Souvenir cuckoo clocks

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The cuckoo clock became successful and world famous after Friedrich Eisenlohr contributed the Bahnhäusle design to the 1850 competition at the Furtwangen Clockmakers School. This style is better known today as a souvenir cuckoo clock.

Bahnhäusle style, a successful design from Furtwangen

Left: Railway-house clock by Friedrich Eisenlohr, 1850-1851; right: Kreuzer, Glatz & Co., Furtwangen, 1853-1854, without cuckoo bird (Deutsches Uhrenmuseum, Inv. 2003-081)

In September 1850, the first director of the Grand Duchy of Baden Clockmakers School in Furtwangen, Robert Gerwig, launched a public competition to submit designs for modern clockcases, which would allow homemade products to attain a professional appearance.

Friedrich Eisenlohr (1805–1854), who as an architect had been responsible for creating the buildings along the then new and first Badenian Rhine valley railroad, submitted the most far-reaching design.[14] Eisenlohr enhanced the facade of a standard railroad-guard’s residence, as he had built many of them, with a clock dial.

His “Wallclock with shield decorated by ivy vines,” (in reality the ornament were grapevines and not ivy) as it is referred to in a surviving, handwritten report from the Clockmakers School from 1851 or 1852, became the prototype of today’s popular souvenir cuckoo clocks.

Eisenlohr was also up-to-date stylistically.

He was inspired by local images; rather than copying them slavishly, he modified them. Contrary to most present-day cuckoo clocks, his case features light, unstained wood and were decorated with symmetrical, flat fretwork ornaments.

Eisenlohr’s idea became an instant hit, because the modern design of the Bahnhäusle clock appealed to the decorating tastes of the growing bourgeoisie and thereby tapped into new and growing markets.

While the Clockmakers School was satisfied to have Eisenlohr’s clock case sketches, they were not fully realized in their original form. Eisenlohr had proposed a wooden facade; Gerwig preferred a painted metal front combined with an enamel dial. But despite intensive campaigns by the Clockmakers School, sheet metal fronts decorated with oil paintings (or coloured litographs) never became a major market segment because of the high cost and labour-intensive process, so only a few were produced from the 1850s until around 1870 in both wall or mantel versions, and are nowadays sought-after collector pieces.

Characteristically, the makers of the first Bahnhäusle clocks deviated from Eisenlohr’s sketch in only one way: they left out the cuckoo mechanism. Unlike today, the design with the little house was not synonymous with a cuckoo clock in the first years after 1850. This is another indication that at that time cuckoo clocks could not have been an important market segment.

In December 1854, Johann Baptist Beha, the best known maker of cuckoo clocks of his time, sold two of them, with oil paintings on their fronts, to the Furtwangen clock dealer Gordian Hettich, which were described as Bahnhöfle Uhren (“Railroad station clocks”).

More than a year later, on January 20, 1856, another respected Furtwangen-based cuckoo clockmaker, Theodor Ketterer, sold one to Joseph Ruff in Glasgow (Scotland, United Kingdom).

Concurrently with Beha and Ketterer, other Black Forest clockmakers must have started to equip Bahnhäusle clocks with cuckoo mechanisms to satisfy the rapidly growing demand for this type of clock.

Starting in the mid-1850s there was a real boom in the cuckoo clock market.

By 1860, the Bahnhäusle style had started to develop away from its original, “severe” graphic form, and evolve, among other designs, toward the well-known case with three-dimensional woodcarvings, like the Jagdstück (“Hunt piece”, design created in Furtwangen in 1861), a cuckoo clock with carved oak foliage and hunting motives, such as trophy animals, guns and powder pouches.

By 1862 the reputed clockmaker Johann Baptist Beha, started to enhance his richly decorated Bahnhäusle clocks with hands carved from bone and weights cast in the shape of fir cones.

Even today this combination of elements is characteristic for cuckoo clocks, although the hands are usually made of wood or plastic, white celluloid was employed in the past too. As for the weights, there was during this second half of the 19th century, a few models which featured weights cast in the shape of a Gnome and other curious forms.

Only ten years after its invention by Friedrich Eisenlohr, all variations of the house-theme had reached maturity.

There were also Bahnhäusle timepieces and its derivatives manufactured as mantel clocks but not as many as the wall versions.

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The basic cuckoo clock of today is the railway-house (Bahnhäusle) form, still with its rich ornamentation, and these are known under the name of “traditional” (or carved); which display carved leaves, birds, deer heads (like the Jagdstück design), other animals, etc.

The richly decorated Bahnhäusle clocks have become a symbol of the Black Forest that is instantly understood anywhere in the world.

Even today it is a favourite souvenir of travelers in Germany, Switzerland and Austria. The center of production continues to be the Black Forest region of Germany, in the area of Schonach and Titisee-Neustadt, where there are several dozen firms making the whole clock or parts of it.

The cuckoo clock became successful and world famous after Friedrich Eisenlohr contributed the Bahnhäusle design to the 1850 competition at the Furtwangen Clockmakers School.

The Chalet style cuckoo clock

The Chalet style originated at the end of the 19th century in Switzerland, and at that time they were highly valued as souvenirs. Indeed, music and jewelery boxes of several sizes as well as timepieces were manufactured in the shape of a typical Swiss chalet, some of those clocks also had the added feature of a cuckoo bird and other automations.

There are currently three basic Chalet styles, named after the different traditional houses depicted: Black Forest chalet, Swiss chalet (with two types the “Brienz” and the “Emmental”), and finally the Bavarian chalet.

Along with the common projecting bird, it may also display other types of animated figurines, examples include woodcutters, moving beer drinkers and turning water wheels. Some “traditional” style cuckoo clocks feature a music box and dancing figurines too.