BOOKREVIEW: Wenzel: The astronomical geographic clock by the Reverend Thaddäus

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Fortunat Mueller-Maerki

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Sep 23, 2001

[colour=red]Die astronomisch-geographische Uhr Uhr von Pater Thaddäus Rinderle
(The astronomical geographic clock by the Reverend Thaddäus Rinderle)

By Johann Wenzel

Volume 1 of “Neue Folge, Furtwanger Beiträge zur Uhrengeschichte”. Includes the full facsimile reproduction of the 16 page 1787 manuscript by the Reverend Rinderle describing the clock he made and a literal transcript. Published 2007 by the Deutsches Uhrenmuseum, Furtwangen (Germany); in German; paperback, 78 pages, 59 black & white illustrations, ISBN 3-922673-23-6), available from the DUM giftshop ( ), approx. $22 plus postage, or borrow from the Library & Research Center at the National Watch & Clock Museum.

The astronomical clock made by the black forest cleric Thaddäus Rinderle in 1787 has long been one of the key attractions of the Deutsches Uhrenmuseum .in Furtwangen (Inventory number 16-0033). The clock is not only technically and astronomically most interesting, but also highly unusual as its provenance can be traced completely form its creation to the ownership by the museum, which acquired it in 1859. The clockmaker’s construction notes, a 16 page manuscript, have also stayed with the clock throughout its history.

The display of the main dial centers on a circular map of the earth (centered on the North Pole and extending to 50º southern latitude) which rotates once per sidereal day, under a fixed, transparent glass disc containing a star map and an elliptical horizon line. There are indications for lunar position in the Zodiak, a solar hand and a calendar ring moving around the earth disc, as well as a unusual mechanized indication which part of the earth has sunshine at any time constructed from movable piano wire . Indication of Lunar nodes, the equation of time, and the ecliptic, as well as a subsidiary dial reading minutes are also present. In spite of its sophisticated astronomy, layout and gearing, the clock is made in the technical style of rural black forest clocks, with wooden plates and pinions, and simple brass gears.

This clearly is one of the most extraordinary astronomical clocks ever built, and the book under review is a thorough documentation of this unique artifact. The documentation was put together some thirty years ago by the highly talented amateur horological scholar Johannes Wenzel, but had never been published. In order to understand the clock Wenzel not only disassembled the clock and counted all gear teeth, but also deciphered the manuscript construction notes by Rinderle, and made a typescript. The museum last year discovered the existence of this documentation and typescript, and luckily was able to find funds to publish them both in the present book.

Reading the resulting publication is predestined to be intellectually challenging. The book starts with a 5 page general introduction to astronomical clocks, followed by a 20 page, step by step functional description of the mechanism. Comprehension of this section is greatly enhanced by 34 (schematic and photographic) illustrations. The author cleverly weaves citations from the clockmakers notes into his explanatory text, which if you consult the diagrams and photos can be followed relatively easily if you understand basic German. However the nature of the subject matter inherently makes for tedious reading.

The functional description is followed by a short chapter on who might have inspired the good Reverend to design and built such an unusual clock, followed by an account of its ownership history. The final part is made up of full page facsimile reproductions of the 16 pages of Rinderles 1787 manuscript facing, on the opposite page, an exact, typeset transcriptions (including spelling errors and cross outs).

This reviewer is not naïve enough to assume that such a scholarly, documentary record of a one-of –a-kind timekeeper – no matter how significant, original and unusual – will ever attract a significant readership. Of course non-German-speaking readers are further handicapped, but those with even a basic understanding of German (assuming they are familiar with this kind of subject matter) will comprehend enough to enjoy the book. The Deutsches Uhrenmuseum and the author deserve the gratitude of serious horological scholars for not only being good custodians to this unique witness of black forest 18th century ingenuity, but for producing a published public record of its design and construction to the benefit of future generations of historians of

Review by Fortunat Mueller-Maerki, Sussex NJ
July 22, 2007
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