The AHS Blog
You'll notice a handful of formatting errors in a few of our blog posts, caused by an automated transfer of content from a former host to our new website. Please bear with us as we work through the corrections!
This post was written by James Nye
At the Mannheim electric clock fair, now in its twentieth year, one unusual item usually attracts a lot attention.
This year (2019) was no exception. The images show an early form of German ‘treppenhausautomat’, loosely a ‘staircase lighting timer’. Lighting, and therefore electricity consumption, has always been expensive.
An intriguing question, worthy of some serious research, is the economic justification for the complicated (and also expensive) electro-mechanical devices used (late 19th/early20th C) to reduce consumption.
In large houses, or multiple-occupancy blocks, it’s always made sense to add press-button switches to control stairwell lighting—the lamps remaining lit for a set period before being switched off.
Modern switches incorporate integrated circuits, but for a long-time such devices used a pendulum clock as the timebase.
The object here dates to c.1905, and was sold by Paul Firchow Nachfolger, from 3 Belle-Alliance-Strasse in Berlin. The clock mechanism is a standard volume production element, unsigned, and perhaps from Lenzkirch.
The hands are arranged to carry an adjustable set of contacts which will make a circuit, naturally for night hours, but with the capacity to set the operating hours (accommodating seasonal variations).
Assuming it is night (dial circuit closed), pressing a push-button in the stairwell will activate the motor below the clock, which in turn will revolve the drum.The drum has brass (conductive) sides, embraced by brass slide contacts.
The drum has a narrowed section, and when this arrives between the (wider) contacts, the circuit is broken.
The cycle lasts around three minutes.
The top panel shows ceramic entry ports for various cables: knöpfe (push-buttons), power, lampen (lamps), and two set of widerstand (resistance). The machine will switch 110V and up to 18 amps, so a significant load is possible.
The clock is a forerunner of more typical, volume-produced ‘black boxes’, but its complex form (and by inference its high cost) is a strong signifier of the importance placed upon saving money and controlling power use.
This post was written by Mat Craddock
Until recently, there had been little research carried out on the typography of wristwatch dials. However, over the past decade, the increased interest in collectable vintage wristwatches appears to have sparked the interest of brands and collectors alike.
While wristwatch collectors’ focus has largely been on the variations in logo, layout and content of vintage wristwatch dials, interdisciplinary designer Lee Yuen-Rapati has taken a critical look at the typefaces used, and typographic decisions made, by watchmakers.
His Masters dissertation, titled ‘Motivating Factors In The Trends Of Horological Typography,’ formed the basis of an AHS Wristwatch Group talk at The Clockworks in April.
Lee’s research covered clocks, pocket watches and wristwatches, and looked at type and numerals used on the dials, identifying various themes and typographic pitfalls that appeared to be specific to wristwatches.
His research included interviews with brands and independent watchmakers about their typographical decisions, the typefaces they use and the importance of type design to their brand.
His talk focused on the typography of contemporary wristwatches that had revived distinct vintage or antiquarian styles.
Highlights included the use of system (or default) fonts by high end watch manufacturers, the technical limits of pad printing, the benefits and traps of modern processes involved in dial design (such as the digital workspace) and inconsistent choices made by watch brands when reviving older designs. Examples of recent wristwatches from Longines, Nomos and Stowa were used to illustrate these themes.
As a codicil, Lee discussed recent advances in dial printing, such as the use of physical vapour deposition on the zirconium ceramic dials of the Charles Frodsham Double Impulse Chronometer, suggesting that this technology might be taken up by other watch manufacturers, necessitating an increased focus on typographical principles and design choices.
This post was written by Peter de Clercq
Every clock that left the workshop or factory on its way to a buyer has, we may assume, been coveted by and, we may hope, given satisfaction to its owner. But most of this goes unrecorded, and where traditional non-fiction sources are silent, we may find some glimpses in fiction.
For vivid descriptions of the life of the workers in nineteenth-century France one can do worse than turn to the wonderfully naturalistic novels of Emile Zola (1840-1902).
The book that shot him to fame in 1877 was L’Assommoir; below I quote from the most recent English translation: The Drinking Den , Penguin Classics 2000 rev. 2003, translator Robin Buss.
The novel depicts in graphic style the rise and fall of Gervaise Macquart, who worked as a laundress in Paris during the period 1850 to 1870. There are scenes of abject poverty and alcohol is a key character in the story; but there are also comical scenes and uplifting passages. It is a masterpiece. As one author has put it:
‘L’Assommoir is set in the dirt and filth of working class Paris, where life was hard and lives depressingly short. He researched in great detail the impoverished quarter of which he wrote, so that the work is an ethnographic novel and probably the first of its kind’.
