Cuckoo clocks traditionally are wall-mounted clocks activated by a pendulum movement. On striking the hour, a bird emerges from the clock case and makes a “cuckoo sound.” The number of times the bird emerges and makes a call denotes the hour of the day. Genuine Black Forest cuckoo clocks come from the Triburg and Titisee-Neustadt regions in the Black Forest, southwestern Germany. Their history has never been established clearly, although clockmaking began here in the 18th century.
Find the manufacturer’s name or serial number on the back of the clock. Many German clockmakers like to maintain the illusion of a backwoods craftsman and do not include their name on the product. Famous Black Forest cuckoo clock manufacturers are Rombach & Haas, Hubert Herr, Anton Schneider, Hones, Hekas and Trenkle Uhren. They are members of the Black Forest Clock Association (VDS in the German acronym).These manufacturers stamp a serial number on the back of each clock. The VDS issues a certificate of authenticity for each clock that is included with any purchase. The serial numbers are traceable with the manufacturers and the VDS. Only genuine Black Forest clocks hold a VDS certificate.
Identify the type of wood used for the clock frame. Black Forest clocks use lime wood, also known as linden or lime tree. The wood is native to Europe north of the Alps and can be carved easily. Occasionally, some clocks are carved from maple wood.
Identify the clock movement. Black Forest clocks are driven by mechanical weights under the clock. The weights need to be pulled up from time to time. There are one-day movements and eight-day movements, meaning that the clocks must be wound after one and eight days respectively.
Observe the clock design. All Black Forest manufacturers have two basic designs. These are a chalet design that ranges between a typical Alpine chalet to a timbered Tudor-like house. The foreground of the house should depict an everyday scene. The second style is a traditional scene from nature. This may be a hunting scene, often depicting a stag’s head, with antlers, at the crest of the clock. The carving is detailed down to ornamental leaves and shingles on roofs.
Listen to the sound. True Black Forest clocks generate the “cuckoo” sound mechanically, not electronically, from two bellows, or air chambers, inside the clock. Air squeezes out of the bellows and creates the sound like someone blowing through a wooden whistle. An electronic chime in a fake clock has a sharp clear note. Some Black Forest clocks also play traditional music on the hour, such as “Edelweiss” or “The Happy Wanderer” that also sounds as though blown through a wooden whistle.
Observe the movement of the cuckoo and other figurines. Many Black Forest clocks cuckoos move their wings mechanically as they spring out of the clock. Anton Schneider's Black Forest clocks are famous for their dancing figurines positioned under the cuckoo.
Many manufacturers offer cuckoo clocks with quartz movements powered by batteries. These are not the original Black Forest clocks. Quartz clocks do not hold a certificate of authenticity from the VDS.
Black Forest Clocks are very delicate and need careful handling. Small carved details such as leaves may detach from the clock case.