Wurlitzer Style 28-B Mandolin PianOrchestra
Philipps Pianella Model 28 (Victoria)

Original Location: New Wilmington, Pennsylvania

Original Catalogue Specifications:

61 Note Musical Scale:

Notes:

Chronological History:

Circa 1908/10
Manufactured by J.D. Philipps & Sons, Bockenheim, Frankfurt-am-Main, Germany.

Circa 1908/10
Imported and sold by Rudolph Wurlitzer Company, New York.

Circa 1910
Original Location Unknown.

Wurlitzer style 28-B Mandolin PianOrchestra in Gilson collection, 1997.During restoration by Ron Cappel, circa 1980, it was noted that the instrument had apparently been refurbished by the Wurlitzer factory and resold. Originally the case was a brown oak with silver filler, and was fitted with a moving scene, probably exactly as shown in the Wurlitzer catalogue illustration. During refitting, the case was refinished in the popular silver-grey finish, black wood with a silver glaze rubbed into the wood pores. The moving scene was removed, with no attempt to cover the belt slot in the percussion shelf for the moving scene's round leather drive belt. The scene, whether damaged or just considered out of date, was replaced with art glass, and a xylophone was carefully added. Wurlitzer is known to have refurbished and resold many used orchestrions up through the 1920s.

Circa 1919
Dance Pavilion, New Wilmington, Pennsylvania.

Due to the PianOrchestra evidently being taken in on trade and then refurbished by the Wurlitzer factory, it is estimated that the PianOrchestra was resold in 1919, or at least the Wurlitzer factory shipping records show the instrument as being shipped to Pennsylvania on July 3, 1919.

In correspondence from Larry Givens, he provides a brief description of the location where the instrument was eventually to be located: "The PianOrchestra was in a dance pavilion (which easily could have doubled as a roller skating rink) in New Wilmington, Pennsylvania -- a tiny spot on the map not far from Grove City. The structure of the dance pavilion isn't easy to describe. Three sides were completely open to the weather. The fourth side was backed up by a room or rooms, presumably used to store whatever was needed to keep the place in operation. I recall that all the music rolls for the machine were kept in one of the rooms. And the instrument itself was located roughly halfway along the 'inside' of the wall, thus keeping it as far out of the weather as possible."

The PianOrchestra may have been placed as much out of the weather as was easily possible, but it was not enough shelter to prevent serious water damage from the elements. Larry's comments continue: "Although the instrument wasn't really 'out in the rain,' it wasn't too far from it! I feel sorry for the poor guy who had to service and maintain that one....! Just think of the tuning stability...."

Circa 1956
Larry Givens, Wexford, Pennsylvania.

Larry Givens learned of the PianOrchestra from an old high school friend, Bob Yates. It was during Bob's freshman year at Grove City College, in Grove City, Pennsylvania. At the time, Bob Yates was just beginning to collect mechanical music machines, having just bought a player piano and a Regina Sublima piano from a pool hall in Grove City. The Regina Sublima was stored in his room at college for most of a semester, until the dean of the school said it had to be removed. But because of Bob's obvious interest in old music machines his roommate mentioned an old dance hall near New Wilmington -- a tiny "resort" town not far from Grove City -- that had some sort of dance organ in it. The two men tracked down the dance hall one afternoon and found the dance organ to be a Wurlitzer PianOrchestra. But the machine was too big for Bob, so he mentioned the PianOrchestra, along with its price, to Larry Givens, who bought the instrument sight unseen.

Upon Larry's arrival in New Wilmington, Bob Yates and his father helped Larry load the PianOrchestra into the back of his 1953 half-ton Dodge pickup. Larry writes, "I made an error in trying to use my little Dodge truck to move the instrument. I had never seen the Wurlitzer PianOrchestra before, nor had I ever seen any PianOrchestra before -- and thus I didn't give much thought to the size and weight that my poor little Dodge (a half-ton capacity pickup) would have to cope with." Nonetheless, the three men pushed the PianOrchestra over onto its side to get it into the truck bed. "The case," according to Larry, "was so beat-up that it could hardly be damaged by this on-side treatment." Making matters worse, "It was raining off and on and this naturally made our lives more complicated since we had to tarp the PianOrchestra to prevent it from getting wet (although it had been wet plenty of times already)."

"I recall that the drive home (roughly 50 miles) took about ten years off my life (and perhaps the Yates' too). I hadn't reckoned on having such a weight sticking out over the back gate of the truck! This little Dodge had just a six-foot bed -- and the Wurlitzer must have been at least eight feet tall, with the piano and its iron frame toward the back of the truck bed, the pickup being seriously overloaded by the 'big thing.' It was raining, which was miserable enough -- but the weight distribution of the load on the truck put nearly all the weight on the rear axle, and left hardly any on the front! The rear tires looked like they were ready to pop at every turn of the wheels...! What this did to the steering is almost too gory to describe! The very light weight on the front wheels meant that the steering became almost nil! The first corner or two were real learning experiences. The truck answered its steering wheel in about the same amount of time it takes the USS Missouri to answer her helm! The drive home was accomplished at a rather sedate pace. Luckily, we made it intact -- without a blown tire."

Safely back in Wexford, Pennsylvania, "We unloaded the PianOrchestra in my big barn, and there it sat till Haning and White [who later bought the instrument] picked it up." Then, "When I got the thing home and upon inspection, I realized that it was going to be a bigger job than I could handle. During that era, I corresponded quite often with Roy Haning and Neal White and apparently I must have mentioned the PianOrchestra to them, because they bought it from me!"

Circa 1956
Roy Haning & Neal White collection, Troy, Ohio.

Circa 19??
Melvin Walker, Oak Creek, Wisconsin.

Apparently Melvin Walker never did anything with the PianOrchestra, other than let it sit untouched in his garage for many years.

Circa 19??
Red Whaley, Texas.

There is no evidence to suggest that Red Whaley attempted any restoration work on the PianOrchestra while in his possession.

Circa 1978
American International Galleries, Inc., Irvine, California.

American International Galleries, Inc., and/or Dave Bowers was involved in the sale of the PianOrchestra to Bob Gilson. Dr. Gilson, who paid Red Whaley for the instrument, believes the machine was involved in some kind of trade between Red Whaley and Dave Bowers and/or American International Galleries, Inc.

Circa 1978
Gilson collection, Wisconsin.

Top portion of Wurlitzer style 28-B Mandolin PianOrchestra.The mechanical mechanisms were restored by Ron Cappel, Atascadero, California. Bells, tambourine, triangle, and castanets were added during restoration. The furniture casework is essentially all new, the original being very badly warped, unglued, and with peeling veneer due to extensive weathering and direct water damage. Swell shutters were added in the roof of the newly constructed case.

2004
Milhous collection, Boca Raton, Florida.

Credits:

Information provided by Larry Givens, Bob Yates, Terry Hathaway, Bob Gilson, Don Pease and Art Reblitz.

Photographs:

Circa 1912 Wurlitzer catalogue.
David Reidy.
Robert Gilson.