In the poor household of the young Gervaise, a chest of drawers takes pride of place:
‘One of her dreams, which she did not dare mention to anyone, was to have a clock to put on it, right in the middle of the marble top – the effect would be quite splendid. Had it not been for the baby that was on the way, she might have risked buying her clock, but as it was she put if off until later, with a sigh.’ (p. 97).
Three years go by before she is able to act on her desire:
‘She had bought herself a clock; and even then this timepiece, a rosewood clock with twisted columns and a copper gilt pendulum, had to be paid off over a year, at the rate of five francs every Monday. She got cross when Coupeau [her husband] said he would wind it up, because only she was allowed to take off the glass globe and religiously wipe the columns, as though the marble top of her chest of drawers had been transformed into a chapel. Under the glass cover, behind the clock, she hid the savings book. And often, when she was dreaming about her shop, she would sit there, miles away, in front of the dial, staring at the turning hands, for all the world as if she was waiting for some particular, solemn moment before she made up her mind.’ (p. 108).
The ‘dreaming about her shop’ refers to her ambition to make herself independent and set up her own laundry, which indeed she eventually manages to do. Life looks good, she even entertains a large group to a celebratory dinner in the laundry shop.
But it was not to last, and as her life goes in a downward spiral, Gervaise is forced to bring one possession after another to the pawnbroker. She puts a brave face on it:
‘Only one thing broke her heart and that was putting her clock in pawn, to pay a twenty-franc bill when the bailiff came with a summons. Up to then, she had sworn she would starve rather than part with her clock. When Mother Coupeau [her mother in law] took it away in a little hat box, she slumped into a chair, her arms dangling, tears in her eyes, as though her whole fortune had been taken away’. (p. 279).
There is more horology in this novel. She also has a cuckoo clock, which would have been a much less valuable object, but it is never described in detail. Neither is the watch which only once makes an appearance, on the day that she is forced to put it in pawn as well:
‘The little knick-knacks had faded away, starting with the ticker, a twelve-franc watch, and the family photographs.’ (p. 384).
There is also a watchmaker who plays a small role in the story. In the courtyard of the tenement house where she lives are various workshops and shops, including – for a while – her own laundry shop:
‘At the bottom of a hole, no larger than a cupboard, between a scrap-iron merchant and a chip shop, there was a watchmaker, a decent-looking gentleman in a frock-coat, who was continually probing watches with tiny tools, at a bench where delicate things slept under glass covers while, behind him, the pendulums of two or three dozen tiny cuckoo clocks were swinging at once, in the dark squalor of the street, in time to the rhythmical hammering from the farrier’s yard’ (p. 134).
Literary critics may argue that in fiction, clocks and watches are often introduced as symbols, and that therefore novels do not necessarily give a realistic image of the ownership of clocks and watches.
Be that as it may, the story of the struggling laundress Gervaise Macquart, who dreamed of owning an ornamental clock and managed to bring one into her poor home, only to have to part with it again, feels very real indeed.
This post was written by Tabea Rude, Vienna Museum
Around one hundred years ago, on May 15th 1918, the newly founded, not yet opened Vienna clock museum receives a generous present: a clock movement fitted with a fused Quartz pendulum rod.
It is installed in a most prominent position: right next to the entrance, in a case with a fully glazed front. Visible to every passer-by, it draws attention to the narrow house with its hidden treasures in the heart of Vienna.
This donation was the beginning of a long lasting correspondence between the clock museum’s director Rudolf Kaftan and the engineer, donor and inventor Karl Satori.
Originally from Hungary, Karl Satori is first mentioned in the proceedings of the international electrical society (Internationale Elektrizitäts-Gesellschaft) in Vienna aged 24, explaining Lorentz electron theory.
In the following years he delves into astronomical observation and planetary documentation and builds up professional relationships in the astronomy scene.
Soon he joins the international astronomical society and files his first patent in 1903: an electrical rewind system for clocks.
His professional career blossoms, allowing him to invest in his own private observatory in Vienna.
Around the same time, he is also given the opportunity by the Vienna electricity works to build up his own laboratory and to equip the Viennese Urania observatory with an electric time system which synchronized all public clocks in Vienna. This supplies the time signal as so called ‘Urania-Zeit’ to all telephone owners.
Besides his involvement in astronomy and several other clock related patents, he was also very keen in exploring pendulum materials and different methods of air pressure and temperature compensation.
Recognizing the unfortunate jumps steel pendulum rods experience during temperature changes and their reaction to magnetic fields, he experiments with fusing quartz into seconds pendulum rods. In 1912 he files his patent of the quartz pendulum.
