Review: Ermert: Precision Pendulum Clocks in Germany 1730-1940 - Volume 3 (2013)

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Fortunat Mueller-Maerki

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Sep 23, 2001
Massive History and Documentation of the Development of the German Precision Pendulum Clock Launched

The following bookreview by Fortunat Mueller-Maerki was first published in ANTIQUARIAN HOROLOGY (the quarterly journal of the Antiquarian Horological Society), in the Unted Kingdom in its March 2014 issue (Vol.35, No. 1, pages 687-689) and is reproduced here with their permission.

Precision Pendulum Clocks in Germany 1730-1940 - Observatories, Astronomers, Timeservices/Timestandards and their Clocks – Volume 3 (Part 1 of Section 1840-1940) [Published in German: Praezisionspendeluhren in Deutschland von 1730-1940 - Observatorien, Astronomen, Zeitdienststellen und ihre Uhren - Band 3 (1840-1940 Teil 1)]; by Juergen Ermert, with a preface by Stefan Muser; published by the author [JE Verlag] in December 2013. No ISBN number stated. Hardcover (simi-leather spine); 454 pages, 21cm x 31 cm, 1094 (mostly color, mostly large) illustrations. 667 endnotes, subject, person and location indices.
Additional information and previews at the authors website [ , includes buttons to translate pages into English]. Sold exclusively through Versandbuchhandel Doris Herold, Am Kühlchen 13, D-41516 Grevenbroich, Germany; Web: ; e-mail . Price Euro 146.- plus postage.

Hereto the unrivaled ‘gold standard’ for thoroughness and scholarship for any publication on precision pendulum clocks (hereafter PPC) has been set by Derek Roberts, with his 2003/2004 trilogy of volumes published by Schiffer on the subject. (Before that the somewhat German centric ‘Präzisionspendeluhren’ by Klaus Erbrich, Callwey Verlag 1978, was the only serious publication on the subject, but among the English speakers only die-hard PPC aficionados knew about that book). Derek and his co-authors expanded the published knowledge base on PPCs from 250 pages to over 800 pages, and made it available to an English speaking readership.

But recently the German horological historian Juergen Ermert has upped the ante with the publication of the book under review. Focusing solely on objects made (or used) in ‘greater Germany’ (i.e. including Austro-Hungary and East Prussia) he set out several years ago to thoroughly document the Germanic chapter of this segment of horological history and technology. Originally conceived as a single volume, it grew first to three volumes by eras, “Praezisionspendeluhren in Deutschland von 1730-1940 - Observatorien, Astronomen, Zeitdienststellen und ihre Uhren” with separate volumes for the segments (1730-1770, 1770-1840 and 1849-1940).

The author started assembling material, beginning with activities in Glashütte in the second half of the 18[SUP]th[/SUP] century (and that part became a volume by itself, Vol 3 and first one now published), and the overall publication quickly grew to a size where it became apparent that no commercial publisher would touch the material. The doyen of German horological publishing, Christian Pfeiffer-Belli, became involved as an advisor (and nominal publisher). The only financially viable option seemed to be private, not-for-profit publishing, based on a small, mostly presold edition.

The only volume written and published so far is Vol.3 (of 4) which essentially is the history of PPC making in Glashütte in Saxonia. Of the 460 pages in this volume more than half, i.e. 235 pages, are dedicated to describing, documenting and illustrating the history and output of the ‘Strasser & Rhode’ enterprise, which was the biggest German producer of PPCs mainly from 1875 to about 1914. Besides the expected corporate history, the richly illustrated text describes the technical details of these PPCs, including their revolutionary impulsing through the pendulum suspension spring, as well as their unique gravity escapement. One section is devoted to documenting and illustrating 39 different specific examples, including many ‘one-of-a-kind variants. Most are heavily illustrated with multiple, large, newly taken pictures, including many clocks so far unpublished. This chapter includes ten Appendices (50 pages) reproducing various original documents related to Strasser & Rhode.

The bulk of the remainder of the book deals with A.) eight individual, one-of-a-kind PPCs made by Glashütte based craftsmen (Schluch 1919, Verhagen 1894, Raufer 1905, Gruner 1904, May 1910, Kanis 1911, Rustemeyer 1931, and Schrumm 1942), many of these being one-of-a-kind ‘Diploma pieces’ created at the Glashütte Uhrmacherschule and B.) with the nine Glashütte makers who seemed to have produced several PPCs: Wilhelm Horn (1 PPC documented in the book), Paul Stübner 1806-1946 (7), Ludwig Trapp, 1865-1949 (2), Karl W. Höhnel 1885-1936 (3), Adolf Lange (some with Gutkaes , Grossmann and Goertz) 1815-1876 (7), Karl Moritz Grossmann 1826-1886 (3), OttoLindig (1), Uhrenfabrik Bahnzeit 1909-1920s(1), Hermann Goertz 1862-? (4 ) plus 4 one of a kind sprcial cases (4), such as e.g. equation-of-time PPCs. There are also 10 related Appendices (totaling 40 pages, reproducing the full text of hereto unpublished source documents relating to the above subjects).

The author, in his laudable effort to provide a maximum of new and original information at times sacrifices continuity, and the overall narrative is not always easy to follow. This book is not meant for casual reading, nor as an introduction to the subject matter, but as a tool for the serious scholar or researcher. Regarding thoroughness and details provided, it stands head and shoulders over any other publication on PPCs.

The book is well produced, solidly bound, and the image quality is very good given that many pictures were crowd-sourced from third party correspondents. As budget constraints did not allow for professional layout support it is unsurprising that there are a few rough edges in that respect.

Any potential reader who does not read German must, of course, evaluate the utility of a foreign language publication. This reviewer believes this should not be a major hurdle in this case because: a) so much of the value of the volume is in the 1096 illustrations, b) the reader will likely be familiar with the general subject matter, c) online tools such as ‘Google Translate’ have recently seen great improvement when applied to scanned pages.
This reviewer wants to thank the author, without whose ‘stubbornness’ and, single-minded dedication the project would never have been started, yet resulted in a first volume. Hopefully, the remaining three planned volumes will also be forthcoming in due course (the author expect to publish one volume a year). Undoubtedly your post-publication order now will provide additional motivation now to Juergen Ermert to continue with his monumental labor of love from which we other PPC enthusiasts now can profit so much. The next volume – No.1, 1730-1770 -‘ promised for late 2014, besides expanding on Huygens contribution, is expected to examine the British influence (Graham, Shelton, Mudge and Dutton) on the earliest German PPCs, and describe early UK made observatory regulators installed in Germanic Europe, as well as document German made examples insired by the London makers. The rich details of the history of the PPC in the Germanic world should be of interest to PPC enthusiasts the world over. This first volume offers you a chance to expand your horizons. I assume you will enjoy the browsing through this new territory as much as I did.

Sussex, NJ (USA) January 2014

Fortunat Mueller-Maerki


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