Wurlitzer Style 12 Mandolin PianOrchestra

Original Location: Galveston, Texas

Original Catalogue Specifications:

61 Note Musical Scale:

Special Lighting Effects:


Chronological History:

Circa 1912/14
Chassis and the majority of its components manufactured by J.D. Philipps & Sons, Bockenheim, Frankfurt-am-Main, Germany.

Circa 1912/14
Chassis components imported by Rudolph Wurlitzer Company, New York.

The chassis is basically Philipps, with components added by Wurlitzer. The piano, mandolin attachment, pipes and pipe chest, lock and cancel controls, drums and associated actions, and the free-standing, wrap-around furniture case appear to all be Wurlitzer designed and manufactured components. The coin-accumulator and all associated electricals were added by Wurlitzer.

Original Location in Galveston, Texas, is unknown.

The original shipping destination as per the Wurlitzer factory shipping records was Galveston, Texas, September, 27, 1915.

Circa 19??
Ice Cream Factory in the Fresno area (Fountain?), California).

Circa 1961/62
Jim Main, Nickelodeon House Antiques, Monrovia, California.

Circa 1962/63
Otto Carlsen collection, Monrovia, California.

The instrument being in generally excellent condition, the pump was releathered and other relatively minor restoration work was done by Otto Carlsen, putting the instrument in good playing condition. No substantial cosmetic work was done to the instrument.

Close up of Peacock "Wonderlight" while in Rudy Edwards collection (1998).The peacock "wonderlight" attachment atop the case was complete, although slightly damaged. The original lighted, tapered glass "peacock tail" tube, which was painted with a peacock feather design, was broken at the small end, near the area where a brass collar and drive shaft assembly was attached. Not knowing how to make a new glass tube like the original, Otto Carlsen made a new, hollow tube of similar proportions out of a resin based composite material. Like the original, the new tube housed an electric light bulb. In small holes cut into the tube an assortment of colorful glass gems were fitted, similar to those used in a regular Wurlitzer "Wonderlight." Although the effect was quite different than what was originally intended, it did provide a very pleasing and colorful display, as the various colored prisms of projected light danced against the multi-faceted peacock's reflective metal tail shroud.

Circa 1963
David Bowers collection, Vestal, New York.

The PianOrchestra was set up in Dave Bowers hillside home in Vestal, New York. The Instrument was next moved to Kettering, Ohio, were Dave Bowers lived, for about one year. Then, in 1967, the PianOrchestra was moved to Santa Fe Springs, California, along with Dave Bowers' many other personal possessions.

Bill Allen collection, Santa Ana, California.

Exterior view of the style 12 PianOrchestra (Rudy Edwards collection, 1998).I remember Bill Allen visiting the Hathaway & Bowers, Inc., Santa Fe Springs, California, showrooms many times, standing in front of the style 12 PianOrchestra, his mouth watering. One day, Bill showed up with a friend, Rudy Edwards, who had recently begun collecting coin-pianos and who also had become an avid admirer of the style 12 PianOrchestra. As usual, upon his arrival, Bill stood in front of the little PianOrchestra, paying little or no attention to anything else, but still unable to make up his mind as to whether to buy the instrument, or not. After these visitations to admire the PianOrchestra had been going on for quite a while, one day Dave Bowers telephoned Bill, telling him that he needed to sell the PianOrchestra, and that if he would come right over he would give him a special price. It was May 26, 1971, when Rudy Edwards drove Bill Allen to Santa Fe Springs, where the two of them inspected the PianOrchestra. It played beautifully, and both Bill and Rudy liked it very much. Bill Allen was obviously desiring to possess the PianOrchestra. But he still wavered, unable to make a definite decision to buy, finally rationalizing, "I'm too old to put that much money into a machine. So, I think we had better go home."

So Rudy Edwards and Bill Allen walked out of Hathaway & Bowers, Inc., with Bill still acting like a person in love with the PianOrchestra. Rudy was driving, all the while thinking to himself, carefully deliberating, whether he wanted to get involved in the PianOrchestra with Bill Allen, or not. Rudy had driven several miles from Santa Fe Springs when he finally turned to Bill Allen and made him a proposition. Rudy offered, "if you want to buy the machine, I'll pay half and you can keep it as long as you desire. Then, when you are ready to part with it I'll pay the balance." Bill immediately responded with, "that's a deal." Rudy turned the car around and drove back to Santa Fe Springs, whereupon Bill Allen bought the style 12 PianOrchestra.

