This page details the restoration of my Karl Griesbaum Singing Bird Cage

A Very Brief History of Singing Bird Cages

For a couple of centuries now a few individuals, their families, and companies have produced mechanical singing bird automatons(Sometimes called Singing Bird Tabatieres).  In the past these devices were playthings for the rich. Today these are collectibles and heirlooms.
In more recent times these mechanical singing birds were the inspiration for the creation of modern animatronics.
Singing birds were put into boxes, clocks and in realistic looking displays, including cages!
This page focuses on the German built, Karl Griesbaum Singing Bird Cage. Production of these  stopped in the 1980s but the designs,tooling and parts were purchased sometime later and reopened as MMM in Germany.
I have been able to determine they are are still making these as of 2016!.
Though I don't have a place for you to buy them in the USA at this point...

New Info:
The Wendel Family of Rudeheim am Rhein purchased the Griesbaum factory in the late 1980's. O
riginally they intended to place all of the factory machinery in their museum of mechanical musical instruments. Instead they decided to use the machinery to continue producing those things that the Griesbaum factory had in the past, and they continue to today.

Their museum is located in a 15th century Knights Manor, how cool is that.

The Museum webpage can be found here  (tell them steve sent you, if you visit)

Here is the cage I  purchased, when it arrived.

Note the dent in the case on the right, the warped bent cage and white berries.

This photo shows the condition inside the cage a little better. Though not obvious in theses photos the bird is filthy.

The seller indicated it had sound, but basically there is no sound.
The mechanism seems to function well with the exception of the bird not singing.....more later.

So, the restoration of this is 2 part.
Repair the physical damages to the cage itself, the bird and it's props and restore the singing voice to the bird....silenced for how long?

The following photos show the condition of the inside.

It's clear in this photo that the bellows has been repaired in the past.
The round cylinder on the right is the slide whistle, and what is ultimately responsible for the birds song.
This assumes that there is enough air supplied to it as well as the mechanism operating the slide correctly.
The arms located in the center with the small and larger hole operate the mouth, the head, and the tail of the bird movement.

Since the bellows chamber at the bottom is the reserve and did not move at all I initially suspected the bellows chamber at the other side as leaking.
It took a little while for me to realize that one side pumps then the other of the first 2 chambers.
I looked for replacement material to use as a test.
My research and inquires suggested using animal intestine skin known as zephyr skin. It was clear this unit did not use such skin.
A video of one of this cages being constructed also did not appear to show "skin" used.
Since getting a hold of that skin is not all that easy I started to look for a substitute, at least to test it.

I found someone that suggested the material known as tyvek was a possible choice.
I eventually found a youtube video where someone used it on a cuckoo clock whistle with good results.
Tyvek "paper"material is more like cloth material than it is paper as is paper money.
It's extremely strong, the fibers so tight it does not allow air through.
It's flexible and can be creased and folded and will accept glues.

Since I had nothing to loose, I decided to give it a shot. Trying a single section first.
I created a drawing  to use as a guide to reproduce the original, then taped it to the tyvek and cut it out.
Since this was just a test, the worse that could happen was to remove it, if it didn't work......but it did.
However, now there was some air for the whistle, and some sound, but not enough. So I did the next section, and it got better.
It still wasn't right, so I put a little soap in water and using an artist brush painted it on to the large reserve bellows section....and guess what, when pumped
there was small bubbles forming on the it wasn't airtight after all and it had to go as well..

After removing the reserve bellows material and making a template (this one is different than the other 2 sections-larger) I was ready to recover that as well, so...bottom line I should have taken it all off to start, and replaced all of it.

I also tested the one way valves that are inserted into sections of the bellows, which as it would imply allow air to move in one direction only.
I used a piece of tubing sized to fit over the valve. In this way I could tell if it closed and opened.
I was told that earlier versions of bellows used "paper" valves for this purpose. A simple flap of paper held at one end that would allow air in one direction.
A date scratched into the bottom plate interior dates my cage to 1969.

Once all three sections  material was replaced the volume of the whistle increased as well as movement of the reserve section.
It now sounded like what I had imagined it should sound like.

The bird animation control rods go into the 2 holes in the bright metal arm near the center.

An arm from the mechanism moves the block of wood in the center
left and right , each section of the bellows pumping air.

