Original Location: Green Bay, Wisconsin
In 1967, I, Terry Hathaway, at the time the owner and restorer of the PianOrchestra, observed that Wurlitzer used photographs of this particular instrument for its catalogue and sales photo use. The unique characteristics of several clearly observable, peculiar wood grain swirls and patterns on the case front were noted, then compared and easily matched to original Wurlitzer high resolution sepia photographs, and to the lower resolution catalogue illustrations.
An Oak Brook, Illinois, collector has reportedly observed a postcard that clearly shows a Wurlitzer style 32 Concert PianOrchestra, identical to the case design of this particular instrument, in the showroom of the Hoeffler Music Store, of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. It is known that the Hoeffler Mfg. Co., 37 Oneida Street, Milwaukee, Wisconsin was an early distributor of Wurlitzer self-playing instruments.
A Milwaukee, Wisconsin, collector reportedly has in his possession a circa 1910-15 post card showing "A Green Bay Wisconsin Beer Garden," in which this particular Wurlitzer style 32 Concert PianOrchestra seems to be clearly visible. It has been speculated that the subject "beer garden" might have been owned or associated with the Rahr Brewing Company, partly because it was reportedly the only large brewing firm in Green Bay, Wisconsin, at the time, and additionally because Rahr Brewing Company could probably easily afford such an expensive orchestrion.
Nothing is currently known as to how or where Charles Baldwin came across the PianOrchestra, nor, for certain, when he actually purchased it. After his death and subsequent estate liquidation in 1965, Dave Bowers obtained original correspondence between Charles Baldwin and the Operators' Piano Company (manufacturer of Coinola coin pianos and Reproduco organs) concerning a proposed refitting of the machine. Baldwin apparently had intended to convert the orchestrion to play Reproduco rolls about 1930. Indeed, as would be expected, if a conversion to play Reproduco music was indeed planned, the original Philipps single roll mechanism would have been removed, which it was, and, in fact, missing entirely at the time of Baldwin's death in 1965. Also missing was the trapwork: drums, triangle, tambourine, and castanets, all items not supported by the Reproduco music roll.
The type of Philipps single roll mechanism originally with the instrument was a beautifully machined, heavy-duty mechanism, of a quality reminiscent of the more elaborate six-station revolver mechanism (automatic roll changer). The original screw holes and machined mounting bracket imprints were still clearly visible in the wood backboard. The same genre of early single roll mechanism can still be found in certain small Philipps Pianella pianos (piano, with mandolin attachment, including a 30-note xylophone in larger models). There were no additional screw holes or mounting impressions detectable that might indicate conversion to another type of roll mechanism. Nor was any evidence found that suggested the alteration of any chests or other apparatus in the PianOrchestra to accommodate anything other than the originally intended musical scale. No Reproduco music rolls or parts of any kind were noted as part of Baldwin's estate sale.
"It was an education for me in how to act fast when an opportunity presents itself!" writes Harvey Roehl, a noted author and collector of automatic music instruments. "When Dave Bowers and I first got acquainted I would frequently be at his home in the evening, and vice versa. One evening my wife, Marion, and I were at his place, discussing heaven-knows-what, and were just about to go out the door at about 10 PM when Dave picked up the days' mail, which included the Antique Trader magazine.
In the music section was a tiny 1-inch ad with a tiny picture of a large music machine, stating it was for sale, and it gave the name, address, and phone number of the owner -- in a small town in northern Wisconsin. Marion's recollection is a bit different, remembering that the ad was not classified under 'music' but that it was on the front cover of the Antique Trader, whose format was not like todays. The ad didn't say what the picture was specifically, but we think it might have said 'Organ for Sale' or something like that. Dave got out a magnifying glass and concluded that it was probably an orchestrion of some sort, whereupon Dave grabbed the telephone and called; and there were several minutes of delay and confusion at the other end. Finally an operator responded and said that Mr. Baldwin had died that very day. So that ended that.
Until Dave got to his office the next day, that is. I was not a party to this so I don't know the details, but apparently he got on the phone and persevered until he got someone in charge of the man's estate, and eventually concluded a purchase. In the tiny picture it was clear that the art glass windows were present, but they turned out not to be there when Dave got the instrument."
Thus, in 1965, David Bowers purchased the "Organ for Sale" sight unseen from the estate of Charles E. Baldwin, Chilton, Wisconsin. How Mr. Baldwin knew of or came to own the PianOrchestra remains unknown. However, at the time of its purchase by Dave Bowers, there was speculation that the PianOrchestra might have been in a theatre, a common place for such instruments, since Mr. Baldwin had reportedly been an actor of some local prominence.
