Review: van Leewen & al: Going Dutch – The Invention of the Pendulum Clock (2013)

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Fortunat Mueller-Maerki

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Sep 23, 2001
The Invention of the Pendulum Clock

Going Dutch – The Invention of the Pendulum Clock, Proceedings of a Symposium at Teylers Museum, Haarlem, 3 december 2011, Papers presented by Pier van Leeuwen, Rebecca Pohancenick, Kees Grimbergen, Sebastian Whitestone, Michiel van Hees, Reiner Plump, and Keith Pigott. Plus speeches by Plomp and Grimbergen on occasion of 25[SUP]th[/SUP] Anniversary of MNU(2011). Published in English 2013, by Museum van het Nedelandse Uurwerk. No ISBN. Softcover, 75 pages, 29 x 21 cm, Available through the MNU for Euro 12 (plus postage) by emailing [email protected] .

While the bare facts of the invention of the pendulum clock are quite straight forward (The Dutch physicist Christaan Huygens invented the pendulum clock on Christmas eve 1656, an Samuel Coster of The Hague built the first example the following year) only students of horological history who have been following closely the news involving the very first pendulum driven clocks will be aware that the details of the history of who did what in those first few years kept changing rapidly in the last decade as new examples were discovered, and existing artifacts were examined more closely.

The ‘Museum van het Nederlandse Uurwerk (Museum of the Dutch Clock) in Zaandam took the occasion of its Silver Anniversary on 3 December 2011 to organize a scholarly symposium held at the Teylers Museum in Haarlem, where seven leading Scholars on the subject were invited to present papers relating to the topic, and in early 2013 the proceedings were published (in English), making the event accessible for the large global community of horological scholars.

The publication contains the following pieces:

1. Pier van van Leeuwen, Curator of the MNU, set the stage, talking about the social, political and scientific environment in the 2600s.
2. Rebecca Pohancenik presented a paper on the role of people like Samuel Hartlib, an ‘intelligencer’, a term that can be loosely translated by ‘information broker’, i.e. people whose function was to pass information along between traders, scholars or scientists.
3. Kees Grimbergen, a Board Member of MNU, spoke mainly of the physics of Huygens inventions, both th pendulum and the balance wheel with coiled spring.
4. The British horologist Sebastian Whitestone explored the possibility that the pendulum may have been used in England prior to Huygens claim of invention.
5. Michiel van Hees, another Board Member of MNU, presented a systematic comparative study of movement features in pendulum clocks predating the year 1600.
6. Dutch horological historian Reiner Plomp, talked about clocks of that era that had a single weight driving both the going and striking trains.
7. Keith Pigott. Reported on the ‘Open Research’ initiative started in 2004 among Dutch horological scholars that has gathered a significant number of observation and insights related to the subject to better utilize the synergetic effects of collaboration and information sharing.

The booklet also formally publishes for the first time the September 1986 remarks by Plomp on occasion of the opening of MNU, and the remarks by Grimbergen on occasion of its 25[SUP]th[/SUP] anniversary in 2011.

This reviewer realizes that the publication of relatively dry and unexciting academic papers for the record is a thankless task that costs money and effort, even if they concern one of the most exciting threshold events in horological history. That is even more reason to formally thank both the speakers and the publishers for making this information available. But further progress in our understanding of the history of timekeeping is only possible if both professional and amateur researchers selflessly continue to share and to publish their insights and their work.

Fortunat F. Mueller-Maerki, Sussex NJ, July 26 2013



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