An Early Black Forest Owl Clock

‘Early’ of course is a relative term, and when it comes to Black Forest owl clocks, I think it refers to around 1925-40. However, I have no documentation to support this, it is simply the result of comparing movement types, manufacturing methods, and the materials used in to make the clock movement and its case.

I think this particular owl clock dates from around 1930-40. As far as the person I bought it from knows, he remembers seeing it working, hanging on his younger brother’s bedroom wall in 1968. He also remembered it when he was a child and knows that it pre-dates 1960. His father was an amateur clock and watch repairer who worked in Berlin in 1945-6; the seller speculates that his father may have brought it back from Germany with him. This certainly seems plausible, and I think the clock was likely to have been second hand, even then.

This owl clock is what in Germany is termed an “Augenwender” or “turning eye” clock. In the Black Forest this simple type of automaton mechanism, where the eyes move from side to side as the clock ticks, first appears in the mid-19th century. Then, it was used on larger ‘schild’ clocks, and on so called ‘frame’ clocks where a picture of a person or animal had ‘turning eyes’; its use in these ‘novelty’ clocks probably does not begin until the second quarter of the 20th century.

As received, the owl’s body was a curious translucent murky yellow colour and the minute hand was broken (photo 1 – from the eBay advertisement). On cleaning, the yellow colour seems to have been a lacquer/varnish coating applied over the original white and black paintwork (part cleaned, photo 2). The automaton mechanism was quite rusted, and its pine ‘cover-box’ must have been missing for many years (photo3). Interestingly, the axis of the steel pin about which the right eye rotates is far from vertical, this gives the eye a curiously endearing, slightly downward looking action, as the eyes move from side to side!

2 As received.jpeg

1 As received

Although the Black Forest is a land of wood carving skills (as shown in cuckoo clock cases), I think this owl’s body was produced by ‘pressure moulding’ the wood, as slightly later, but otherwise similar owl clocks have identical three dimensional body ‘features’, this cannot be the outcome of a ‘hand carving’ process. The movement box on the back of the face is made of pine, and should have a small pine box on top of it, to protect the delicate ‘moving eye’ mechanism. Curiously, automaton ‘covering-boxes’ often become detached and lost over the years, and that was the case with this clock. The back of the movement box is a thin piece of pine with a wire loop at one end which, when fitted into the slide runners in the movement box, is used to suspend the clock from a wall hook (photo 4).

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4 case back

2 As received

3 Part cleaned

The movement in this small clock is an ‘A’ plate, 24 hour movement, powered by a 275 gram weight. Originally the front and back plate were held together with ‘twist-tabs’ on each of the plate pillars; after passing through slots in the back plate, these would be twisted slightly with pliers, securing the plates together. Over several cycles of dismantling and re-assembly, the metal of these tabs can tear and I normally straighten them, repair them if necessary, and then drill them for clock pins to be inserted, so the plates can be secured in normal clock making fashion; this makes servicing much simpler in future. On this movement, only burnishing of the pivots and some re-bushing was required. The overhauled movement, the new pine box for the automaton mechanism (not yet stained to match the original movement box) and the completed clock, are shown in the final photographs (photos 5,6,7)

5 movement .jpeg

5 movement 

6 Case

7 Completed clock (1).jpeg

7 Completed clock