Hupfeld Helios III/39

Original Location: Chemnitz, Germany

Hupfeld Helios III/39 orchestrion, as restored by Ron Cappel, 2002.Original Catalogue Specifications:

52-Note Chromatic Scale: The 15-note accompaniment and 25-note melody pipework in the Helios Orchestrion.
25-note Melodie Violin; 15-note Accompaniment; 12-note Bass for a total of 296 pipes.


Special Lighting Effects:

Center section of the Hupfeld Helios showing the animated scene and other lighting effects.The daytime lighting effect for the animated scene.The ornate case of this historic specimen is richly endowed with a wonderful array of mechanical and electrical lighting effects. The utterly spectacular three-dimensional animated scene features both. The mechanical elements include two different flying Zeppelins (not visible simultaneously), a rotating waterwheel, a twirling windmill, a funicular railway that ascends and descends a steep mountain grade and a passenger train that glides across an arched stone bridge. In addition to all this splendid mechanical action, there are some stunning lighting effects that consist of a series of sequentially timed lighting changes that create the colorful illusion of daytime, followed by a glowing evening sunset, then nighttime and finally a golden morning dawn. This is accomplished by using six separate electric lighting circuits, one each for (1) daytime, (2) sunset, (3) nighttime, (4) morning, (5) the sun and (6) the moon. Directly above the animated scene is a revolving jeweled bulb (called a "Fancy Lamp") set inside a cone of narrow, cut mirrors, which provides a brilliant kaleidoscope of dancing color when in operation. This is, in turn, encircled by a handsome casework arch fitted with eight greenish colored glass jewels. Additionally, there is an assortment of colored electric lamps artistically spaced across the remaining upper part of the case. These tiny electric lamps flash on and off in timed sequences in 30-second long patterns, which repeat themselves after approximately two minutes. All of the lighting effects are controlled by a single rotating drum-switch assembly that requires about four minutes time to make one complete revolution. Thus, each turn of the switching drum takes the animated scene through its day-sunset-night-morning cycle, as well as producing the different flashing light sequences that alternately dance across the massive casework.

Chronological History:

Circa 1911
Manufactured by Hupfeld, Leipzig, Germany.

Originally this particular Helios orchestrion was apparently fitted with a heavy beveled glass mirror in each of the two side-wings, instead of the colorful art-glass panels set in brass piping that are common in other Hupfeld orchestrion of later manufacture, and that also make use of the same case style. Fortuitously, a penciled date of 1911 was found on the back side of one of the side-wing mirrored panels, suggesting that the casework for this magnificent instrument was probably completed in that same year.

The musical specifications of this Helios III/39 are very impressive, making this Helios a treasure even if it did not have the handsomely ornate furniture casework or the stunning array of spectacular lighting effects. Utilizing the same basic tracker-bar layout as the smaller Helios I and Helios II category machines, the Helios type III layout differs mainly in regards to its use of more extensive and complicated multiplexing combinations and routines, which are necessary to control the larger and more varied array of pipework, as well as other features not found on its smaller brethren.

This particular Helios III is an excellent example of how Hupfeld often used and adapted this highly popular case design for various sized Helios orchestrions. The center structure alone, without any attached side-wings, was a popular furniture case style used in the category II Helios lineup -- a Helios with this case style being designated a Helios model II/25. Then, with the addition of attached side-wings, to accommodate an increased number and scale of pipework voices, the same basic center cabinet could be adapted to house the larger and more extensive pipework of the category III and again much larger category IV Helios models. Moreover, up into the 1920s, this legacy case design had proven itself to be so popular that it was still being used for the much more sophisticated and realistic sounding Hupfeld Super Pan Orchestras, as well as for the immense and custom built Hupfeld Excelsior Pan Orchestra, whereupon, in this particular latter instance, each extra big side-wing had an additional attached side-wing, just to make room for all of the added mechanical components. Indeed, this Helios III/39 shows this adaptation principle at work, with the side wings constructed to be significantly deeper than the center main chassis, specifically to accommodate the large scale bass pipework in the left hand side-wing.

