The Virtual Museum of Mennonite Clocks

Extraordinary Clocks

 

Clocks are living objects bringing structure to our lives and stability to our homes.  

 
 

Press play to watch this video which shows a Mandtler clock, made in 1905,  ticking.

 
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A close look at historical clocks gives us insight into lives and lessons from the past. 

They reveal information about fashions, values, and resources from specific time periods, places, and communities. Clocks tell us, without using words, what life was like for the people who made them and cared for them. 


 
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Dial of a clock made ca. 1800, depicting the story of Jephtha (found in Judges 11:20–40). This clock would have been a reminder to Mennonites to not swear oaths. Background photo: Mandtler clock made in 1899, depicting the story of Hezekiah (found in 2Kings 19:9–14). Courtesy of the Kauffman Museum.

The oldest surviving Mennonite clocks evoke Biblical lessons as reminders of moral lessons to the clock owners. These hand-painted clocks mirror the themes and techniques of 18th-century church and domestic art from central Europe.

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Kroeger Clock  made ca. 1910, restored and repainted by Arthur Kroeger. Early clocks had flat dials but around the mid-19th century clockmakers began hammering out the area around the numbers resulting in a raised dial. Background photo: A Mandtler clock made in 1899.

Early Mennonite clocks had round faces with a delicate scroll-work ‘bonnet’ on top. Later clockmakers adopted the ‘shield’ dial; that is, square with an arched top, which was easier to cut out of sheet metal. In keeping with clock designs from the lowlands and Northern Europe, they were designed to attach to a wall without need of wooden casework.  

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Detail of a hand-painted Kroeger Clock  made ca. 1889. Background photo: A Kroeger Clock made in 1910 shows a decal applied as decoration.

Although uniform in shape, the clock faces feature countless styles of decoration. In the late 19th century, pre-printed images called ‘decals’ became fashionable in home decor across Europe. It took less time to apply factory-made decals to clocks than it did to paint them by hand, allowing the Kroeger clockmakers to decorate more clocks faster.

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Press play to watch this video which shows how an escapement works on a Kroeger clock.

Mennonite clocks follow Dutch inventor Christiaan Huygens's 1656 pendulum clock design.

They are powered by the pull of gravity on a suspended weight. A piece inside the clock called the escapement slows the weight down while it falls. The movement of the pendulum causes the escapement to ‘see-saw’ back and forth, allowing the gears to ‘escape,’ or move slowly and evenly, one gear tooth at a time. The ‘tick-tock’ of a clock comes from the movement of the escapement.

 
 
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Click play to watch this video which shows a rope drive vs. the chain which was used to drive later clocks.

Older clocks used a rope to attach the weights and drive the internal mechanisms. Later clocks used a chain. Chains do not shed fabric inside the clock gears like the rope version.


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A restoration effort in the 1990s reveals that this clock was made by the Kroeger family in the village of Reimerswalde, located in what is now Poland. It was likely transported along with other belongings during the early 19th century, when many Mennonite families migrated to southwestern regions of the Russian Empire (present-day Ukraine).

Families often refurbished and repaired their old clocks instead of buying new ones. This clock received a new dial made by the Mandtler clockmakers in 1871.

The clock's dial before Arthur Kroeger's restoration in the mid-1990s.

The clock's dial before Arthur Kroeger's restoration in the mid-1990s.

The dial after Arthur Kroeger's restoration in the mid-1990s. He was part of a long tradition of repainting, repairing, and refurbishing old clocks.

The dial after Arthur Kroeger's restoration in the mid-1990s. He was part of a long tradition of repainting, repairing, and refurbishing old clocks.

 
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