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Hooijmaijers, H., Telling Time – Devices for time measurement in Museum Boerhaave – A Descriptive Catalogue, Leiden: Museum Boerhaave Communication, 2005

Thompson, David, The British Museum Clocks, London: The British Museum Press, 2005

Last year two ‘museum’ books were published with a similar subject: their respective clock collections. Both books are written in English, but that is about the only feature they have in common.

The Dutch book is clearly aimed at a wider audience than only Dutch readers, although it was printed in only a fairly limited number of copies. The book makes an old-fashioned impression: except for the cover picture all photographs, which on the whole do not reveal any details, are in black and white. The introduction suggests a systematic approach to the collection’s description, reflected in its four main sections, which range from domestic clocks (such as Hague clocks) to deck watches, second counters and hour glasses. However, the descriptions themselves differ widely, without ever becoming really lively. Having established this, one cannot help wondering why the book was not edited by a native speaker, who could not only have filtered out some of the in places rather clumsy English (“‘cheeks’ at the suspension of the pendulum to correct for large oscillations” (p.10); “a ratchet wheel prevents the wheel from turning back during winding” – only during winding? (p.15); “However the disappointing results of this trial, De Koesfelt still praised . . . ” (p.23); “the movement is covered by a brown oak case” (p.26), to mention only a few), but who could more importantly have corrected some of the terminology used (‘ebonised’ instead of ‘black lacquered’; ‘chapter ring’ rather than ‘dial ring’; ‘suspension eyes’ instead of ‘suspension hooks’; and so on). And the picture to item No 35 (p. 57) indicates that the editors are only human.
The book presents an exhaustive inventory of what Museum Boerhaave has to offer and as such it is very useful. This inventory could be a starting point for those who want to do more research on a particular item. In this respect, a few more pictures would have given sufficient detail without becoming too technical for the lay reader. Indeed, the internationally famous timepieces in Museum Boerhaave deserve the best documentation imaginable, such as the rare regulator by Isaac Thuret. Ironically, such pictures exist on the Museum Boerhaave website, although they are difficult to find. Finally, a serious defect is the lack of an index.

Turning to the counterpart of the Museum Boerhaave book, the clock book of the British Museum, we should of course realize that the latter’s financial means are of a different order and that the production of a book for an English-speaking market is a completely different matter.

The photography is excellent and fully up to today’s standards. The text strikes one as somewhat casual, if not conversational, but this is balanced by photos of details that highlight special features. In other words, the book is intended for the public at large but is sufficiently interesting for experts as well. Except for a Japanese intermezzo, the clocks selected are presented in chronological order. Interesting facts about the makers and the period concerned, as well as technical details are generally confined to one page, which make the book a pleasure to flick through and read. The book also comprises a number of technical terms but this constitutes only a fairly arbitrary list (should a term such as ‘remontoire’ not be included if ‘tourbillion’ is listed?) and an index concludes the book.

This publication gives a good impression of the balanced and outstanding collection the Museum has, of which the clocks shown here are only a very small part. In fact, the selection is varied enough to range from Gothic and Renaissance examples to an American shelf clock, a digital ticket clock and a Jaeger Le Coultre Atmos clock. The book even offers a description of a late nineteenth-century French mystery clock, giving away the secret of the mystery for those who did not know.

In conclusion we can say that as far as these two books are concerned the British one outshines the Dutch in all respects. Although in these matters the money to produce a book is often the decisive factor, it seems to me that creative imagination also plays an important role and that, as far as the Dutch book is concerned, better editing and a more modern approach would have improved it to such an extent that it would have come much closer to its British counterpart.

March 2006.
W. A. van Klaveren.

Telling Time – Devices for time measurement in Museum Boerhaave.
ISBN 90 6292 145

The British Museum Clocks.
ISBN 0 7141 2812 0

Horological Books

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