Karl Griesbaum Singing Bird Cage

This bird cage was actually sitting in my grandma’s display cabinet for decades. When I was little, sometimes she would take this out and show us. However, this was a rare treat because this bird cage meant a lot to her and she would rather leave it untouched. Buuut, during those couple decades, it would literally be collecting dust! Before I went to take photographs, I had to dust off their feathers with a very tiny and very soft watercolour brush. It felt like delicate surgical work. I was so anxious about poking the head off or scraping off a feather. But the good thing is none of that happened and I managed to clean most of it off!

Last time, when I wrote about the Karl Griesbaum bird music box, I couldn’t demonstrate how it worked because it didn’t have a wind up key. Fortunately, this cage came with the key attached! I’m a little hesitant on winding it up. You’ll see restorers and collectors wind up their cages many times. The most I’m comfortable with is two. But anyway, I recorded a video of how it sounds!

Karl Griesbaum Singing Bird Cage uploaded by Samantha Yeung

The history of the Karl Griesbaum musical bird cages actually is more obscure compared to the music box. Possibly because logically, if you have a pet bird, you would put it in a cage. Even if it was free roaming in your house, it probably has a cage to sleep in. On the other hand, the idea of a tiny bird popping out of a silver box to sing to you is charming. Maybe that’s why the boxes were more popular. The other factor is that Bontems bird cages from France appear to be more common. The birds look more realistic and models can come in life-like sizes. They also behave and sound chirpier and twitchy (you know how small birds move in a twitchy manner?), basically more realistic overall compared to the Griesbaum models.

Antique Bontems giant singing bird cage uploaded by Singing bird boxes

The birds can appear very lifelike! Here is another model from Bontems. Very cute and fluffy.

Bontems Singing Bird Cage uploaded by Skevoukloges

The mechanisms for this bird cage is very similar to the bird music box that I covered last week. The sound is produced by whistles and bellows. All mechanical and no electricity required! In the video below, restorer, appraiser, and collector Troy Duncan explains how the mechanism works.

Antique singing bird cage (Bontems) mechanism explained uploaded by Singing bird boxes

I believe my grandpa acquired both the bird box and the bird cage at the same time. They were stored together in my grandma’s display cabinet for decades. The way the birds are put together and how they sound also seem to be pretty much the same.

Unfortunately there will be no history blurb because historical information is flooded by auction listings. But I hope the videos were interesting enough.

See you next week!

Karl Griesbaum Music Bird Box

I was digging through my grandpa’s collection again, trying to find something really cool and I came across this music box. After some research, I’m pretty sure it was produced by the German firm Karl Griesbaum around the 1940’s. Similar ones as described by antique dealer Troy Duncan are also dated approximately 1940’s. Unfortunately I don’t have the means to test the materials or the resources to work with an appraiser, but based off of other similar boxes by the Griesbaum firm, this box appears to be crafted in sterling silver with a glossy enamel finish. The image is also likely to be handpainted.

Closed music box.
Closed music box.

Another unfortunate thing is that I couldn’t find the wind up key. But, luckily, there are plenty of amazing videos on YouTube that show the music boxes in action. This video by nakrul987 on YouTube really shows the mechanics of the music box. It is quite the automaton! But in general, you just crank the wind up key on the bottom of the box and push the switch to open the lid.

six cam singing bird box movement uploaded by nakrul987

A little history lesson for those who are curious.

According to Flights of Fancy. Mechanical Singing Birds written by Christian & Sharon Bailly, The firm was founded by a clock maker named Karl Griesbaum. Griesbaum began his journey into mechanical music boxes after he was asked to replicate a Swiss snuffbox. These boxes became popular with locals and tourists and cemented his name in music box and snuff box manufacturing. Together with his five children, the Griesbaum family manufactured three grades of music boxes, depending on the materials and the quality of song.

The family felt lasting success until 1988, after Griesbaum passed away. ­­­The art of music boxes was not an interest to young Germans who were beginning to join the work force. So, the firm was sold to Siegfried Wendel. Wendel later on would create Mechanische Musikwerke Manufaktur GmbH in 1991, which to this day continues to manufacture bird music boxes.

I referenced a book but it seems like it’s been out of print for a while. I actually found an excerpt from the website Museum Collection/Музей Собрание. This is a museum in Moscow that focuses on the collection of vintage and culturally significant antiques.

Now more recently, these music boxes appear sleek, rather than ornate. How It’s Made actually featured the Swiss company Reuge in one of their episodes! Prior to Griesbaum’s success, bird music boxes and snuff boxes has a long history in Switzerland and Reuge began manufacturing in 1865! I thought it would be appropriate to find a video on a current Swiss manufacturer.

How Its Made – 635 Mechanical Singing Birds uploaded by How Its Made

My grandpa seemed to appreciate cute ornate vintage items.

Bird popping out from the music box.
Chirp chirp!

I think anything detailed and mechanical drew his interest. That might also explain his appreciation for insects since he specialized in entomology in university. Personally, I would never consider studying insects. I remember receiving a search-and-find book from Scholastic book orders in public school. It was to replace the book I actually ordered which was out of stock by the time they processed my order. So, I ended up with a giant bug book.

I never looked at it since the day I had to pick it up at school.

I have to admit though, insects are interesting little creatures (or occasionally, scary huge creatures). When you observe how insects move and how their features are connected to their body, they also appear like automata. Have you ever watched a fly clean their legs? Or how spiders crawl? (I know, they’re arachnids) They seem to steadily move in a rhythmic pattern, just like mechanical wind up toys. I guess studying insects carries the same appeal as collecting little mechanical music boxes.

By the way, Karl Greisbaum also produced mechanical singing bird cages! This will be featured next week!

Dec 2, 2019 UPDATE:

I ended up finding the key to the bird box! I wrote about it in a separate blog post here! The bird finally found its voice after several decades! 🙂

See you next time!