A woman horological collector

This post was written by Peter de Clercq

The AHS has recently paid attention to a number of Great Horological Collectors, with lectures that were later reported in the journal. All these lectures were about men.

That a woman could also assemble an important horological collection was demonstrated by the Austrian author Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach (1830-1916). She had received practical training as a watchmaker and brought together a collection of 270 pocket watches dating 16th-19th century.

In 1917 it was purchased for the newly founded Wiener Uhrenmuseum, where the collection (sadly reduced to a mere 47 during World War II) is on display in a special room.

Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach sitting at her desk. This portrait, painted in 1894 by Julius Schmidt, is on display in the Vienna Museum of Clocks and Watches (Wiener Uhrenmuseum) in a room devoted to her collection of decorative watches. Photo kindly supplied by Rupert Kerschbaum.

Her horological expertise and her love for her collection are reflected in her short novel Lotti die Uhrmacherin (Charlotte the Woman Watchmaker) of 1889.

Lotti is the daughter of a master watchmaker and is herself skilled in the craft. She inherits her father’s valuable collection of watches and refuses offers from other collectors, until her former fiancé gets in financial trouble. She relents and sells the collection, to be able to support him (anonymously).

Chapter 3 describes the collection in remarkable technical and historical detail, and names many makers – Le Roy, Breguet, Tompion and Mudge, to mention just a few.

Further reading: Eva-Maria Orosz, ‘“My watches make it hard for me to die”. Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach: the writer as watch collector’, pages 10-13 in Highlights from the Vienna Museum of Clocks and Watches (Vienna, 2011); I thank Fortunat Mueller-Maerki for bringing this essay to my attention. There is no English translation of Lotti die Uhrmacherin , but a freely downloadable edition with some English annotation is on-line here.

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