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

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Fortunat Mueller-Maerki

NAWCC Star Fellow
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Sep 23, 2001
[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


Aug 8, 2004
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


Registered User
Jun 1, 2006
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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