Review: Schneider: Two books on earl Cuckoo Clocks

  • Thread starter Fortunat Mueller-Maerki
  • Start date

Fortunat Mueller-Maerki

NAWCC Star Fellow
NAWCC Life Member
NAWCC Fellow
Sep 23, 2001
The Early History of German Cuckoo Clocks


The following review was published in the June 2012 issue of the British journal "Antiquarian Horology", Proceedings of the Antiquarian Horological Society. It is reprinted here with their permission

Frühe Kuckucksuhren – Entwicklungsgeschichte der Schwarzwälder Kuckucksuhr von 1750 bis 1850 [Early Cuckcoo Clocks – The Development of the Black Forest Cuckcooclock from 175o to 1850], by Wilhelm Schneider. Published 2008, by the author. ISBN 978-3-87181-732-8. Hardcover, 30 cm x21 cm, 241 pages, 236 color illustrations; Bibliography, Index. Out of print since 2011, available only in the antiquarian book trade.
Beha-Uhren, Kuckucksuhren von Johann Baptist Beha und seinen wichtigsten Konkurrenten [Beha Clocks – The cuckoo clocks made by Johann Baptist Beha and his main competitors], by Wilhelm Schneider. Published 2011, Regenbsburg (Germany) by the author. ISBN 978-3-00-036513-3. Hardcover, 30 cm x 21 cm, 381 pages, over 600 color illustrations; Bibliography, Makersindex of over 120 names, Subjectindex. Available from Historische Uhrenbűcher Berlin (Germany) for €65, plus shipping.

Given the hundred of thousands cuckoo clocks that have been made over the last 250 years, and how many serious horological collectors have one hidden in an obscure corner of their collection (even if they will not readily admit it), it is amazing how little serious horological literature has been published over the years about this endearing and popular category of timekeepers. In English for many years Karl Kochmann from California had a virtual monopoly on the subject: Beginning in 1978 with ‘The Black Forest Cuckoo Clock’ he produced a series of selfpublished booklets (expanded and reprinted in 1979and 1983, renamed ‘Black Forest Clockmaker and the Cuckoo Clock’ in 1987, reprinted 1990, enlarged 1994 and reprinted again in 1996) characterized by his idiosyncratic style of data gathering. These booklets contain a lot of useful but disconnected facts, but fail to qualify as serious scholarship, specifically the statement on page one that the first Black Forest cuckoo clocks were made in 1738 can no loner be supported by modern scholarship, Nevertheless, for lack of alternatives, and with a total print run of over 12’000 copies, they have left a major imprint on what English language collectors know on the subject.
A more scholarly effort came in 1988 when the staff of the Deutsches Uhrenmuseum in Furtwangen (Muehe, Kahlert & Techen) published ‘Kuckucksuhren’(Callwey Verlag, Műnchen, 112p., now out of print) providing the first systematic overview of the story of who produced which kind of cuckoo clock when and where. While adding much important facts to the published record, and documenting the ambiguous and contradictory early sources, the Museum could not resist the temptation of celebrating ’250 years of cuckoo clocks’ in the year this was published, thereby complicitly endorsing the 1738 myth.
The most comprehensive recent treatment of the subject in English remains the seven page article by Johannes Graf “The Black Forest Cuckoo Clock – A Success Story”, published in the December 2006 issue of the Bulletin of the National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors (USA, ,Volume 49, Issue 365, p.646ff).
However in recent years two major books on the subject were published in Germany by Wilhelm Schneider, a fanatical German collector of historic cuckoo clocks. The first, “Early Cuckoo Clocks”, discussing pre-1850 cuckoos was published in 2006. The book starts with detailed and illustrated description of the earliest documented clocks with cuckoos, including a ca. 1700 clock with iron frame and brass wheels, presumably from south Tyrol, and a wooden geared, undated cuckoo and trumpeter clock from Bohemia, with pencil inscriptions which may be repair marks from 1752. These examples prove that the long-held belief that cuckoo clocks were invented in the Black Forest is clearly false. But there is little doubt that sometimes in the 1740s, various black forest clockmakers first began making cuckoo clocks, and the book provides makers names and technical descriptions of the earliest movement types.

