One of the best-known and most attractive museums in Romania is undoubtedly the Clock Museum in the city of Ploieşti, southern Romania.
The collection of long-case clocks, wristwatches, table clocks and various other devices for measuring time, some dating back to the 16th century, have fascinated many generations of children and adults. History professor Nicolae Simache set up the Clock Museum in 1963, as a section of the Museum of History and Archeology of Prahova County. At present, it shelters more than 2 thousand objects. A presentation of all these objects is like an incursion into Romania’s past, says museum curator Elisabeta Savu.
Elisabeta Savu: “At first, the museum’s patrimony included around 300 extremely valuable pieces. Pieces dating back to the 16th century, such as astronomical clocks, pocket watches and mantel clocks. The museum also holds pieces that belonged to outstanding personalities. For instance, we have a table clock dating to the mid 19th century, made by Pierre Bally’s company in France, a clock that belonged to ruler Alexandru Ioan Cuza. It is an astronomical clock that can function for one whole month without being wound. The museum also has two wonderful pocket watches that belonged to King Carol I of Romania. Among the museum exhibits we can mention clocks that belonged to poet Vasile Alecsandri, to diplomat Nicolae Titulescu and to WWI politician and army general Alexandru Averescu. We also have clocks and watches that belonged to foreign personalities such as Alexander II, the tsar of Russia, who visited Ploieşti in 1877, and the Grand Duke Nicolae who visited Romania around the same year.”
Today, the museum has 500 exhibits of which almost 100 are still functional. Most of them date to the 19th century and some have unique mechanisms such as the water clock, which is the oldest piece on display, manufactured in London in 1654 by the famous clockmaker Charles Rayner.
Another special piece in the museum is the ‘invisible clock’ with a transparent dial and a mechanism hidden within the frame, ‘the steam factory clock’ incased in an umbrella, the picture-clock with mobile figurines and the ‘stamp clock’. Also on display are musical clocks that play the Marseillaise, Awaken thee Romanian or various waltzes by Strauss.
The building hosting the Clock Museum has a special architecture and a history worth discovering. Historian Lucian Vasile has more.
Lucian Vasile: “The Clock Museum has a very interesting story. Its construction, in the late 19th century, was commissioned by a Conservative politician, Luca Elefterescu, who also held the position of county prefect. He would host in his house tea-parties and literary soirées. In the early 1920s, the building was sold to a British citizen Thomas Masterson who was the director of an oil refinery in the area. Nothing out of the ordinary occurred until 1939, when the start of WWII put Masterson in a difficult position. Since he was a British Royal Army Reserve Officer, he was ordered to start espionage actions in the Prahova Valley and his house became a meeting point for spies. After 1940, following the coming to power of general Antonescu, Masterson and his friends were arrested, and before the intervention of the German officials, they were sent to Great Britain following secret diplomatic decisions. The house remained empty for only a little while, because soon it became the headquarters of Alfred Gerstenberg, a German colonel who was in charge with defending the entire Prahova Valley. He did not stay in the house for too long, as, after August 23, 1944 he left it, heading for Bucharest from where he was supposed to attack the city after the sudden change of alliances. Following the Băneasa Bridge defeat, the colonel was captured by the Romanian army and handed over to the Soviets who sent him to Siberia until 1955. The German colonel died shortly after his return to Germany.”
After communists came to power in Romania, the building erected by the former prefect Luca Elefterescu hosted various institutions. In 1963 professor Nicolae Simache inaugurated the exhibition “Clocks in time” in a special room in the Culture Palace of Ploieşti. Later the authorities set up the Clock Museum, which has been hosted by the former house of Luca Elefterescu since 1972.