Original Location: Florida
During the years from 1965 to 1970, Otto Carlsen, the next owner of the PianOrchestra, mentioned that he had purchased it from an old dance hall in Florida. A date of August, 1910, was found scribbled in pencil inside one of the front access doors, the left door, I think, leading to speculation that this date might be when the instrument was set up for operation in its first commercial location.
Otto Carlsen said that he had purchased the Wurlitzer style 40 PianOrchestra from an old dance hall in Florida. He learned of it from a collector in Jacksonville, Florida: a Mr. Ed Glover. After the purchase and shipping arrangements had been made, the PianOrchestra finally arrived, after what seemed to Otto to be a very long time. Upon examination, the bottom of the case was crammed with several inches of accumulated debris, including dust, gum and candy wrappers, and crumpled up, empty popcorn bags, plus other odds and ends interesting or useful to mice and rats. The furniture case, as well as the interior mechanisms, were in rather poor condition, but intact. There was a clearly legible date of August, 1910, scribbled in pencil on the inside of one of the tall, very narrow front case doors, the left door, as I remember. Otto speculated that this date might have been the date the PianOrchestra was set up for operation by its first owner (other than Philipps or Wurlitzer).
To Otto's great disappointment, the main valve chest was full of termites, so he built a new main chest of his own design. Although Otto greatly admired the beautiful construction and exquisite craftsmanship of the original Philipps main chest, and, in particular, the careful detail of the valves and valve plates, he nonetheless opted to fabricate a new chest, discarding the original valves and plates. He based the new construction upon the Ampico valve system, because, he said, "it was much simpler to build it that way, than to duplicate the original design." Another disappointment, that could have easily been avoided, was that the shippers basically ruined most of the original metal tubing in the machine. The tracker bar bundle of tubing leading to the main chest, as well as the tubing between the main chest to the upper pipe chest, had been folded in half, for whatever reason, badly crimping and/or breaking all the tubing. This made it virtually useless, except as a pattern, a template useful for re-tubing the PianOrchestra as restoration progress permitted. Since Otto had no source for similar metal tubing, he fitted the PianOrchestra chests with metal nipples in order to accommodate readily available neoprene tubing.
Included with the PianOrchestra was a special "REWINDING" sign that hung near the top center of the case. It was maybe 4 o 5 inches deep, 16 inches wide and 6 to 8 inches high. It was obviously just an attachment; not something specifically made to fit the style 40 PianOrchestra. The little sign's wooden housing, deep enough to facilitate standard-base size electric lights, was in the same style and finish as the PianOrchestra case, which was a thin black lacquer finish with a white/silver glaze filling the open pores of the Oak veneer and paneling. The front of the sign's wooden case was fitted with a decorative and elaborately perforated metal screen, with a pattern of little holes that spelled out the word "REWINDING." There were two electric lights behind the perforated screen.
Otto Carlsen never restored the sign, nor did he ever attempt to use it with the PianOrchestra. It lay around his shop gathering dust for years. I remember inspecting it many times. Once, at my insistence, Otto lighted it up. The punched design on the metal screen consisted of at least two sized holes. The larger pattern of holes, each hole maybe 1/4 inch in diameter, spelled out the word "REWINDING." Smaller holes, maybe 1/8 inch in diameter, or slightly less, made up a decorative design that flowed around the word "REWINDING." Up close, the lighted sign was difficult to read, with many little points of light -- with naturally much brighter dots of light directly in front of the light bulb filaments. At first glance, the pattern of bright and dark dots seemed to make little sense. At a distance, however, after a moment of study, it was readable.
Apparently it had been rigged up to light up whenever the machine was rewinding, advising dance patrons that the machine was still working properly, but rewinding the music roll. Philipps Pianellas/Wurlitzer PianOrchestras with a roll-changer are relatively slow in rewinding music rolls, so perhaps the sign, Otto speculated, kept patrons from kicking the machine, since the front bottom of the case had been quite beaten around the toe-line. Neither the sign's case or its perforated screen appeared to be home-built. Rather, the whole assembly was of professional quality, the punched metal screen clearly made from a well thought-out and constructed die, causing Otto to wonder if such signs were offered by Wurlitzer or one of its dealers as an optional accessory. However, no printed reference of such an attachment has yet been noted, to my knowledge, nor do I know of anyone else who has ever known of another such electric sign. The little "REWINDING" sign eventually found its way to Hathaway & Bowers, Inc., and was sold to a collector as a novelty item.
