My Cuckoo Has Gone Cuckoo!

The mystery of the cuckoo revealed!

Troubleshooting Common Cuckoo Clock Issues

Nothing speaks of German ingenuity like the noisy confusion of a cuckoo clock with its gears, doors, bellows, chains, music boxes and other moving parts. But while a properly functioning clock is a joy to behold, there’s a good chance an older clock will, like people, develop an eccentricity or two.

It’s always best to find a professional for seriously malfunctioning clocks, but with that in mind, there are some common problems that can be resolved at home by a skillful owner.

Stopping Pendulum

This often happens if a clock is not hanging evenly. The first test is to place a level against the clock to ensure it’s hanging flush. If it turns out that the clock is even and making a regular ticking sound, then the problem is probably inside the clock. If a clock has been moved recently, the weight chains might have become dislocated. It’s important to immobilize the weights and chains before moving a clock, since it can be tricky to put them back in position – especially if you’re not sure where they went in the first place!

A stopping pendulum can also mean that the gears are not able to move freely and may need cleaning. A can of compressed air from the office supply store can blow away any loose dirt and lint without the risk of breaking anything. Cuckoos rarely need oiling, but hot and dry environments can affect them over time. When oiling, it’s important to use a lubricant specially made for clock gears, such as sold by a clock parts store. A very dirty or corroded clock mechanism may need more intensive care or, if worst comes to worst, replacement. When cleaning a cuckoo movement, it’s important not to bend or dislocate the wires to the point that you can’t return them to their proper places.

Cuckoo Is Not in Time

Does your little bird coo-coo the wrong number of times on the hour? Or maybe he sticks his head out the door a few minutes early? Don’t blame the bird – these are indications that the hands are out of whack.

If a cuckoo is singing out the wrong hour, it means the hour hand needs re-positioning. This involves gently pulling the hand away from the clock face with pointy pliers and turning it to the correct hour, before pressing it back in place.

If the cuckoo is out of sync with the hour and half-hour then the minute hand is misaligned and must be adjusted likewise. And remember to always set the time with the big hand, not the little.

Cuckoo Stays Outside the Door

Is Mr. Cuckoo waiting for applause? More likely, the wire that moves the bird has detached from the gears or become stuck on the case. One option is to try moving it gently to see if it slips back into place. It’s also important to make sure that the end that moves the cuckoo is under the tail, not over.

Cuckoo Has Lost Its Voice

If your cuckoo is sounding odd, then one of the wires attached to the bellows may have become detached. The bellows are the little flaps that push air through the clock’s two whistles. In very old clocks, the bellows will sometimes wear out and have to be replaced. This is a straightforward task, but quite involved and best left to a clock shop.

If the cuckoo is singing but the clock has a music box that’s not playing, then the wire that runs from the movement to the box may be loose. A quick inspection can reveal if the screw that attaches to the gears needs tightening. Like the clock movement, music boxes can become dirty or worn with time, leading to slowing and stopping.

Finally, if you’re stumped, there are many clock repair shops with specialized knowledge of cuckoos. Some are listed on this page.

The video below gives a quick tour inside Mr. Cuckoo’s house and shows how all the elements work together.


Appraising and Selling an Antique Clock

Cuckoos come in many shapes!

Is My Cuckoo Worth Something?

Cuckoo clocks are loved for how they harken back to earlier years. While the traditions of clock craftsmen continue today, older clocks, of roughly 1970 or earlier, can be truly valuable possessions. Depending on their age, condition and a number of other factors they can be worth a few hundred to several thousand dollars.

Cuckoos came into popularity in the mid-nineteenth century. Authentic European handmade clocks dating before 1930 are considered more valuable.

Demand plays an important role in determining the price. The hunter, or Jagdstück, style clock, with deer antlers, crossed guns, horn and game animals tends to have the most popular appeal, capturing the imagination of outdoors enthusiasts.

Uniqueness can also play a role in increasing the appeal of the clock. Cuckoos are particularly loved for their whimsical touches. Unlike other more formal clock designs, the cuckoo model is essentially folk art, and simple craftsmen have made their own valuable contributions to the art. A great example is this Antiques Roadshow find in Spokane, Washington which was valued at up to $2,000.

