Friday, February 27, 2009

"Another Beha" Cuckoo Clock

The conventional reading of a title "Another Beha Cuckoo Clock" would be that the adjective "Another" would modify the phrase "Beha Cuckoo Clock" with the implication that the topic of the post would be discussion of a Beha cuckoo clock created either personally by Johann Baptist Beha or, in later years, in collaboration with his sons Lorenz and Engelbert. In the case of this particular post, however, the topic is a bit more unique and thus the "'Another Beha' Cuckoo Clock" title.

Approximately a year ago I acquired a "Beha" cuckoo clock that became the topic of some debate amongst experienced Black Forest clock collectors as it's wooden plate movement, movement access door knobs/latches and maker's mark did not fully conform to the characteristics typical of a Johann Baptist Beha clock.

In fact, the middle initial of Johann Beha maker referenced on the maker's mark on this clock did not appear to be a "B" at all but rather either a "C" or "G". The maker's mark does however clearly indicate that the maker is a J. Beha from Eisenbach.

The unusual "Beha" maker's mark and the small, but significant, decorative and technical deviations of the clock from other Johann Baptist Beha clocks caused some experienced collector's to question the authenticity of the clock.

Fortunately, Dr. Wilhelm Schneider has recently published a book entitled "Frühe Kuckucksuhren. Entwicklungsgeschichte der Schwarzwälder Kuckucksuhr von 1750 bis 1850" in which he includes a vast amount of new, original research regarding the history of early Black Forest clocks, clockmakers and their families (many of whose lineages have since died out). Specifically, through the research that Dr. Schneider has conducted and documented in this book it has been possible, in consultation with Dr. Schneider, to unequivocally identify the maker of this shelf clock as not Johann Baptist Beha, but rather the relatively unknown distant relative of Johann Baptist Beha, namely Johann Georg Beha (1836- ca. 1885). The maker of this clock was identified by Dr. Schneider by his comparison of the movement, pipe-paper, etc. of this clock with other documented clocks produced by Johann Georg Beha. Moreover, apparently, no other examples of Johann Georg Beha clocks with carved cases are known to have survived as the other surviving examples of this maker are Bahnhäusle with a painted tinplate and a shield cuckoo clocks.

A possible explanation for the rarity of Johann Georg Beha's clocks may lie in the facts that the clockmaker Johann Georg Beha suffered a tragic and unexpected death relatively early in life and it is believed a good many of his clocks were exported to eastern Europe (i.e. Russia). This particular clock is believed to have been produced by Johann Georg Beha ca. 1865 and the walnut case is believed to have been carved by Rupert Wehrle of Neustadt, one of the best Black Forest carver's in his time. The fine carving quality of this piece is exemplified in the detailed carving of the oak leaves in a full three dimensions. The photos (which are archive photos taken immediately after the carvings were oiled) do not relect the rich, uniform natural walnut finish of the clock when viewed in person.

Interestingly, the families of Johann Baptist Beha and Johann Georg Beha lived next door to one another in Eisenbach (an old photo including the two homes is included in Dr. Schneider's book) and the commonalities between the designs of the two clockmakers were probably not a coincidence.

In this find, it reinforced a important lesson learned long ago but since forgotten: Just because an example is different, it doesn't make it wrong. In fact, in some cases, being different may absolutely correct for a previously undiscovered, or rare, variation. Additionally, the "experts" may usually be right, they are not always right and one ultimately has to trust one's own judgement in acquisitions...

Finally, it is my opinion that one should not let minor condition problems damper one's enthusiasm for the acquisition of a rare vintage item too much. This philosophy is based upon the prospect that, if one wishes to wait for a rare 150 year antique clock in perfect condition, one may have to wait for a very long, perhaps indefinite, time. There are professional restorers who can dramatically improve the appearance of clocks with minor damage or losses at, in my opinion, a very reasonable cost.

As an example, the following professional restoration of minor carving losses was performed on this Johan Georg Beha clock by Ms. Susan Wood of Minneapolis, MN. As you can observe, the resultant carving repairs are virtually indistinguishable from the original carvings and significantly enhance the aesthetic appeal of the antique clock.

After repair of chicken's wing and tree branch, before final matching of finish

After repair and finishing of chicken's wing and tree branch


1 comment:

  1. This is a great article, and a great topic to explore. Thanks for sharing.