHO.

    3) He seems to have missed the wonder of the English double roller.

    If you have an interest in the development of watches as they went from the Verge, to the cylinder, to the duplex,to the detent chronometer and, lastly the lever and all the oddball and hybrid escapements, you need this book.

    It is finest Callwey book I have seen and they do the best horological printing in the world (IMHO).
     
  12. Dr. Jon

    Dr. Jon Registered User
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    Dec 14, 2001
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    REVIEW: The Gerd Ahrens Collection of Pocket Watches

    I just received my copy and it is wonderful.
    I do have a couple of quibbles.

    1) It has nothing from Audemars Piguet. This is one of Swiss major houses and there is not a single example. Was there a reason for this.

    2) The selection of American watches is far from the best, at least IMHO.

    3) He seems to have missed the wonder of the English double roller.

    If you have an interest in the development of watches as they went from the Verge, to the cylinder, to the duplex,to the detent chronometer and, lastly the lever and all the oddball and hybrid escapements, you need this book.

    It is finest Callwey book I have seen and they do the best horological printing in the world (IMHO).
     
  13. Fortunat Mueller-Maerki

    Fortunat Mueller-Maerki National Library Chair
    NAWCC Star Fellow NAWCC Life Member

    Aug 25, 2000
    1,486
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    48
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    Sussex New Jersey USA
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    REVIEW: The Gerd Ahrens Collection of Pocket Watches

    I am glad you like the book Dr. Jon, I don't know if you read German, but if you don't I would be interested in your view of the value of this book to somebody who doesn't read German.

    I agree with your assesment of the American selection. Ahrends collected primarily back in the 1960 and 1970s before the Europeans discovered American pocketwatches, I don't believe he was ever in America and at that time (and to some extent still today) there were few American watches ciculating in Europe.

    Fortunat
     
  14. Fortunat Mueller-Maerki

    Fortunat Mueller-Maerki National Library Chair
    NAWCC Star Fellow NAWCC Life Member

    Aug 25, 2000
    1,486
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    48
    Male
    Horological Bibliographer -
    Sussex New Jersey USA
    Country Flag:
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    REVIEW: The Gerd Ahrens Collection of Pocket Watches

    I am glad you like the book Dr. Jon, I don't know if you read German, but if you don't I would be interested in your view of the value of this book to somebody who doesn't read German.

    I agree with your assesment of the American selection. Ahrends collected primarily back in the 1960 and 1970s before the Europeans discovered American pocketwatches, I don't believe he was ever in America and at that time (and to some extent still today) there were few American watches ciculating in Europe.

    Fortunat
     
  15. Dr. Jon

    Dr. Jon Registered User
    NAWCC Member

    Dec 14, 2001
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    New Hampshire
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    REVIEW: The Gerd Ahrens Collection of Pocket Watches

    I am not strong in German but I read horogisch Deutsch mit verstand.

    I do not believe reading knowledge of German is important. For the most part, the pictures tell the story and the descriptions usually do not add much to the pictures.

    I am finding some of the entries frustrating. For example, in the Chronometer section he has several with very late cases and they do not identify the case maker. I would like to see whether they were made by Martin Matthews.

    The strength of the book is the watches and the photography, which is inspiring.

    The only place where you really need German is in ordering the book. All the websites that had the book were in German only. Fortunately for that, web translation works OK but I did not need it where I finally placed the order.

    BTW I don;t see it as a good library lending book. It has a lot less detail than Randall's catalog of British Museum Chronometers and is not as well indexed. The Ahrens Collection is a book to be savored in many doses. It is better organized and much better done than the Ehrhardt books but you use it the same way. You read, study, and learn and do it some more. To get the full benefit you have to have the book for a long time and absorb it.

    It is very unusual in that for each watch there are several references so a reader can find the catalog from which it was bought and other works describing it. If you get seriously interested in a watch you have to look at several other books. Since many of these are in English you really don't need much German to get most of the value of the book.
     
  16. Dr. Jon

    Dr. Jon Registered User
    NAWCC Member

    Dec 14, 2001
    5,385
    182
    63
    Aerospace Engineer
    New Hampshire
    Country Flag:
    Region Flag:
    REVIEW: The Gerd Ahrens Collection of Pocket Watches

    I am not strong in German but I read horogisch Deutsch mit verstand.

    I do not believe reading knowledge of German is important. For the most part, the pictures tell the story and the descriptions usually do not add much to the pictures.

    I am finding some of the entries frustrating. For example, in the Chronometer section he has several with very late cases and they do not identify the case maker. I would like to see whether they were made by Martin Matthews.

    The strength of the book is the watches and the photography, which is inspiring.

    The only place where you really need German is in ordering the book. All the websites that had the book were in German only. Fortunately for that, web translation works OK but I did not need it where I finally placed the order.

    BTW I don;t see it as a good library lending book. It has a lot less detail than Randall's catalog of British Museum Chronometers and is not as well indexed. The Ahrens Collection is a book to be savored in many doses. It is better organized and much better done than the Ehrhardt books but you use it the same way. You read, study, and learn and do it some more. To get the full benefit you have to have the book for a long time and absorb it.

    It is very unusual in that for each watch there are several references so a reader can find the catalog from which it was bought and other works describing it. If you get seriously interested in a watch you have to look at several other books. Since many of these are in English you really don't need much German to get most of the value of the book.
     

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