One year later he opens his own precision workshop for mechanics and clock making. Satori expands, fuses quartz, files patents and ensures that the Vienna clock museum is placed to show the most cutting edge Viennese horological technology of its time.
Over summer 2018, Matthew Read, Director, Bowes Centre, and I were commissioned to condition survey, part disassemble, pack for transportation, and reassemble an eighteenth-century automaton clock on behalf of York Museums Trust.
Originally assembled during the 1780s, this highly ornate clock was most likely designed for the export market and – although unsigned – has long been attributed to the London inventor James Cox (c.1723-1800).
The compilation of written and photographic condition surveying helped update museum records, inform current and future care, and outline operation options.
In its new permanent location in the Burton Gallery at York, the clock is on open display for the first time. Preventive measures were taken during reassembly such as the insertion of Melinex® film behind the case frets to restrict dust entering the case.
Under normal operation, the clock performs a 360-degree audio-visual show that includes rotating glass rods simulating waterfalls; automata pastoral scenes; spinning stars; jewelled contra-rotating flowers, and dancing cast-figures. In addition, the clock plays a sequence of seven melodies on a nest of eleven bells, striking the quarters too.
A detailed treatment report from York Castle Museum, dated 1982, indicates the clock has undergone many repairs, alterations and layers of reinterpretation, including the replacement of a pipe organ with a nineteenth-century Swiss musical box mechanism.
In its present state the clock has six main functions:
As the single dynamic historic object on show at the Gallery, running the clock adds tangible and intangible value for visitors, but comes at the cost of further cumulative damage. The present arrangement is to run the clock’s main movement, authorising the ticking sound, the hour and the quarter striking, but only to operate the automata elements at scheduled times.
Digitisation methods are being considered to build into wider conservation plans. Following prior research into microcontroller electronics, this object can benefit from implementing digital strategies such as recording audio aspects, reversibly relieving the mechanical movement from operation, and therefore wear, without experiential losses.
This ostensibly straightforward project highlighted inevitable emotional, mechanical, philosophical and conservation collections care questions. The clock can be seen at York Art Gallery with automaton demonstrations on Wednesdays and Saturdays, 14.00.
This post was written by Peter de Clercq
A recent article published in Antiquarian Horology, entitled ‘A Time to Remember’, focuses on a pocket watch in the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich that had been recovered from the Titanic, which sank in 1912 after hitting an iceberg.
The hands indicate 3.07, presumably marking the moment the watch entered the water.
The article discusses this and other watches recovered from the Titanic and can be read here.
I was reminded of this when recently I noted a board outside a tavern in the London district of Holborn, drawing attention to a somewhat macabre relic. The pub had been destroyed by a Zeppelin bomb in 1915, and a clock found in the wreckage, marking the time the bomb had struck, could be seen inside the pub.
Step inside, and there it is on the wall. Next to it hangs a clock that is in better shape but lacks its movement. In a show of solidarity, both clocks stand still forever.
The clock is mentioned in a list of ‘London’s top 10 timepieces – Time Out counts down our city‘s finest timepieces’, with this comment:
'When this snug corner-boozer was leveled by a Zeppelin bomb in 1915, one of the few things to be pulled intact from the rubble was the clock that today hangs to the left of the bar, hands frozen at the hour of doom. Locals say the clock can sometimes be heard to whistle, as though imitating the falling bomb. Bollocks, says the barman.'
This post was written by David Read
In the world of watch collectors there are many who dislike finding that a pocket watch case has been engraved with the owner’s name, or to record it being given as a present. My feelings are different. An engraving not only provides a date which can be useful information, but can also point to an interesting history.
Late one evening in November 2000, I was watching a BBC documentary about the Yukon Gold Rush when the name Skookum jumped out at me.
E. Howard & Co. made some of the finest watches in America so it interested me, as did the inner back which was not the same colour of gold as the rest of the case. And engraved on it were the words, 'A relic of Skookum Gulch March 22nd 1897'. It was certainly something different.
When the Yukon documentary finished, some quick research on the Internet led me to an email address for the Yukon Prospectors Association and before going to bed I sent questions with attached images.
In due course I received a reply from a member, himself a prospector who had searched for gold and experienced the thrill of finding it.
The following summarizes what he wrote:
'Gold was first discovered at Skookum Gulch by Joseph Goldsmith and his partner on 22nd March 1897, the date engraved on your watch. Arriving in the Klondike area too late to stake a claim on one of the major creeks, he prospected the feeders and found rich gold in this one. Goldsmith staked the first claim and named the stream. He, or perhaps his partner, used some of the gold to have a replacement inner cover made for the watch. The gold will be from the original panning and is significant in that it marks an historical event'.