The ad in the Antique Trader featured an exterior photograph of the instrument, clearly showing it with the original upper harp shaped doors and art glass in place. There was no picture showing the interior. The person handling the estate liquidation described the machine as a "pipe organ," or something to that effect, and having a very large, tall case, which was filled with a lot of organ pipes, and could not provide Bowers with an accurate description of what it was, or what it might originally have been.
Once the instrument was in Bowers' possession, where it could be carefully inspected, he quickly recognized that it was indeed some kind of orchestrion, and not some kind of residence organ at all. The mystery orchestrion was erected in Dave's newly constructed music room, and the loose "organ" pipes piled helter-skelter in the top of the machine. It was missing the roll mechanism, piano action, upper doors with art glass panels, and all the trapwork: drums, triangle, et cetera. There were no music rolls of any kind with it. Nor was there any kind of identifying mark, such as a manufacturers name or logo, a serial number or even a date, observable anywhere on the machine. It was delivered with a cheap white plaster statue, which was obviously not originally with the orchestrion, but which was placed in the center niche. Dave Bowers never made any attempt to set up the pipework, which remained piled in the top of the instrument until he later sold it.
If the PianOrchestra was disassembled at the time of Baldwin's death, for restoration, moving, or whatever, it is likely that unrecognized, separated parts were lost, sold separately or simply thrown out during or after the estate liquidation. Bowers made a determined effort to locate any music rolls or missing parts, such as the obviously missing piano action and upper case doors fitted with art-glass, which had been clearly visible in the original Antique Trader advertisement. None of this effort was to any avail, except that he was able to obtain some actual correspondence between Baldwin and the Operators' Piano Company, concerning a proposed refitting of the machine to play Reproduco rolls about 1930. A picture of the upper section of the PianOrchestra, showing it in Dave Bowers' music room, can be seen on page 236 of Bowers' book, "Put Another Nickel In."
I, Terry Hathaway, purchased the style 32 Concert PianOrchestra from Dave Bowers, of Vestal, New York, in June of 1966. By the time Hathaway & Bowers, Inc., was well underway, it was incorporated in mid 1967, Dave Bowers could not find the original estate advertisement. However, at my request, Dave made numerous attempts to trace heirs to the Charles E. Baldwin estate, or locate other information regarding the Concert PianOrchestra. This included offering the auctioneer of the Baldwin estate a monetary reward if anyone could turn up information, music rolls or anything pertaining to the orchestrion. Nothing ever came of these attempts to locate missing parts or information. One of the marvels is that not one of the PianOrchestra's original 314 fragile wood or metal pipes was missing or badly damaged. A few of the metal pipes had been dented, with some solder joints parted, but none of the metal pipes were beyond easy repair. The missing piano action and trapwork parts were, as far as I was concerned, at the time, comparatively easy to reconstruct.
Paramount among my interests was determining the approximate manufacturing date of the machine. The first actual Pianella orchestrions commenced production in 1903, the line quickly expanding into a wide range of models. The Philipps revolver mechanism, devised in 1903, was patented in 1905, and gradually became a standard fixture on the large orchestrions, it originally being just an option that cost additional money. Thus, after its introduction, many large and elaborate Pianella orchestrions continued to ship with single roll mechanisms, although a magnificently machined and highly reliable roll changing device had become available. The style 32 PianOrchestra case was built, as far as I could determine, around 1906 or 1907, for several reasons, the first being the discovery of a clearly legible date. The top center gold leafed ornamentation, with its central star, was made out of many small sections of wood; each fitted and glued together on a backing of German newspaper. The date, May 5, 1906, was clearly visible on a section of newspaper backing the carved wood ornament. It is probably reasonable that this wooden decoration was applied to the newly built Pianella case not too long after its creation.
