Wurlitzer Style 17 (Regular) PianOrchestra
Philipps Pianella Model Special

Discovered Location: Oklahoma

Original Catalogue Specifications:

Circa 1905 catalogue illustration of style 17 PianOrchestra.

61 Note Musical Scale:


Chronological History:

Circa 1906/8
Manufactured by J.D. Philipps & Sons, Bockenheim, Frankfurt-am-Main, Germany.

Circa 1906/09
Imported and sold by Rudolph Wurlitzer Company, New York.

Circa 19??
Original Location:

According to Frank Rayle, who bought the PianOrchestra from Otto Carlsen in 1965, Otto mentioned that this style 17 was discovered in the basement of an amusement park in Oklahoma. Later, during the early 1980s, when Frank Rayle had the PianOrchestra as an attraction in an ice-cream parlor he had built, a customer came in and seeing the machine began to cry. The man stated that he once had a paper route in Oklahoma in the early 1900s and remembered the instrument, or a duplicate of it, in the lobby of a bordello. While it is certainly possible that this is the same style 17 PianOrchestra, with the information currently at hand it is impossible to confirm or deny any stories or speculation regarding the instruments original location.

Circa 195?
Jack Forney collection, Denver, Colorado.

Jack Forney owned the Forney Museum of Transportation in Denver, Colorado. The collection was, according to Art Reblitz, housed in a huge old brick power plant, with a badly leaking roof. Pigeon feathers and droppings were all over the cars and a Mills Violano, with buckets located around to collect some of the dripping water. "Jack's hearing damage and the small holes in the roof were attributable to the same cause -- shooting pigeons," says Art Reblitz. The museum must have been an interesting place, if not a happy home for the collection!

Circa 1965
Otto Carlsen, Monrovia, California.

It is unknown exactly when Otto Carlsen acquired the style 17 PianOrchestra. I am estimating it to be circa 1965. As I remember, Otto had sold the instrument before I met him, and I probably first set eyes on his collection in mid to late 1965. Art Reblitz notes that the style 17 PianOrchestra was no longer part of the Forney collection when he visited in 1968.

Circa 1965
Frank Rayle, Encinitas, California.

Wurlitzer Style 17 PianOrchestra (Frank Rayle Collection, circa 1975).In the late 1960s I remember Mr. Rayle buying a few "Regular PianOrchestra" and many "Style 17 PianOrchestra" music rolls (Regular and Style 17 rolls are the same, except for a notation on the label) from Hathaway & Bowers, Inc., adding to his already exceptional collection of the rare style 17 music rolls. By the early 1970s Mr. Rayle had done enough restoration work on the machine to get the PianOrchestra into fair playing condition. Then, during the mid to late 1970s, it was placed on display in the Movieland Wax Museum Restaurant, Buena Park, California, where it entertained patrons for several years.

In the early 1980s the PianOrchestra was moved to a newly built "turn-of-the-century" ice-cream parlor built by Frank Rayle, where it entertained patrons at the drop of a coin. During this time, a customer came in, saw the machine and began to cry. He remembered it, or a duplicate of it, in the early 1900s when he had a paper route in Oklahoma. He said it was being used in the lobby of a bordello.

Rear view, upper section, of the Wurlitzer Style 17 PianOrchestra (Frank Rayle Collection, circa 1975).During the year of 1998, a complete restoration of the PianOrchestra had begun, with the majority of the work being done by Randy Potter of Bend, Oregon. The piano sounding board repairs, new pin-block and the rebuilding of the piano action was carried out by Joe Garrett, of Gales Creek, Oregon.

As an interesting side note, according to Joe Garrett, his step-father, along with several friends, opened the Red Dog Saloon in Juneau, Alaska, during the late 1940s. It was supposedly a typical Yukon Territory looking kind of place, with sawdust on the floor and swinging front doors. As a young man, Joe remembers the place as having many coin pianos, and even some orchestrions. But when I asked Joe what kind, all he could remember was putting nickels in the machines, because, he said, at that young age he was not interested in anything but hearing them play. Joe's step-father left the saloon business in the 1950s, and Joe has no clue as to what happened to all the coin pianos and orchestrions.

Interior view of the Wurlitzer Style 17 PianOrchestra (Frank Rayle Collection, circa 1975).As of mid 2001, the restoration and final regulation of the PianOrchestra was completed, and the smallish PianOrchestra, with only one rank of violin/violoncello pipes, reportedly sounds much larger and fuller than what was expected. This sense of musical enhancement or development is much the same as is experienced with the diminutive Style 12 PianOrchestra, which also sounds mightier than its music producing components logically suggest. But this is partially explained by the loud voicing of the pipework, which tends to also increase the harmonic content, thereby providing a richer and fuller sounding tone. Then, the relatively large, uncramped spaciousness within the casework helps to further develop and enhance the tone, too. The open or loud voicing of pipes was common in the smaller PianOrchestras -- instruments with one or two ranks--so that the music would carry in noisy commercial locations.

With the restoration finished, the PianOrchestra was put on display in Frank Rayle's winery/art gallery/museum complex on Whidley Island in the beautiful Paget Sound area, about fifty miles North of Seattle, Washington (more precisely on Day Road, in Greenbank, Washington). Numerous other coin-in-the-slot pianos were on display, too, which included a Link 2E from the fabulous Raney collection (formerly located near Whittier, California, and sold off in the early 1950s). Frank Rayle's museum complex, consisting of several historic and restored buildings welcomed visitors during the summer and on weekends, and other times by appointment. Sadly, Frank B. Rayle passed away on October 17, 2009.

