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A Bourgeois Curiosity: Snuffbox with Watch, Bavarian...

A Bourgeois Curiosity: Snuffbox with Watch, Bavarian National Museum

Monday, 13 May 2013
By Raphael Beuing
Raphael Beuing

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9 min read

The Bavarian National Museum houses one of the most important clock and watch collections in Germany. In addition to remarkable table clocks dating from the 16th and 17th centuries and various large Baroque clocks, mainly owned by the Wittelsbach family, the collection includes over 300 pocket-watches and pocket-watch movements.

Acquired on 4 December 2012 at the auction of the István Heller collection held at Sotheby’s London, and now on long-term loan from its private owner, the watch presented here, in a snuffbox dating from 1736/1737, complements the different strands of the collection in this section of the museum in a number of ways.


The outer case of the watch is a silver snuffbox, more or less oval and slightly shell-like in shape. The box is wound round with several horizontal profile strips that are curved in a labiate fashion on the lower part. The double lid is opened by means of fine ridge. The convex lid of the snuff box is gilded on the inside to protect the tobacco from discoloration. The lid itself conceals a smaller chamber that is opened by a flatter lid on the upper side, revealing the a small watch set into the lid, surrounded by gilded acanthus and strapwork engravings. Roman numerals and Arabic numerals, in black enamel that is damaged in places show the hours and minutes respectively. on the silver dial. In the centre, set around the hands axis, the dial is signed with the name FÜRSTEN / FELDER. Pressing on a small bar unlocks the movement, which folds back to the right via a hinge. The circular balance cock is decorated with elaborate chasing and engraved with strapwork and acanthus as well as a central female bust; beside this is also the regulating disc with the numerals 1 to 6. On the remaining surface, the watchmaker has again signed his name as B FÜRSTENFELDER and added the number 442. The fuse-and-chain movement with verge escapement is entirely guilded and the watch is key-wound.

Benedikt Fürstenfelder and the art of watchmaking in Friedberg

Benedikt Fürstenfelder was one of the most important watchmakers working in the small town of Friedberg near Augsburg. Founded by the Wittelsbach family, and a border town of the duchy of Bavaria which was under the protection of the Wittelsbachs, Friedberg benefited from having the imperial city of Augsburg as its neighbour, but was also regarded by the inhabitants of that city as an undesirable competitor, even though ultimately it was their achievements that had served to inspire Friedberg. The absence of rigid guild rules in the 17th and 18th centuries led to the establishment of numerous clock- and watchmakers producing a wide range of pocket-watches, carriage watches, table clocks, mantel clocks, bracket clocks and a few automaton clocks.

Fürstenfelder was born in 1680 in Aichach, and there is documentary evidence that he lived in Friedberg from 1710 onwards. He became a master clockmaker there in 1712 and died in 1754. He created movements for clocks and watches of various kinds, mantel clocks, monstrance clocks, table clocks, carriage and pocket-watches. His greatest work, however, is a chiming table clock dating from around 1715/1720, which is set into a splendid case in the Chinese style and was bought by Elector Maximilian II Emanuel of Bavaria for Schloss Schleissheim near Munich. With this clock, which is also in the Bavarian National Museum today, Fürstenfelder created what is evidently (as far as current research tells us) the most elaborate product of the Friedberg clockmaking industry.

In all respects, the movement of the snuffbox watch corresponds to a typical Friedberg watch movement of the early 18th century. The design of the silver dial using the Champlevé technique, i.e. with black enamelled Roman and Arabic numerals in cartouches raised against a chased background, is found in other examples not only from Friedberg, but from all over Europe in the late 17th and early 18th centuries, before fully enamelled dials came into being. Also characteristic is the balance cock, which, with its finely chased ornamentation (and in the absence of a richly textured case), can be regarded as the most splendid element of the watch. Often it was the wives and daughters of the watchmakers who were entrusted with the production of these individual parts, and the timepieces that were produced in this highly specialised “Manufacture-like” way contributed to the reputation of the Friedberg clock- and watchmaking industry, being exported as far as London and Paris. Similarly, the Friedberg craftsmen bought in parts from outside, as may well have been the case with the dial in this snuffbox clock.

The silver case is quite clearly not made in Friedberg, since it bears the Augsburg hallmark of 1736/1737 – hence the dating of the snuffbox– and the master craftsman’s punch showing the initials IS, attributed to the goldsmith Johann Georg Scheppich. Even if the snuffbox is a somewhat unusual case form for a watch, it does accord with normal practice on the right bank of the River Lechs for cases to be purchased from the imperial city on the other side of the river. The hallmarking on carriage watches often show that Friedberg pocket-watch movements were frequently fitted into enamelled cases produced in Geneva or France. Today, we do not know of any further works by the silversmith Johann Georg Scheppich, who was born around 1679, became a master craftsman in 1712, and died in 1739. However, without doubt, the box is a relatively unimportant product of the Augsburg “goldsmiths’ metropolis”, which, although it supplied the courts of Europe with masterpieces, was also obliged to produce “fancy goods” of a less luxurious nature.

