Saturday, January 5, 2008

Cuckoo Mantel Clocks

Cuckoo mantel clocks are those clocks which houses a small cuckoo bird that emerges from a small door at the top to announce the hours and half hours with its “cuck-oo” call, usually accompanied by a gong. The first cuckoo mantel clock was designed and made by Franz Anton Ketterer in the small village of Schonwald, near Triberg, Germany, in the depths of the Black Forest. Ketterer managed to reproduce the cuckoo’s call by the clever use of bellows producing two different sounds. Over the following years, the clock industry developed rapidly in the Black Forest. With their inventive genius, cleverness and dexterity, the inhabitants of the region employed the long winter months in making cuckoo clocks with richly hand carved decorations from various woods.

In 1808 there were already 688 clockmakers and 582 clock peddlers in the district of Triberg. During the long winter months, the farms were snowed in and the people had a lot of time to create finely handcrafted cuckoo clocks of many styles with rich and varied carvings. The first clocks of the Black Forest, called “wood beam clocks” were built around the year 1640, on a farm. The clocks were made entirely of wood, including the movements. These original clocks evolved during the early 18th century into clocks known as the “Schilderuhr” which added hand painting, a minute hand & chimes. All over the world the cuckoo clock is regarded as a symbol of the Black Forest. Since the 18th century the clockmakers of their region have specialized in the development of this type of clock. The first model of cuckoo mantel clock was a painted wooden clock. The clock was composed of an almost square board for the clock face and a raised semi-circle and was lavishly decorated. The cuckoo itself was to be found in the semi-circle behind a small door.

This type of the cuckoo mantel clock was made from approximately 1730s on and was considered to be specific clock style of the Black Forest. However, the exact origin is not clear to this day. In the middle of 19th century, there were two principal visual forms of the cuckoo clock , the framed clock as the name suggests had a strong wooden frame and a wide painted inner section to which the clock face was attached. The cuckoo was situated in the upper section of the decorated surface and was occasionally included in other decorative scenes. The house- shaped basic form with wooden decorative elements was developed to include scenes from everyday life. The earliest cuckoo mantel clock had a wooden clock face with white numbers and hands and fir cone shaped weights.

Today, vine, leaves, animals and woodland plants as well as hunting scenes are features of this typical form of cuckoo clock. Dancing couple in traditional dress automatically move to music or the mill wheel rotates on the hour, while a farmer chops wood. The cuckoo itself moves its wings and beak and racks back and forth when calling. Cuckoo mantel clocks are still made today, some with traditionally carved wooden cases and weight driven movements, but many are reproductions with molded plastic cases and quartz movements. They use quartz crystals or springs to keep time and sound out a cuckoo’s call every hour through bellows. In mechanical cuckoo mantel clock, every time the cuckoo clock pendulum makes a complete swing back and forth, one tooth of the time train is released from the escape wheel. Each time a tooth escapes, the time train advances, resulting in a slight movement of the minute hand. And faster the pendulum swings, the faster the minute hand will turn. The speed of the pendulum is directly dependant on its length. The length of the pendulum can be changed by lowering or raising the pendulum bob on the pendulum stick. If the bob is pushed up, the cuckoo will run faster and vice versa. The mechanical cuckoo mantel clocks are not as accurate as quartz or electric cuckoo clocks.Despite the fluctuations in demand on the clock market, the production of the cuckoo clock in the Black Forest has remained uninterrupted to this day.