by Q. David Bowers
A couple of years ago (circa 2000) Q. David Bowers sent this author two large boxes stuffed with the paper remnants of his long and in-depth adventure into the world of automatic musical instruments. Amongst the loosely packed and yellowing papers was an unfinished manuscript by Mr. Bowers, written in 1971, originally intended for a future Hathaway & Bowers, Inc., publication that never came to pass. This manuscript, which may be quite interesting to collectors of a today's later generation, is essentially presented for its historical merit and in its entirety, with only minor typographical corrections. Occasional comments [in brackets] by Terry Hathaway have been added for clarity and/or additional information not included in the original manuscript.
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During the early and mid-1960s I was a frequent visitor to Europe. At that time most of that far-off continent was undiscovered by collectors of automatic musical instruments. The late Eugene DeRoy told me, for instance, in 1964 that he didn't know of a single collector of orchestrions on the entire continent.
To be sure, collector interest was far from being entirely absent. Particularly in England, where the Musical Box Society numbered several hundred members, as did the Fair Organ Preservation Society, there was interest in music makers of yesteryear. However, on the main continent of Europe itself, interest was just in its beginning stages.
Eugene DeRoy seated at his arranging table graphically laying out
the musical notes, trapwork effects and register controls for
One day in the early 1960s an airmail letter arrived from Eugene DeRoy of Antwerp, Belgium. Mr. DeRoy told me that he was a producer of music rolls--and, believe it or not, still was making rolls for Hupfeld, Philipps, Weber, Popper, and other large orchestrions! Furthermore, he offered me an instrument or two for sale. On my next trip to Belgium (I visited Europe frequently in the search for rare coins--my only business interest at this time) I visited Mr. DeRoy. I found him a convivial, quick-witted person with an insatiable desire to fill me in on the details of the "good old days" when he bought and sold orchestrions--and made rolls for them. His Symphonia Music Roll Company was one of the largest in Europe and during its heyday in the 1920s turned out rolls for over 200 different types of automatic musical instruments! Mr. DeRoy's business faded during the late 1930s as the interest in automatic musical instruments was replaced by the more popular and certainly far less expensive juke boxes and electronic sound systems then being installed in public places. After the Second World War the Symphonia business shrunk to a small size and was primarily operated by Mr. and Mrs. DeRoy who sold replacement parts for pianos and also made occasional music rolls for a dwindling number of customers.
As I related in an earlier [Hathaway & Bowers, Inc.] catalog, Mr. DeRoy kept a mailing list of some 6,000 customers who ordered rolls from him during the 1920s and 1930 's. By means of post cards several dozen leads were obtained. By following up these leads with Mr. DeRoy I acquired a number of very interesting large orchestrions. However, for each clue that an instrument still might exist, several hundred post cards would be returned with "Out of Business," "Addressee Unknown," or some other such notation. In a further effort to trace down some of the very large orchestrions, Mr. DeRoy and his son-in-law, Jeff, personally visited many dozens of locations. However, by 1966 or 1967 it appeared that the gold mine has been exhausted--and that nearly all orchestrions that were still "in the wild" in Europe had been located. It is interesting to note that since that time very few additional specimens have come to light. Mr. DeRoy was in a unique business and had access to most large instruments that were once in Europe. When Philipps, Hupfeld, Weber, Popper, and several other companies went out of business during the late 1920s and 1930s they turned their mailing lists over to the Symphonia Music Roll Company in the hope that their customers could still be serviced by Mr. DeRoy.
In the summer of 1969 I received a letter from Els, Mr. DeRoy's daughter, informing me that Mr. DeRoy had passed away. I was very fond of Mr. DeRoy personally--and the news of his death came as a shock. Not only did Mr. DeRoy help me greatly with my own personal collection, and, later, with the purchase of instruments for Hathaway & Bowers, Inc., he did something even more important to me, he took a personal interest in the history of the instruments themselves and furnished me with priceless information concerning the history of some of the firms that once operated in Europe. Much of the information he provided would otherwise have been lost to history forever. We journeyed through Europe a number of times and visited the sites of the Philipps factory in Frankfort, the various factories in Waldkirch, the Welte factory site in Freiburg (this particular factory no longer stands), and many others. Last time I had visited Europe, early in 1969, we spent a pleasant time together. So, I knew that this next trip would not be the same without him.
Leonard Grymonprez, Ghent, Belgium,
Oscar Grymonprez, Ghent, Belgium, circa 1970, father of Leonard Grymonprez.
