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Review: vanVeldhovfen: Majet, Morbier Comtoise (2014)

  • Thread starter Fortunat Mueller-Maerki
  • Start date

Fortunat Mueller-Maerki

NAWCC Star Fellow
NAWCC Life Member
NAWCC Fellow
Sep 23, 2001
The Most Comprehensive English Language Book Ever Published on French Comtoise/Morbier Clocks

Bookreview 2014 by Fortunat Mueller-Maerki

MAYET MORBIER COMTOISE - Birth and Life of a Legendary Clock. By Leonard van Veldhoven.

Published 2014 by
www.art-hora.com. (Separate editions in Dutch, German, and French). ISBN 978-90-819954-2-9 (English), 978-90-819954-3-6 (German), 978-90-819954-0-5 (Dutch), 978-90-819954-4-3 (French). 352 pages, oblong hardcover book. Over 1200 illustrations, mostly in color. Appendices: Bibliography with 132 entries (27 entries on Comtoise, 42 on horology in general, 26 on the Franche-Comté region, and 33 'other'); Timeline (6.); Quadrilingual Comtoise Glossary & 3-D Drawings (12 p.). Available exclusively through the authors quadrilingual website www.art-hora.com and Ebay for Euro 89.- (plus shipping). Inquiries by e-mail to comtoise.morbier@gmail.com.

While these robust French clocks with long pendulums are not a mainstay of American clock collecting, the nearly 5.5 million of them made between 1700 and 1915 in and around the small town of Morbier in the Franche-Comté region of France (just north of Geneva and the Swiss border) make the Comtoise clock an important and interesting part of the worlds horological history. Unfortunately there are only a limited number of publications on the subject, especially in English, and hereto all except one[1] have been long out of print.

The Morbier clock, for those readers not familiar with the type, for over 200 years, was the most common French clock, the everyman's clock. In many respects they are a 'archaic' design of a striking clock, whose principles derive from the medieval style, iron posted (no clock plates), birdcage clocks. They have a long pendulum (beating seconds or slower), strike the hour on a bell (and usually repeat the strike sequence a few minutes after the hour). They were sold mostly uncased (but with dials), intended to be installed in a longcase type case built or commissioned by the retailer or final buyer. Often they ended up in built-in domestic cabinetry and cupboards. Given their sustained history and the large number made there is an infinitive variation of styles and features, making them a popular collectible. Their robust design and - compared to other clocks - larger dimensions also made them a favorite of do-it-yourself clock mechanics. In the 20[SUP]th[/SUP] century hundreds of thousands of them became a favorite entry-level 'antique' home decoration accent in Germany, the Netherlands, and -to a lesser extent - in the USA.

The book under review is the first in English that attempts a comprehensive history of the Morbier[2] clock for a broader audience. In 2008 the German Morbier scholar (and wholesale dealer) Bernd Deckert published an exhaustive documentation on that type of clock in German[3], but language barriers made that venture of limited use in America. The current book, by the Dutchman Morbier enthusiast Leonard van Veldhoven is an extremely ambitious self-publishing venture, that has been many years in the making. The author has decided to simultaneously publish four different language editions in Dutch, English, French and German. The book is structured as follows:

· Introduction (1p.)
· Propositions: The Haute-Jura: why there and then (16 reasons why the 'Morbier Clock' happened) (3p.)
· 1- French Kings, the Revolution and Beyond (33p.) [A summary of the political history of France]
· 2 - The History of Franche-Comté (17p.) [A summary of the regional history]
· 3 - Haute-Jura: Morbier, the surrounding Villages and Morez (15p.) [The geography of the region]
· 4 - How did 'The Jurassiens' Live in and around the 17[SUP]th[/SUP] Century (42p.) [The social structure and social history of the production area]
· 5 - The Development of the Metal Industry (20p.) [The socio-economic and industrial history of the region]
· 6 - The Development of the Enamel Industry (14p.) [A technology primer of a key component industry]
· 7 - The Development of Time Measurement (10p.) [The early history of timekeeping]
· 8 - The Arrival of the Pendulum and Beyond (22p.) [The early history of pendulum clocks]
· 9 - The Mayets and the Mayet Legend (18p.) [The family at the root of this industry]
· 10 - The Birth of the Comtoise (38p.) [The early Comtoise clocks]
· 11 - Technical Developments, Production and Sales (30p.) [The technical developments and history of the clock movements]
· 12 - The evolution of the Comtoise Appearance and Design (32p.) [The history of the clocks' design and decorations]
· Epilogue: A Warm Plea (2p.) [The authors plea for the creation of a comprehensive museum devoted to the Comtoise clock located in Morbier in the French Haut-Jura]
· Photographs & Illustrations (2p.) [A very partial list of image credits]
· Bibliography (4p.) [132 entries]
· Survey of Important Inventions and Events (6p.) [A Timeline]
· Quadrilingual Comtoise Glossary & 3-D [exploded] Drawings (12p.) [This is a most useful tool, being a pictorial/visual, four language dictionary of Comtoise components and parts].

As you can see from the listing above, about the first half of the book (actually 173 pages) is devoted to "background information", rather than to the clocks themselves. I personally happen to feel that the political, technological, social, geographic, economic and industrial history that surrounds any type of timekeeper is vital to truly appreciate and study the object, but I understand that many collectors -probably even the majority of them- have no or a very limited desire to study all this "ancillary material" before they start dealing with specific clocks, their properties, functions, descriptions, technology and makers.

