A local monument marking Schonach, a town situated central to the Black Forest region in Germany and steeped in clock-making history
Jeff stands next to a very unique piece inside the
Hotel Bad Eisenbach (the Beha Hotel) –
a "built-into-the-wall" Regulator clock made by
Johann Baptiste Beha in approximately 1865.
This creation features a 14 ft. pendulum that extends upward to the second floor of the motel, and with
a bob that weighs an estimated 240 lbs., it swings only about one inch from side-to-side.
It can run for 40 days continuously on a single wind, and tells time in four time zones. Over a 40-day duration, it is accurate to within one second.
[Based on Deutsches Uhrenmuseum, Inv. 03-2002]
'It is not clear who built the first cuckoo clocks in the Black Forest but there is unanimity that the unusual clock with the bird call very quickly conquered the region. Already by the middle of the 18th century, several small clockmaking shops produced cuckoo clocks with wooden gears. So the first Black Forest examples were created between 1740 and 1750. The earliest Black Forest examples had shields decorated with paper.
It is hard to judge how large the proportion of cuckoo clocks was among the total production of modern movement Black Forest clocks. Based on the proportions of pieces surviving to the present, it must have been a small fraction of the total production.
Regarding its murky origins, there are two main fables from the first two chroniclers of Black Forest horology which tell contradicting stories about it:
The first is from Father Franz Steyrer, written in his "Geschichte der Schwarzwälder Uhrmacherkunst" (History of Clockmaking in the Black Forest) in 1796. He describes a meeting between two clock peddlers from Furtwangen (a town in the Black Forest) who met a travelling Bohemian merchant who sold wooden cuckoo clocks. Both the Furtwangen traders were so excited that they bought one. On bringing it home they copied it and showed their imitation to other Black Forest clock traders. Its popularity grew in the region and more and more clockmakers started producing them. With regard to this chronicle, the historian Adolf Kistner claimed in his book "Die Schwarzwälder Uhr" (The Black Forest Clock) published in 1927, that there is not any Bohemian cuckoo clock in existence to verify the thesis that this clock was used as a sample to copy and produce Black Forest cuckoo clocks. Bohemia had no fundamental clockmaking industry during that period. Exemplary by Johannes Wildi, Eisenbach, ca. 1780. (Deutsches Uhrenmuseum, Inv. 2008-024).
The second story is related by another priest, Markus Fidelis Jäck, in a passage extracted from his report "Darstellungen aus der Industrie und des Verkehrs aus dem Schwarzwald" (Description of Industry and Commerce of the Black Forest), (1810) said as follows: "The cuckoo clock was invented (in 1730) by a clock-master (Franz Anton Ketterer) from Schönwald (Black Forest). This craftsman adorned a clock with a moving bird that announced the hour with the cuckoo-call. The clock-master got the idea of how to make the cuckoo-call from the bellows of a church organ". As time went on, the second version became the more popular, and is the one generally related today. Unfortunately, neither Steyrer nor Jäck quote any sources for their claims, making them unverifiable.
From its beginnings, little has changed in the Black Forest, even to this very day. The shops of many craftsmen still carry a clock-making motif, and carry on the long heritage begun hundreds of years ago by their ancestors.
At the Rombach & Haas modern factory above,
a woman works on a cuckoo and other clocks. She is hand-painting a shield – the continuation today of a 200-year plus tradition!
This design was the most prevalent between the end of the 18th century and the first half of the 19th century. These timekeepers were typically sold from door to door by "Uhrenträger" (Clock-peddlers).
Towards the middle of the nineteenth century till the 1870s, cuckoo clocks were also manufactured in the Black Forest type of clock known as "Rahmenuhr" (Framed-clock). As the name suggests, these scarce wall cuckoo clocks consisted of a picture frame, usually with a typical Black Forest scene painted on a wooden background or a sheet metal, lithography and screen-printing were other techniques used. Other common themes depicted were; hunting, love, family, death, birth, mythology, military and Christian religious scenes. Works by painters such as Johann Baptist Laule (1817–1895) and Carl Heine (1842–1882) were used to decorate the fronts of this and other types of clocks. The painting was almost always protected by a glass and some models displayed a person or an animal with blinking or flirty eyes as well, being operated by a simple mechanism worked by means of the pendulum swinging. The cuckoo normally took part in the scene painted, and would pop out in 3D, as usual, to announce the hour.
