Griesbaum, Karl

The Griesbaum firm for more than half a century dominated among the companies that produced snuffboxes with singing birds. Its production capacity in excessed the production capacity of all other firms combined.
The Griesbaum firm was founded in 1905 in the city of Triberg, Schwarz Wald (The Black Forest), Germany. Its founder Karl Griesbaum was born in 1872 in the family of Mathias Griesbaum, a clockmaker. Schwarz Wald was traditionally home to cuckoos lodged in charming, hand-carved wooden clocks. Those clocks were very popular among the locals, as well as among the tourists.

 At the age of 33, Karl was running the workshop making micro-mechanics for such clocks. One day Mr. Rosenau, the owner of a trading firm in Frankfurt that specialized on jewellery and clocks, brought a Swiss snuffbox to Griesbaum to make a copy and adapt. For Karl this seemingly insignificant event, became a turning point in his life - he started manufacturing music boxes and snuffboxes with singing birds, and founded his own firm «Karl Griesbaum».

At that time, the Griesbaum family produced boxes with singing birds of three different price categories. The most expensive boxes were made of polished metal, then came unpolished metal boxes, and finally plain brass boxes. Primarily the cases were bought from a case-maker in Pforzheim, but later, Griesbaum made the simplest boxes themselves continuing to buy more elaborate cases in Pforzheim. The most typical Griesbaum pieces were probably their snuffboxes, particularly those made in a style reminiscent of traditional German silversmithery. The firm also made two-birds snuffboxes as well as other articles such as cigar and cigarette boxes.

There were five children in the Griesbaum family: Mathias, the elder son was born in 1902. The first born, he had been named after his grandfather. Then came three daughters – Amalia, Helena, and Caroline. The last child, born in 1916, was named Karl after his father. Mathias studied clock-making in Furtwangen. Then he did his commercial studies in the nearby town of Karlsruhe, where his grandparents lived. Afterwards he continued his studies in Switzerland, bringing back several machines that facilitated various aspects of singing birds manufacturing.

Mathias Griesbaum had a creative and inventive mind. He had been fascinated by the creative work of “the old masters” such as Frisard, Rochat and Bruguier. He demounted objects made by those masters, drawing up technical studies of their construction. For Christmas 1922, Mathias drew up plans of the works of a Frisard snuffbox and a small cage with a bird, dedicating them to his father. A few years before the war Mathias left for Berlin. He started manufacturing mechanical and music souvenir cigar and cigarette-boxes. Griesbaum began making cages in 1923.Before the firm purchased cages for saling in Paris. The first Griesbaum cage was square, with a gilt wooden base, with one bird. Afterwards lager cages were made, as well as cages with two singing birds.
Around 1925 an original idea to use whistles in the mechanisms of a new type. Thus the whistling figurines appeared. With the time, those figurines whistling different melodies were produced in many varieties and became one of Griesbaum’s biggest successes.

The Griesbaum firm continued working during the Second World War since brass was not requisitioned for arms manufacturing. During this period, Griesbaum was still under the direction of Karl, the senior. Emil Trischauer assisted him.

After the death of Karl, the senior in 1941, his five children formed an association “Karl Griesbaum KG”. After the war, Kar, thel junior headed the firm. His brother Mathias came back from Berlin to resume working in the family company after 1949. However, two brothers did not get along, and Mathias eventually left again to manufacture mechanical and music souvenir cigar and cigarette boxes that he sold in the best tourist gift shops.

The period that followed the Second World War was the most prosperous for the Griesbaums. Karl Griesbaum senior, assisted by Karl Kiefer, headed the firm. The latter had joined the company in 1927. Being an accountant, he married Amalia, one of the Griesbaums sisters. During these busy years, there were twenty-five full employers and several part-time workers. Every month four hundred cages, fifty boxes and sixty whistles were produced.
Toward the end of the 1960s, the production slowed considerably. Finally, in 1987 Karl Griesbaum left the firm. Karl Kiefer, assisted by his daughter Ursula Mockesch, continued for some time. Nevertheless, it became difficult to find young people willing to learn this demanding handicraft. In 1988, after the death of Karl Kiefer, Ursula made a decision to sell the firm to Siegfried Wendel, proprietor of Siegfried’s Mechanisches Musikkabinett, in the picturesque town of Rudesheim am Rein.
Siegfried Wendel founded his own firm “Mechanische Musikwerke Manufaktur GmbH” for manufacturing mechanical singing birds. Today his company can be considered the successor to Griesbaum

Source: Christian & Sharon Bailly. "Flights of Fancy. Mechanical Singing Birds "Antiquorum Editions 2001 ISBN 2-940019-28-2. Pages 348-358

Exhibits in the Museum Collection