Beha Cuckoo Clocks
Johann Baptist Beha (1815 - 1898) was a prestigious Black Forest clockmaker born in Oberbränd (Eisenbach). He was trained by his father, the master clockmaker Vinzenz Beha (1764-1868), in his workshop where he built around 365 clocks between 1839 and 1845. At that time V. Beha was already known for the quality of his clocks, he made the so-called Shield cuckoo clocks.

In 1845 Johann B. Beha founded his own clockshop in Eisenbach, beginning the manufacturing of his celebrated clocks.

Background

Rosewood clock
Rosewood clock
/image:beha-cuckoo-clocks

The clockmaker introduced the following innovations into the construction of cuckoo clocks:

  • He was the first to equip a Bahnhäusle style clock case with a cuckoo mechanism in 1854. A milestone in the Black Forest clock history, after this cuckoo clocks became popular and marketed worldwide. Indeed, although the Bahnhäusle style creator, Friedrich Eisenlohr, had proposed a cuckoo clock in his 1850 original design, however it was not until 1854 when J. B. Beha became the first clockmaker who take it from drawing to reality.
  • He was also the first to make Black Forest wall and shelf cuckoo clocks with spring-wound movements. Between 1845 and 1850 the first 8-day cuckoos with fusee movements were built. At that time, without exception, the clocks had wooden plate movements. By adopting the English fusse system in his clocks he expanded the export market of cuckoo clocks to the U.K. The main importers of his clocks were Camerer, Kuss & Co., London; Morath Brothers, Liverpool; and Bohringer, Belfast. Camerer Kuss was also the main exporters of Beha clocks to India.
  • About 1850 Beha made the first oil painted picture frame cuckoo clocks, where the cuckoo was not integrated in the picture. Also about that time, the first cuckoo clocks with moving eyes came into use.
  • The first one who made cuckoo clocks fitted with musical movements.

The cases for Beha clocks came from case/woodcarvers shops located in different towns of the Black Forest such as Waldkirch, Furtwangen, Villingen, Vöhrenbach and Dittishausen.

When signed, the Beha clocks bore two types of identifications; either a stick-on label which would be on the case back-board on the inside of the case or the name "Beha" engraved on one of the two brass fuseé drum ends. However, it is necessary to emphasize that most of the Beha timepieces were not signed and it is almost impossible to identify a Beha based on the case alone. The case makers that supplied Beha with their cases, sold identical cases to other manufacturers too. So today we can find identical cases, but in fact they were not made by the Beha enterprise. For example Aaron Ketterer and Theodor Ketterer frequently used the Beha designed and their cases are nearly identical. That is why the mechanism is the crucial part to give a positive attribution.

After the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition of 1876, Johann B. Beha took his two sons, Lorenz and Engelbert, into his firm as partners and the company was refounded as "Johann Baptist Beha und Söhne".
While the big factories - Junghans, Kienzle, Philipp Haas und Söhne and Werner, and the smaller firms like Dold, Hilser, Gordian Hettich Sohn, Rombach and Maier- developed their cuckoo clock production in response to the growing demand of the new middle-class for a cheaper clock, especially cheaper carvings, the Behas followed a contrary strategy. They did not believe in the success of the mass-produced cuckoo clock. A similar strategy was followed by other Black Forest clock manufacturers such as Emilian Wehrle, Winterhalder & Hofmeier, Maurer und Höfler, etc.

When Johann Baptist Beha died in 1898, his sons Lorenz (1865 - 1941) and Engelbert (1866 - 1949) continued with the company in Eisenbach. The manufacturing program consisted of; cuckoo/quail clocks, cuckoo clocks with echo, weight operated clocks, spring powered clocks, trumpeter clocks, monk ringing a monastery bell, calendar clocks, etc.

The largest export market of Beha clocks was to the United Kingdom and Russia. In Saint Petersburg Beha even operated their own warehouse, from there the clocks were marketed to different countries, but with the outbreak of World War I, the St. Petersburg warehouse was closed.[3] The Beha enterprise struggled during the 1920s to recover the lost export market facing extremely difficult economic times and during the 1930s, with the onset of the economic dictatorship of the "Hitler Regime" in the year 1933, the use of brass and copper was strictly rationed, although the production continued on a very limited scale until 1938. But finally after the World War II the production was stopped forever in 1956.

Collecting information

One of the most beloved novelty clocks of all time, the cuckoo clock was created by Franz Anton Ketterer in 1730. Ketterer resided in a village in the Black Forest of Germany. Since then, the Black Forest has been synonymous with cuckoo clocks.

Cuckoo clocks have weight-driven movements. The weights, which usually hang below the clock, are often made to appear as part of the design—they are frequently shaped like pinecones, for example. Some antique cuckoo clocks need to be wound daily; others can go eight days between windings.

On the hour, every hour, a door on the clock opens and a figurine pops out as a "cuckoo" sound is made. This noise is produced by wind rushing through two pipes, each creating a different syllable. One "cuckoo" is made for each hour that has passed (one call at one o’clock, two calls at two o’clock, etc.).

There are actually two distinct types of cuckoo clocks, musical and non-musical. Musical clocks include a melody after the "cuckoos" and feature a third weight (non-musical clocks only have two). Some musical variations feature dancers or other figurines that spin to the melody.

Although most people associate cuckoo clocks with birds, many different figurines were used, such as soldiers, monks, and other animals.

In the 1850s, architect Friedrich Eisenlohr designed a cuckoo clock to look like a little house. Inspired by the look-out buildings constructed by railroad workers, this style of clock became known as Bahnhäusle, and it was so well-liked that it is still one of the most commonly used cuckoo clock designs today.

Another style of 19th-century cuckoo clocks was the framed-clock design, which featured a clock face in the middle of a wooden frame, and the space between the two was painted.

Black Forest clockmakers such as Hubert Herr, Gordian Hettich and his son Hermann, and Helmut Kammerer prided themselves on their craftsmanship, so each cuckoo clock was handmade and of the highest quality. To this day, each individual piece of wood in an authentic, high-end Black Forest cuckoo clock is hand-cut and engraved, right down to the shingles on the roof and the ornamental leaves.

Lime tree, also known as Linden tree, was the most common wood used in Black Forest cuckoo clocks. Some clocks were painted but the majority were not, in order to let the wood’s natural coloring shine through.

Price guide

A Beha rosewood mantle cuckoo clock sold for $2,400 at Fairfield Auction in Jan 2002.

A cuckoo clock circa the latter part of the 19th century sold for £1100 at Bonhams in June 2004.

See also

Main article: Clocks

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