In the early 1960s I received another interesting letter--this one from Leonard Grymonprez, a Belgian whose family had been in the organ building and repairing business since the 1880s. Leonard had cultivated an interest in the English language by studying the subject and practicing speech by visiting with his sister (who was also studying English) once a week. His own personal interests lay in the same direction as his business interests: organs and orchestrions. I don't remember the contents of my first letter from Leonard, but it was sufficiently interesting that I decided to visit him personally in Belgium. We spent an interesting day together. I was only the second American he had ever met (the first was Mr. Chappie Fox of the Circus World Museum in Baraboo, Wisconsin). And, I was the only other person interested in orchestrions that he had ever met--so we got along very well. After some negotiation I purchased a Weber Maesto orchestrion from him. A picture of this particular instrument appears on page 216 of "Put Another Nickel In." The Weber Maesto remains to this day one of my very favorite instruments--and it is a reminder of those long ago days when I first met Leonard. [Leonard Grymonprez was born on October 7, 1932 and died 56 years later on his birthday, October 7, 1988. Leonard's father, Oscar Grymonprez, was also very active in the buying, selling, and restoration of orchestrions and dance organs, and is remarkably still alive and alert (as of June of 2002) at the age of 99. Although it was Leonard who initiated the contact with Dave Bowers, Oscar also participated over the year in dealings with Dave Bowers, and then from 1967 to 1972 with Hathaway & Bowers, Inc.]
I furnished both Leonard Grymonprez and Mr. DeRoy with the names and address of many collectors here in the United States. During the following years dozens of instruments were sold by these two friends--and, as a result, many large orchestrions and organs in collections in America today trace their origin to one or the other of these two gentlemen.
Claes O. Friberg, circa 1975, happily seated at a player piano in the Mekanisk Musik Museum.
I first corresponded with Claes 0. Friberg in 1966 or 1967. Mr. Friberg, a native of Copenhagen, Denmark, was mainly interested in barrel organs. When my book, "A Guidebook of Automatic Musical Instruments" was prepared in 1966, Mr. Friberg inserted a small notice in it to the effect that barrel organs were his specialty. Since that time we have had many letters and telephone calls to and from each other. Claes, as I call him now, shares my interest in the history and the stories behind the various instruments--so in recent years he has been a tremendous help in securing for me old catalogs and other data pertaining to music boxes, reproducing pianos, orchestrions, and related pieces. We were friends, but only on a mail order basis and we had never met. So, meeting Claes Friberg personally was high on the schedule for my next trip to Europe--and Copenhagen, which normally would be off the beating path of my regular travels, was added to my itinerary. [Claes O. Friberg, born February 8, 1945, died in late April of 1996 at the age of 51.]
A few months ahead of time, my wife, Mary, and I drew up an itinerary. Unfortunately, time was rather restricted due to a pressing commitment here in the United States shortly after the end of my trip date, so I could not spend as much time in England as I had hoped. But, apart from this, an interesting and hopefully worthwhile schedule was worked out.
On Thursday morning I awakened early in order to allow an hour or two to pack my bag and get things in order for the trip. Arrangements had been made with John Murbach and Terry Hathaway to live in the house while Mary, my two boys--Wynn and Lee--and I made the trip. I checked. the Weber Maesto Orchestrion, the Ampico Reproducing Piano, and several other instruments around the house to be sure that they were in proper working order before I left--for I knew John and Terry would spend many hours listening to them.
By eleven in the morning I was at Los Angeles International Airport ready to check in on Pan American Flight 120--a nonstop Polar route hop from Los Angeles to London. The airplane, a 747 jumbo jet, left at 2 p.m., two hours late due to some mechanical difficulties in one of the engines. Scheduled arrival time was 13 hours and 15 minutes later.
I was born in 1938, well into the airplane age, but I have never ceased to be amazed at man's travel through the skies. To think that the trip from Los Angeles to London, an odyssey that would have taken three or four months by ship a hundred years ago could be accomplished in scarcely a half days time is truly amazing. When the age of the SST arrives, as it will in just a few years, the thirteen hour time will be "long" by comparison. The airplane has been vital to our own automatic musical instrument business. Scarcely a day passes without a visitor from the eastern United States or from Europe. Collectors and dealers think nothing at all of "stopping by" here in Los Angeles—even though we are two to three thousand miles away from, say, New York City. In fact, I still remember when one enthusiastic Atlanta collector and businessman, Allen Woodall, boarded a plane in Atlanta one morning, visited our showroom and selected several instruments to be shipped back there, and then returned to Atlanta all in the same day!
