Será este o relógio portátil mais antigo do mundo? Toda uma lenda (e controvérsia) gira à volta do relojoeiro Peter Henlein, que, na Floresta Negra, terá alegadamente introduzido a mola helicoidal como força motriz de um relógios, levando assim ao início da portabilidade do tempo (até então "preso" ao sistema de peso pendurado numa corda). Estávamos por volta de 1500.
Mais uma vez, Estação Cronográfica trás aqui uma recensão de Fortunat Mueller-Maerki, especialista norte-americano sobre a História da medição do Tempo, sobre um livro e uma exposição ocorrida no ano passado na Alemanha, no Germanisches Nationalmuseum em Nürnberg.
How the reexamination of the ‘Oldest Surviving Pocket Watch’ turned into one of the best temporary watch exhibits in years
Bookreview 2015 by Fortunat Mueller-Maerki
Die älteste Taschenuhr der Welt? Der Henlein Uhrenstreit The oldest pocket watch in the World? The Henlein Controversy. By Thomas Eser. Published in German 2014 as Vol.16 in the Series: 'Kulturgeschichtliche Spaziergänge' by the Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Nürnberg. ISBN 978-3-936688-92-4. 232 pages, hardcover. Over 200 illustrations, mostly in color. Includes separate catalog section [36 pages] of the 87 objects in the eponymous 2014/2015 exhibition. Bibliography with over 130 entries. Appendices: Henlein biography; Table by Dietrich Matthes, providing detailed data on the 49 known 16th century German can shaped watches. Available through the GNM bookstores website at https://www.gnm.de/museum/abteilungen-anlaufstellen/verlag/ for € 12.50 plus postage.
For much of the 20th century a significant part of horological literature, particularly in Germany, has claimed that a certain can shaped watch, signed ‘Petrus Hele me f.[ecit] Norimb[erga] 1510’ , exhibited at the Germanisches Nationalmuseum in Nürnberg, could be the worlds oldest timekeeper designed to be carried on a person, i.e. the oldest surviving watch. Although scholars of horological history have increasingly raised legitimate questions about that claim, the museum until recently showed little interest in examining their famous object more closely.
But in preparation for a recent temporary exhibit centering on this object (December 4.12.2014 – April 12.2015) the museum spared no effort to not only thoroughly reexamine the famous watch using the latest technology (particularly computer tomography), but went out of its way to assemble all global candidates for “first watch” and examine all the leading contenders just as thoroughly. That process took several years, but the resulting exhibit -and the eponymous catalog- were worth the wait.
A book review of an exhibit catalog can not help but turn into also a commentary on the exhibit. This reviewer considers both the event and the publication major milestones in horological scholarship. This is primarily due to the three people who made it happen: The team was led by Dr. Thomas Eser, the Department Head for Scientific Instruments (which in Nürnberg includes horology), Medicine, Arms and Hunting. But a major part of the credit also goes to Roland Schewe and Markus Raquet, both conservators at GNM (who led a group of experts who examined and restored the objects), and to Dr. Stephanie Armer (a young museum professional, who coordinated the many details that create a successful exhibit and a thorough and accurate publication).
It is never easy for a museum to reexamine an iconic item in its collection, and in the case of the Henlein watch, the fact that the object in question had played a prominent role in defining German technical ingenuity during the nationalistic phase of German history in the first half of the 20th century, did not make things easier.
The team started out by listing any surviving horological object that could reasonably lay claim to be "the oldest 'German' pocket watch". That inventory (established by Dietrich Mattes) grew to 49 objects (described in a 14 page table in the book). A multidisciplinary panel of experts then evaluated all the candidates thoroughly and selected 17 of them (including some orphaned cases and orphaned movements) from all over the world as the likeliest candidates. The owners of 16 pieces consented to an impartial evaluation. (The sole exception was the much publicized Pomander style ball clock discovered 1987 in a London flea market, and supposedly marked MDV [for 1505], whose owner declined to cooperate.)
Private collections and Museums from around the world [Germany: Germanisches Museum, Museum fur Angewandte Kunst Köln, Museum August Kestner Hannover, Mathematisch-Physikalischer Salon Dresden, Kunstgewerbemuseum Berlin; USA: Walters Museum Baltimore (2x); Switzerland: Musée International d'Horlogerie La Chaux-de-Fonds (2x), Uhrensammlung Kellenberger (2x), Patek Philippe Museum; Qatar Private Collection (2x)] provided the objects, which became the core 14 items in the exhibit catalog, and the stars of the show. The top contenders also went through a rigorous analysis, including internal analysis by 3-dimentional high energy computer micro-tomography, and for the Henlein watch an elaborate electronic 3-dimensional computer model was built. Additional timekeepers, tools, original documents, images and ephemera were added, growing the exhibit catalog to 87 items.
The exhibit is superbly crafted, didactically clever, and tells the story of the first watches very well, including their technological, historical and cultural context. The catalog, while providing lots of information, and with over 200 illustrations also offering much to those readers not fluent in German, does not aspire to be a rigorous scholarly examination of the issue (it is part of the GNM series "Cultural History Strolls at the Germanisches Museum"). It is written to also appeal to non horological readers.
And what is the verdict regarding the star of the show, their '1510 Henlein' watch? Undoubtedly that object is NOT what it was claimed to be for over 100 years: It is a 'marriage' of pieces from various horological mechanisms (some dating to the late 1500s), created later (probably ca. 1850) with the intent to deceive. The hands date to the 17th or 18th century, and some components are machine made late 19th century. The signature and date appear to have been added shortly before it was sold to the GNM in 1897. The museum seems to have had its doubts during the first decades of ownership, but these diminished from the 1920s to the 1940s, as the demand for nationalistic icons grew. The book (and the exhibit) under review does an admirable job of analyzing the cultural factors that led to the decades long mislabeling.
The GNM is to be congratulated for the honesty, thoroughness and rigor that underlies both their exhibit and the book. If funding is available, they plan to follow up with a more scholarly publication containing reams of additional data gathered through this project, and this reviewer hereby pledges his support in the future to make such information available to the English speaking part of the global community of horological scholars and enthusiasts.
Fortunat Mueller-Maerki - Sussex NJ, USA
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