Other obvious indicators of an early Pianella date range are the use of mechanical slider valve type register controls, pneumatic motor lifted secondary valves and the early style Concert PianOrchestra crank and pump-rod fittings, reminiscent of early Welte pump construction. Noteworthy is the use of two very long slider valves, one each for the upper and lower decks on the main chest and running its entire length, used to control the piano on/off register function. Yet an additional clue to its production range is the lack of a roll changer for a machine of this magnitude. The Philipps Pianella Model "Caecilia," sold by Wurlitzer as a style 32 Concert PianOrchestra, was a flagship model for the large and expensive PC series of Philipps Pianella orchestrions. By the year 1907, the Philipps roll changer was still a very new idea, being patented only two years earlier. It was an expensive option that probably had not yet proven its reliability or popularity through actual commercial use. In contrast, by 1910 Pianella orchestrions used pneumatic register controls, not mechanical slider valves, had a streamlined primary/secondary valve chest system and the roll changer seemed to have become a standard fixture on all the large Pianella machines.
The first item to undergo restoration was the case, since it basically contained and integrally supported all other major components. By doing the case first, as individual chests, pump feeders and other major components were restored, they could be mounted in the case, safely stored exactly where they belonged. However, long before any case work or other restoration was ever commenced, I spent a great deal of time meticulously inspecting and generally observing the machine, noting screw-holes, impressions, or indentations in the wooden case and interior supporting structures, and paying attention to delicate "shadows" where something had once been fastened. It was not long before I knew precisely what was missing, and generally how the missing items would have been constructed, partially due to the observation and restoration of other PianOrchestras of the same and later time periods. There was virtually no mystery remaining as to the original appearance and construction of the instrument by the time restoration work actually commenced.
Except for the upper case doors, which held the art glass panels, the case was otherwise complete, with all the side and front panels intact. There was no major water damage, common to such instruments, although much structural re-gluing was required, and numerous small veneer chips were repaired. The only significant damage to the case was to the bottom chassis section. The four vertical corner constructs had been roughly sawed through by hand, about one foot down from the top. Each of the decorative turnings extending from the top edge moldings had about two inches of its lower decorative tip cut through. Why the cut, essentially lowering the overall height of the lower chassis for some unknown reason, perhaps to aid in removing it from a building, could not have been 2 inches lower to completely avoid damaging the turnings remains a mystery.
I did the case repair work personally, because, at the time, I did not know of anyone prepared to do the quality of work I desired. A congenial, talented fellow by the name of Mr. Carter, who lived in Baldwin Park, California, refinished the case. It was the second rift oak, silver filled pore (sometimes called a silver fox finish) type refinishing job Carter had done for me, both jobs involving PianOrchestra cases. I made numerous trips to Baldwin Park; as Mr. Carter and I experimented with various wood pore cleaning techniques, different glazing colors and fill densities, in order to get precisely the quality of effect I wanted. I did not leave the final decision up to Carter, as with my first PianOrchestra refinishing project. Regrettably, Mr. Carter died fairly soon after finishing the job. He had been suffering from a degenerative breakdown, probably from smoking related disorders and from constantly inhaling toxic lacquer fumes. He did all the refinishing work in his garage, without any provision for adequate ventilation.
The missing art glass panels were duplicated using a pattern created from a scaled up enlargement of an original Wurlitzer (sepia colored) sales photograph of the instrument. Colors were selected based upon catalogue descriptions of other similar instruments, correlating known colors in sales photographs of other PianOrchestras to the apparent relative grayscale and translucence perceived in the style 32 sepia photograph. In addition to obtaining what appeared to be a suitable color, the different colors of glass also had to be such that they could be successfully "chipped" in the same general style as the original German glass. Most art glass in the German made machines was "glue chipped" glass, set in brass piping. In simplified terms, chipped glass was supposedly made by applying a coat of hot glue to one surface of the glass, with a sheet of tough paper immediately applied to the glue bearing surface. As the glue cooled, fracturing and pulling loose the top surface of the glass in a random, but recognizable, style, the paper was eventually pulled away, taking the fractured fragments of glass with it, thereby revealing a glass pane with a "chipped" surface. Once the casework and lighting electricals were completed, the case was set up for display in the Hathaway & Bowers, Inc., showroom, the colorful art glass, softly lighted from behind, adding a touch of elegance to the overall ambiance of the room.
John Maxwell, an avid collector of automatic music machines, owned the La Mesa Planing Mill, La Mesa, California, a manufacturer of exceptionally high quality millwork. I struck a deal with Maxwell to make the wooden components for all the missing trapwork, because I had seen his exquisite woodwork reconstructions for other automatic musical instruments. Maxwell was a superb craftsman, and I wanted the best workmanship that I could get. So John did the woodwork for the bass drum, snare drum, crash cymbal, triangle, castanets, tambourine, and bell valve chest actions. The metal work I did myself, and/or used original Philipps valve parts whenever possible. At the time, I had quite a large collection of original German wood screws, valves, valve stems and valve plates salvaged from various sources.