Anyway, although I have been to Europe two or three dozen times, the fascination of the plane ride has never left me.
After the engine difficulties were corrected ("a leaky oil seal"--the announcement said) we all walked down the ramp and boarded the Boeing 747. Fifteen minutes later we were on the runway in the take-off position--and a half minute later we were airborne. On such a long distance trip the planes fly what is known as a "great circle route." This route, the shortest distance between two points on the spherical surface of the earth, appears as a curved line on a flat map. Thus, our plane flew northeast from Los Angeles. Within a few hours we were in sight of Hudson's Bay in Canada. In the northern latitude it never gets completely dark in the summer months. Although it was theoretically the middle of the night by the clock when we were in northern Canada and over Greenland, the sky was still tinged with dawn as the midnight sun illuminated the sky. Time by the clock races ahead at a dizzying speed on a west to east flight, so although it was only thirteen hours after take off when we approached London, the time in London stood at eight in the morning.
After we came to the terminal gate in London the pilot announced "we have just made a fully instrumented landing. During the landing approach and landing my hands were off the controls--and everything was done automatically." Landing was indeed a perfect one--but I was sort of glad that the announcement of the do-it-yourself landing was made after the landing and not before!
The weather was typically London: warm, almost sultry, and overcast. My head was full of visit plans for the day: A visit to see music box dealers, Keith Harding and Graham Webb, a trip to nearby St. Albans to see the beautiful museum of organs owned by Mr. C. H. Hart, and if possible, to arrange a brief visit with musical historian, Arthur Ord-Hume.
However, I had spent a sleepless thirteen hours on the plane--and although the clock cheerily announced it was time for a new day to begin in London, according to my internal "clock" it was time to go to sleep! So, Friday was spent sleeping, not seeing instruments.
The first few days of my past European trips was sleeping days and staying awake nights until I was acclimated to the time zone differences—a time zone change of eight hours from California. However, for some reason, I thought I would be able to adjust easier this time--but as it turned out, I wasn't able to.
By Saturday morning I was sufficiently invigorated to venture out of the Inn on the Park, our hotel which faced Hyde Park in London's West End. Normally I tried to book reservations into either the Dorchester or London Hilton, but this time my plans were made too late to secure space in either one of these two hotels--so I was a bit disappointed when my travel agent, Fred Cogan, said that he was able to secure space at the Inn on the Park--"It is a new hotel--and I haven't stayed in it myself--but from what I hear it is quite a nice place," he said. We weren't at all disappointed--in fact, the hotel was really excellent and I plan to stay there again next time.
I hailed a taxi and gave instructions for Portobello Road, the center of activity in the antique business in London. When I first visited Portobello Road, about ten years ago, it was mainly a Saturday event. On Saturday various tradesmen, antique dealers, and others erected tables in the street of rented spaces in stalls. Since that time it has become somewhat more permanent. The transient Saturday street tables are still there on that day, but the street itself is lined with a number of stores and shops that do business on other days of the week as well.
The most famous inhabitant of that redoubtable street, that is the most important from the viewpoint of automatic musical instruments, is Graham Webb who maintains premises at number 93. Graham's shop is like something out of Charles Dickens. Piled high with musical treasures, there is hardly room for any customers inside! But, few visitors would want it any differently.
Graham was in the process of opening his store when I arrived--and he saw me before I saw him. With his customary twinkle in his eye he said, "I heard you were coming--and it is so nice to see you." I hadn't written in advance as I was aware of the time zone change problem and the fact that I might not be able to make as many visits as I had hoped--so how Graham learned of my visit is a mystery. I forgot to ask him when I was there, so I still don’t know.
Graham presented me with a copy of his newly published book, "The Disc Music Box Handbook." A nicer gift could not be imagined for I was in need of some reading material for later on in the trip when I would be spending time traveling--and what better thing to read than a newly published book on my favorite subject? "Business has been absolutely fantastic recently," said Graham--and his shop, looking somewhat less full than usual, bore this out.
"How much is that Regina disc changer?" I asked. "I am quite sure that one has been sold--it is on offer to another party and I am sure it will go," was his reply. Music box after music box was marked "sold" so I didn't ask about them. I did spy a beautifully inlaid and nicely refinished rather large box on the floor near the entrance. I opened the lid and was greeted by the gleaming musical comb and brilliantly polished cylinder. Seeing no "sold" tag I said, "How much is this one?" "I'm afraid that that one has been sold also," was Graham's reply. So, what I had hoped to be a business visit turned out to be more of a social visit--but that was fine also. Graham has a real enthusiasm for the things he sells--and I always enjoy our conversations. It was with regret that our schedule did not permit us to accept his invitation to visit his newly acquired home on the outskirts of London.
