Pier van Leeuwen

Forgotten Pioneer of the
Pendulum Clock

Johann Hevelius

Exhibition at The Museum of the Dutch Clock
Kalverringdijk 3, Zaanse Schans,
Zaandam, the Netherlands.
15 july-31 october 2007
Tuesday-Sunday, 11.00-17.00 hr.

Translation: Alex McCready.


Horizontal table clocks.
The development of the pendulum clock.
Johann Hevelius (1611-1687).
Wolfgang Günther (ca 1610-1659).
Hevelius and Huygens.
Excerpt concerning clocks (Dantzig, 1673).

Horizontal Table Clocks

As the bourgeoisie increased during the renaissance, so did the demand for smaller horizontal table clocks and neck watches increase. These clocks were driven by a spring and used a balance as regulator which enabled them to be transportable. They originated in Southern Germany, particularly in Augsburg and Nuremberg. In Holland, clockmakers such as Salomon Coster, Severijn Oosterwijck and Jan Janse Boekelts were also developing these clocks in cities such as Haarlem, Amsterdam and The Hague. Examples originating from Danzig (Pomerania) were, for instance, designed by Johann Eichstedt, Wolfgang Günther and Johann Anton Horn.


fig. 2.
Horizontal table clock with astronomical signs, signed Wolffgangus Günter Gedan
(property of the Muzeum Narodowe, Warsaw)

The development of the pendulum clock

During the 17th century, time measurement became increasingly important in the study of sciences such as astronomy. Astronomers such as Galileo Galilei, Johann Hevelius en Christiaan Huygens were involved in the development of a precision clock. Thus, the first pendulum clocks evolved. This type of clock had a free-hanging pendulum replacing the former regulator task of the balance and resulting in a much higher grade of precision, thus enabling minutes and seconds to be registered.

Johann Hevelius (1611-1687)

Johann Hevelius was the son of the successful Danziger merchant and beer brewer, Abraham Hewelke. Hevelius took over his father’s beer brewery and was also active as councillor. He married Katharina Rebesche in 1635 and the Dutch Catharina Elisabeth Koopman in 1663; the latter assisted him with his astronomical observations and, following his death, published several of his works. Hevelius started his astronomy studies in 1627 receiving private tuition from Peter Krüger (1580-1639). He was also taught the crafts of engraving, lens-grinding and mechanical construction.

fig. 3.
Portrait of Johannes Hevelius by Daniel Schultz (1677)
(Property of the Biblioteka Gdanska Polskiej Akademeii Nauk)

fig. 4.
Hevelius in his observatory
(Engraving by Isaak Saal after Andreas Stech, 1673)
Two clocks hang on the rear wall – the right-hand one is fitted with a pendulum. The clock face shows not only an hour hand but also a second hand. A clock, somewhat similar to a Hague clock, sits on the window sill.

 In 1630 he then spent a year studying law at Leiden University, after which he left for London in 1631; between 1631 and 1634 he sojourned in Paris, Tours and Avignon. Following his return to Danzig, he built his first astronomical observatory in 1640 for which he developed various instruments. Several of these instruments are described and illustrated in his work “Machina coelestis pars prior…” (1673) and include an experimental pendulum clock. 


This exhibition is part of Prezent, a cultural collaboration project of the Province of Noord-Holland and the Voivodship of Pomerania (Poland), organized by Kunst en Cultuur Noord-Holland and Cultureel Erfgoed Noord-Holland. The exhibition is accompanied by a free exhibition brochure. The Polish-German catalogue “Zegary Gdanskie” (Muzeum Historyczne Miasta Gdanska 2005), describing the Danzig clock industry, is available in the museum bookshop.

back to early pendulum clocks  


 Back to previous section.

Wolfgang Günther (ca 1610-1659)

Hevelius requested the help of the clockmaker, Wolfgang Günther, and that of an unnamed Swedish royal instrument-maker, to construct his two prototypes of pendulum clocks. Günther, who came from Elterlein near Annaberg (Saxony), became a citizen of Danzig in 1637. He carried out restoration repairs to the sundial on the tower of the main town-hall between 1647 and 1648. He became an elder of the smith’s guild in 1654. Together with two assistants, he worked on a prototype of the pendulum clock and other instruments for Hevelius’s observatory between 1657 and 1659. Hevelius presented a small prototype to the Polish king Johan Kasimir during his visit to the observatory in 1659.  That same year, Günther was interred in the crypt of the St. Erasmus chapel in the St. Mary’s church in Danzig. The observatory was burned to the ground on September 26th 1679.

