Black Forest Cuckoo Clocks
Black Forest cuckoo clocks are a type of clock that are produced in the Black Forest region of south-western Germany.
Brief history and description
Cuckoo clocks are characterised by a mechanical cuckoo that emerges from the clock’s case each hour to produce a sound similar to the call of the common cuckoo. These clocks are typically pendulum regulated and have been produced since the mid-eighteenth century.
Although the cuckoo clock is often associated with Switzerland, it is unanimously acknowledged that they were first manufactured in the Black Forest, especially in the towns of Schramburg, Schönwald and Öberbrand.
The initial inventor of the cuckoo clock is a topic of debate among horologists, however, it is often credited to Franz Anton Ketterer, who added cuckoos to his clocks in 1738. Regardless of who invented them, the addition of the cuckoo sound and character quickly became widespread in Black Forest clocks from 1740.
The sound of the cuckoo bird was inspired by the mechanics of the church organ. Two bellows and pipes, or flutes, inside the clock's case blow simultaneously to create the distinctive two note call. Since the middle of the eighteenth century, the mechanism to produce the characteristic coo-coo sound has barely differed and has been installed in almost every variety of cuckoo clock until the present day.
Guide for collectors
More so than any other kind of timepiece, the unusual cuckoo clock has enjoyed widespread celebrity in modern culture and has featured in music, television, cinema and literature. It has been associated with childhood and innocence and is typically represented as more of a toy than a serious timekeeper.
Irrespective, cuckoo clocks produced by the most famous Black Forest clock manufacturers of the eighteenth and nineteenth century are highly sought after by collectors. Cuckoo clocks produced by renowned companies such as Trenkle Uhren, Hönes, Anton Schneider, Hubert Herr and Rombach & Hass are perhaps the most collectable and the most expensive. A typical Anton Schneider cuckoo clock from the late-eighteenth century is priced from £500 to £2,000 on Blackforestcuckooclocks.com.
There are two distinct classifications of cuckoo clocks. The “Chalet” is a clock case that resembles a type of house. These can vary from an alpine house or a timbered house, which are predominantly produced in Switzerland, or a Black Forest house, which tends to be more intricately designed.
The other main style of cuckoo clock are the traditionally carved clock cases that are produced from woods such as mahogany and walnut and feature elaborate carved scenes of hunting or nature.
Antique Black Forest cuckoo clocks are sometimes auctioned at Bonhams and Christie’s and tend to be priced between £200 and £1,000. As a rule, prices correspond to the item's brand, age and sophistication of the cuckoo mechanism.
In June 2004, a cuckoo clock attributed to the renowned Black Forest clock maker Johann Baptist Beha, built around 1875, realised a price of £1,315 when it was sold at the Oxford Street branch of Bonhams in London.
In March 2011, a late nineteenth century German Black Forest cuckoo and trumpeter wall clock, made out of fruitwood and built by Devin Hofuhrmacher of Karlsruhe, was sold through Sotheby’s, Amsterdam, for €3,750.