Search this article.   Use 'Enter' to find next.  Use 'Home' to search again.

Zaans Clocks from the 17th and 18th Century

By: Prof. C. A. Grimbergen.

Table of contents:

The Origin of Zaan Clocks
Poor Manís Clocks
Rich Manís Clocks
Long case Clocks
Style and Decoration


ĎThere can be no better occupation
 that sawing wood beside the Zaaní.

The timber sawing industry in the Zaan region reached its optimum during the 17th century. Following the patenting of crankshaft applications in 1592 (Cornelis Corneliszoon of Uitgeest), by 1700 there were about 180 timber mills (and more than 400 hundred other mills) in the Zaan region. Due to the fact that there were no guilds in the Zaan region, workers from other areas were able to establish themselves in the region. This was one of the reasons why the Zaan region became the first industrial area in Europe and the industrial area for nearby Amsterdam which had increased its development during the golden age. Freedom of religion fitted into this commercial climate. The maxim Nu Elck Syn Sin (Ďto each his owní) characterized the Mennonite outlook in this region.

The Origin of Zaan Clocks

Shortly after the introduction of the pendulum by Christiaan Huygens (1656), a regional pendulum clock was introduced in the Zaan region. The production of these clocks dated from around 1670 to 1730. Zaan clocks were probably derived from the West Frisian wall clock. This clock stood on four legs, the so-called stool, whereas the Zaan clock stood on two brackets which are attached to the wallboard.

Poor Manís Clocks

The poor manís clocks were probably produced for local use and were generally not signed. They were made of untreated oak wood and painted in the style of local traditional furniture. They were fitted with one hand and the weights were usually cylindrical in form.

10. Poor man's clock.
click here to enlarge

Few examples have survived and the value of those that have survived has therefore become relatively high. A few clocks which were specially made for Mennonite churches are known. These have an extra option whereby the clock can be seen not only from the church but also from the adjacent vestry.

Rich Manís Clocks

Rich manís clocks were usually made from oak with an ebony, rosewood or walnut veneer. Brass was used abundantly both in the case and for the ornaments. The chapter ring was made of silver-plated brass and attached to the velvet covered dial. Weights were generally pear-shaped.

10a. Rich man's clock.
click here to enlarge

This type of Zaan clock was produced for sale outside the Zaan region. It is known that many were rented as alarm clocks. The rich manís clock was used as model for the mass-produced Zaan style clock found in many a Dutch living room since the fifties.


 End of this section, click here to continue.


  Back to previous section.

Long case Clocks

Names of various Zaan clockmakers appeared on so-called long case clocks from the second half of the 18th century onwards. This luxury type of long case clock was so called because the one meter long second pendulum with anchor escapement and the weights were both placed in the foot of the clock. The case was usually made of oak veneered with walnut or mahogany wood. The hood was usually decorated with ornamental open fretwork similar to Amsterdam examples. Zaan long case clocks differed from others of the same period as they were signed whereas other long case clocks were usually sold as half-finished products.
Some of the few Zaan long case clockmakers were:

Cornelis van Rossen Op de Koog
Pieter Jans de Vries Oostzaan
Jan de Vrie Oost-Zaandam
Reijn de Jong West-Zaandam
Dirk Tijhuizen Oost-Zaandam
Melsert van der Meer Assendelft
Jan Koogies Wormerveer



We now know the names of 60 clockmakers. The most famous clockmakersí families were:

Van Rossen.

The makerís signature is stamped into the rear plate of the movement, engraved on the chapter ring or incorporated into the front ornament. Besides producing household clocks, the Zaan clockmakers were also know for their turret clocks such as those:

in the Zuider Vermaning (Mennonite church) by D.T. Engel,
in Akersloot by C.M. Volger,
in De Rijp by C.M. Volger,
in Durgerdam by D.J. Volger,
by D.J. Volger exhibited in the Dutch Gold, Silver and Clock Museum in Schoonhoven.

Strangely, few pocket watches are attributed to Zaan clockmakers (see clocks 19 and 20). It is also quite remarkable that so many of the Zaan clockmakers had a Mennonite background.


The movement of the Zaan clock consists of a going train and a striking train placed behind each other and moved by an endless chord after that of Huygens, one weight and a small counterweight. The movements are usually located between several connected brass strips. There is always an alarm movement which is located separately in the case roof.  The going train has a vertical verge escapement, whereby the carrier hooks onto the pendulum loop. Thus the angle is reduced resulting in the pendulum having a lesser amplitude than, for instance, that of the Frisian stool clock. This enables the 75cm pendulum to swing within the hollow space in the wallboard. The striking train is fitted with a  nagís head and does not therefore have a warning. There is a double locking plate and a switch mechanism to enable the ĎDutch striking trainí, a complete number of strikes on the whole hour (on the large bell) and on the half hour (on the small bell). Sometimes a quarter-hand is fitted under the chapter ring and this is connected to the striking chain switch. Heart-shaped spoke wheels are often used in both the going train and in the striking train.

Style and Decoration

The wallboard used in Zaan clocks varies. Those with the clocks placed on a straight wallboard are called Ďop schoolbordí after the wooden school satchels used in those days. The vase-shaped wallboards are related to those used in Frisian stool clocks. The cast metal ornaments show heraldic illustrations, such as coats-of-arms surrounded by lions or angels, or Christian illustrations such as Faith, Love and Hope.

11. The Theological virtues
 Faith, Love (Charity) & Hope 
click here to enlarge

The bell is crowned by figures from classic mythology such as Atlas (carrier of the universe), Minerva (goddess of knowledge) or Mercury (god of trade). The pendulum weight often depicts a horseman. Four cherubs made of cast brass often decorate the four corners of the chapter ring on the rich manís clocks.


The exhibition  was held at the Museum of the Dutch Clock in 2003.

Museum of the Dutch Clock
Zaanse Schans, Zaandam
Tuesday Ė Sunday from 10.00 Ė 17.00 hours