Friday, February 06, 2009

Johann Baptist Beha's Clocks

Perhaps the most celebrated of the Black Forest cuckoo clock makers in the mid- to late-nineteenth century was Johann Baptist Beha of Eisenbach, Germany. The life and many horological accomplishments of Beha have been diligently researched and very professionally documented (see, for example, the excellent articles authored by Dr. Wilhelm Schneider and Monika Schneider in the NAWCC Bulletin, April 1988, pages 116-132 and Dr. Wilhelm Schneider in Antiquarian Horology, Autumn 1988, pages 455-462). Thus, the objective of this post is not to recount factual information that is readily available elsewhere. Rather, the purpose of this post is to try to convey what makes these clocks special to me 150 years after they were made in a small factory located within a town in the Black Forest (which was so tiny that the Beha label sometimes affixed to the clock would not only include city of manufacture (Eisenbach) but the larger neighboring city of Neustadt as a reference locality!).

In my experience, the vast majority of Beha clocks do not have a Beha manufacturing label affixed to the clock, either because it was never thought necessary to attach a label in the first place or it has long since fallen off. Fortunately, I have found that the presence of a label is oftentimes not necessary to identify an antique clock as a "Beha". Indeed, identification based upon the technical features of the movement (such as the design of the stop gear assembly, fusee movement, etc.) and the extraordinary high quality of the casework is often possible by an experienced collector. The easily recognizable high quality in the carvings in Beha clocks formed out of woods such as walnut and pear is what first enticed me to begin collecting these clocks and still summons me to spend numerous hours on the Internet seeking a new example to add to our collection. The quality of manufacture in Beha's clocks would extend to every aspect of the clock whether it be the quality of the oil paintings placed on the fronts of some clocks or the detailed carving and painting of the cuckoo occupant. The quality incorporated into Beha's clocks, in my opinion, was not an accident but a conscious decision to differentiate his clocks from the lower priced, mass-produced Black Forest cuckoo clocks that were produced by competitors. For me, Beha's clocks are the living proof of the veracity of the old adage that "the quality is remembered long after the price is forgotten".

Futhermore, Beha's clocks are also a most interesting category of clock to collect based upon the broad diversity of the clocks manufactured. This diversity is well documented in Beha's original product catalogs which have survived .

To be sure, Beha did almost exclusively manufacture cuckoo clocks, but the wide scope of the available designs and incorporation of horological complications into the movements makes for a cuckoo collector's dream. In the next few posts I hope to share some of the rich diversity of Beha's cuckoo clocks with you.

Until then,


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