Showtime Auction Services

The Wurlitzer Style 17 Pianorchestra at the Showtime Auction Services 3-day sale on October 5-7, 2012.The Wurlitzer Style 17 PianOrchestra, along with a large assortment of arcade items, toys, and other historic ephemera were put up for auction by Michigan based Showtime Auction Services, and sold during a 3-day sale (October 5-7, 2012).

The Lund Collection

At the Showtime Auction Services October, 2012, sale the Wurlitzer Style 17 PianOrchestra became part of the Lund Collection. Dr. Michael Lund is noted for his keen appreciation of early examples of various coin operated machines. The PianOrchestra, although presentable in appearance and playable to some degree, was shipped off to David Ramey, Jr., who operates a well known and respected mechanical music restoration shop in Marysville, Ohio, for a complete and meticulous mechanical restoration.

Lyre with orchestra bells on the front of the Wurlitzer Style 17 Pianorchestra. Chassis with installed components as received for restoration. Music roll mechanism in the Style 17 PianOrchestra.

In the group of thumbnails at right, as well as the one that follows soon below, the Style 17 PianOrchestra is shown during the time it was in David Ramey, Jr's., Marysville, Ohio, restoration workshop. As of this writing, there are only two known surviving early Philipps Pianella cabinet orchestrions that play the first type of Philipps Pianella roll. This roll was first designated "P" by Philipps, and "The PianOrchestra" roll by Wurlitzer; later dubbed a "Regular PianOrchestra" roll after the Concert and Mandolin PianOrchestras were introduced; and then finally during the closing years of the early style machines when only the Style l7 was still available, it became a "Style 17 PianOrchestra" roll. The construction and mechanical components of this PianOrchestra are probably like, and/or closely resemble the interior organization and design of the first Pianella Orchestrions to be manufactured, circa 1903. So this instrument may be about the only eye into the inner mysteries of the very first Philipps Pianella and/or Wurlitzer PianOrchestra machines that we may ever have, since none of the conceptional machines in the Pianella/PianOrchestra line are known to have survived.

Trapwork valve chest in the Style 17 PianOrchestra. Trapwork chest for the orchestra bells and drums. Link between the vacuum reservoir and the pressure reservoir dump valve.

Studying this Philipps Pianella Model Special/Wurlitzer Style 17 PianOrchestra has provided some insight into the very first orchestrions in the Pianella/PianOrchestra line, but it has also brought to light some mysteries. However, for the most part, the overall layout of the components in either an integrated furniture case model or in a stand alone chassis were about the same—right on up through the later Mandolin and Concert PianOrchestra styles. Of course, various components were improved over the years and some larger models had big feeders and other musical components necessary only for that specific model, but, that said, they pretty much all used the same design template from beginning to end.

One of the curious design changes that occurred over time was the use and/or re-use of certain type of valve arrangements. In this Style 17 the main valve chest has secondary valves of the "rocking-arm" type," with what might be characterized as external primary valves that used a long wooden dowel as the stem, rather than a short metal wire stem commonly used by other manufacturers. The 2-tier stack is situated directly above the valve chest and connected to it by an "extension" trunk board on its top side, in contrast to the more or less integrated chest and stack common in later Philipps machines. The "rocking-arm" type of chest seems to have been abandoned by the time the Mandolin and Concert PianOrchestras became available, or at least no specimens of these later style orchestrions have been observed with this kind of chest/stack. But the "rocking-arm" chest was abandoned for what? Well, for the valve layout observed in the trapwork chest for this Style 17 PianOrchestra, for which Philipps laid out the basic idea in a Patent application filed here in the U.S. on November 28, 1902. So where did the idea for the "rocking-arm" valve come from? Was it from an earlier era before the Pianella line was introduced?

The register controls in this Style 17 PianOrchestra for the piano soft pedal and loud (sustaining) pedal are of the slider-valve type, and the two slider-valve unit is mounted on top of the valve chest, which provides the valving necessary to operate the slider pneumatics. In the later, larger Mandolin and Concert PianOrchestras the register controls had to be much more extensive, and required a large slider-valve register unit that not only turned on and canceled various musical registers, but it also provided the valving for the trapwork, i.e., snare drum, bass drum and cymbal, crash cymbal, triangle, tambourine, and castanets, to whatever extent these items were present. These large stand-alone register units were usually mounted up on the right hand side of the pipe shelf, next to the trapwork items, and used the typical metal stem valve with a stamped metal valve seat, much like the arrangement in the Style 17 PianOrchestra's trapwork chest. But, strangely, the slider-valve type of register chest was replaced sometime in the 1907-1908 range with a new design incorporating the old "rocking-arm" type of valve, and this later design became the standard up until sometime around 1914, when Wurlitzer stopped importing Philipps machines due to restriction imposed by World War I. A circa 1915 Model 15 Pianella exists with a completely different type of combined register and trapwork chest.

Beautifully restored Wurlitzer Style 17 PianOrchestra in the Lund Collection.In September of 2014 the beautifully restored Wurlitzer Style 17 PianOrchestra was picked up from David Ramey's Marysville, Ohio, restoration shop and delivered to its new home, for which the PianOrchestra is now a welcome and highly prized addition to the Lund Collection. A video of the restored PianOrchestra playing a popular tune was uploaded by Dave Ramey, Jr., while it was still in his workshop, and is currently available by searching You-Tube for "Wurlitzer PianOrchestra Style 17."


Information provided by Terry Hathaway, Frank Rayle, Art Reblitz, Joe Garrett, Don Pease, David Ramey, Jr., and Michael Lund.


Circa 1910 Wurlitzer catalogue, Hathaway & Bowers, Inc., catalogue, Frank Rayle, David Ramey, Jr., and Michael Lund.