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Review: “Kahlert: – Contributions to The History of the [German] Clock

  • Thread starter Fortunat Mueller-Maerki
  • Start date

Fortunat Mueller-Maerki

NAWCC Star Fellow
NAWCC Life Member
NAWCC Fellow
Sep 23, 2001
A Most Useful Compendium of Horological History Facts from Germany

The following review was published in the June 2012 issue of the British journal "Antiquarian Horology", Proceedings of the Antiquarian Horological Society. http://www.ahsoc.demon.co.uk/journal.html It is reprinted here with their permission.

“Dem Uhrenfreund zuliebe” – Verstreute Beiträge zur Geschichte der Uhr (“As a favor to clock Enthusiasts” – Scattered Contributions to The History of the [German] Clock), by Helmut Kahlert; collected and edited by Johannes Graf; published 2012 by Deutsches Uhrenmuseum, Furtwangen, as Volume 4, of the series: Furtwanger Beiträge zur Uhrengeschichte, Neue Folge. ISBN 3-922673-31-7. Paperback, 27cm x 19 cm, 212 pages, richly illustrated in black and white, extensive Bibliography. Available through the website of the Deutsches Uhrenmuseum at www.deutsches-uhrenmuseum.de/shop/.... For Euro 20 plus postage (ca, US$ 26).

Helmut Kahlert (1927-2006) was one of the definitive scholars of black forest clock making. His 1986 book “300 Jahre Schwarzwälder Uhrenindustrie” (300 years of Black Forest Clock Making) was the first book-length, comprehensive treatment of the subject, and –now in its second, updated and significantly expanded 2[SUP]nd[/SUP] edition (2007) – is still considered the gold standard in this field.

Kahlert has an unusual biography, his formative years were interrupted by conscription into the German forces at age sixteen, followed by prisoner of war status till he was in his early twenties. Nevertheless he was able to study economics after his return, earning a Doctorate degree. By 1959 he had become the “first non-engineer” to join the faculty of the Fachhochschule Furtwangen, the leading academic institution of higher learning in the Black Forest, which had evolved from Germany’s first professional training school for clockmakers. There he taught the budding Engineers all non-technical subjects including social studies, history and economics. He quickly befriended the other “odd-man-out” on that faculty, Prof. Richard Műhe, who served as Director of the Deutsches Uhrenmuseum (DUM), which technically was (and remains today) a department of that University.

Despite being an economist by training, his research interests soon focused on the history of technology, and the history of the regions’ economic development. At that time this was mostly virgin territory for academic study, and Kahlert excelled in finding much new original source material. His early contributions include the first comprehensive Bibliographies on Black Forest horology (Vol.I, 1984 and Vol.II, 1996), and the first German facsimile reprints of historic clock catalog info for the years 1880 and 1913 (published 1985 and 1980). He was a coauthor with his colleague Prof. Muehe of a catalog of the DUM (1992), of the first monograph ever published on alarm clocks (1991, with Muehe and Techen) and on cuckoo clocks (1988, also with Muehe and Techen), as well as the first major published history of the wristwatch (Armbanduhren – 100 Jahre Entwicklungsgeschichte, with Muehe and Brunner, 1983, now in its 5[SUP]th[/SUP] ed. 1996), including an English language edition (1986 by Schiffer USA). And the above list is far from complete, the total list of books he authored has 16 entries.

Nevertheless his literary output in periodicals matches or exceeds his monograph authorship. Before Kahlert had passed away he had transferred all his source material and his archive to the DUM. Dr. Johannes Graf of the DUM staff catalogued the material, and the resulting bibliography of Kahlert horological articles in periodicals exceeds 110 essays (all listed in the bibliography of the book under review). In the compendium under review Graf choose 17 of those essays for republication. The editor tries to offer a representative gross sample of Kahlerts’ oeuvre, both chronologically and regarding subject matter. He leaves out all articles published in the common and widely read horological periodicals (Kahlert also contributed repeatedly to such venues as the NAWCC Journal, Klassik Uhren and it’s predecessors) and focuses more on papers published (or as the books subtitle suggests: “scattered”) in more specialized or obscure publications

For any reader interested in German horological history who has more than a basic command of the German language, browsing in the book provides a trail of eclectic discovery of assorted facts. Some of the favorites of this reviewer include:

  • “Aufzeichnungen eines Uhrmachers” (Records of a clockmaker), a six page essay summarizing entries from an account book in which a small clockmaker kept track of his income and expenses from 1873-1882. This provides fascinating morsels of data on the economics of clock making in that era.
  • “Matthias Hipp in Reutlingen” explores the earliest years of the career of this pioneer of electrical clocks, a subject not covered anywhere else in the horological literature.
  • “Mauthe Aar gegen NS Adler” is one of very few existing studies of clock making in the Nazi era, and explores the issues for the Mauthe brand arising from the fact that their since 1911 looked very similar to the insignia adopted by the Nazi party in the early 1930s.
  • “Als die Uhren zu den Menschen kamen” (When did people start owning clocks?) explores the sociological impact of personal timekeepers turning from a luxury item to a functional part in the lives of everyday people rather than over the course of the 19[SUP]th[/SUP] century. Kahlert explores this market explosion resulting from the availability of simple, relatively cheap clocks (such as the Black Forest shield clocks, and the Comtoise in France, and to some extent the country made, white-dia,l 30-hour longcase in the UK).

While none of these essays will rewrite horological history, they are all informative, thought provoking contributions that will stimulate and broaden the horizon of horological enthusiasts.

Taken together the republication of these 17 “obscure” and “quasi-lost” pieces, to this reviewer represents a desirable – but all too rare – form of horological scholarship. This kind of book is unlikely to require a huge print run, and thanks to advances in scanning and print-on-demand technologies can be produced relatively inexpensively. The crisp print of a newly set electronic copy rather than a photographic facsimile makes the book uniform and easy to read. The challenge is to find an editor who has the motivation (and time) to take on such a project. That Graf took the extra effort to secure reproduction rights for suitable additional illustrations for each of the articles beyond what was included in the original publications is most commendable and appreciated.

This reviewer hopes this publication by the Deutsche Uhrenmuseum inspires other institutions or individuals to create other, similar compendiums on horological authors or specialized subjects. Any contribution to making horological scholarship which has been nominally published, but is de-facto inaccessible, more easily available again deserves praise and support.

Fortunat Mueller-Maerki
Sussex N.J., Mai 2012

kahlert cvr.jpg
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