How was the first hourglass made

From the user for the user - Please take a little time, here you will find explanations of technical terms on the subject of clock (s) and time measurement.


Hourglass, History of (Part 1)

As with the mechanical clock, the time and place of the invention of the hourglass are unknown. For a long time it was assumed that it, like the sundial and water clock, was already known in antiquity. P. Firlan Kindler traces the hourglass back to antiquity in his book on clocks. As evidence, he brings a Greek bas-relief from the 3rd century BC. which is walled into a wall of the Roman Mattai palace. The relief depicts the marriage of Peleus and Thetis. Among other figures, one can also see Morpheus leaning on an hourglass. However, in 1904 it was established by Carl Robert, a specialist in antique sarcophagus reliefs, that this part of the relief was a restoration from the 17th century.

References in the literature according to which the Greek scholar Archimedes already owned an hourglass in 200 BC come from writers from the 16th to 19th centuries. A source of this information is not named. In the literature, the monk Luitiprand from Chatres from the 9th century appears again and again as the inventor of the hourglass (he had excelled in the field of glass production). But here, too, there is no proof.

In 1665 the Italian writer Martinelli published a treatise on the hourglass and called it something completely new. The section from a fresco by Ambrosio Lorenzetti at the Palazzo Publico in Siena from 1338 shows very well an hourglass with all the details (see illustration). It is the oldest known representation.

The ancient literature does not mention the hourglass, nor are there any representations from ancient times. The first references come from the 14th century. The invention must fall during this time. Thus the hourglass was only invented after the mechanical clock.

The hourglass was relatively easy to make and could be used by anyone without any mathematical knowledge or calculations. Complicated information such as the sundials or early astronomical clocks were omitted. This was certainly one of the main reasons for its rapid spread. The inventory of Charles V from 1379 shows that he owned three clocks and an hourglass. In a business book from 1393, a Parisian citizen described in detail how the sand for the hourglass should be prepared. At that time, the hourglass had been known in France long enough that it already had a permanent place in people's lives. According to Professor Schinzinger, the hourglass came to China through European monks in the 14th century. Also among the Arabic clocks is the hourglass, which is mentioned again and again by Arabic writers. In 1536 a separate treatise appeared on how to make the constriction of the hourglass and in 1585 Taqi al Din wrote: "The hourglasses are well known and in everyone's hands." The original home of the Arabic hourglass is unknown to us today.

Design of the hourglasses
Unfortunately, none of the first hourglasses have survived. From the period from the 16th to the 18th century, there are some very well-preserved pieces to be admired in many churches and museums. If we look at the different types of hourglasses, we see a great artistic and technical diversity.

The travel hourglass of Erasmus of Rotterdam is mentioned in the list of Ambach's collections from 1662 as follows: "Erasmi bleyern sand-clocks made of ebony in a lining." The efforts to be able to measure the time more precisely by means of the hourglass becomes clear with the hourglasses with multiple narrowed glass bulbs to subdivide the hours into smaller sections. It is possible to read the time through the design of the four-part glass bulb, divided into quarters of an hour.

In order to better subdivide the measured time, a set of hourglass glasses with different running times was often used. Racks with two glasses, in which one glass ran for half an hour and the other for a full hour, were used. Three-glass hourglasses were also made, but these are very rare. Unfortunately, I don't know what timing was used for these glasses.

Another type of hourglass set are the four-glass hourglasses. The first glass runs in these for a quarter, the second for half an hour, the third for three quarters and the fourth for a full hour. After turning the hourglass you can watch the course of an hour in quarters of an hour.

But there are also very rare hourglasses with five pairs of glasses. Here the running times are the same as for the four-glass hourglass - the fifth glass, however, has a running time of 7.5 minutes. Why one bothered to subdivide a quarter of an hour again has not yet been clarified. Unique specimens with six glasses (in Leipzig) and even with eight glasses (in Kassel) have been preserved. Many of these hourglass sets have a single dial. When turning the glasses rack, the pointer is moved one hour further using a wooden lever, a fabric strap or a gear drive. Time measurement over a longer period of time was therefore quite possible.

Areas of application of the hourglasses
The application area of ​​the hourglasses is diverse. The best known are listed below.

- Olivier de la Marche describes in his memoirs a tournament that was held in 1468 at the court of Charles the Bold on the occasion of the wedding of the Duke of York. A dwarf measured the duration of the individual fights with an hourglass.

- In 1662 the monopoly on rentable torches was granted to the Abbé Laudati Caraffe by a Paris parliamentary resolution, which provided its bearers with quarter-hour glasses. In the large cities of the 16th and 17th centuries, the litter and lantern bearers carried hourglasses on their belts, after which they calculated the price for their services.

- A letter that Boswell wrote to Samuel Johnson on October 22, 1779 indicates that conversations and modest visits have been measured by the hourglass from time to time.

- The four-glass hourglass was very important when it was used on the pulpit in the church.
There were always problems with eloquent clergymen who stretched the sermon too long. As a result, the landed gentry and the landowners lacked farmers and day laborers in the fields, which often led to complaints. In the course of the Reformation, binding church ordinances were then introduced in almost all German states. In a church and school regulation from 1565 it says: "The mornings as well as all other sermons should definitely not last more than an hour, therefore a real hourglass should be bought on every pulpit ... which should be turned over when entering."

That an hour of sermon can be more than long enough is not only shown by the copper engraving with the title "The Sleeping Assembly". St. Theresa of Avila (1535-1582) confesses in a letter that more than once she would have wished to hasten the fall of the sand that measured her time of prayer. The following little anecdote is also popularly quoted: -How often may eyes that have struggled to fall asleep have been refreshed by the sight of the nearing supply. Only no joyful speaker was allowed to stand upstairs like the dreaded one who liked to preach against drunkenness and, when he got into the fire, used to turn the time glass again with the saying: "Well, let's approve another glass".

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Source: Lothar Hasselmeyer, Dresden

See also: [Bath clock] [Egg timer] [Elementary clock] [Glass] [Glass clock] [Pulpit clock] [Log] [Log clocks] [Log leash] [Hourglass] [Hourglass, history of (Part 2)] [Hourglass, history of (Part 3 )] [Hourglass Maker]


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