Cuckoo clocks are unique creations that are centuries old. The first cuckoo clock was produced back in the early 18th century in Germany’s region known as the Black Forest. Clock making in this area of Germany dates back to the early 17th century, almost a full hundred years before clockmakers and craftsmen produced the very first cuckoo clock. The father of cuckoo clocks in believed to be the German clockmaker, Franz Anton Ketterer, although there are a great many stories and lore revolving around this unique timepiece.
This early clock was thought to be inspired by a Bohemian design from the late early 1600s that came to Germany from a peddler from the modern day Czech Republic. This method of selling timepieces made the cuckoo clock even more famous, as clock makers all around the Black Forest area of Germany. In the next three centuries, peddlers would travel all around Europe selling these charming timepieces, further influencing different areas of Europe with the unique sound of the cuckoo clock.
Although the first cuckoo clocks were made of wood, they are a great deal simpler in style than the intricately decorated and heavily carved creations that are usually thought of to be cuckoo clocks. Instead of just the case being made of wood, early Germany clockmakers made every piece of the clock from wood, including the gears and other working parts. This is one of the reasons why these early clocks have fallen into disrepair or are completely lost. Furthermore, many of these early clocks were painted with watercolor paints, which do not have the potential to hold their pigments over time and are easily removed by simply cleaning the clock with a damp cloth.
Although these early clocks were more primitive than their modern day counterparts, they included the famous cuckoo bird instead of more traditional chimes to mark the hour. Native to Asia, Africa, and Europe, the cuckoo bird is a unique bird that lays their eggs in the nests of other birds, which in turn rear the cuckoo’s young as surrogate parents. This bird was commonly grey in color, although the female features a vibrant tuft of red feathers atop her head.
Also like today’s clocks, the early cuckoo clocks were decorated in schemes that showed families, military motifs, or hunting scenes. In the late 1800s, the production of cuckoo clocks became industrialized and began production for customers all over Germany, Europe, and the rest of the world. Soon, the cuckoo clock became immediately synonymous with Germany life and style, making the timepiece an incredibly popular souvenir. Three of the more famous clock makers in Germany began making cuckoo clocks, namely Theodore Ketterer, Fidel Hepting, and Johann Baptist Beha.
Unlike the industrialization in other parts of the world where large, noisy, dirty factories took over the countryside, the cuckoo clock factories were generally much smaller and housed in cottages where entire families would contribute one specific part of the clock. Each individual was trained in one aspect of clock making or decorating, with one family member working on the actual clock, another working on the case carving, another on painting the decorations, and another to completely assemble the piece. Over 13,500 men, women, and children worked in making cuckoo clocks during this period of time in the Black Forest village of Triberg.
Today, the cuckoo clock has made its way all over the world. Still made in many of the same traditions, the most historic cuckoo clocks are still produced in the Black Forest region. Whether you choose to decorate your home with a clock that houses the tiny bird or want a true German souvenir to remember your trip, a cuckoo clock is the perfect addition to any home.
Bill Carmel specializes in Cuckoo Clocks.
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