From the 1860s until the twenties, and according to the decorative tastes prevailing in each moment, cuckoo clock cases were manufactured following different styles then in vogue such as; Biedermier (some models also included a painting of a person or animal with moving eyes), Neoclassical or Georgian (certain pieces also displayed a painting), Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, Art Nouveau, etc., becoming a suitable complementary piece for the bourgeois living room. These timepieces, based both on architectural and home decorative styles, are rarer than the popular ones looking like gatekeeper-houses (Bahnhäusle style clocks) and they could be mantel, wall or bracket clocks.
– Source: Wikipaedia.com
Courtesy of Dr. William Schneider, an 1845 sephia-tone photograph of the Beha Family home in Eisenbach shows Johann Beha and his boys
Kendra (at left, with Jeff behind the camera), enjoys time socializing with the curators of the world's largest cuckoo clock museum, 'Cuckooland UK," while in the Beha family inn, Hotel Bad, in Eisenbach Germany
On the other side, R. Dorer pointed out, in 1948, that Franz Anton Ketterer (1734–1806) could not have been the inventor of the cuckoo clock in 1730 because he hadn't then been born. This statement was corroborated by Gerd Bender in the most recent edition of the first volume of his work "Die Uhrenmacher des hohen Schwarzwaldes und ihre Werke" (The Clockmakers of the High Black Forest and their Works) (1998) where he wrote that the cuckoo clock was not native to the Black Forest and also stated that:"There are no traces of the first production line of cuckoo clocks made by Ketterer". However, Schaaf in "Schwarzwalduhren" (Black Forest Clocks) (1995), provides his own research which leads to the earliest cuckoos being in the "Franken-Niederbayern" area (East of Germany), in the direction of Bohemia (a region of the Czech Republic), which he notes, lends credence to the Steyrer version.
The legend that the cuckoo clock was invented by a clever Black Forest mechanic in 1730 (Franz Anton Ketterer) keeps being told over and over again. But all of this is not true. This type of clock is much older than clockmaking in the Black Forest. As early as 1650 the bird with the distinctive call was part of the reference book knowledge recorded in handbooks. It took nearly a century for the cuckoo clock to find its way to the Black Forest, where for many decades it remained a niche product.
Although the idea of placing an automaton cuckoo bird in a clock to announce the passing of time did not originate in the Black Forest, it is necessary to emphasize that the cuckoo clock as we know it today, comes from this region located in southwest Germany whose tradition of clockmaking started in the late 17th century. The Black Forest people who created the cuckoo clock industry developed it, and still come up with new designs and technical improvements which have made the cuckoo clock a valued work of art all over the world. The cuckoo clock history is linked to the Black Forest. Rahmenuhr by J. Laule, Furtwangen, ca. 1860 (Deutsches Uhrenmuseum, Inv. 07-0068)
Even though the functionality of the cuckoo mechanism has remained basically unchanged, the appearance has changed as case designs and clock movements evolved in the region. In the beginning of the 19th century the now traditional Black Forest clock design, the "Schilduhr" (Shield-clock), was characterized by having a painted flat square wooden face behind which all the clockwork was attached. On top of the square was usually a semicircle of highly decorated painted wood which contained the door for the cuckoo. These usually depicted floral patterns (so-called “Rosenuhren”) and often had a painted column, on either side of the chapter ring, others were decorated with illustrations of fruit as well. Some pieces also bore the names of the bride and bridegroom on the dial, which were normally painted by women. There was no cabinet surrounding the clockwork in this model.
Copyright 2013 © Jeffrey Richards. All rights reserved.
Here are a few scenes from the 2013 Eisenbach Clock Fair
Jeff and Kendra are shown in a clock shop in Triberg, Germany in the very heart of the Black Forest
This is the Beha Family homestead, as it appears today. This photo was taken April, 2012. As you can see the property has been well-preserved