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REVIEW: Freytag et al: Highlights from the Vienna Museum of Clocks and Watches

  • Thread starter Fortunat Mueller-Maerki
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Fortunat Mueller-Maerki

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Sep 23, 2001
New Catalog of the Vienna Clock Museum


“Highlights from the Vienna Museum of Clocks and Watches”. By Wolfgang Freitag (catalog text) and Paul Kolp (photography), with essays by Rupert Kerschbaum, Sylvia Mattl-Wurm, Eva-Maria Orosz and Peter Stuiber, and an introduction by Wolfgang Kos. Published 2011 by Wien Museum, Vienna (Austria). ISBN 987-3-902312-23-5. 120 pages, 24x18 cm, paperback, 77 color illustrations, Glossary. (Published simultaneously in a German language edition ‘Highlights aus dem Wiener Uhrenmuseum’, ISBN: 978-3-902312-22-8). Available for Euro 14 (plus postage) online from the Uhrenmuseum Wien http://www.wienmuseum.at/nc/de/besucherinformationen/bestellformular.html?tx_wxlocation_pi1[catalogue_id]=280 .

The ‘Uhrenmuseum Wien’, a clock museum in the center of Vienna in a charming, small historic building, is one of the municipal museums of that city, and one of the oldest standalone, specialized horological museums around. Opened in 1921, it originally housed three private collections (one of clocks and two of pocket watches). Spread over three floors, there are hundreds of timekeepers, more clocks than watches: The collection is especially rich in the typical Viennese clocks of the Biedermeier era, in ”Picture” clocks, in decorative pocket watches (the former collection of 19th-century novelist Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach), and astronomical clocks, but beyond that offers a broad view of world horological history.

The museum has also been a pioneer in publishing comprehensive catalogs of its collection. The first appeared in print in 1929 by its founding curator Rudolf Kaplan, a 112 page book with 85 illustrations, and in 1974 Heinrich Lunardi wrote a nice hardcover 138 page catalog with color illustrations. Sometimes in the late 1970’s Stringer/Werner wrote an undated 186 page (plus 24 color plates) catalog, that in 1980 was also published in an English language version. All of these books have long been out of print.

Fortunately, that has just been remedied by the book under review. The publishers made the wise decision to limit themselves to describing only 40 particularly significant objects of their vast collection, but doing this in greater depth than any of the earlier catalogs. The actual catalog section is preceded by three introductory essays on the history of the museum (2 p.), the Ebner-Eschenbach collection of pocket watches (4 p.), and an interview with Rupert Meerschaum, the current curator (8 p.).

Each of the 40 catalog entries consists of one full page of mostly text, facing typically a full page color photograph of the object. In some cases, a second, smaller image of a detail appears on the text page, and four particularly significant objects are allotted an additional double page image. Text entries consist of a column of hard facts (such as maker, date, dimensions, technical details, inventory numbers, provenance), and a few paragraphs of narrative, explaining the significance of the object and its role in the history of horology. Typically one particular feature of the clock or its use takes up a significant part of the short narrative. A six page glossary of technical horological terms concludes the book.

The book is well produced and the images are very clear. This reviewer is most pleased that the book follows what seems to have become a trend in horological museum catalogs: Focus on fewer objects, but say more about each of them. David Thompson’s two books on some of the watches and some of the clocks in the British Museum were earlier examples of that style, and the recent catalog series of the Deutsches Uhrenmuseum uses a similar approach. This method allows the publication to not only serve as a reference or a souvenir of a museum visit, but to imbed a small educational lesson in each entry by conveying a thought or idea about horological history to the reader through that particular object. The reader who reads through all 40 catalog entries gets introduced to a diverse and entertaining potpourri of horological themes and issues.

The result makes for pleasant reading and is highly educational. I wish more horological museums would do what the Uhrenmuseum Wien has done so well through this new book.

Fortunat Mueller-Maerki, Sussex NJ March 2011 87844.jpg
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