There had been extensive damage inflicted on the delicate, Roman fountain art-scene, which was painted on a thin, vellum type paper, its edges glued to a wood framework. The back side of the painting was blacked out, except for certain portions of the fountain itself, which were lighted from behind. All that protected the delicate paper was a sheet of glass over its front side. According to Otto, the shippers had used part of the case as a packing crate. Due to a sloppy and inept job of packing and crating, during shipping a carelessly directed nail in the make-shift packing crate was thought to have contributed to the shattering of the painting's protective glass covering. The shattering glass extensively cut and damaged the delicate "velum" paper painting. The nearly destroyed painting was stored in a shoe box, which was later given to an artistic friend, and local coin-piano collector, Don Rand, who then painstakingly pieced together the shredded painting. Not knowing what else to do, Don glued the collection of torn pieces onto a glass panel. This not only held the shattered vellum in place, but it protected the finished work, too. Then, once all the surviving shreds were in place, the more ragged tear lines were touched up, filling in the jagged cracks with paint. For the few small areas still devoid of any surviving vellum, the scene was essentially filled in and completed by painting in the missing details on the glass itself. The belt driven lighting effects behind the painting had not been restored, nor did Otto ever restore them. But it did not matter much to Otto, because without any back-lighting the scene was indeed beautiful to the eye. However, if back-lighting was applied, the extensive damage to the painting was immediately obvious, the newly painted portions and cracks transmitting light quite differently than the still intact fragments of original vellum paper.
Jim Miller of Reed City, Michigan, began forming a fair sized collection of mechanical music machines in the late 1960s, and bought the PianOrchestra from Otto Carlsen, with Hathaway & Bowers, Inc., acting as an intermediary. Mr. Miller was already a collector of modern, narrow gage railroad equipment. Wallace McPeak, of Mesquite, Texas, also supplied instruments for the Miller collection.
Less than a year after buying the PianOrchestra, Mr. Miller, who was in the aluminum business and was in the process of selling out to Olin Industries, decided to reduce the size of his musical collection. Hathaway & Bowers, Inc., bought the style 40 PianOrchestra.
Back in Southern California, the style 40 PianOrchestra was put on display in the main showroom of Hathaway & Bowers, Inc., Santa Fe Springs, California.
While on display, the belt driven lighting effects for the animated Roman fountain scene were finally restored and made functional.
Before the PianOrchestra was shipped from Hathaway & Bowers, Inc., to J.B. Nethercutt's Sylmar, California, facility, the fragile Roman fountain scene was replaced by an original painting of the exact same type, taken from the front panel remains of another, less fortunate, Wurlitzer style 40 Mandolin PianOrchestra. Below is the story about this other Wurlitzer style 40 Mandolin PianOrchestra, the front section rescued from a junk store in Colorado.
About 1965 Warren Dale and his wife, Betty, were rummaging through a large junk/antique store in Buena Vista, Colorado, when his wife noticed an interesting looking "back-bar," or something of the kind. She immediately called for Warren to come see what it was. Warren immediately recognized it as the large front center section of a Wurlitzer style 40 Mandolin PianOrchestra, complete with the fragile center Roman fountain scene. Without hesitation, Warren asked to talk with the owner of the shop, who said that the rest of the machine had been dumped years earlier. Warren bought the front panel with the original painted scene, which was in near perfect condition.
Hathaway & Bowers, Inc., bought the style 40 PianOrchestra center panel in 1968 from Warren Dale and carefully removed the undamaged, original painting, replacing the damaged one in the Nethercutt style 40 PianOrchestra. Later, the style 40 front panel from Buena Vista, Colorado, with the damaged but repaired Roman fountain scene from Nethercutt's machine, was sold to Bob Adams, San Francisco, California.
Written by Terry Hathaway, with information provided by Terry Hathaway and Warren Dale.
Circa 1912 Wurlitzer catalogue; Warren Dale; and Terry Hathaway.