Monday, December 07, 2009


Precision measurement of time and space is a major underpinning of Western civilization, though I'm sure that those who are aware of this are few. Clocks are so ubiquitous in our world that we take them quite for granted. I'm one of those who doesn't even bother to wear a time-piece. (I got out of the habit when young, back in the days when one had to remove a watch when washing dishes or your hair or when showering.)

They are ubiquitous here in Prescott, as well, as I discovered picking out selections from my huge iPhoto folder. They range from the classic (above, complete to two mice who ran up the clock) I photographed in a collectibles shop to a wide variety over at the Miller Valley True Value (below).

Many more are on the shelves at WallyMart West (above, below), including one that should be donated to Sue Ann's Apple Pan.

This is a much grander clock awaiting auction at Batterman's several months ago; I wonder how much it fetched.

Apparently public time pieces arrived after individual clocks and watches were well established, according to historian Bernard Lewis. I doubt if any public clocks in America compare to the the astronomical clock on the side of Prague's Old Town Hall Tower, which dates back to the 15th century. Back when I was employed, I was lucky enough to join the crowd in front of the tower to observe the procession of the twelve apostles: on the hour, every hour, a small trap door opens and Christ marches out ahead of his disciples, while the skeleton of death tolls the bell to a defiant statue of a Turk. And, according to Lewis, the Ottomans did not adopt such infidel mechanisms as the clock until much later in their history, when it was realized how far behind the West their empire had fallen.

In the West, on the other hand, the symbolism of the two hands and their positions is sufficiently ingrained that you will find clocks that eliminate even the four numbers above. Whenever I see such a clock abstraction, my immediate inclination is to give it a good 90 degree twist, either left or right, leaving it to the owner to figure out why his machine isn't telling the correct time.

I also disapprove of the type of digital timepiece above. Whereas the classic round dial puts the current time into a context of past, present and future, the digital time readout is one more version of modern instant gratification. It implies neither tomorrow or yesterday, dealing only with Right Now. Relegate such a devices to timing a race or cookies baking in the oven, a proper use.


Steve said...

I seldom wear a watch. I bought a real cheap battery watch (around $10) that did everything but cook breakfast. The instructions that came with it were for another watch and I wasn't able to return it. The damn thing had an alarm that would go off at midnight. My wife, who has the ears of a fox, could always hear it, not me. I never figured out how it worked and when the battery went dead, I tossed it. I prefer to see the hands.

Pamela Dunmire, Two Oaks Studio said...

Love the clocks around town but have you ever noticed that they all are set just a little bit different, you are either late or early (LOL). By the way thanks for putting my link on your blog, I have had a couple hits from it. I will do the same for you.

occupation of independence said...

I would like to get a small clock for the desk or wall, if it had a non-jewelry price. But it would have to have naked guts to look at. A regular (opaque) clock face just doesn't seem that interesting to me.

the Boonie

Avus said...

As a fellow clock lover you may like to visit this old post of mine (with the sound on) Granny. See:

Granny J said...

steve -- ah, yes -- those so called instructions that leave one spinning in circles trying to figure out what really matters & what is just hi-tech fluff!

oakie -- not for Prescott that movie scene where they are told, "synchronize your watches."

boonie -- it seems that the only clocks without a jewelry price are battery run quartz mechanisms, which are not nearly as interesting as old-fashioned mechanical inter-linking gears; you might like the unit described by Avus, below...

avus -- I took a look; love that chronophage.

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