REVIEW: Justin Miller: Rare and Unusual Black Forest Clocks (2012)

  • Thread starter Fortunat Mueller-Maerki
  • Start date

Fortunat Mueller-Maerki

NAWCC Star Fellow
NAWCC Fellow
NAWCC Life Member
Sep 23, 2001
Finally an Updated Detailed History of the Top End of the Black Forest Clock in English.

Rare and Unusual Black Forest Clocks. By Justin J. Miller (Foreword by Roman & Maz Piekarski. Published June 2012 by Schiffer (Atglen, Pennsylvania, USA). ISBN 978-0-7643-4091-87. Library of Congres #: 2012936157. 304 pages, 28 x 23 cm, hardbound, printed glossy cover, dust jacket; over 1000 illustrations (600+color photographs, and 300+ reproduction of historic catalog images), Six appendeces; Index, Bibliographic Endnotes. Available from the publisher for $90, plus shipping at, , or directly from the author at NAWCC members may borrow lending copy from the National Watch and Clock Library, Columbia PA.

Looking soleley at raw numbers, the majority of mechanical clocks imported into the USA in the course of the last 150 years were German made clocks. And the vast majority of those were made in the ‘Black Forest’ region in the southwestern corner of the country. The German clock manufacturing industry was very successful in copying the mass manufacturing processes for clocks using standardized parts, as invented in America. In their big factories they produced everything from knock-offs of Connecticut clocks and three leged alarm clocks (e.g. at Junghans in Schrammberg), to high-grade regulators in Lenzkirch, a few dozen miles farther south.

As the title of this book spells out, this new publication is not about these mass appeal clocks, but only about the specialized –and therefore rare and unusual- clocks produced in the same region by smaller factories for especially discriminating buyers. The last major English language book dealing with that small section of the clock world was Rick Ortenburger’s ‘Black Forest Clocks,’ published in 1990. Since then, much new research has been published in German on the subject.

Justin Miller, an American collector and afficianado of rare and unusual Black Forest clock, has now created what unquestionably is the most thorough and comprehensive book on the subject that exists in any language. He has obviously worked closely with the leading German institutions (such as the Deutsches Uhrenmuseum in Furtwangen), and researchers in this field (such as Willhelm Schneider), and has had access to many of the leading collections of such clocks in the US, the UK and in Germany, allowing him to create the most comprehensive documentation ever assembled on the subject. Given the author’s limited command of the German language, he has made a most commendable effort to electronically create rough translations of much to the specialized German language literature on the subject.

This reviewer particularly liked the first 13 page chapter on “Early Black Forest Clockmaking,” dealing with the era pre-1850. It is one of the best English-language summaries on the subject. To learn more one would have to dig into the multiple volumes in German by Bender, Schaaf and Juetteman.

The core of the book (Chapters 2 to 6, a total of 160 pages) deals with specific examples of rare and unusual specimes in five different categories of clocks: Cuckoo clocks (78 pages), clocks with automata (27 pages), musical clocks (32 pages), other rare complications, such as alarms, calendars, moon phase, precision clocks (10 pages), small clocks, incl. Jockeles, Sorgs, miniatures and ‘Clock Peddler’ figure clocks (20 pages). While each of these chapters has a short text describing how the complication works technically, the bulk of the chapter is devoted to color photographs showing extraordinary examples of these types of clocks, more often than not through multiple images of one specimen (e.g. dial view, side (movement) view and/or back view, sometimes supplemented by enlargement views of unusual features. Virtually all of these images have been specifically created for this book and have never been published before. There are about 650 illustrations (virtually all in color) in the core section of the book. This reviewer believes that most collectors buying this book will find that much of the ‘provided value’ is in these images. Where appropriate, the chapters include subsections on the corporate history of specific makers, such as Beha, Ketterer, Haas, Wehrle, and Hettich.

In Chapter 7 (10 pages) Miller provides a welcome introduction to the economic and organizational structure of the Black Forest clock trade, including the often misunderstood role of the ‘Packer’, a sort of ‘export agent’ (but surprisingly, the author does not seem to be familiar with ‘Die Reise ins Uhrenland,’ Schaaf’s 1997 book on the subject and the eponymous permanent special exhibit at the Sankt Märgen museum).

Over one quarter of the book (86 pages) is devoted to a series of Appendices, primarily full size reproductions of nine original historic publications (such as Catalogs, Pricelists, wood carver sample sheets, etc (from such makers as Beha, Wehrle and Hettich) providing the reader access to key original late 19[SUP]th[/SUP] century source documents which are virtually unfindable anywhere else. These appendices together contain nearly 400 additional illustrations which are invaluable when trying to identify the model name or maker of a clock. Bibliographical data and other endnotes and a subject index conclude the book. The book is well produced, with clear printing, good images, and is solidly bound (image hardcover, plus dust jacket).

“Rare and Unusual Black Forest Clocks” fills a big void in the English language horological literature. There really is not much else out there on the subject. That alone makes the book very useful; beyond that, the book is very good because the author is knowledgable, has been conscientious in his research and has secured the help of the top experts in the field. But what made the book such a pleasure to read is that these rare ‘Schwarzwalduhren’ are such enjoyable horological historic objects to study and to look at, and thus the book is likely to appeal to many clock collectors beyond those specializing in its rather specific subject matter. How many horologist already know that the output of late 19[SUP]th[/SUP] century Black Forest clockmakers actually ranges from the famous “Angelus” prayer-timing musical clocks, all the way to a variant of the famous ‘Dumpling-Eater Automaton Clock,’ one that features an automaton of a “Rat-Eater”?

Fortunat F. Mueller-Maerki, Sussex NJ July 2012



Last edited by a moderator:

Forum statistics

Latest member
Encyclopedia Pages
Total wiki contributions
Last edit
E. Howard & Co. by Clint Geller