Everyone knows that windmills were perfectioned at the end of the 17th century by the Zaanse windmill builders. Less well-known is the fact that these resourceful craftsmen were at the beginning of a completely new type of clock which, for a century, was to be as successful as the windmill. The Zaanse clock.
This special facet of Zaanse history has always been part of Museum Zaanse Tijd’s presentation at the Zaanse Schans. Its collection has now been increased to include six notable antique Zaanse clocks and twenty Zaanse clocks dating from grandmother’s time, all of which have been recently acquired by the museum.
Towards the end of the 16th century, a versatile industry began in the Zaanse region. An industry which was based on wind power and which could develop due to the region’s socially entwined entrepreneurship, its location close to Amsterdam and excellent connections by water.
The basis of this industry was laid in 1592 by an important invention – that of the application of the crankshaft in windmills which enabled planks to be sawn mechanically. Although the wood-sawing windmill was not invented in the Zaanse region, it was immediately applied there and, due to social innovation, became a successful machine; thus laying the basis for broader technical and industrial development.
Hundreds of windmills along the river Zaan formed a unique phenomenon, even outside Holland. The Zaanse region became a large industrial area and an important force in Dutch economy during the Golden Age.
Windmills are production machines. They physically use nature in their production process in contrast to information machines such as clocks and planetariums.
Surprisingly, Holland also lead the way in information machines. Christiaan Huygens invented the pendulum in 1656. An invention
with far-reaching consequences for almost all daily actions. Soon after, around 1660, the Zaanse miller’s son and clockmaker, Cornelis Volger from Wormerveer, began producing pendulum clocks for domestic use. This type of clock with its simple mechanism was soon re-developed by a group of Zaanse entrepreneurs, making it relatively cheap to produce in large numbers. The Zaanse clock, a new, successful export article, was born. More people could new afford to own a clock.
Due to the success of the Zaanse clock, the Zaanse industrial area now had an important precision mechanical component. Another development due to the social innovation in the Zaanse region. The increased ownership of clocks was also the beginning of a modern understanding of time amongst the population.
Volger stood at the beginning of the industrial production of clocks. Almost three centuries later, around 1960, this production reached its peak. The Zaanse clock began a new life.
Museum Zaanse Tijd now has around a dozen of these antique clocks, from the earliest to the latest examples. Half of this number have been recently added to the collection. For the first time it is now possible to view the whole history of this industrial branch in the Zaanse region. Furthermore, the collection now incorporates a recent acquisition of twenty Zaanse clocks produced in the twentieth century.
This acquisition prompted the museum to organize the present exhibition “Zaanse Masters” which will be on view around October 2018. The exhibition presents the history of the Zaanse clock in all its aspects and as part of the economical history of the Zaanse region.
This presentation in an authentic Zaanse merchant’s dwelling where the museum is housed, is essential to this story.
The title “Zaanse Masters” refers to the Golden Age, the period in which these developments occurred. However, the word “Masters” is quite applicable to the protagonists in the story of the Zaanse clock.
Our first master, Cornelius Volger, presumably arrived in Wormerveer as a well trained clockmaker. His tower clocks and wall clocks equaled those made by the guild masters in the cities. In order to demonstrate his prowess in clock making, he constructed a unique, complicated clock which ran and chimed by its own weight.
At the same time, together with his nephew, Dirck and their fellow villager Jan Coogies, he developed a simple design for the Zaanse clock. Other locals and colleagues such as Dirk Engel from Westzaan and Cornelis van Rossen from Koog aan de Zaan, started producing cheaper clocks which they exported to surrounding cities such as Amsterdam and Alkmaar.
All these pioneers will be personally highlighted in the exhibition.