This post was written by Peter de Clercq
The dictionary defines ‘two-timing’ as ‘to be unfaithful to a spouse or lover’ or ‘to deceive, to double-cross’. But that’s not what I want to talk about. What I have in mind here is people who put the clock forward even though they know it’s not the ‘real’ time. Perhaps we can regard this as another kind of cheating.
Some months ago I came across the term ‘Sandringham time’. British Summer Time – putting the clocks forward one hour in April and back again in October – was introduced in 1916, and among those supporting the idea had been King Edward VII (1901-1910).
Here (with thanks to David Rooney who supplied me with a scan of the relevant page) is what David Prerau wrote in his book Saving the Daylight: Why We Put the Clocks Forward (page 12):
'The king had recognized the waste of morning daylight and had already taken royal action: for several years, in order to have more time for hunting, he had been creating his own small sphere of daylight saving time at his palace at Sandringham, and in later years at Windsor and Balmoral castles, by having all the clocks advanced thirty minutes. (The tradition of ‘Sandringham time’ lasted until Edward VIII abandoned the practice in 1936).'
I was reminded of this when this week I finally got around to reading Flora Thompson, Lark Rise to Candleford , a semi-autobiographical series of three books giving scenes from a childhood in rural Oxfordshire in the 1880s and 1890s.
The books were originally published in 1939, 1941 and 1943, and then as a trilogy from 1945 onwards. I quote from the Penguin Modern Classics edition of 2008.
At the age of 14, the main character Laura (Flora) starts work as assistant in a Post Office. It is run by a woman, Dorcas Lane, alongside a blacksmith’s workshop which she had inherited from her father.
'The grandfather’s clock was kept exactly half an hour fast, as it had always been, and by its time, the household rose at six, breakfasted at seven and dined at noon; while mails were despatched and telegrams timed by the new Post Office clock, which showed correct Greenwich time, received by wire at ten o’clock every morning' (page 364).
The Post Office is re-introduced at the beginning of Part 3:
'As she followed her new employer through the little office and out to the big front living kitchen, the hands of the grandfather’s clock pointed to a quarter to four. It was really only a quarter past three and the Post Office clock gave that time exactly, but the house clocks were purposely kept half an hour fast and meals and other domestic matters were timed by them.
'To keep thus ahead of time was an old custom in many country families which was probably instituted to ensure the early rising of man and maid in the days when five or even four o’clock was not thought an unreasonably early hour at which to begin the day’s work.
'The smiths still began work at six and Zillah, the maid, was downstairs before seven, by which time Miss Lane and, later, Laura, was also up and sorting the mail' (pp 395-6).
In the first volume, when Laura is still a small child living with her family in a nearby hamlet, we find another interesting example of dual timekeeping.
One person in the hamlet, ‘Old Sally’, owned 'a grandfather’s clock that not only told the time, but the day of the week as well. It had even once told the changes of the moon; but the works belonging to that part had stopped and only the fat, full face, painted with eyes, nose and mouth, looked out from the square where the four quarters should have rotated.
'The clock portion kept such good time that half the hamlet set its own clocks by it. The other half preferred to follow the hooter at the brewery in the market town, which could be heard when the wind was in the right quarter. So there were two times in the hamlet and people would say when asking the hour: "Is that hooter time, or Old Sally’s?"' (p. 77)
The Japanese temporal system divides the day into 12 hours, rather than 24, and six of these “hours” are proportional to daylight and six to darkness. Hence, the adjustable numerals are designed to accommodate variable time intervals within the relative lengths of day and night by season.
The numeral characters are engraved with the traditional 9-4/9-4 numbering, using the zodiacal names of the hours, which count down in reverse order.
During the process of recording and documenting, a conservation approach was employed focusing on stabilising the clock in its current condition. Treatment included; fabricating missing parts and the mechanical removal of corrosion with a custom made mother-of-pearl scraping tool, a material that retains its shape but is softer than the substrate, so becomes sacrificial, reducing the risk of damaging the ironwork.
Considerations for future work include analysis of the brass alloys and the coating used on the ironwork, as well as investigating the lacquer present on the calendar wheel (pictured above) aiming to provide a more detailed narrative of the social and craft context surrounding the clock. Due to its age a stable environment and restricted running hours will be imposed on the clock to mitigate further losses.
This post was written by Anna-Rose Kirk
Clocks and watches are the most tattooed image at the moment according to Vice magazine, and tattoo artists are sick of tattooing them.
'Clocks. Clocks, pocket watches and more clocks . Mostly on guys in their mid 20s. There must be hundreds, at the very least, being done in the UK every week. Lots of tattooists have stopped putting them in their portfolios because they’re so fed up with them' (Craig Hicks).
Time symbols have always been popular in art as reminders of the passing of life and the inevitability of death.
