- Museum number
CLOCK-WATCH WITH ALARM
Movement with circular gilt-brass
plates and square pillars rivetted to
the back-plate. Open mainsprings with
guard-posts to prevent fouling of the
other components. Most of the train
wheels are of steel, those of brass are
replacements. Verge escapement; verge,
balance, balance-cock and all the
stackfreed components are replacements.
Striking train with nag's head release.
Annular count-wheel for hours only. The
bell is not original.
Gilt-brass dial-plate with an applied
silver chapter-ring, the touch pieces
filed flush. Central silver alarm-setting
disc originally with coloured enamel
decoration. Chapter-ring with hours I-XII
and 13-24 and T-shaped half-hour marks with
a quarters circle between. A hole near IX is
for strike release should it get out of phase
with the time indicated by the hand.
Gilt-brass case pierced and engraved with
symmetrical designs; a typical 'urn and
flower' decoration on the back.
Movement with punched signature:-
'HANS SCHNIEP IN SPIER'
(Hans Schniep of Speyer purchased his
freedom of that town in 1572. He died in
Ilbert Collection, 1958.
- Production date
Diameter: 73.50 millimetres (case)
Thickness: 36.50 millimetres
- Curator's comments
Text from 'Watches', by David Thompson, London, 2008, p. 16-17.
GILT-BRASS CASED STACKFREED CLOCK-WATCH WITH ALARM SPEYER,
GERMANY, c. 1580
SIGNED: 'HANS SCHNIEP IN SPEIR'
By the third quarter of the sixteenth century, the number of watch- and clockmakers in South Germany had grown enormously and guilds were being established to oversee apprenticeships and organize the work. Cities such as Augsburg, where a clockmakers' guild was established in 1564, and Munich, where a guild was established a year later, had a prolific output, which increased during the second half of the century. While the cities of Bayern were the heartland of watchmaking in the sixteenth century, nevertheless there were makers in other locations who excelled. One was Hans Schniep, who lived and worked in Speyer, or Spier, on the Rhine near Mannheim. The city had been the site of important events in the Reformation, especially in 1529, when six princes and fourteen cities sent a petition to the Reichstag, whose seat was in the city, protesting against the imperial ban on Martin Luther's teachings. Schniep gained the Freedom of Speyer in 1572 and his name appears in the lists of the Guilds of Smiths until 1599. He is best known for a watch in the form of a book, now in the Musée du Louvre, Paris, which is signed 'HANS SCHNIEP IN SPEIR 1583' and punched with a triple-spired church, the town-mark of Speyer. While the book-watch can be seen as a less common form of Germanic work, the watch shown here is typical of the last quarter of the sixteenth century.
The general design of watches changed from the tambour (drum) shape to this more rounded form. The cover is domed and the case band has a noticeable bombé shape. The back of the case is also domed and is pierced and engraved with a typical urn-and-flower pattern. The front cover is pierced with apertures to reveal the numerals on the silver and enamel dial beneath. This dial is decorated using a technique known as basse-taille in which the design, usually an exotic bird and flowers, is first engraved and then filled with coloured enamels, although here, sadly, much of the enamel is now missing. The chapter ring is numbered for the hours with Roman numerals, I-XII, and a second circle of Arabic numerals, 13-24, with the '2' written in the 'z' form characteristic of Germanic clocks and watches of this period. The quarter-hours are shown by a circle of alternate hatched and plain rectangles. To set the alarm, the central disc is turned until the desired time appears beneath the tail of the hand, which in this instance is a later replacement. Finally there is a hole in the dial near the '21' hour numeral. This hole, often filled in by ill-informed restorers, is provided so that the owner may insert a small peg such as a toothpick to release the striking tram when the watch has stopped through lack of winding, but the going train continued after the striking spring has run down.