Of course, condition is a big issue with cuckoos. With their multitude of moving parts and decorative elements, there’s a lot that can break over time. While a clock may be a genuine antique, one will often find that the movement may have been replaced or parts have been refinished or repaired over the years, all of which can detract from the value to some degree.

As with any antique, its history is important. A family heirloom that can be traced back to its origin offers a wonderful physical link to the past and is really what makes antiques so appealing.

Getting an Accurate Appraisal

There are a lot of reasons to want to know the value of an antique, whether for insurance, valuing an estate, or a desire to sell.

Important characteristics include makers marks and labels and whether the clock is hand carved or mass produced. Researching can start with finding a maker’s label or stamp and comparing it with reference books or online databases, such as The Antique Clocks Price Guide.

Did you know? The four on an authentic cuckoo clock’s face is always “IIII” – never “IV”!

There are also online valuation services such as Value My Stuff, which offer a quick and easy opinion on an antique for a small fee. Upload a few photos with a description and history and they send you an informed opinion. If you’re just satisfying your curiosity, this may be all you need, but if you’re looking for an authoritative opinion, then a more hands-on examination is necessary.

A written statement from a qualified appraiser is the most authoritative option. For individuals looking to sell to a dealer, it’s an assurance that they’re getting a fair price.

In big cities, you can often find auction houses who will often hold free appraisal events. Sellers can also look out for antique fairs that sometimes offer appraisals.

There are professional appraiser associations who certify their members. Some, like the American Association of Appraisers, offer a searchable database of experts.

Places to Sell

When selling antiques, people often think of eBay first, because of its big user base. However, this audience is not always the most discerning when it comes to quality items. An antique auction house is more likely to get the best price. It’s important to be clear about what kind of fees you can expect to pay, before you commit, though.

Another alternative is to sell through an antique dealer who will take a percentage of the sale. The drawback is you might have to wait a while for a buyer. It’s best to do some shopping around before committing to one seller.

Animate Your Room With a Playful German Scene

Water wheel musical chalet cuckoo clockChalet Clock With Moving Water Wheel
Model No. MD400-12P by River City

As Black Forest craftsmen increased their skill over the years, they began to produce more and more elaborate and sophisticated clocks with elaborate carvings and multiple moving elements. This painted chalet clock is characteristic of the kinds of clocks that resulted of the sopisticated clock building that centuries of competitive craftsmanship have produced in Germany.

Like antique chalet clocks this authentic German import features playful images of traditional Black Forest village life, rendered in brightly painted carvings. The clock is animated by German dancers who circle in and out of the chalet every half hour to the accompaniment of “Edelweiss” and “Happy Wanderer.” A yellow carved cuckoo calls out the hour and a water mill wheel turns below.

The entire scenario is brought to life not with electronics, but with traditional German Regula movement, powered by three pinecone weights which must be wound daily. A hand-carved wooden pendulum keeps the time. A switch keeps the music off at night.

The clock is traditionally carved by German craftsmen in fine linden wood. It is large, measuring 12 inches in height.

Some may find such an elaborate clock a bit too much, but true lovers of German tradition will appreciate the centuries of tradition that go into a clock like this one. It would make a perfect heirloom for any family with German roots to pass on to their children.

How to Clean and Maintain Your Antique Cuckoo Clock

Cleaning a cuckoo, especially the vintage mechanical variety, can seem pretty daunting at first. Cuckoo clocks are absolutely full of nooks and crannies, as well as tiny moving parts, where dust and dirt can lodge itself.

Tradidional cuckoo clockSome amount of wear and dust can actually add to an antique clock’s charm. However, too much can make your clock seem derelict, and can actually affect the performance of the internal mechanisms. So regular cleaning and maintenance is important.

Try and find a professional clock repair expert to do the job. They have the know-how to safely clean and maintain clocks and look for potential problems, like worn gears.

If you feel confident enough to clean your own cuckoo, then it’s very important to approach the job with the utmost care. With a particularly large number of delicate moving parts, one wrong move can cause an expensive amount of damage.