Hour glass tattoos have been a simple depiction of this for many years, and there has been a long tradition of symbolism within prison tattoos depicting clock and watches with no hands. However, the more recent need to capture time has sparked a trend of more complicated depictions and designs within larger tattoos often surrounded by banners, flowers, and owls.
Speaking to those that have the clock or watch tattoos, it is apparent that the most common reason was the idea of symbolising a date and time, a child’s birth for example, and was a way of avoiding text and numbers which have become a common tattoo choice.
Others wanted them as reminders that time is precious and had them tattooed in prominent places as a constant reminder to live their lives meaningfully.
One person I spoke to simply had a deep appreciation for horology and the way that watches worked after coming across them in his job in a jeweller’s and from his friends in the industry. Because of this, the time on the watch does not have a significant meaning, but it was important to him that the detail and the way it looked was right.
Celebrities and easy access to images and discussions play a part in tattoo trends but simply more people are getting tattooed meaning particular images seem to get used more often.
I wanted to get to the bottom of whether clocks and watches were seen as something mysterious with no concept of the inside workings, however, although a lot of the general public, especially the younger generation, does not understand the exact mechanics of a pocket watch, they have a tangible feel which in contrast to today’s sleek, minimal, computerised technology can feel a lot more real. They feel as if the have a history and a story; linked to memories tradition and ritual.
I wonder if a rise in nostalgia and a romanticism for craftsmanship and the handmade has brought about the rise of this style being used in tattooing and movements like Steam Punk.
It is perhaps a fight against excessive consumption of the 21st century and the dehumanisation of manufacturing and the idea that traditional skills may be lost. It seems to be that horology is being worn as a symbol of authenticity and a preservation of history in a vain attempt to show that this generation care.
This post was written by David Rooney
The strangest thing happened last Thursday. To be honest, I thought it was a put-up job and so did many of the people with me. I thought James Nye had arranged it; everyone else thought I had.
It was the first AHS London Lecture of 2017. We’re in a new venue this year. Following the success of last year’s programme things were getting a bit tight at Cannon Place and we needed a bigger room with space to grow, so thanks to an introduction from our Council Member James Stratton, head of the clocks department at Bonhams, we have been able to move to the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) on Parliament Square, overlooking the Houses of Parliament and the Great Clock of Westminster.
I was the lecturer for our first meeting at RICS. I’ve been thinking a lot over the years about the political symbolism of time: how it stands for other things besides when to catch the train. So my talk last Thursday was about standard time and violent protest in the last decades of the nineteenth century and the first years of the twentieth.
Specifically, I was focusing on two bomb attacks: one on the Royal Observatory Greenwich in 1894 by an anarchist and one on the Royal Observatory Edinburgh in 1913 by suffragettes.
Both attacks, I argued, were symbolic strikes against scientifically defined standard time but both were very real, resulting in loss of life at Greenwich and significant damage at Edinburgh. They were attacks on the establishment – an establishment centred at Westminster just a few paces from where I was speaking.
My talk finished bang on time at 7.15pm and I was getting ready to answer questions when the house manager came in and whispered a message to James, who was chairing the evening.
I assumed it was a minor problem with the catering laid on thanks to the generosity of sponsor Jonny Flower – maybe the prosecco wasn’t chilled enough or the hors d’oeuvres were running late. But I was wrong.
We’d all seen the flashing blue lights through the frosted windows of the lecture room, but they are not an unusual sight in Westminster and we thought little of it. Perhaps a car had been pulled over, or a tourist had taken a tumble. Certainly nothing out of the ordinary.
Then James interrupted proceedings to tell the audience that much of the area outside, including bridges and tube stations, was being sealed off by the police.
We really thought it was a put-up job when he told us that a bomb had been found by Westminster Bridge. It was not a false alarm. It was a real bomb – from the Second World War. It had been found by a dredger in the River Thames.
The police call to the Royal Navy bomb disposal squad went in at exactly 7.15pm – the moment I stopped speaking.
Don’t worry. Nobody was hurt in the incident and the bomb was safely detonated early the following morning at Tilbury. The March lecture is about the gold workers and enamellers of Geneva and we’re not expecting any bother.
This post was written by James Nye
Tuesday 25 October 2016: to the Victoria and Albert Museum for a fabulous evening to celebrate the life of our late President, Lisa Jardine FRSA, in the company of her husband John Hare, members of the family, and a distinguished array of academics, curators, writers, and lots of friends. It was a year to the date since Lisa’s death.
Lisa believed in lectures that were also a bit of a party. We gathered in the Whiteley Silver Gallery to the sound of a jazz trio, and moved to the astonishing Gorvy Lecture Theatre, where we were greeted by Bill Sherman of the V&A, a colleague of Lisa’s over many years.