Chapter 3 documents 24 different examples of these earliest, preindustrial Black Forest cuckoo clocks, which the author could photograph and examine in private collections or museums. Earlier examples had exclusively wooden gears, later we see brass gears on wooden arbors. By examining the genealogical records, and who apprenticed under whom some indications for dating and attribution of the (mostly unsigned) clocks emerge. Chapter 4 examines the slightly later, but still pre-industrial cuckoo clocks that ended up in ‘Lackschild’ type cases. The strong side of this book is its abundance of examples, but that makes it difficult for the author to state more general conclusions.

The second book, published in late 2011 covers the output of the most prolific cuckoo clockmaker of the second half of the 19[SUP]th[/SUP] century, the Beha dynasty in Eisenbach, and their key competitors.
Fortunately the Beha family business records survive mainly intact, and the descendants granted the author access to this previously unrecorded source material. Beha and its competitors in the 19[SUP]th[/SUP] century practiced what I call a ‘proto-industrial’ style of manufacturing, characterized by family workshops with limited machinery, rather than factories, but utilizing standardization, subcontracting and division of labor. Given the extensive source material available on Beha, the section on that maker is most detailed (with about 80 pages on the history of the family and enterprise, and over 100 pages devoted to detailed systematic typology of their models from 1842 to 1862). This section overflows with images of cases and movements, as well as reproduction of pages from historic catalogs.
Next about 130 pages document the cuckoo clock models produced by Beha’s major competitors. This part is split in two with separate chapters dealing with 1842-1866 (when Winterhalter & Hofmeier, Mathä Tritschler, Theodor Ketterer, Fidel Hepting, and a number of smaller shops were the competition), and the years from 1865 to the end of the century (focusing on Fürderer/Jaegler, Philipp Haas, and Gordian Hettich).

This second book by Schneider has the same strengths – and weaknesses – as the earlier volume. It provides a cornucopia of material and examples, most of which appear nowhere else in the horological literature, and it is rich in anecdotes and stories, but the bigger storyline, i.e. overall outline of the history of the Black Forest cuckoo clock, becomes a bit hard to follow for those readers who are not familiar with the nuances of various types and subtypes.

This reviewer also was rather surprised how little space the author devotes to the origin and history of the ‘Bahnhäusle’ style case, the house shaped, iconic style that most people worldwide immediately associate with the cuckoo clock. Schneider mentions that Beha sold, starting in 1855, 5687 Bahnhäusle cased clocks, but fails to cite much of the recently published scholarship on the history of that design, which is based on the entry of architect Friedrich Eisenlohr into a public design competition held in Furtwangen in 1850. Curiously two key publications dealing with that chapter of black forest clock history (the 4[SUP]th[/SUP] edition 2000 of Juettemann’s ‘Schwarzwalduhren’, Karlsruhe 2000, and Graf’s article in ‘Klassik Uhren’, Issue 2, 2007) are also missing in the otherwise comprehensive bibliography .

Given how few other titles cover the history of the cuckoo clock, these two recent books by Wilhelm Schneider represent a huge first step forward in laying a groundwork of horological scholarship on the subject matter. Given the abundance of visual information contained in these books readers whose primary language is not German will also be able to access much of the data, and should not hesitate to consult these two titles when attempting to identify pre 1900 German cuckoo clocks.

Fortunat Mueller-Maerki

cvr schneider 2.jpg cvr schneider 1.jpg
Last edited by a moderator:
Know Your NAWCC Forums Rules!

NAWCC Forums

Forum statistics

Latest member
Encyclopedia Pages
Total wiki contributions
Last edit
Pocket Watch Regulator by Kent
Top Bottom