REVIEW: A Brief History of the Black Forest Clock (For STEVENSON)

Discussion in 'Horological Books' started by Fortunat Mueller-Maerki, Feb 17, 2005.

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  1. Fortunat Mueller-Maerki

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

    Aug 25, 2000
    Horological Bibliographer -
    Sussex New Jersey USA
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    [This short review appeared in the November 2004 issue of CLOCKS magazine
    as "German Clock Books" on pages 10 and 22.]


    The German Clock Museum in Furtwangen has just published a superb little
    volume, _A Brief History of the Black Forest Clock_. It is an
    English-language edition of their _Kurze Geschichte der Schwarzwalduhr_.
    While this brief review of _A Brief History_ will describe the volume, its
    value extends beyond the volume itself.

    This is because in the English-only speaking world, much of what is the
    best literature about Black Forest clocks and clockmaking is not only not
    read. It's often not even acknowledged, let alone acknowledged as the
    best. Indeed, this out-of-kilter situation is so normal that it's not
    perceived to be so. It's cock-headed as well as cock-eyed.

    Imagine, therefore, that someone was fascinated by a particular kind of
    British clock -- let's say longcases. But would only read, and might even
    only acknowledge, even when doing research, those which are not written in

    Now actively imagine (and we'll wait as you do this) that you toss out
    everything you have in English about British longcase clocks. Start with
    your Loomes volumes (yes, you too, sir). And then get rid of any Brutons
    and Edwardes, Robinsons and Robeys or Roberts (or better yet, toss them
    out in my direction).

    This imaginary situation is not far from the real one, I'd argue, with the
    German-language literature about Schwarzwald clocks and clockmaking. If
    it's not in English translation, it's often ignored. Even at the casual
    level of 'one might wish to take a look at it simply to see what's
    available'. Or 'you can get a lot out of it, even if you don't read the

    For example, the standard work about this 350-year-old clockmaking
    tradition -- the scholarly yet highly readable, small-print 1250+ page
    Black Forest bible -- Bender's two-volume _Die Uhrenmacher des hohen
    Schwarzwaldes und ihre Werke_ has been available now for over 25 years.
    And the first volume is in its fourth (1998) edition. It's a masterpiece
    of the horological literature, in general, and in its scope and detail of
    Black Forest horology, sui generis. But it's not in English.

    Then there are the several volumes which, if less encompassing than Bender,
    are each better than anything available in English only (with the notable
    exception of Tyler). There's Professor Kahlert's (1986) _300 Jahre
    Schwarzwälder Uhrenindustrie_. Jüttemann's _Die Schwarzwalduhr_, now in
    it's fourth (2000) edition. And the high quality that is the third edition
    (1995) of Schaaf's _Schwarzwalduhren_, my own read and read again

    Then there's a rank of other volumes 'but in German only'. _Kuckucks
    Uhren_ (1988) for example, quite the best introduction to the 'koo. Or the
    two frankly glorious volumes - their layout alone sets a standard - which
    treat two Black Forest regions, _In die Neue Zeit_ (1999) for Neustadt,
    and _Auf der Höhe_ (2002) for Eisenbach.

    These are beautifully prepared, and they are fascinating. Yet once again
    there's that familiar refrain when they're rightly praised. 'But they're
    not in English.'

    Which brings us back round to the superb, small volume, _A Brief History
    of the Black Forest Clock_, for it is in English. And as it's written by
    Helmut Kahlert, Richard Mühe and Magdalena Zeller, it also comes out of
    the tradition of scholarship and quality that distinguishes the Deutsches
    Uhrenmuseum. Thanks to Andergassen's translation, what was well-written
    in German is also well-written in English.

    Moreover, along with its colour illustrations and prints, it manages, in
    under 40 pages, to provide a coherent survey of the tradition. In an
    almost by-the-way fashion, it also counters some of the more widespread
    myths. For example, that Black Forest clockmakers were mainly farmers in
    winter with time on their hands (not to mention a butcher knife and a
    stump). Or that the cuckoo was the most commonly-made clock.

    This then is an excellent brief history. It is also admirable as a
    publishing venture, for it offers English-only readers quality as well as
    convenience. One could of course find some petty fault (eg the entering
    quotation marks in the heading at the top of page 19 follow
    German-typographical practice, being lower), but this would be petty. The
    volume deserves sincere praise, and the Museum should be encouraged to
    similar efforts.

    Copies (ISBN 3-922673-11-2) are available at only 4 euros (about $4.80 or
    £2.70) from the Deutsches Uhrenmuseum ( or
    horological booksellers. Everyone should have one. With a gently-gently
    roll, they'll fit Yuletide stockings, too.

    posted for DK Stevenson, by Fortunat Mueller-MAerki
  2. zepernick

    zepernick Deceased

    Aug 8, 2004
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    As a post-post, would note that this review had to be kept shortish to so it could fit into an issue of CLOCKS which was already mainly "booked up." I tried tho' to at least provoke some reaction by the "imagine that..." example with regards to someone who was fascinated by Brit longcases but wouldn't acknowledge anything that was written in English. So any comments on either the review or its theme would, of course, be welcome. Regards, Doug in AZ 118804
  3. zepernick

    zepernick Deceased

    Aug 8, 2004
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    Just a note to note that this volume is now available from Timesavers

  4. jmclaugh

    jmclaugh Registered User

    Jun 1, 2006
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    I take the point about ignoring anything not written in one's native language but it is of course understandable. I doubt such works are however ignored by anyone who is seriously interested or doing serious research but accept they will be by the more general reader. The cost of translating and publishing any book in ano language is obviously driven by the likely sales it will achieve so alas many works will not be translated. I guess the bottom line is in this situation is if one is that interested you will learn the language.

    BTW £2.70 sounds good to me so I will be checking it out.

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