BY BRIAN HARTZ
The minivan in the driveway of Dan Toth’s 30-acre woodland estate in eastern Monroe County contains the first clue: the license plate reads “CUCKOO.”
Inside the formidable house, there are some 250 cuckoo and organ clocks, most of which were crafted in the Black Forest region of Germany. They adorn the walls of almost every room in the house that Toth, 62, shares with his wife, Debby. Many were built in the golden age of clock making in the 19th century, although the oldest dates to 1790.
Toth went “cuckoo” for collecting in 1980 when Debby gave him a Black Forest clock as a Christmas present. He bought a few more—“after three of something,” he says, “you’re a collector”—and then a lot more, including a set of 50 from a collector in Cleveland. Many of the clocks are rare, sought-after prizes made by the Beha company. “They are the Cadillac of cuckoo clocks,” Toth says.
Needing space to display their collectibles (which also include clown shoes, marionettes, and “post-mortem memorabilia”—think votive-candle shrines and cast-iron cemetery crosses), they hired a Chicago architect to design their sprawling home. They completed the house, on South Deer Trace east of Highway 446, in 1992.
Toth used to work as a carpenter but today refers to himself as a “house husband.” He operates a booth at the Second Street Antique Mall, called Cuckoo Dan’s Antique Asylum, and twice a year hosts an auction at their home that draws hundreds of antique hunters. Almost everything in their various collections is up for sale.
“We have a few things we wouldn’t sell, but as we get older we think about it more. We’ve become better collectors than we are dealers,” Toth says with a laugh.
Although his devotion to preserving the legacy of Black Forest clock making was rewarded when his collection was featured in a recent book by Justin J. Miller, Rare and Unusual Black Forest Clocks (Schiffer Publishing Ltd., 2012), Toth admits that collecting can consume a person’s time, energy, and resources.
“But when you collect rare things,” he says, “it’s more fun. There’s no one left who can build these, and only a handful of people in the world know how to restore them.”
Click here to hear one of Dan Toth’s organ clocks. Recording by Brian Hartz