The author makes clear from the very beginning, in what he calls 'Propositions', that the main question the book is striving to answer is "Why did the Morbier clock happen, when, where and how it did"? The first half of the book is an exhaustive accumulation of facts and images needed to address that question. This is 'nice to have' information, but for a lot of' clock collectors or students of timekeeping history not the reason to buy this book. A good example is chapter VI "The Development of the Enamel Industry"; this is one of the most comprehensive texts I have ever encountered on the subject, and clearly the enameled dials are a vital part of many Morbier clocks, but few Morbier enthusiasts have a need - or even a desire - to study enameling technology in that detail. Similarly I assume that the 52 pages devoted to a general history of timekeepers (Chapters VII and VIII) -in spite of being good and interesting texts on the subject- will not get much attention from most potential buyers of a book on Morbier clocks.

On the other hand the whole second half of the book, which discusses the actual clocks made in the Franche-Comté region between 1500 and 1915, and the people who made them, is an essential "must read" for anybody who has a more than superficial interest in Morbier clocks. These four chapters (119 pages, 467 illustrations) contain such an abundance of facts and insights on Morbier clocks (including much that has not been covered in other texts in any language) that makes the book a good value. This is especially true for horological enthusiasts who do not read German, given that the half dozen or so existing substantial books on the subject[4] are all in German, and the one in English[5] has been out of print for 20+ years.

Chapters IX through XII contain a lot of information not easily found in the hereto existing literature, such as e.g. the discussion of the wooden cases most of these clocks were originally made for (page 296), and comments on the various escapements found in the clocks. The discussion of the Mayet family, who started clockmaking in the region, exceeds what is found in any other book on the subject, and much what is stated on production and sales methods is not discussed in the prior literature.

The abundance of illustrations in this book requires one additional comment: There are, depending on the method of counting between 1200 and 1500 images, and none of them have a caption. The reader has to read through the whole text of the page to discover what the picture shows, with this approach "browsing" (as compared to "limear reading") becomes harder, which is what the author may have wanted.. (That only 95 -i.e. less than 10%- of these images have an endnote number that refers to their source -even after allowing for a considerable number of images coming from public domain sources- raises some intellectual property issues).

This reviewer found the various parts of the appendix of mixed value: The 27 item bibliography seems quite complete (not much has been published on the subject in any language); the timeline is useful to put dates in context, but by far - at least to this reviewer- the best part comes last, the "Quadrilingual Glossary and 3D Drawings". This extremely useful 12 page part should be on the bookshelf of every owner of a Morbier clock, and actually it is available as a separate small publication (ISBN 978-90-819954-1-2, order from http://art-hora.com with PayPal €11.50 (incl. worldwide postage).

The global community of horological enthusiasts owes Leonard van Veldhoven our thanks for not only creating this valuable and unique book, but also for going the extra mile and publishing it immediately in four different languages. I wish more people would raise to the challenge of doing things like that, but few people do it.

Fortunat Mueller-Maerki. Sussex NJ October 2014

[1] Morbier Clocks - History, Identification and Repair. By Lawrence Allen Seymour, reedited by Bob Reichel; published 2009 by NAWCC, ISBN 978-0-9023584-0-5, reviewed in NAWCC Bulletin No. XXX, 20X

[2] The term 'Morbier clock' - referring to the most productive specific town - is used in this review to refer to the type, although 'Comtoise' - referring to the whole 'Franche-Comté' region would be more accurate. The term 'Morez clock' -popular in Europe - should be avoided when referring to the whole gendre.

[3] Die Geschichte der Comtoise Uhren. By Bernd Deckert; self-published 2008 by the author. No ISBN. 2 hardbound volumes, 370 & 394 p., plus 3 documentary annexes, 134 & 94 & 128 p. Reviewed in NAWCC Bulletin Nr. Xxx, 2009

[4] 1. Die Comtoise Uhr - by Gustav Schmitt - 1983 - 622p.; 2. Die Morez Uhr - by Gustav Schmitt - 1988 - 229p.; 3. Siegfried Bergmann - Comtoise-Uhren - 2005 - 480p.; 4. Comtoiseklokken - Comptoise-Uhren Deutsche Ausgabe, by Ton Bollen - 2006 - 142p.; 5. Die Geschichte der Comtoise Uhren. - By Bernd Deckert - 2008 - 1113p.;

[5] Studies on Comtoise Clocks, The Morbier, The Morez - by Francis Maitzner & Jean Moreau (Translation by Lawrence Seymore - undated ca. 1991) - 449p.

Note I have tried to add sample images but the Message board rejects my jpg files, which may have to do with the recent hacker attack on this site
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Dave T

NAWCC Member
Dec 8, 2011
Having just purchased my first Morbier, I really appreciate this information. Based on my uneducated opinion, I think my clock dates to around 1900 - 1910?
I'm now searching for a proper pendulum and weights. They did not come with the clock.
These are the best pictures I have so far, as it has not arrived yet.
French Morbier bidcal 1.jpg French Morbier bidcal 3.jpg
Thank you so much for this detailed information.

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