1850s Flute Clock with Automated figures


Unrestored pipe-work and pallet chest from a Black Forest flute clock  by Johann Kaltenbach circa 1850.  A flute clock is a clock with one or more ranks of organ pipes that plays tunes pinned on a wooden barrel. Clocks with a limited number of pipes, usually reed type, that imitate chimes are called trumpeter clocks.

On a visit to a regular customer's home I came across some broken painted figures in a box. The owner informed me they belonged to a flute clock he owned. He also said the clock was at a cabinetmaker's shop having the case built. He then went on to tell me the clock had been at the cabinetmaker's shop for ten years. I came up with the suggestion that I restore the mechanism and then return it to the cabinetmaker's shop for completion. Needless to say, a cabinet was never built. I had no idea how it all went together. The figures were in pieces, the organ pipes were in boxes along with all the other components for the clock. It was a difficult but satisfying project to set the clock right again.


This clock has three ranks of pipes. By way of stop tabs, you can select any or all of the pipe ranks to play.

This organ is capable of playing one of eight songs. The songs do not change automatically. Tunes are selected by shifting the barrel over a fraction of an inch and locking it in position by way of a lever.


The organ consists of 51 pipes. The smallest of which is pointed out here.

Flute clocks are wonderful, impractical, animated clocks somewhat on the order of elaborate cuckoo clocks. They are typically weight driven 24 hour clocks. The music plays automatically on the hour along with a single tone chime to count out the hours.

Like cuckoo clocks, many organ clocks were also produced in the Black Forest region of Germany. Many times, the clock & organ portions were exported to various countries, and then the clock cases were constructed in the country where they would be sold. 

These 24 hour flute-clocks would oftentimes need to be nine feet tall to allow enough height for the weight to drop without needing winding more than once a day.


Front view with clock face removed.


On the very top is the pinned organ barrel. On the left is the wooden spool where the steel weight cable is wound onto to power the organ . The string on the left hangs in back of the dial for a manual trip for the organ. Just to the right of the string is the fan to govern the speed of the organ. In the back, in front of the marble paper, is the brass pendulum rod. The pressure bellows are in the very back covered in marble paper. This new marble paper was matched to the original. The paper used to decorate inside book covers, serves as a sealer for the wood to make it air tight. No doubt the maker of this clock was near a book binder and used left over scraps for this purpose.


Steel bar near bottom reciprocates to operate the pump. Center crank to wind organ. Top right, tune changing and top left, brass ends of stop bars.


Painted clock face. Notice the painted scene in the oval above the dial. There is a close up of this scene in the next photo.


Four fellows hunting in the Black Forest.


The list of tunes written on paper glued to the end of an organ pipe. Eight songs are listed. At the bottom is the maker's name.


There are five birds that open and close their beaks. The two officers raise their horns up at the beginning of a song and pivot back and forth while the organ plays.

The center figure is very complicated. His three birds open and close their beaks and his head pivots while the organ plays. 

These figures have been repainted to the original color scheme, down to the last detail.


A restoration of the clock had been carried out in 1914. At that time, the figures were given a fresh coat of paint. By carefully chipping away at the 1914 layer, the original colors and details were revealed. During restoration, I matched every color and recreated every pattern to return it back to original.


These hand-carved wooden figures are hollow. Wires run through the bottom of each figure, connecting with wires in the arms, etc. Each figure has a removable panel on the back which is sealed in place with a plaster/gesso mixture. The panels were removed in each case to clean and service the wires. 

I carved a new arm for this fellow. The arm on the left side of this photo was a poor quality replacement.