The Dutch Zaandam clock is arguably one of the most iconic and symbolic horological creations ever made. It is clearly Dutch, carries clear historical symbolism and is one of the most pervasive reproduction clocks found all over the world.
It resonates the Dutch expereince during the post European Protestant Reformation period in the late 1500s to early 1600s. The Mennonite church emerged during this period in North Holland. In the Zaan region these reformed Christian believers weaved their clock and woodworking skills with their faith.
The Zaan region, near Amsterdam, became an industrial area in the 1700s, inviting the establishment of this unique style of clock making. Mennonite freedom of religion characterized this climate, which influenced the maxim typically found on this style clock,
“Nu Elck Syn Sin” – “To each his own”
Nu Elck Syn Sin is Old Dutch, which is no longer in use and not recognizable in the modern Dutch language. However, it is believed to be in reference to the Mennonite desire for freedom of religion and to practice their version of a “reformed’ faith in peace amongst other Reformation movements. The Mennonites were persecuted during this time.
Shortly after Christiaan Huygens (1656) created the first pendulum clock in Holland, Zaan clockmakers adapted this innovation in the Zaan region in 1670.
The first Zaandam clocks were less ornate and made for Mennonite churches. These were known as “Poor Man’s Clocks.”
They were not like the higher quality Hague Clocks of the same period, but were well made. For this reason, the Mennonite craftsmen began producing a more ornate version of the Zaanse clock for sale in Amsterdam and larger Dutch cities. A “Rich Man’s Clock” was designed for commercial export out of the Zaan region. This ornate, walnut veneered, brass and velveted decorated clock is what is most famously recognized as a Zaadam or Zaanse Clock. In it clearly emerges many of the characteristics of its Mennonite orgins.
The “Rich Man’s Clock” design was mass produced in the early to mid 1900’s. This became the signature style for the Warmink Uhren clock company.
The typical center piece is the brass ornamentations. A crown displays the Mennonite theological virtues of Faith, Charity and Hope. Lions and a coat of arms represent Amsterdam, Alkmaar or Holland. These clocks were designed and made for people in these North Holland metro areas. A Horseman pendulum represents service to the king.
Many think that the top finial is of Jesus carrying the world or of Hercules, but it is of Atlas of Greek Mythology. The Atlas symbolizes Amsterdam as a city of trade. He carries a celestial globe with all the stars, constellations and planets. At the time, Amsterdam considered itself as the most important city in the world. This same Atlas is found on display at the royal palace in Dam square in Amsterdam.
Although much of the symbolism found on the Rich Man’s version of the Zaanse clock seems to counter the Mennonite faith and desire to live apart, it’s primary purpose was for sale to well off Dutch in Amsterdam and Alkmaar.
Indeed, the Dutch Zaandam clock is a wonderful clock to centerpiece in any collection, if not for it’s asthetic beauty, then for its historical value for conversation.
Find out more info on the Dutch Zandaam clock at these sites:
Nu Elck Syn Sin: Zaans Clocks from the 17th and 18th Century, by Prof C.A. Grimbergen
A great article on the Dutch Zaandam Clock
The Dutch Connection: A Short History of the Dutch Clock, by Pier van Leeuven
A great article on Dutch Clocks in general
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