Sunday brought with it a veritable downpour. I hoped this would not cause a delay in our scheduled 4 p.m. departure by plane to Paris, and, fortunately, it didn't.
The night before I telephoned Frank Holland, proprietor of the British Piano Museum. It was 1961, I believe, when I first visited Frank who was living at 20 Hangar Lane at that time. Frank, a retired electrical engineer, had the dream of opening a museum--and proudly he took me to see his proposed museum site: A former church located near the gas works in the area of Kew Bridge. When I first saw the place, it was piled high with seemingly zillions of old church hymnals and other long-ago books. Apparently the church had outlived its usefulness for services and was now being used as a depository for church supplies.
A year or two later Frank moved into the church and set up his museum. Now, in 1971, the museum is in full operation--and an excellent museum it is.
We arrived at noon. The museum’s first tour on Sunday was scheduled to begin at 2:30, so we had time to go down to the end of High Street and have dinner in a local hotel. Shortly afterwards we returned to the museum. "What would you like to hear in particular?" queried Frank as he scurried about in preparation for opening the museum. Opening time was scarcely a half-hour away by this time--so I picked the highlights among the bigger instruments, including some instruments that were not there two years ago during my previous visit.
"I have just finished tuning up and working on this Hupfeld Phonoliszt Violina. When the Musical Box Society was here on its tour a few weeks ago it wasn't fully working, so if someone from that group comments to you be sure to tell them that it is working now," said Frank--and I promptly agreed to do so. The Hupfeld Phonoliszt Violina with its expression piano and intriguing system of three violins played by a rotating horsehair bow was a sensation when Hupfeld first introduced in the first decade of the twentieth century. The instrument was immensely popular and many thousands were sold—probably five to ten thousand or so altogether. However, time took its toll of these instruments and they are quite scarce today. The Hupfeld deftly played a violin concerto for us. The performance lasted only a few .minutes due to the limited time we had available, but I wish it had lasted for a few hours. The number one item on my next visit there will be to come early and select favorite rolls to hear on this instrument.
Two large Imhof & Mukle Orchestrions, one restored and playing "and on all eight cylinders" and the other semi-restored and not fully playing, were next in line. The restored Imhof was a treat to hear. The tone of the instrument was very mellow while, at the same time, cheery and lively. It is not hard to see why such instruments were popular in mansions and castles years ago. It would not have been difficult to have listened to it for several hours!
Next came a Welte Cottage Orchestrion--which I recognized as being somewhat like a model No. 2. "No, it's a model No. 2 1/2," said Frank jokingly. Indeed, it was a hybrid between a style 2 and a style 3. Welte, like most other makers of classical orchestrions, used standard catalog designations only as a guide. Special models were made up on numerous occasions and, more often, slight variances were introduced in normal production runs. A particular model might have one rank of pipes more than the catalog called for, or one rank of pipes less. Or, it might have a set of bells or a set of xylophone bars, features not mentioned in the catalog. The Welte sounded sweet and mellow, as I knew it would--from having heard similar instruments. The Welte and Imhof instruments were primarily meant for what were called "refined locations" in the original catalog--private homes, hotel lobbies, and similar places.
Dominating the museum by its sheer immense size was a Welte Philharmonic organ. During my previous visit to the museum it was in a very disassembled state--with the chest visible here, a few pipes visible there, and some woodwork visible still in another corner. Now it was all together and playing--and what a magnificent instrument it is! Even if it hadn't played a single note, it would have been an impressive addition to the museum, but play it did--and the music was quite beautiful. Voiced in the classical or traditional way (rather than like a theatre organ) the Welte played artists' rolls from the 1920 's.
"I first learned of this Welte when it was in the living room of a large home," Frank told me. "The instrument was on the market for sale, and two Americans had already been there to see it--with the thought in mind of buying it. So, I wasted no time in convincing the owner that the best location for it would be the British Piano Museum. We are a part of the National Trust, as you know, and by placing the instrument in the museum it would be available for the public for many years to come. After some negotiation we acquired the instrument and brought it here. As you know, rebuilding it has been a very long process--what with the large number of pipe chests and other components. Now that it is done it is one of the favorite instruments in the museum."
By this time the magical 2:30 had arrived and visitors were trickling in. Within a few minutes every seat in the house was taken--and some three to four dozen were on hand to be entertained.