Altar clock, signed Wolfgangus Günther, Gedan Annis 1650 / Johann Albrecht RENNOV (=renovated) Frauenburg. (Property of the Muzeum Uniwersytetu Jagiellonskiego, Krakow) This unusual altar clock is fitted with a short, suspended pendulum and a mechanism with locking plate. As well as the hours and minutes, the lunar phases are also indicated on the clock face.

 Hevelius and Huygens,

fig. 6.
“Hague clock”, signed by Johan Antonius Horn
(private collection)
Johann Anton Horn (ca. 1654-1720) became a citizen of Danzig in 1681. He was the town clockmaker from 1681 to 1720 at a salary of 100 to 120 florins. As such he carried out various repairs to the turret clocks of the St. Mary and the St. Catharine churches and several horizontal table clocks are attributed to Horn.

On September 7th 1656, Hevelius calls his brilliant, younger colleague, Christiaan Huygens, in a letter as a “jewel to astronomy” and an “honoured friend”. He also presented the first copy of his dissertation on observations of the planet Saturn to Huygens. Huygens possessed almost all of Hevelius’s important publications, including “Selenographia” (1647), “Mercurius in sole vicus” (1662), “Prodromus cometicus” (1665), “Cometographia” (1668) and “Machina Coelestis” (1673), together with a commentary on the latter by the English inventor, Robert Hooke. Hevelius received visits from the French astronomer, Ismael Boulliau, the English astronomer, Edmund Halley, as well as from Huygens’s younger brother, Philips. Similar to Huygens, Hevelius received international recognition. Thus, he became a fellow of the English Royal Society of Sciences (1664) and of the French Académie des Sciences (1666).


Excerpt from: Johannes Hevelius: Machinae Coelestis Heavenly Machines: Chapter XVII: Concerning clocks (Dantzig, 1673)

NTAt last, the construction of a pendulum which could move and count of its own accord was accomplished.

In the beginning, it was difficult to get the clockmaker to commence the work (as he was convinced that it be almost impossible to construct). However, once I had indicated that I was quite serious and mentioned my expenses, he commenced the work and was very happily successful, the result of which work was a clock with no balance, no spring, no fusee and the accompanying twisted cord or chain, but with only the pendulum, one weight and but a few cog-wheels.

The author presented the first pendulum clock to be made in Danzig to the king of Poland.

During the years that this particular clockmaker lived and worked at my house, he eventually produced two pendulum clocks of this type. The larger of the two had only two cog-wheels, the other four and used only one weight. I humbly presented the smaller of the two to the illustrious Casimir, king of Poland, who was then visiting Danzig and honoured my house with a visit. I then immediately ordered a new, very similar clock, excepting that the pendulum was slightly altered, and I kept this clock as a keepsake to remind me of this event.

Huygens, the famous clock designer, was the first person to publish an illustration of a pendulum clock.

Around this time, whilst the two pendulum clocks were being worked upon by the clockmaker but which were not completely finished (the clockmaker had little time available due to his work on the larger astronomic instruments), the very distinguished and very scholarly Christiaan Huygens invented similar clocks in 1657. This was also a very successful enterprise, and, a short time later, in 1658, he published an illustration of the pendulum clock, to the great advantage of (scientific) literature and for which I congratulate him. For, this prestigious invention offers an excellent remedy for all the ills of clocks built as yet, as well as solving the problems of inaccuracies which have crept into the escapements as well as the axles, pins and cog-wheels.


  About the author :

Born 1958 in Delft, Pier van Leeuwen studied as a graphic artist at the Royal Academy of Visual Arts in The Haghe and later as e museologist at the Reinwardt Academy in Leyden. From 1989 he worked with a number of Dutch museums in various capacities including those of exhibition designer, consultant and curator.
In 1997 he became Curator of The Museum of The Dutch Clock in Zaandam, which now exhibits the most complete survey of the history of the Dutch clock. Pier has several publications to his name including those on such subjects as Dutch Designer Glass, Modern Sculpture in Zaanstad and the painter Thijmen Moll of Huizen.
In 2002 Pier started a project for the Boom-Time Foundation in Utrecht, building a website for a virtual catalogue of Dutch signed clocks, now on-line since 2004.

More links:

Dutch Gold, Silver and Clock Museum.
National Museum from Musical Clock to Street Organ.
Museum of the Dutch clock.
National Museum of the History of Science.