The plates and pillars of the movement are brass, but the wheels are iron, as in earlier Germanic practice. The going train is controlled by a verge escapement with a dumb-bell balance (here a modern replacement). The mainspring of the going train has a stackfreed mechanism to even out its changing torque. The striking mechanism, which sounds the hours 1-12 on a bell in the back of the case, is controlled by a count wheel and also has iron wheels.
Comment from Hugh Tait, Catalogue of Watches in the British Museum. Vol. I (1987)
Made by Hans Schniep (signed); Speyer, Germany, late 16th or early 17th century
Watch with Hour-Striking Mechanism and Alarum
Back: simple version of the 'urn and flowers' pattern (pierced) but with the addition of two swags of drapery attached to the lower terminals of the two handles of the urn; in the centre is an attachment for the bell, but neither the screw nor the bell seems to be original.
Band: standard; turned pendant with ring, and pendentive finial pierced with two holes intersecting at right angles in the centre.
Lid: standard; the latch has been removed.
Dial: applied silver chapter-ring with silver touch-pins and traces of black enamel in the numerals and divisions; in the centre, a silver alarum-setting dial with arabic numerals (1-12) running in a clockwise direction, and engraved with a cornucopia, foliage and a bird in flight (originally filled with coloured translucent enamels); the brass rim is engraved with a highly stylised laurel wreath; the steel hand is a later replacement; strike-release hole at IX.
(a) Brass plates and pillars engraved with straight lines (but no conical sinks); brass crown-wheel clip and striking mainspring block with engraved floral decoration.
(b) All the furniture on the pillar-plate has been renewed, with the possible exception of the cock for the pin-wheel; the short balance-cock is a later replacement.
(c) Punch-mark: HANS SCHNIEP IN SPEIR (near the edge of the plate outside the free end of the stackfreed spring). Each letter of the inscription is individually punched.
(d) All the wheels are of steel, except the contrate- and crown-wheel in the going-train and third-wheel in the striking-train, the arbor of which also carries a brass-slotted cam to engage the end of the modified locking-arm. The upper end of the pin-wheel arbor runs in a cock. The contrate-wheel in the alarum-train is a later replacement in brass and the slide has been removed. The alarum is now locked by the end of a brass spring, mounted on the plate, engaging a pin on the arm of the alarum hammer. The latch for the movement is missing.
Diameter (of case): 73.5 mm.
Provenance: Ilbert Collection, 1958.
1. For a similarly cased watch, engraved on the movement with the initials CM, see 'La Collection Olivier' 1984, no. 42.
2. There is no published account of this maker's career. Dr Karl Schultz, Director of the Historisches Museum der Pfalz, Speyer am Rhein, has very kindly communicated the following information.
10 June 1572: Hans Schniep purchased his 'Bürgerrecht' or Freedom of Speyer.
1572/ 1586/ 1592/ 1599 - The name of Hans Schniep (also spelt Schnipf, Schnip, Schnipp) appears in the 'Listen der Schmiedezunft' (Lists of the Guild of Smiths)
1624 The name of Hans Schniep does not appear in the List of the Guild of Smiths.
3. In the Musée du Louvre, there is an unpublished book-watch (OA 10.144), the movement of which bears the punched inscription: HANS SCHNIEP IN SPEIR 1583. The movement is also stamped with the punch-mark of the town of Speyer, a façade of a church with three spires (see M. Rosenberg, 'Der Goldschmiede Markzeichen', vol. III, 3rd edn, Frankfurt am Main, 1925, no. 4557). The individual letter punches used in this inscription correspond exactly with those used on the watch in the Ilbert Collection, with the exception of the 's', which on the Louvre book-watch more closely resembles a figure 8.
4. The only other known example of a timepiece bearing this maker's name (or, to be precise, a most dubious variant of it) is a book-watch formerly in the Webster Collection (see the Percy Webster Collection Sale Catalogue, Sotheby & Co., 27 May 1954, lot 93, with illus.). The inscription is engraved on the outer surface of the case; in fact, the words are disposed on the spine as if giving the author, title and date of a book: HANS SCHNIER IN SPEIR/OPERA/1583. In addition, the centre of the spine is engraved with a roundel containing the façade of a church with three spires, flanked by the initials HS.