He introduced Amanda Vickery, who spoke movingly of her long and close association with Lisa, before introducing the remarkable Deborah Harkness, prize-winning historian and now best-selling author, noted for the All Souls fictional trilogy.
She spoke on ‘Fiction in the Archives’, explaining how a parallel career in fiction has enriched her historical work, following an approach she believes Lisa enshrined – not so much ‘outreach’ – more the invitation to everyone to come and spend time inside the ivory tower.
The spine-tingling thrill of archival discovery is accessible and communicable to all—and truth can be more remarkable than fiction. Setting action in her scholarly backyard—sixteenth century Blackfriars—Deborah told us that ‘Fiction at last allows me to tell people what I really think happened, rather than what I can prove.’
It was a tour de force—resolving to the notion that literature can work to promote empathy, a characteristic in short supply in conflicts at all levels, globally. Deborah’s tribute linked this to Lisa, who championed diversity, bringing together so many people, across so many communities.
John rounded off proceedings by announcing the launch of a new initiative with the Royal Society—the Lisa Jardine Research Awards—essentially funding to encourage the study of the scientific revolution and the Enlightenment, an initiative for which significant backing has already been secured. A very fitting tribute indeed.
The evening wound up with a reception in the galleries housing the Ionides collection, to the sound of more jazz. Our hosts were generous, but were probably mindful of Lisa’s mantra—‘never knowingly undercater’—it was a magical event.
This post was written by Peter de Clercq
In the State Library of New South Wales is a manuscript journal of a trip to Holland undertaken in 1773 by the naturalist Joseph Banks (1743-1820), who from 1778 until his death was to be the President of the Royal Society. His journal can be read on-line here.
Most of his journal, as expected, is related to natural history, but in Amsterdam he visited an unnamed clockmaker who showed him ‘a clock which has gone by itself for 2 years’.
From his description, complete with a sketch, it is clear that he struggled to make sense of what he had seen:
'From hence we went to a clockmaker Mr [name not entered] who has invented a clock which has gone by itself for 2 years & is therefore called not injustly a perpetual motion whether the principle was fallacious I could not discover but it was or appeared to be 4 balls / fastened to the rim of a circle by long wyers [wires] the circle going round in the direction of the arrows the ball a by its gravity turns it round till at the end of its leaver [??] coming into the place of b it is shortened and so much more when it comes into the place of c the balls c & d at the same time becoming longer & in their turns forcing it round whether however a [illegible word] wheel made upon this construction would ever go once round I very much doubt if not there must either be fallacy or some method of applying the principle which I did not understand which is likely as the machine was rather complicated' (pages 51 and 52 – CY 3011/73 and 74).
The concept of perpetual motion, and the idea that one can make a machine that can do work indefinitely without an energy source, has been exercising many minds over the centuries, but the development of modern theories of thermodynamics has shown that they are impossible.
In his book Perpetual Motion: the History of an Obsession, Arthur W.J.G. Ord-Hume has illustrated several devices that look rather similar to the clock that Banks had seen. We must conclude that the unnamed Amsterdam clockmaker was one in a long line of deluded ‘inventors’.
This post was written by Rory McEvoy
The extraordinarily accurate ‘Burgess Clock B’ was recently installed in the Royal Observatory’s Time and Longitude Gallery where it will be on display for the next three years.
The following filmed interview introduces the work of Martin Burgess and the project behind this remarkable timekeeper.
First shown at the Harrison Decoded conference, held at the National Maritime Museum in April, 2015.
Further information on Clock B can be found here.
This post was written by James Nye
Petrol rationing ceased in May 1957, but the legendary Colonel Quill, DSO, had long planned the AHS September visit with a view to everyone needing to use public transport, staying local in London.
On the day, pictures were taken by our distinguished early member Bob Miles, but not being used these found their way into an envelope, to disappear in our archive, until I had a look inside, nearly sixty years later, a few days ago. I thought it was high time they had some exposure.
Daniel Buckney (great grandson of E.J Dent) and AHS founder member Charles Williams, both of Dent, showed everyone round.
The objects on view ranged from a striking wrought iron cage clock by Edmund Howard of Chelsea (1761), through to modern editions of the Congreve rolling ball clock, a design which continued to be made for several more decades.
In the case of the Howard, substantial information has come to light in recent days, and I will try to resolve this into an article for the journal as soon as possible.
Being Dents’ workshop, there were turret clocks aplenty, of course, including examples not only from Dent, but Benson, of a wide variety of shapes and sizes.
An unusual and quite large 1939 Dent quarter-striking gravity escapement clock sported intriguing fans mounted either end, and within the frame, pivoted horizontally at right-angles to the train.