As can be seen in the photos, the bellows has 3 compartments, not seen are very small round brass & plastic? valves between them. The divider between the first 2 sections moves and is driven by the mechanism (see arm attached in photo).first one then the other pumps and fills the final chamber which has a small slide whistle and release valve attached to it. The mechanism moves the plunger (piston) of the slide whistle in and out and opens and closes the air valve to produce the whistled melody. At the same time the mechanism will rotate the head of the bird, move the beak, and tail feathers by raising and lowering the arms that cross near the top of the upper plate.

The photo below shows the first pumping section replaced, along with the drawing used to cut out the new material.
Also shown is one of the original stiffeners, and a replacement.
At the bottom is the actual material found on the bellows.

The folds were put in when the material was installed, then the stiffeners were added. I used paper from a file folder for the stiffeners,,
which frankly looked to be exactly the type of paper originally used.
I used the flat back end of a tweezers to help make the folds sharp.
Once I was happy with the folds the stiffeners were glued in place.
This is most likely not the way these coverings were made in the past, and probably not the way current restorations are done.
I tried this method since I knew I had the time to position the folds and then add the stiffeners  and finally glue them in place.
In production these things would have been put together as a "assembly" before they were glued to the wood.
Since the material size was accurate, gluing it to the edges of the wood was all that needed to be done, the folds added and finally
the stiffeners in those folds.

Note: The reserve section had stiffeners added to both sides of the material as found , I only put them on the outside as I had done with the other sections.

In this photo all 3 sections have now been replaced.

Next was to deal with the cage , the lower base trim and the interior space for the bird as well.

The bird was carefully cleaned using an artist brush and water only. The 2 berries had almost no red paint left on them and it turns
out are made of a material that is water soluble, the one on the right basically dissolved when cleaned. It appeared that this bird had three
berries, so while created a replacement for the one on the right I created another for the left side as well (using epoxy). The original on the left
was savable. Instead of lacquer I used  acrylic but covered it with triple thick clear coat to protect it and give it a gloss finish.
The mushroom red also fell off and was replaced with new white dots added.
Using an artist brush with a soap solution , each leaf was scrubbed. Some of the wire connecting the leaves was rusting, in which case
it was painted a brown shade.

Here it's in process, still more cleaning to go.

The feathers on the bird are not perfect but after cleaning it looks a lot better.
There was one additional repair needed to the bird. The upright post is normally soldered to the base plate. It had broken free allowing the bird
mount to turn instead of being fixed in position, which it needs to be or the alignment of the rods coming from the bird into the mechanism will bind, which will cause mouth to stay open or closed, stop tail movement or head turning.
Once I was sure of the position it needed to be in, I re-soldered the two pieces together.

The bird was then put on the side waiting for final assembly.

Next came working on the base trim, which shows signs it had an impact.
I built a jig for this purpose, simply tracing the curve of  a good area of the base and used a jigsaw to cut it out.
This mimics the shape of the trim. It was placed inside the trim, and clamps were used to pull the metal back into shape

The cage was also twisted a bit and that was corrected as well.
A final cleaning and it was ready to put it back together.
Final test.

I noticed after I took this photo that the cage bars aren't  100%, I will go back and fix that shortly.
You'll notice that the cage doesn't look like the polished brass on the bass, that is because I've been told
it's plated in gold.

Click here or the above photo for video :     Birdcagevideo

With what I learned from the single bird cage I decided to tackle a  2 bird cage.
Here it is as purchased.

Overall it  is in nice physical condition, the cage  a little bent. The base is a very nice design, again with a few issues.
 The big issue,  it doesn't do anything, It does not operate at all.

Turned out besides the bellows repair, the main gear, a form of plastic in this, had missing teeth,
This condition most likely caused because it was over wound.  The yellow bird is in poor shape as well.
To repair this cage requires contacting the factory in Germany for parts.

Ok.... lets get started.


On the left the damaged gear, then the right the very sad looking yellow bird followed by the red bird , missing an eye

This shows the later valves used in the bellows.

That is a brand new yellow bird on the right straight from the factory in Germany.

The platform restored, new gear installed, new yellow bird synced to mechanism (movement), new eyes, base polished and repaired, and of course
bellows serviced and whistler adjusted. I think all the work and expense was worth it, as you can see for yourself.

Finished !

For those out there reading this, it has be brought to my attention that there are "fakes" of these being sold
 So, at this stage I'm not sure how you can differentiate between real and fake at this point, but buyer beware.
Some sellers may not be aware they are selling a chinese copy.

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