Sunday, March 09, 2008

Time telling time

Whew! Blogger is finally limping back into business; I had to load my pictures individually instead of in lots of four! It did give me time for a little reading on the subject of timepieces, however. Here's a start on horological history from Wikipedia:

Water clocks, along with the sundials, are possibly the oldest time-measuring instruments, with the only exceptions being the vertical gnomon and the day-counting tally stick. Given their great antiquity, where and when they first existed are not known and perhaps unknowable. The bowl-shaped outflow is the simplest form of a water clock and is known to have existed in Babylon and in Egypt around the 16th century BC. Other regions of the world, including India and China, also have early evidence of water clocks, but the earliest dates are less certain. Some authors, however, write about water clocks appearing as early as 4000 BC in these regions of the world.

The Greek and Roman civilizations are credited for initially advancing water clock design to include complex gearing, which was connected to fanciful automata and also resulted in improved accuracy. These advances were passed on through Byzantium and Islamic times, eventually making their way to Europe. Independently, the Chinese developed their own advanced water clocks, passing their ideas on to Korea and Japan.

I've always viewed being a clock fancier as a guy sort of thing -- all about mechanisms and such. In fact, both physics and religion were involved in the development of time measurement as the article indicates. But here I switch the subject over to appearances, else I wouldn't have worried about Blogger loading my pictures! Clocks are, to put it simply, great decorative objects! For example, what gardener wouldn't like to have the sundial that sits smack dab in the middle of the rose garden at the Sharlot Hall Museum. A memorial gift, it is.

But there are many more time pieces at the museum. Once I photographed the sun dial, I wandered over to the gift shop, where I found several more modern (i.e., battery-operated) clocks.

As well as this item in a box which looked as though it were not an operating time piece but rather a decorative period piece. Of course, these days it's difficult to tell, because mechanisms have shrunk to surprisingly small packages.

Another of the gift shop replicas.

I like this piece because it is so direct and spare. It recalls the clocks in the school rooms of my childhood. They were all operated from a central location by Western Union; just before a minute was up, the hand would click back a bit and then move forward to the next marker. When a class was boring or I should have been reading, a clock of this sort would catch my attention -- and hold it, especially when the class was nearly over.

It's hard to take this pair of clocks very seriously. Where do they belong? In the pool house, perhaps, or a whimsical bathroom? If you want one, they are currently at home at the strange Tuesday Morning shop.

The positional notation of the clock is so embedded in our culture that the numerals are not required (above); consider the rotary instruction, clockwise or in the 3 o'clock position. On the other hand, do you have the same impulse as I when you see a really moderne specimen such as the one below? I always want to give such an abstraction a 30 degree turn to the right or left as a reminder that designers can go one step over the line. (I might add here that Maverick Creations, where I lifted the picture, offers a huge variety of clock designs, from Western to UFO, at its web site.)

From my mantelpiece comes this curious reversal of what's important: the inner works are quite real, but the clock face itself is a Xerox copy of an old fashioned clock face. Made by the LH in his brief flirtation with horology, BTW.

Another assortment from my house: watches plus a teensy travel alarm that I could never figure out. The dainty gold watch in the center was given me by my paternal grandmother as a graduation gift. From it, I learned that I should never wear valuables because I forget them when I am swimming, showering or washing dishes! Not good. My solution: wall clocks plus watches carried in my backpack and handbag.

However, here is my pride and joy among the household timepieces -- a genuine Mao watch that was given to me on a trip in 1981 to a China that no longer exists. You would never dare to turn this one on its side.


Karen of Scottsdale said...

I too was a clock watcher back in grade school. I could hear the class room clock tick from across the room if it was an especially boring subject.

Nice collection of pics!

DDD said...

While searching for a photo of the sundials at Scotty's Castle in Death Valley to share with you, I ran across this site. Be sure to check out #585 and #76

Granny J said...

karen -- those Western Union clocks were very, very loud -- especially when the minute hand jumped.

ddd -- wow! Those sundials are great. I was especially intrigued by the one up near Thumb Butte. Thanks -- and welcome. Do visit often!

meggie said...

Very interesting. I am quite fascinated with little clocks, & watches. If I could, I would have a collection... But then I dont need more collections!

stitchwort said...

You never realise how many time-pieces you have in the house until "Summer Time" starts, and they all have to go forward an hour.

Perhaps you don't get that in Arizona.

Anonymous said...

Your graduation gift it a Hamilton? If yes, it has much more than sentimental value, so hang onto it!

Did you check eBay for the Mao watch? My guess is it's quite a collectible!
~Anon in AV.

Anonymous said...

Nice article. How many of us even wear watches anymore? But it's easy to feel nostalgia.

But you didn't explain how a clock works!

I like the clock with the naked mechanisms.

Granny J said...

meggie -- nor do I need any more collections or, for that matter, Stuff!

stitch -- many consider Arizona weird -- not only can you see someone on the street who is armed, but we do not celebrate Daylight "Savings" Time, except up in Navajo land.

anon av -- it's a Lady Elgin. However, I'll take a look at eBay re: the Mao watch.

boonie -- so do I -- that's why I still keep it on the mantelpiece.

Lucy said...

Beauties, aren't they, so much nicer than a digital display. Perhaps the mechanical side is quite masculine, but I alwys like the delicate intricacy of the mechanisms, and the round and cyclical nature of them.

Granny J said...

Lucy -- I have a philosophical problem with the digital display of time. It puts you in the instant of NOW, with no reference to where you have been in time or where you are going. A reflection, perhaps, of the times in which we live.

Anonymous said...

If I recall, Arizona doesn't have daylights saving time. Saves the trouble of adjusting all of those clocks.

Granny J said...

steve -- sure does!!! Dotter writes that Alaska is considering the same.

Jo Cool said...

GJ - I would vote for that. During my time in AZ I enjoyed not having the disruption to my body clock. Also, with our light here in AK tending to the later side anyway, there's not much benefit in "saving" any of it. The downside to not following the crowd is trying to remember which time zone AZ is currently aligned with.

Granny J said...

JC -- I usually just tell people that I'm on California time. Seems to do the trick.

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