Review: New Catalog " European Watches & Clocks at Met Museum NYV

  • Thread starter Fortunat Mueller-Maerki
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Fortunat Mueller-Maerki

NAWCC Star Fellow
NAWCC Life Member
NAWCC Fellow
Sep 23, 2001
The first reasonably comprehensive, put still only partial, published catalog of the best museum collection of early European timekeepers in America

EUROPEAN Clocks and Watches in the Metropolitan Museum of Art - By Clare Vincent and Jan Hendrik Leopold, with Elisabeth Sullivan. Photography by Juan Trujillo. ISBN 978-1-58839-579-5; Fist published November 2015 by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; 278 pages, 32x23 cm, hardcover, numerous illustrations, mostly in color, many full page. Dustjacket. Illustrated Glossary (91 terms), Bibliography, Index. Available at for US$65 plus postage, or at at for 52.70 plus postage.

No museum in the United States owns as many absolutely superb and historically important European clocks and watches as the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

Their collection is made up of about 600 timekeepers the clear majority of them pocket watches, but including over 100 spectacular clocks. The foundation of this treasure trove of artifacts goes back to several major gifts in the early 20[SUP]th[/SUP] century, particularly the watch and clock collection of J. P. Morgan (mainly based on the legendary late 19[SUP]th[/SUP] century Marfels watch collection in Germany) and of Ms. Laura Francis Hearn to name just the two who have made the largest donations. The Metropolitan Museum is organized into 17 different departments, and timekeeping instruments are split among two of them: The "American Wing" and "European Sculpture and Decorative Arts". For more than the past four decades Ms. Clare Vincent, a diligent and well respected horological scholar has been in charge of the European part of these horological treasures.

Over the decades special exhibitions were rare: In 1972 the public was treated to "Northern European Clocks in New York Collections" (not from the Met storerooms, but from the collections of Winthrop Edey and Abbot-Guggenheim); and in 2007/2008 there was finally a chance for the public to see some of the treasures from their storerooms in the temporary exhibit: "The Art of Time".

For most of those decades there were about 30 clocks on public display, some in cases in the medieval arts section, but the majority as part of the settings, i.e. the furniture of the European decorative arts period rooms, where it often was impossible to get a close look of the individual object. Two or three display cases showed a few dozen of the several hundred pocket watches in their huge collection of pocket watches, which is chockfull of splendid examples. Furthermore their horological storerooms reportedly are so tightly packed that often dozens of objects have to be moved to retrieve a single item object for study. This makes it difficult even for their staff, and amateur scholars cannot be accommodated.

Fortunately around the turn of the millennium Jan Hendrik Leopold, the well known author, researcher, and longtime grand old man of early European horology retired from his job (he was in charge of horology at the British Museum). Leopold moved to New York and married Ms. Vincent, which rekindled the stagnant effort to document more of the horological treasures dormant in the New York storerooms. The book under review is the result of this cooperation, which unfortunately was cut short by Mr. Leopold's untimely death in 2010.

The core of the book under review (246 of 259 pages) consists of a detailed scholarly catalog of 54 separate timekeepers of the Met collection (30 clocks and 24 watches). A small number of these 54 horological masterpieces (for instance the well known 'Celestial Globe on the Wings of Pegasus' 1574) have been described or documented previously in scholarly articles in various publications, but most have never been documented in detail anywhere else before. The vast majority, 42 of 54, of the entries were the result of the collaboration of the two authors, but Ms. Vincent is the sole author of the six of them written after Mr. Leopold's death, and two entries were a collaboration of Vincent with Elizabeth Sullivan, Associate Research Curator at the Met.

Each of the 54 catalog sections is either four or six pages long, and has several illustrations (typically color photographs, anywhere 2 to 9 per entry, but most often 3 to 5 images per item. Besides an overall image (some full page sized), there are images of noteworthy details of case or dial. The text on each item describes both aesthetic and technical details of the piece, unique features, and comments on the creator of movement and/or case. Each catalog entry is thoroughly footnoted, in some cases with over 20 footnotes in a 6 page article. Incidentally nearly half of the 54 items described in detail in this catalog were part of the numerous Morgan gifts to the Met.
The catalog proper is preceded by two standalone articles. The first is a 12 page "History of the Collection" written by Sullivan, and the second a piece by Vincent and Leopold, titled "Time and Time again" a brilliant condensation of the history of mechanical timekeepers and what makes them work. The later -while not new to most horologists- is to this reviewer, provides on only six pages a concise technical introduction to horology for the non specialist curious reader. The three appendices: Glossary, Bibliography and Index are superb and comprehensive.

Although the book was published on occasion of the 2015/2016 temporary exhibit titled 'The Luxury of Time' at the Metropolitan Museum, it is NOT a catalog of that exhibit. The numbering of the book does NOT relate to the exhibit and vive-versa. Many of the objects cataloged in the book were in the 2015/2016 exhibit, but not all of them, just as not exhibited item are documented in the book.

It may seem ungrateful to mention the obvious shortcomings of the book: It is not the much wished for publication listing all the wonderful timekeepers that the Met owns, or even just the ones it customarily displays. And this reviewer would rather have the carefully researches and documented findings of Vincent and Leopold on 54 additional extraordinary horological objects, all gorgeously illustrated, than a computer printout listing the many hundred objects languishing in the storerooms. Nevertheless one can dream that one day the Met will have the funding, space and manpower that has enabled the American Wing of the Met some years ago to move most of its artefacts to an on-site accessible storage facility.

Both the authors and the Metropolitan Museum deserve the gratitude of the horological community and the public at large to have published this book. Let us hope there will be more of them.

Fortunat Mueller-Maerki, Sussex NJ, December 2015

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Dr. Jon

NAWCC Member
Dec 14, 2001
New Hampshire
I saw the exhibit and bough the book and it is superb. What I particularly like is its detailed description of what has been altered lost and botched in teh maintenance of these items.

The book points out that most of these are from the J. P.Morgan collection which has been cataloged. My recollection is that this earliecatalog is not very informative. Is that a correct assessment?

Fortunat Mueller-Maerki

NAWCC Star Fellow
NAWCC Life Member
NAWCC Fellow
Sep 23, 2001
The Met over the decades has been negligent withj theMorgan collection of watches (there are hundreds of them) there is NO catalog, there is a very superficial inventory (made in 1917 when they were donated, but that is a List, not a CATALOG. The best catalog is of couse still

  • Title: Catalogue of the Collection of Watches
    SubTitle: The Property of J. Pierpont Morgan
  • Author: G.C. Williamson
  • Publisher: F. de Nobele, Paris
    Keywords: catalog
    Other Keywords: Pierport Morgan
    Language: ENG
    Notes: 1972 facsimile reprint of the 1912 catalog of J. Pierprt Morgans collection of watches, fully illustrated (tip-in illustrations [reproductions of the Black and white engravings])
    Edition: 1972 - facsimile edition -- Copyright: 1912
    Kind: Book
    Type: Watch (general)
    Geographic area: USA
    Topic: Collecting
    Organization: Person
    Pages: 305 -- Height in cm: 38
    Print Status: 2 (1 means in print - 2 means out of print)
    BHM No: 4970

But if yoy want an original edition (the listing above is for the 1990s facsimile) it will cost you thoiusands of dollars if you can find one. Evn the facsimile will set you back hundreds of dollars.

Better go for

which can be ordered at


NAWCC Member
May 18, 2005
I had the opportunity to peruse the book this PM at the Research Library. Great photography and text. Also useful illustrations of watch and clock movement components. For the horological newbe this would be an interesting introduction to the history of timekeeping.
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