The valve chest for the bells made by Maxwell was used to convert the original bell action to a more modern 1910/11 style Philipps arrangement. The original bell action used the early style register control consisting of an interposing bar operated by a large pneumatic motor. The individual strikers were held away from the bell-bars by the interposer bar, unless swung out of the way when the bells were supposed to be active. The individual bell striker pneumatics were tubed directly to the main stack. This original bell action was slow and clumsy, so the bell action was converted to a newer style, one that utilized its own very fast acting valve chest to control not only the individual bell strikers, but that also acted as a deft register control, too.
Keith Hardesty agreed to duplicate the piano action, using new parts obtained in Germany, just like, or very close in appearance to the original, on the condition that I would make, or have made, the four special cast metal action support brackets. Nothing like them was available from any piano supplier, since the PianOrchestra used a special action uniquely adapted for pneumatic stack operation. To aid in the piano action reconstruction, Hardesty used the piano action in Dave Bowers' Wurlitzer style 32A Concert PianOrchestra as a pattern.
Inasmuch as the instrument was originally equipped with a single roll mechanism, I had been debating whether to attempt to locate a similar unit, or simply install a more convenient six-station Philipps revolver mechanism, which was readily available. There was a loose Philipps roll changer in the parts heap at Hathaway & Bowers, Inc. As restoration proceeded, the time approached when a final decision on what kind of roll mechanism to install would be necessary. During this time of intense debate, a Hathaway & Bowers, Inc., shipment arrived from Europe that contained a simple Philipps Pianella piano with the correct single roll mechanism. I seriously considered robbing the piano of its early style roll mechanism, coveting it for its simple elegance. Dave Bowers even encouraged me to remove it, since the "insignificant" little Pianella piano was of relatively little value or interest at the time. I resisted, however, not wanting to "ruin" an otherwise pristine machine. Still, it seemed a tough decision, because the gorgeous little single roll mechanism staring me in the face was of high quality and beautifully machined, and would fit perfectly in the giant Concert PianOrchestra. After some fussing around, I finally opted to install the loose revolver mechanism, leaving the little Pianella piano happily intact. During the Hathaway and Bowers Inc., epoch, two Philipps revolver units surfaced, both from San Francisco. One was from a Wurlitzer Paganini (Philipps PP series), the other from a Pianella orchestrion of some kind, either a Wurlitzer Mandolin or Concert PianOrchestra.
The Concert PianOrchestra music rolls came from various sources. Early Concert PianOrchestra rolls, on red, white, or orange paper, were fairly rare, probably because the paper was somewhat fragile, and often quite brittle and easy torn and damaged when old. The later, green paper rolls, however, were relatively plentiful, partly because they were so durable. The green vegetable fiber paper, originally conceived for use on the Wurlitzer band-organs, which often played all day and most of the night, usually under extremely harsh conditions, needed a tough paper that could survive the generally abusive commercial use. Another factor favoring the relative abundance of later cut Concert style rolls is that Wurlitzer built a photoplayer that used the Concert PianOrchestra roll. So, while the relatively expensive Concert PianOrchestras may not have been sold in any great quantity, the Concert style rolls were made in substantial quantities for quite a long time, they being used to accompany motion pictures until the "talkies" eventually eliminated the Photoplayer business.
Wurlitzer style 32 The Concert PianOrchestra was bought by J.B. Nethercutt in June of 1969. It was originally housed in one of the large, concrete tilt-up car storage buildings at his Sylmar plastic injection facility. The tall, concrete structure now known as San Sylmar was under construction. During the 1971 Sylmar earthquake, one corner of the car-barn's immense beam ceiling was ripped loose from the supporting wall, the Concert PianOrchestra case then having to bear the load of one end of the displaced ceiling beam. Although the PianOrchestra was not damaged, the case was severely stressed; the sides bowing out greatly during the short time it had to carry the tremendous weight of the dislodged roof beam.
Since the completion of the spectacular San Sylmar building, the Wurlitzer Style 32 Concert PianOrchestra has been located on the "Cloud 99" level of San Sylmar, its music featured in many of the Nethercutt Collection tours.
Information provided by Terry Hathaway, Dave Bowers, Byron Matson and Tim Trager.
Circa 1908/10 Wurlitzer catalogue; J.B. Nethercutt collection and Dana Johnson.