Now through May, horology lovers passing through Manhattan will want to set their sights on the Horological Society of New York (HSNY). The 154-year-old nonprofit, revered for its monthly lecture series at the General Society Library in midtown, is showcasing its first loan exhibition, and hinting at more to come.
The inaugural show, titled “Highlights of the Collection of Bob Frishman,” features 50 horological items spanning time periods and categories, including clocks, watches, portable sundials, tools, instruments and horological ephemera such as technical drawings.
Frishman, a friend of HSNY, was recently named exhibit curator and will be working on the society’s 2020 exhibitions and beyond. A fellow of the National Association of Watch & Clock Collectors (NAWCC) and chairman of the NAWCC Time Symposium Committee, he also serves as a freeman of the Worshipful Company of Clockmakers and is founder and owner of Bell-Time Clocks in Andover, Mass.
“We felt it made sense to start with selections from his own collection,” says Nicholas Manousos, president of the society. “It’s a really esoteric, fun collection filled with horological items you don’t see all the time.”
Among the highlights are:
A night clock by the British United Clock Co. in Birmingham, England, 1853. “Back before electricity, how did you tell time in the middle of the night?” Manousos asks. “Usually you’d talk about minute repeaters or clocks that chime to tell you the time. But what if you couldn’t afford a clock or pocket watch like that? Even back then, those were very expensive. A more affordable option was a clock with a translucent dial. There was a candle holder right behind it; you were supposed to light a candle before you went to sleep.”
A 19th-century spring-wound clockwork roasting or “bottle” jack by John Linwood in England. “If you go to the supermarket and see slow-roasting rotisserie chicken, well this is a mechanical device for making a rotisserie chicken,” Manousos says. “You wind it up just like a clock and it will rotate very slowly over an open fire.”
A “sunwatch” by the Ansonia Clock Co. in Brooklyn, N.Y., c. 1920. “We have something the Boy Scouts may have had in their pockets in the early 20th century, a portable sundial,” Manousos says. “We have the original cardboard box and instructions. It’s a pop-up sundial so you could orient yourself if you’re hiking in the wilderness.”
Although the exhibition is heavy on timekeepers—from British- and American-made clocks from the 19th century to a pair of Swatch watches, c. 1998—it also features a number of “mechanical devices that aren’t necessarily timekeepers but share the same technology,” Manousos says. “Like a mechanical air meter, an instrument that measures cubic feet of air volume, used by ventilation engineers. Today it would be digital, but this one by Negretti & Zamba is completely mechanical. It has a propeller blade to see how fast air is traveling by it.”
To hear Manousos tell it, the impetus for the exhibition series was tourism.
“When you Google horology and New York, the Horological Society is one of the first results,” says Manousos. “We get emails all the time from tourists coming to New York asking if there are any watch or clock museums they could go to. Unfortunately, the answer is no. The Met and the Frick have wonderful pieces in their collections but they’re not all in one place. So this is the start of our work towards building one central place for that type of experience. We hesitate to call it a museum because it’s not that big yet, but we’re building towards that.”