While I have known Frank for quite awhile and have talked to him at great lengths, I never before had the chance to see one of his museum presentations, I expected that it would be in the typical British style ("British people never use a sentence when a paragraph will do"--so once said Harvey Roehl), but I was pleasantly, surprised to find the talk was informal and full of human interest topics. In short, it was keyed to the audience perfectly. From the smallest Regina music box to the immense Welte organ the music was excellent and the presentation was likewise--and the audience loved every minute of it. The only embarrassing moment was when Frank told his audience that "we have some distinguished visitors from America today, and will you, Dave, please correct me if I make any error?" But, really, I wouldn't have changed a word in Frank's presentation. In fact, had I been in charge of the tour I couldn't have done half as well myself.
All too soon our visit had to end--and we climbed into our waiting taxi for the trip to the airport.
Roy Haning standing in front of a Coinola CO keyboard orchestrion, circa 1965.
Two hours or so later we were in the Paris Hilton. After a quick dinner in "Le-Western," a Western motif restaurant in the basement of the hotel, we ventured out to see what was going on. Scarcely a block away from the hotel stood the famed Eiffel Tower, designed by Gustave Eiffel and erected for the International Exposition held in Paris in 1889. Since that time it has been a delight to millions of visitors who admire its majestic sweep into the Paris skies. On a trip to Paris with Roy Haning five years ago, I remember how delighted Roy was to find a small piece of scrap metal that had been cut from the Eiffel Tower by workman who were replacing some struts. A friend of his back in his home town of Troy, Ohio told him to "be sure to bring back some pictures of the Eiffel Tower." Roy did better than that, he brought back a piece of the Eiffel Tower itself! [Roy Haning and Neal White, of Troy, Ohio, were famous for their huge collection of music boxes, coin-in-the-slot pianos and orchestrions, band organs, and dance organs. The music box collection and much of the coin piano and orchestrion collection was sold off through Hathaway & Bowers, Inc., between 1968 and 1972.]
Tonight we took the two elevators up to the second stage level--and saw the Panorama of Paris in the darkness.
The next day I visited a number of antique shops in the French city. The Swiss Village, a flea market type of indoor-outdoor antique bazaar the last time I visited it about five years ago, was mostly transformed into an ultra-modern showcase of high priced antiques. Somehow the old charm was left out in the process. I did have a nice visit with my friend, Alain Vian, who treated me to the sound of a large Gavioliphone--an instrument which was in reality a church pipe organ played by cardboard music books! [In 1957 Alain Vian, of Paris, France, acquired the entire workshop (documents, tools, and automatic musical instruments) of Georges Poirot, born in 1896 and who had died in 1954, and who was also the last organ builder in Mirecourt, France. Then, for a number of years following the 1957 acquisition, Alain Vian sold off many mechanical instruments (organs), sets of tools and archives to collectors in the USA.] Accustomed to the Gavioli fairground organs, I wasn't quite prepared for the mellow, almost reverent, sounds that emanated from the newly restored instrument. The organ was built about 1904. Alain Vian, interested in the history of the instrument and knowing my interest in the same subject, pointed out that Limonaire Freres, a competitor of Gavioli, made music books with "Gavioliphone" marked on them. Actually, I supposed that the thought of a competitor making music books or music rolls for a rival firm isn't unique. Come to think of it, the Operators Piano Company of Chicago, Illinois made type "G" rolls for use on the instrument of its competitor, the J. P. Seeburg Piano Company. I suppose that profit is where you find it--and more co-operation existed between the old time firms than we sometimes think would have been the case.
In the mid-afternoon we went. back to the hotel to watch the Apollo 15 launching beamed by satellite from Cape Kennedy. The commentary was, of course, in French--but with Mary on hand to translate I was able to follow what was going on. In a way it was nice to see that the French are as interested in our space program as we are.
Early in the morning we went down to the Avis Rent-a-car counter at the Paris Hilton to make arrangements for our .automobile trip which was about to begin. We were given an Opel station wagon which, though not large by American standards, was ample for our luggage and us. By nightfall, we arrived in Brussels, Belgium. With a full schedule set for the coming day, we went to bed early for a good nights rest.
[No further data entry – the story remains unfinished.]
Original document provided by Q. David Bowers.
Comments by Terry Hathaway
Q. David Bowers
Björn Isebaert (Oscar & Leonard Grymonprez photographs).
The British Piano Museum (The late Frank
368 High Street, Brentford, Middlesex TW 8 OBD
Tel: (0044) 181 560 8108
Village of Mirecourt, France, Musique Mécanique.