Another quality that this hand-crafted adaptive nature points out is that any two Hupfeld orchestrions, even of the same exact model designation, will tend to be slightly different at best, either in component layout or pipework, although the instrument will be visually easily recognized for the model and category type that it is. This is because Hupfeld orchestrions were basically put together by a group of craftsmen assigned to a particular department, such as the Helios department, in this instance, who more or less worked together hand fitting each component into the casework, while also making adjustments to accommodate special customer requests and/or to use up components and pipework that was handy and in stock.

This Helios III/39 is one of only two known surviving Hupfeld Helios category III specimens, the other example being a model Helios III/42 that is yet unrestored. No category IV or V machines, which were significantly larger yet, are known to exist.

Circa 1912
Dance Hall, Chemnitz, Germany.

In the heyday of large orchestrions a Helios Model III series orchestrion was not a common sight, mainly due to its immense size, weight, and relatively high purchase price. So, imagine the excitement that must have filled the air when this spectacular Helios was newly installed in a dance hall in Chemnitz, Germany. Following World War II, and during the forty ensuing years of the German Democratic Republic, Chemnitz was known as Karl-Marx-Stadt.

Circa 19??
Unidentified person, Germany

It is unknown when the Helios was removed from its original location in Chemnitz, Germany. What is known is that it was removed, stored, and protected from the elements in a relatively modern "barn" or large storage building, probably somewhere not too far from Chemnitz. It was erected and eventually photographed, with a set of color pictures given to Werner Baus when he found out about the Helios and began looking into buying it, although since that time the photographs seem to have been misplaced and are therefore not available for inclusion with this writing.

Circa 1980
Werner Baus, Germany

Discovered in a "barn" somewhere in Germany, probably near Chemnitz, circa 1980, the big Helios was removed and trucked to Werner's workshop, also in Germany, where he did enough repair work on the Helios to get it into playing condition. The casework was in rather poor condition due to many years of neglected woodworm infestation and the resulting damage. To improve its appearance the case was stained with a reddish dye, which helped to hide much of the otherwise obvious worm damage and any other unsightly blemishes.

Circa 1985
Q. David Bowers, New Hampshire

Circa 1985, the Helios III/39 was sold to Q. David Bowers. The instrument was set up for display, but there was no known restoration work done to improve its physical condition.

Circa 1990-91
Jasper Sanfilippo, Illinois

David Bowers sold the Helios to Jasper Sanfilippo circa 1990-91. While in the Sanfilippo collection the giant Hupfeld was put on display and the lighting effects wired to be permanently on, whether the instrument was playing, or not. The only restoration work done on the big machine was limited to having Art Reblitz rebuild the register control box. Bob Gilson supplied beautiful silk-screened celluloid reproduction labels for the register unit's little stop knobs, thereby replacing the ones that had become lost and then crudely substituted with cutout paper circles bearing lettering that had been inked in with a ball-point pen.

While part of the Sanfilippo collection this magnificent instrument was photographed for use in Art Reblitz's book, The Golden Age of Automatic Musical Instruments, for which it is pictured and described on pages 72 and 73.

Circa 2000
Mark Yaffe, Florida

The automatic music roll changer in the Hupfeld Helios III/39 orchestrion.During the year 2000, the Helios III/39 was sold to Mark Yaffe, a collector who had the good foresight to recognize the long term value of a thorough and meticulous restoration. Thus, soon after acquiring ownership, Mr. Yaffe commission Ron Cappel to restore the magnificent machine, both mechanically and cosmetically, so as to return it to like new condition. To this end, Ron Cappel (and his assistant, David Sorrow), located in Atascadero, California, worked for some two years on the mechanical portion of the complicated machine. At the same time, John and Steve Gonzales, located in Pico Rivera, California, began the job of rebuilding of the piano action and soundboard, as well as initiating the long process of painstakingly repairing and refinishing the massive and ornate casework. As a testament to John Gonzales' determination, in Ron Cappel's own words, "It takes someone of John and Steve Gonzales' caliber to make a wreck of a Helios case come out looking this beautiful, which is made more even more unbelievable because John Gonzales was going through cancer surgery, radiation, and chemo therapy treatments at the same time." The extensive and careful restoration work was completed in October of 2002. John Gonzales passed away on March 22, 2003, soon after overseeing the restoration of another large and challenging orchestrion case (for a Wurlitzer Style 32 Concert PianOrchestra).


Information provided by Ron Cappel, Art Reblitz and Terry Hathaway.


Ron Cappel.