Internal view of style 12 PianOrchestra while in Rudy Edwards collection (1998).The instrument was hauled to Bill Allen's beautiful hillside residence, "Allen Acres," and set up in his poolside music room. He affectionately called the machine "my big Wurlitzer Mandolin Peacock Piano." Bill was a fanatic of perfection when it came to the appearance of his collectibles. Everything he had looked stunning, always sparkling clean and deliciously fresh, although, when it came to his coin-pianos, which were generally for sale, he would usually skimp on the inside. I can remember wanting to look inside several of his coin-pianos. He would hesitate, fidgeting, jingling the change and keys in his pockets, and try to divert my attention, pointing out some exterior feature Bill thought worthy of attention. But if I persisted, he might, almost grudgingly, tilt open a removable service panel just a crack, and then snap it shut before I really had a chance to notice much, if anything.

Bill had an immense collection of absolutely superb art-glass panels and shades, collected over many years, before art-glass was generally a popular item to collect. To enhance the appearance of his art-glass specimens, Bill had taken the time to groom an electro-plater, who had become very skilled at gold plating the delicate lead and copper-foil structures that held together the individually fitted pieces of colored glass, without destroying or damaging its integrity in the slightest. So, after many, many years of successful and uneventful electro-plating experience, Bill trusted his plater with his most delicate plating work. Thus, he didn't think twice when it came to handing over a delicate item that needed some kind of re-plating. Bill just delivered it to "his man," and a few days later he would pick up the job, expecting beforehand that it would be done faultlessly.

Six-station Philipps revolver mechanik (Rudy Edwards collection, 1998).Six-Station Roll-Changer Detail: Introduced by Philipps, circa 1905, it was maybe 1909 before the automatic roll-changer became the standard music roll playing device for Wurlitzer PianOrchestras, the roll-changer replacing the single-roll mechanism almost entirely. In Europe, however, the situation was different, with the single roll mechanism remaining popular. This is because it was the custom there to have an orchestrion operated by an attendant, who would change rolls and play music requested by the establishment's patrons, as well as collect any patronage due. In sharp contrast, U.S. customers tended to want automatic, unattended operation, which eliminated the necessity of having an attendant. Instead, inexpensive coin-drop boxes were placed at strategic points to make it easy to collect money and start the orchestrion remotely.

The most commonly installed roll-changer size was the basic six-station revolver mechanism, as is pictured above. The Philipps revolver mechanism was probably the most reliable and trouble free of any of the various roll changing devices, no matter the brand of orchestrion or coin piano. Three, ten, and twelve-station roll-changers were also available, although there are no known instances of the three-station changer ever being installed in a large PianOrchestra. These smaller roll-changers seem to have been reserved for the diminutive keyboard style pianos and orchestrions manufactured by Philipps. Only one PianOrchestra survives, a style 15, that contains a twelve-station changer.

Note the belt driven, adjustable friction drive tempo speed regulating device at the right side of the roll changer. Some early versions used a pair of inverted cones to accomplish the same speed regulation (see the style 33 PianOrchestra).
Chimes (orchestra bells) in style 12 PianOrchestra.Chimes (Orchestra Bells) Detail: What Wurlitzer listed as chimes are perhaps more appropriately termed orchestra bells -- consisting of 13 metal bar bells. In the style 12, as in most later vintage PianOrchestras, the bells are located to the right of the roll-changer, and hang upside down from the wide support shelf situated just above the roll-changer mechanism. In early PianOrchestras they are also located to the right of the roll-changer, but mounted upright on the main valve chest support shelf, underneath the roll-changer mechanism.

The picture at right was taken looking upward, and it shows the 13 individual metal bell-strikers at left, which hang downward, and the actual metal bell-bars at right. Each bell is suspended by gut strings, which are laced through holes drilled at the bell's nodule points. The strikers are made by attaching a cylindrical metal hammer to a narrow piece of flat spring steel. The other end of the spring steel is screwed to a motor pneumatic, which, when activated, causes the striker to move toward the bell-bar. A felted rail intentionally limits the travel of the bell strikers, so that when a striker pneumatic is activated the actual hammer does not rest on the bell, but rather, due to the momentum of the hammer on the slender spring steel lever only momentarily strikes the bar, and then quickly rebounds away. This quick retreat of the relatively heavy hammer prevents any dampening of the bell's superb tone, which would otherwise be made to sound dull and short lived.