The Cultural Environment

The practice of taking snuff became fashionable throughout Europe in the early 18th century, and we have evidence of snuff containers made to the highest standards, with no expense spared in their production, which were fashionable at the princely courts of Germany as early as the first two decades after 1700. Although the curved shape of this particular snuffbox resembles costly pieces produced in the years between 1730 and 1740, in comparison with the enamelled and bejewelled snuffboxes to be found in aristocratic circles, this is clearly a more modest example of the bourgeoisie imitating the habits of the nobility. Significantly, the fact that there are initials engraved on the base but no coat of arms, is a general indication that the owner of the snuffbox belonged to the middle classes. Certainly the letters FXI, which are not very cleanly engraved and were probably added as an afterthought, indicate nothing more than the forenames Franz Xaver, which were widespread in Bavaria and Austria. According to the Linz hallmark from 1806/1807, which has been punched onto the snuffbox between the Augsburg hallmark and the master craftsman’s sign, the snuffbox was at least for a certain period of time in upper Austria.

Snuffbox with built-in watch, Benedikt Fürstenfelder, Johann Georg Scheppich (attrib.), around 1736/1737 © Bayerisches Nationalmuseum

In any event, the combination of a watch and a snuffbox remains a rare curiosity, and one that decidedly does not have associations with the nobility. On the one hand, an aristocrat would hardly have found it necessary to combine two different functions in one object, particularly as sophisticated handling techniques had been separately developed for snuffboxes and for watches. On the other hand, both snuffboxes and watches were collectors’ items, and a collector of any standing would always possess or at least want to possess a number of examples. The simplicity of this model, however, suggests that it would not have been placed in a collection alongside others, but would have been the owner’s only snuffbox, and perhaps the only watch he carried about his person.

In addition to some enamelled snuffboxes combining a watch and an automaton movement that were produced in Switzerland and France in the decades around 1800, there are a few further similar examples from the early-to-mid-18th century that can be placed side by side with the Friedberg snuffbox watch. One of these, like the watch in the Bavarian National Museum, was in the István Heller collection, and has a case that was probably made around 1765 in Schwäbisch Gmünd, but a somewhat earlier watch movement that was allegedly made in London but was probably made in Friedberg. Another, which incorporates a watch made by Conrad Heckel (1686–1743) of Friedberg, was acquired for the Museum in Wittelsbach Castle in Friedberg in 2012. The two snuffboxes with the watch movements by Heckel and Fürstenfelder are at the very least typical examples of watch production in Friedberg in the late 18th century, during a period when the higher nobility had shifted their focus of interest to other places and the watchmakers of Friedberg were mainly serving the bourgeois mercantile strata of society.

Snuffbox with built-in watch
Benedikt Fürstenfelder, Johann Georg Scheppich (attrib.)
Friedberg and Augsburg, around 1736/1737
Silver, partially gilded; steel, blued
H: 3.7 cm, W: 8.3 cm, D: 6.3 cm, weight: 163.6 g
Bayerisches Nationalmuseum, Inv.-No. L 2013/1

Sotheby’s London, Dr. Heller’s Lexicon, Auction in London. Tuesday, 4 December 2012, 10.30 a.m., London 2012, p. 45, Lot 77
István Heller, Europäische Goldschmiedearbeiten 1560-1860, Munich 2003, pp. 159–160
Adelheid Riolini-Unger, Peter Frieß, Johann Hügin, Friedberger Uhren. Begleitband zur Ausstellung Friedberger Uhren 17. – 19. Jahrhundert, Augsburg 1993
Helmut Seling, Die Augsburger Gold- und Silberschmiede: 1529-1868. Meister, Marken, Werke, Munich 2007, No. 2051

Bayerisches Nationalmusem
> www.bayerisches-nationalmuseum.de

The ancient art of time measurement
The art of time measurement is one of the great advances of humankind. This centuries-old heritage is rightfully conserved in numerous, though often little-known, museums. So as to bring these riches to life, HH Magazine presents some of the most exceptional pieces, chosen for their technical significance, historical importance, or for their beauty. This regular feature trains the spotlight on a timepiece which has been chosen and described by the curator of the horological collection of one of the approximately two hundred public or private museums which conserve clocks and watches in their collections.

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