It had a most unusual gravity escapement, with the escape wheel formed in the shape of a hexagram. It later found its way to the Science Museum, where it still resides.
A wonderful exhibition model turret/skeleton clock was on display, which later found its way to the Rockford Time Museum, and thence to a fabulous private collection. A British Pathé film taken in the workshops only a short time later features many of the same clocks.
The joys opening old envelopes can bring!
This post was written by Tabea Rude
Popular and well known examples of compound pendulums in horology are found in French novelty clocks. They can be camouflaged as an innocent sailor, as in the mantel clock on display at the Royal Observatory Greenwich...
...but mostly compound pendulums are regarded as a nightmare when it comes to precision.
This was not always the case, as I found out in the conservation and research into an electromechanical double pendulum clock, patented by M. Pierre Sellier in 1909.
Sellier’s patent clock (on display at The Clockworks) uses a compound pendulum to provide the drive to the hands, while a ‘free’ pendulum controls the electro-magnetic impulsing of the compound pendulum, by making and breaking the drive circuit.
Sellier’s invention was, like most other compound pendulums, lacking in precision, but in the early 20th century he was not alone in using a compound pendulum in the quest for precision time keeping.
In other horological circles, consideration was given to the compound pendulum as a potentially useful component.
While in 1909 the Deutsche Uhrmacherzeitung described the compound pendulum as a ‘rape of the pendulum principle’, a major article by Prof. Dr. Ing. H. Bock in 1929 in the same magazine reported on a compound pendulum as a precision break-through.
After criticising the suspension spring type used in Shortt’s free pendulum for its variable elasticity modulus, Bock introduced Dr. Max Schuler’s idea of exchanging Shortt’s free pendulum for a compound pendulum resting on a knife edge.
He claimed that Schuler would soon be able to measure all the anomalies in the Earth’s rotation and outperform the Shortt clock with ‘German toughness’.
The Schuler clock has ended up at the Deutsches Uhrenmuseum at Furtwangen, and no doubt we will hear more about in due course!
This post was written by James Nye
Someone I know is researching the electric clock systems of Ritchie. Being a pro, I rather suspect they have run a lot of obscure sources to earth, but I’m going to make a point of drawing their attention to English Mechanic and World of Science from 1874, where I believe Ritchie published a piece on controlling clocks and time-signals by electricity.
This might come as an interesting addition to the better known 1878 piece in the Journal of the Society of Arts (vol. 26).
Another friend has a forthcoming piece on the pneumatic time distribution systems of Mayrhofer, which will appear in the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Chronometrie’s next yearbook. There is just a chance he may not have come across the 1882 piece by Berly in the Journal of the Society of Arts, providing an overview of the state of the art in pneumatic horology.
How on earth do I come to know of these possibly useful references? In 1951, G.H. Baillie published an historical bibliography, covering horological literature published prior to 1800. It has been a goldmine ever since.
A second volume, covering literature published between 1800 and 1899, was drafted, but never published – until now. The AHS has arranged the copy-typing of the typescript, and a digital (searchable) version is now available to download from the members’ area of the website.
It’s a fantastic new resource for researchers. Yes, all the obvious literature is there, of course, but there are also vast numbers of obscure references which will illuminate your research.
And Baillie included the good, the bad and the ugly.
An 1889 article on watch cocks by Luthmer is described simply – ‘the illustrations are very good. The text is of little value’. Parker-Rhodes’ 1885 pamphlet on ‘Universal Reading of Time; is ‘of no value or interest’.
But Baillie is unstinting in his praise where it is merited – witness the simple observation on Poppe’s 1801 Ausführliche Geschichte der theoretisch~praktischen Uhrmacherkunst , that ‘this is by far the best history of horology that has ever been written. Hardly a statement is made without a full reference to the authority for it.’
Membership of the AHS brings you full digital access to over sixty years of Antiquarian Horology , and other amazing digitized records – such as this latest bibliography, which finally makes an appearance sixty-five years after the author’s death. It is worth investigating.
This post was written by James Nye
In 1931, Wireless World published a powerful pictorial depiction of timekeeping from the electric mains. Today, we check the time on our smartphones and glance at standalone battery-driven quartz clocks on walls at home and at work, and it would be easy to assume that time from the mains had been consigned to history.
But look around. On countless supermarkets, town halls, churches and other public buildings the clocks you see run from the AC mains and take their time from the frequency of the UK’s national grid.
These are synchronous motor clocks, running at a speed dictated by the grid’s frequency. To work as clocks, that frequency needs to remain very close to 50Hz. If the frequency drifts, engineers steer it back, avoiding cumulative clock error.