In the following case, unfortunately, what happened at the plating facility did not resemble Bill's usually cheerful expectations. The thin metal shroud that formed the peacock's tail assembly had originally been nickel plated, giving a shine and luster to its inner reflective surface. Over the years, however, the nickel had oxidized and dulled, with bits of nickel flaking off, leaving an uneven appearance that Bill could not bring himself to leave alone. He wanted it to shine just like new. So, he had Rudy Edwards carefully remove the tail shroud, so that he could take it to his trusted plating vendor for chemical stripping and re-nickeling. Then, a few days later, when Bill and Rudy went back to pick up the re-plated metal shroud they were shocked to see that nothing remained but a few shreds of flimsy metal. The acid stripping process has literally destroyed the peacock's tail, dissolving all but some minor remnants, which consisted mostly of the crimped, reinforced edges.

According to Rudy Edwards, when Bill Allen set sight on the few shreds of frail metal that still remained he was "really upset," as anyone who ever knew Bill can easily imagine. He was apparently beside himself, not knowing what to say or how to resolve the situation, something quite unusual for this normally very opinionated, loudly outspoken and determined man. Fortunately, the owner of the plating shop seeing the situation came forward and spoke up, saying, "don't worry, I'll have one made for you." So a new shroud of gleaming stainless steel was made, approximating the original one in both size and shape. It was buffed to a high polish and lacquered, providing the unoriginal spit-shined surface appearance that Bill had wanted all along.

Wurlitzer coin-trip accumulator in the style 12 PianOrchestra.Coin Trip Accumulator Detail: Pictured at right is the standard Wurlitzer ratchet wheel type of coin accumulator. It replaced the earlier vertical drop, ratchet slide type, which was sometimes troublesome to maintain. The accumulator wheel design allowed patrons to insert up to approximately twenty coins and hear an equal number of tunes. Each time a coin was dropped through the coin chute, the wheel would ratchet clockwise one tooth. At the end of a tune, the small pneumatic motor (upper left corner of the cast metal enclosure) ratcheted the toothed wheel back, or counterclockwise, one tooth. This action subtracted one play and, when all accumulated tunes has been used up, shut the machine off. Cutting off the electrical power depended upon the position of a small pin that extended outward from the ratchet wheel, and which contacted the knife-switch operating lever when the last paid tune was over. Notice the two-coil electro-magnet assembly, which was used for tripping the ratchet wheel by means of external, battery powered remote coin boxes.

Visible directly above the coin accumulator mechanism is the bottom portion of a standard Wurlitzer coin trap device. The tiny "horseshoe" magnet (painted red) causes iron slugs to divert and fall out of the coin chute and into a small collection tray. Following the magnet trap is another trap, consisting of an elongated aperture (not visible), which is slightly smaller in width than a nickel. A delicate lever spring rests behind this e slot, which causes any coins smaller than a nickel to fall into the collection tray, too, thus preventing the orchestrion from playing unless the proper coinage is used.

In 1975, four years after Bill Allen and Rudy Edwards had jointly bought the Style 12 PianOrchestra, Bill Allen informed Rudy that he was ready to part with the PianOrchestra, so Rudy could pay him for his half of the purchase price and take the machine. Rudy Edwards then became the sole owner of the mighty little PianOrchestra.

Edwards collection, California.

In 1975 Rudy Edwards took full ownership of the PianOrchestra, paying off Bill Allen, of Santa Ana, California, for his portion of the joint purchase. The PianOrchestra was then moved to its present location in Rudy Edward's music room. As of 1999, since taking possession, the only maintenance of any consequence has been tuning the instrument on two separate occasions -- an outstanding achievement for a complicated machine made circa 1912/14, and built mostly out of wood, cloth, and leather.

Just as remarkable, however, is its large sound. This relatively little, but "big," style 12 with its single rank of violin pipes (with no on-off register control) seemed to always sound much bigger and fuller than its rather limited catalogue specifications might lead someone to believe. With many collectors tending to consider bigger PianOrchestras with more instrumentation to be better, notwithstanding the stunning appearance of the style 12, listening to a nicely restored style 12 provides ample reason to question the popular bigger is better reasoning. Curiously, when researching for this project, Rudy Edwards made an interesting comment regarding the limited nature of the PianOrchestra's pipework: "I always liked this machine better," he said, "because the bigger PianOrchestras had too many different instruments always going on."

Nielson collection, Pennsylvania.

In September of 2003 the Wurlitzer Style 12 Mandolin PianOrchestra became the property of Don Nielson of Pennsylvania.


Information provided by Terry Hathaway, Rudy Edwards and Don Pease.


Circa 1912 Wurlitzer catalogue; and Terry Hathaway.