The most common cleaning task is cleaning the exterior. Normally the wooden exterior will not need anything other than regular dusting. This should be done with care to avoid breaking any of the exterior carvings.

Failing to dust regularly may lead to a built up layer of grime after a while, and you may want to resort to a cleaner. Make sure the cleaning agent you use is a natural oil based one, labeled as appropriate for finished hardwood. Test it out on the back of the clock, before you start cleaning in earnest, to make sure you don’t damage the varnish.

If you feel the interior of your clock has developed enough buildup that it’s hindering the performance of the mechanisms, you may need to resort to cleaning the inside. This can be done with a q-tip which has been moistened with water and a mild soap. Avoid dripping water on the wooden housing.

The objective is to reduce the buildup of grime, rather than to get things spotless. You’re concern is function, rather than appearance.

Some cuckoo owners who inspect the interior of their clocks may think they are in need of oiling when the see the gears are dry and coated with dust. However you should never apply any kind of lubricant to your clock’s mechanism, as they are intended to be dry to prevent them getting gummed up.

Clock shops sometimes apply graphite powder to clock workings to maintain their function. This is applied sparingly with a blower bottle. You can remove dust with a can of compressed air, available at computer stores.

Clock mechanisms have numerous gears which move on pivot shafts. On the front and back plate of the gears, are oil wells, where lubricant can be placed with a syringe. Annual oiling can protect your clock mechanism from wear and tear and extend its lifespan. Be careful not to get excess oil on the gears themselves, as this will attract dirt and cause the gears to become sticky.

Some clocks have mechanisms that are accessed through a side door. In this case, you can oil the gear shaft where it meets the front and back plates.

Above all, always be careful not to disturb the delicate inner workings of your clock. Treat your clock with a gentle hand and you can keep it beautiful and extend its functional life for generations to come.

A Vacation Cottage on Your Wall

chalet cuckoo clockChalet Clock with Leaf Designs
Model 436HV
List Price:

After the traditional natural leaf design, the most popular cuckoo design is the chalet style, which originated in Switzerland. This type of cuckoo features a traditional mountain vignette around a little alpine chalet, and often features playful animated figures in addition to the cuckoo.

This chalet clock has a nice rustic design carved in warm finished wood. It is mechanically operated by pulling its metal weights, and marks each half hour with the traditional gong and cuckoo. It’s about 10 inches high and fits nicely into any decor with its decorative but not overwhelming appearance.

This clock would go great in any decor that emphasizes nature. A cottage or a room with a cottage design would be perfect. You can compliment your clock with European handicrafts, forest designs (in wallpaper and so on), as well as landscape paintings and photos. It’s a perfect gift for the outdoor enthusiast.

One decorative scheme it probably wouldn’t work well with is modern. One thinks of cuckoo clocks as being traditional, but there are also minimalist cuckoos that would fit into the most modern room decor.

Modern Technology, Combined with an Old Favorite

Quartz cuckoo clockBattery Operated Quartz Musical Cuckoo
Model Q 70/9 by Anton Schneider
List price: $185.76

This modern version of the traditional Black Forest design looks all but identical to the traditional 9 inch tall version, with hand-carved details in Black Forest wood and a rich antique finish, a swinging wooden pendulum and a cuckoo which emerges dutifully on every hour.

So why would you want to replace traditional German mechanisms with modern technology?

Well, with crazy modern schedules being what they are, you might not remember to wind your cuckoo every morning. This battery operated version keeps precise quartz time regardless, and you probably won’t miss the winding. It also automatically shuts itself off at night, so you won’t be in danger of being woken up no matter how forgetful you are.

The simple quartz mechanism is also easy to replace, so maintenance and repairs are not a worry.

As an added bonus, the cuckoo is followed up by an electronic music box which plays assorted popular German tunes, like “Happy Wanderer” and “Edelweiss” for an extra bit of European charm. Music boxes are an ever more popular option for wall clocks as they let you have a diverse set of sounds to mark the hour and keep things from getting stale.