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Klockit's History of Cuckoo Clocks

"Coo-Coo! Coo-Coo!"  A Brief History Of The Cuckoo Clock

A cuckoo clock is typically a pendulum clock striking the hours using small bellows and whistles that imitate the call of the cuckoo bird and hit on a wire gong. The German Black Forest (Schwarzwald) is the birthplace of the cuckoo clock, which became a symbol for the region. Almost until the mid-17th century, sundials and hourglasses were the way of keeping time in this corner of the world. Clock making started in the Black Forest area around the year 1640 by replicating a timepiece brought back by a peddler probably from the land of Böhmen (today’s Czech Republic). Already by the beginning of the 18th century, clock making had developed into an industry, which would flourish in the following centuries. The invention of the cuckoo clock in the mid-1700s gave this increasingly thriving industry a new impetus. The clocks were made during the long winter months when the farms were snowed-in and sold by peddling "clock carriers" in the summer throughout all of Europe.


Cuckoo Clocks: Mechanical Movement Styles:

Fisherman Cuckoo Clock
Fisherman
Cuckoo Clock
Woodcutters Cuckoo Clock
Woodcutters
Cuckoo Clock
Water Wheel Cuckoo Clock
Water Wheel
Cuckoo Clock
Beer Drinker Cuckoo Clock
Beer Drinker
Cuckoo Clock
8 Day Musical Water Wheel Cuckoo Clock
8 Day Water Wheel
Cuckoo Clock
Old Clock Peddler & Chimney Sweep Cuckoo Clock
Old Clock Peddler
& Chimney Sweep
Cuckoo Clock
8 Day Carved Leaf Cuckoo Clock
8 Day
Carved Leaf
Cuckoo Clock
1 Day Carved Leaf Cuckoo Clock
1 Day
Carved Leaf
Cuckoo Clock
Woodchopper Cuckoo Clock
Woodchopper
Cuckoo Clock

Images of the Black Forest
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The first Black Forest clocks preceding the cuckoo clocks were rather primitive, using wooden toothed wheels and simple stones as weights. A piece of wood, called a "Waag", acted as a pendulum by moving backwards and forwards above the clock dial. In time, the clock designs and craftsmanship were improved with the adoption of new ideas, tools and skills. People also began specializing on certain aspects of clock making and professions such as carvers, case makers, painters and manufacturers of chains and toothed wheels came into being.

The first cuckoo clock dates back to the 1730s and was a product of the almost hundred years of clock making tradition in the Black Forest region. There are a number of different accounts, which tell conflicting stories about the origin of this timepiece. The most popular one generally related today credits the invention of the first cuckoo clock in about 1738 to Franz Anton Ketterer, a clock-master from the small Black Forest village of Schönwald near Triberg. Inspired by the technology in use for church-organs, Ketterer designed the system of small bellows and whistles that imitates the cuckoo’s call. The first model of a cuckoo clock was a lavishly decorated, painted wooden clock. It was composed of an almost square board for the clock face and a raised semicircle on top of the oblong. The cuckoo was located behind a small door in the semicircle.

Soon other clock makers in the Black Forest region began creating finely handcrafted cuckoo clocks of many styles with rich and varied carvings. The former wooden gears were also replaced with metallic clockworks, which increased the accuracy of the timepieces. By the middle of the 19th century two principal cuckoo clock forms had emerged. The “framed” clock had a strong wooden frame and a wide painted inner section to which the clock face was attached. It was customary to paint the wooden background with a typical Black Forest scene. The bird was situated in the upper section of the decorated surface and was occasionally included in the other decorative scenes. The “railway house” clock had a basic house-shaped form consisting of an isosceles triangle placed on top of a rectangle or a square. This type of clock was originally adorned simply with carved or painted ivy leaves or flowers that one would find outside a typical railway house in Germany at the time. After a while, the embellishments multiplied to include scenes from everyday life from the Black Forest.

The “railway house clock” form, called Bahnhäusleform in German, essentially represents the model from which most modern Black Forest cuckoo clocks originate. Today the casing of a cuckoo clock is conventional and is usually designed in the shape of a rustic birdhouse or a chalet. Most typical decorative elements are wine leaves, animals, woodland plants and hunting scenes. Some are ornamented with animated scenes characteristic of the traditional Black Forest such as dancing couples in traditional dress moving to music, a rotating mill wheel, or a farmer chopping wood. Most cuckoo clocks have an automaton of the cuckoo bird that appears through a small trap door when the clock is striking and vanishes behind the door after the gong stops.

Black Forest cuckoo clocks are almost always driven by a mechanical movement run by weights under the clocks. These are commonly in the shape of pinecones that have to be pulled up once a week or once a day depending on the model. Spring driven types of cuckoo clocks are quite rare. In recent years quartz battery powered cuckoo clocks have been developed. These do not have the genuine bellows and generate the striking sounds electronically and use a plastic animated bird with a recorded cuckoo sound.

Cuckoo Clocks: Quartz Movement Styles:

Water Mill Quartz Cuckoo Clock
Water Mill
Quartz Cuckoo Clock
Woodchopper Cuckoo Clock
Woodchopper
Quartz Cuckoo Clock
Bird with Nest Cuckoo Clock
Bird with Nest
Quartz Cuckoo Clock
Bird with Oak Leaves Quartz Cuckoo Clock
Bird with Oak Leaves
Quartz Cuckoo Clock


Housed in beautifully carved wooden casings, the cuckoo clock survived until our day. It is yet in demand and symbolizes for many the past, the present and the future. A genuine cuckoo clock is not a mass production machine, but a still hand-carved work of art that can be treasured for generations.


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