The spelling of the surname (ending in an 'R' instead of a 'P') on this piece may be explained by the fact that on the book-watch in the Louvre, the last letter of the surname coincides with a flaw in the surface of the metal, thereby creating the visual impression of a letter R instead of a P (which it undoubtedly is). If the Webster Collection book-watch is a modern fabrication based on the Louvre example - and a number of other suspiciously modern features can be discerned in the photographs of the Webster piece (the present whereabouts of which are unknown) - then the copyist would appear to have been misled by Mathieu Planchon who in 1898 was the first writer to publish a maker by the name of 'Hans Schnier'. Planchon (L'Horloge, Paris, 1898, pp. 149-50, figs 63-4) first made this mistake when recording the signature on a book-watch in the Gamier Collection - the very same watch that is now in the Louvre. Britten ('Old Clocks and Watches and their Makers', 3rd edn, London, 1911) also repeats this error, though he acknowledges Mr F. Hilton Price, an English collector, as his source of information on this maker, and it would appear that Hilton Price, who owned an unsigned book-watch similar to the Louvre's example, examined the inscription on the Louvre book-watch and also misread it. Hilton Price's book-watch passed into the Pierpont Morgan Collection and is now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
5. The misreading of the inscription on the Louvre book-watch would appear to have been unquestioningly repeated by G. C. Williamson in the catalogue of watches in the Pierpont Morgan Collection (G. C. Williamson, 'Catalogue of the Collection of Watches, the property of J. Pierpont Morgan', London, 1912, no. 104, pp. 110-111, pl. 31, col. pl. 22), where the ex-Hilton Price book-watch is attributed to the watchmaker Hans Schnier (spelt with an 'r'). The Pierpont Morgan book-watch, whilst similar to that in the Louvre, has neither a signature nor a mark on the movement. However, on the outer surface of the case, between the two clasps, there is an engraved variant of the town-mark of Speyer: a façade of a building with two spires on either side of a low dome, above which are the initials HS, and below the initials ZS. Between the initials ZS is a screw-hole, the lower half of which is decorated with the engraved points of a star. This engraved device has been read by Williamson as the town-mark of Speyer and HSZS as the signature of 'Hans Schnier zu Speir'. Williamson states that he was unable to discover any facts concerning this maker, Hans Schnier, though he implies that his name, spelt 'Schnier', is recorded in the archives of Speyer; this is not the case. Furthermore, the town-mark of Speyer appears never to have incorporated a façade in which two tall spires flank a low dome (see Rosenberg, op. cit.). The quality of the engraving of the device is poor but identical to the rest of the engraved decoration on the exterior of the case of this book-watch. The dial-plate, by contrast, is well engraved and the movement would appear (from photographs) to be genuine; it would seem, therefore, that the case in the form of a book is a modern version based on the example in the Louvre which is dated 1583 and punched with the town-mark of Speyer and the name of the maker, Hans Schniep. The misreading of the last letter of the surname was repeated most recently in Klaus Maurice and Christian Pfeiffer-Belli, 'Manieristisches Kunstgewerbe', Alte Uhren (July 1983), p. 221, fig. 5.
Bibliography: Hugh Tait, Clocks and Watches, 1983, 2nd edn, London, 1986, p. 44, fig. 17a (in colour).
- On display (G39/dc14/no4)
- Exhibition history
2007-2008 29 Nov-10 Mar, London, The Wellcome Trust, Sleeping and Dreaming
Latest: 5 (Sep 2018) some patches of active rust on steel parts of mechanism. Some rust on steel hand (beneath lacquer).
- Acquisition date
- Britain, Europe and Prehistory
- Registration number
- Additional IDs
Previous owner/ex-collection number: CAI.2213 (Ilbert Collection)
Previous owner/ex-collection number: L58 (Ilbert Ledger)