The UK’s Grid Code specifies that National Grid must control the frequency so that clock time remains within plus or minus 10 seconds per day. Thus while synchronous clocks might display an error of up to 10 seconds within a 24-hour period, in practice the error will daily be brought to zero by the 7.00am handover of shifts at the National Grid’s Control Centre in rural Berkshire.
On 11 June 2016, a few enthusiasts from the AHS Electrical Group were granted rare and privileged access to the Control Centre to hear at first hand from its highly experienced and knowledgeable engineers how they handle not only the management of the grid in real time but also how they predict what the load will be a few hours in the future.
Two concerns drive the never-ending work of the engineers: security of supply and efficiency.
Keeping the lights on is paramount but once that is assured, market mechanisms are used to allocate resources.
Reserve power is expensive, so cannot be contracted lightly. Unpredictable supply from renewable sources causes massive headaches. Inertia – enough mass in the form of spinning metal in the turbines connected to the grid – is vital to smooth volatile flows of power.
Grid time was seven seconds slow on our arrival and four seconds slow on our departure – a few hours later after an enlightening and highly informative tour packed with rich detail delivered with confidence from our expert guides.
That our synchronous clocks perform so well is no longer a mystery, given the phenomenal technical and intellectual effort deployed 24/7 to keep the lights on – and to keep those clocks on time.
This post was written by James Nye
This has long become an essential part of the social calendar of Euro-electro-horology, bringing as usual visitors from the UK, Switzerland, France, Netherlands, Switzerland, and Germany.
The fair coincided with a remarkable exhibition mounted by Hans Baumann, showing part of his extensive collection of electric watches, showcased in his two-volume publication from 2013.
Several hundred watches were on show, from electro-magnetically maintained balances, through tuning fork examples, onward to early quartz.
The international crew enjoyed themselves with two excellent evening meals, and a visit to the Carl Benz museum in Ladenburg.
In between times, a lot of objects changed hands – on the principle that much collecting involves storing objects for a number of years, and then passing the job of storage to the next collector.
As always, there were several items, not on sale but on show, which became the subject of repeated interrogation and discussion.
One of these was a fabulous time printer from Löbner of Berlin, of exactly the type used at the Berlin Olympics, together with a Ulysse Nardin pocket chronometer, to record race times (see Schraven’s article on Short Time Measurement in Antiquarian Horology , Dec 2015).
Another crowd-puller was a stunning but miniature ‘turret clock’ from Hörz of Ulm, the only example known, and referenced in a single catalogue (c.1905). This involves two weight-driven trains – one going and the other, in place of striking, to drive a polwender each minute (the device which sends alternate polarity pulses to subsidiary clocks).
This extraordinary survivor of an early 20th century master clock saw groups gathered for extended periods of time, counting teeth and attempting to rationalise the apparently problematic logic of its design.
A fabulous, multi-cultural weekend of fun, fine food and great friends.
This post was written by James Nye
St Luke’s church (c.1825) in West Norwood, London, has an extremely fine clock (c.1827) by Benjamin Lewis Vulliamy, costing some 3 per cent of the budget for the church and the equivalent of several hundred thousands of modern pounds.
It is probably the first flat-bed turret clock in England, embodying ideas developed by Vulliamy on recent Continental travels.
Vulliamy’s clocks were substantially more expensive than those of his competitors, but he boldly claimed they would outperform and outlive cheaper alternatives. While it may not presently be working, a recent survey of St Luke’s revealed a very high quality clock, still in remarkable order.
Clock towers are deeply inhospitable environments, cycling in temperature between plus 40 degrees C and falling below zero – with humidity varying from low to 100 per cent over time.
The natural modern trend to move away from weekly attendance by a clock winder necessitates auto-winding, but St Luke’s system has failed.
There are further problems. Vulliamy’s slate dials were replaced with opal glazed versions in 1928, but the putty fixing of the panels has dried to a cement-like hardness, and the lack of flexibility allows for cracking of the glass, as the cast iron tracery expands and contracts.
Moisture can creep in, leading to ‘rust-jacking’. Several panels failed long ago, being replaced in wholly unsuitable plastic, offering a patchwork impression at night. Many other panels are cracked, and the eventual failure of the glazing is certain, while the clock room suffers.
The church is now launching a substantial project to repair the clock, add new auto-winding and auto-regulation, but, significantly and most expensively, also to repair all four dials with new opal glass.
This is a project of great significance to the community of West Norwood – the clock is highly visible and a symbol of local civic pride over two centuries.
Action and pressure from the local community has led to the present proposals for a project to restore the clock to function. Fortunately, a number of different members of the Society have also been offer to valuable input and assistance, and fundraising is well underway.