Welte Orchestrions—The Age of Opulence

by Durward R. Center

Editor's Note: The original forerunner of this article, authored by Durward R. Center, appeared in the Augustiner Museum (Freiburg) catalog for their 2004 exhibit on Welte, for which it was translated into German for that publication. It was subsequently updated when the nucleus of the article was used in the Journal of the Musical Box Society International, Volume 52, No. 5, for September/October in the year of 2006. It will also be published in an upcoming book on Zaharako’s Confectionery in Columbus, Indiana, by Tony Moravek. To remain consistent with the format of the earlier printed versions, the text flow and its relationship to numbered figures continues to follow the same layout progression and numbering conventions as set forth by the originating printed material.

Welte and the Age of Opulence

As a youth, your author first became aware of mechanical music machines in the 1960's when they were being promoted by the firm of Hathaway & Bowers, Inc., a company responsible for the revival of interest in automatic musical instruments in the U.S. Their catalogs were filled with wonderful machines, including an occasional orchestrion by the firm of M. Welte & Söhne. These instruments with their ornate cases and their brass and tin pipework visible behind glass stood out among all the rest. While it was years before I actually saw and heard a Welte, these instruments and their music became an important influence in my life.

During the past 43 years, I have had the privilege of being entrusted to restore 16 orchestrions by Welte for various collectors and museums. This has given me a unique insight into the mechanisms and design aspects of these instruments. The following information has been compiled and extrapolated from work on these instruments as well as research and examination of many others. No two instruments are exactly the same. Each instrument yields new information, so the following should not be taken as absolute, but rather a guide to the general design of Welte pneumatic orchestrions. New information is always welcomed.

The Dawn of the Pinned-Cylinder Orchestrions

Large Welte orchestrion built in 1857.The history of the House of Welte has been well documented by others. With the construction of his 1849 orchestrion, Michael Welte was soon to become the leader in orchestrion building. In 1857 he completed a large instrument for Grand Duke Friedrich von Baden. Figure 57 shows the instrument without its case. Figure 1 is taken from the London Illustrated News in 1862. It is a description of this organ when it was exhibited at the London International Exhibition. This also gives a brief description of the method of cylinder marking. By the 1860's large pinned-cylinder orchestrions were being regularly produced. A clientele was being developed that would allow Welte to market his instruments to wealthy patrons worldwide. They became musical status symbols and graced the great mansions and palaces of the world, as well as commercial locations. Welte instruments were beautifully built and finished, inside and out. The pipework was designed to produce a sweet sound or to be very powerful depending on its intended use. The arrangements of the music varied from popular dance songs to serious orchestral and operatic transcriptions.

Figure 2 shows a Style 10 pinned-cylinder Welte Orchestrion from an undated catalog. All the illustrations are engravings. The case styles would suggest a period around 1880. Though the catalog is incomplete, there appears to be ten different styles, numbered 1-10. Their brief descriptions seem to be quite similar to the later pneumatic orchestrions.

Welte Style 10 Pinned-Cylinder Orchestrion, circa 1880.Figure 3 shows a Welte pinned-cylinder machine from 1883. It has a 56 key cylinder and is operated by a clockwork mechanism powered by a large weight suspended from the rear of the case. The brass trompet pipes have the typical radiating pattern as found in many orchestrions of this era. The cylinder on this type of instrument could be made with multiple tunes or with one long arrangement that would be spirally pinned and require eight or more revolutions to complete. The cylinder is changed by sliding it out the left side of the case. This organ was originally sold to a buyer in Calcutta, India. In recent times, it has traveled to England, then to Maryland and Illinois in the US, and then to Japan—a well traveled instrument.

Figure 4 shows a 67 key pinned-cylinder orchestrion from ca. 1890. Also weight driven, this organ still has its original ten cylinders stored in matching cabinets. Its pipe specifications are quite similar to the later Style 5 pneumatic machines. The case is of walnut and the original glass is acid etched in three different textures which slightly obscures the visibility of the brass pipework. Its original home was in France.

A properly playing pinned-cylinder orchestrion can produce beautiful music. The art of pinning a cylinder was highly developed. However, the storage of extra cylinders, their cost, and the effort to change them led to the development of a better system of mechanical music.

There are seven Welte pinned-cylinder orchestrions known to have survived as of 2016.

The Start of the Pneumatic Orchestrion Era

Primitive design inverted tracker bar patent dated October 3, 1883.The firm of M. Welte developed the “pneumatic orchestrion” which utilized perforated paper rolls with their patents beginning in 1883 as shown in Figure 5. This primitive design used an inverted tracker bar which contacted the top of the moving paper roll. Beneath the tracker bar and paper was another bar with one long slit connected to the wind pressure supply. A perforation in the roll would allow wind to pass into a tracker bar port which was then conducted to a specific pneumatic that opened a valve and caused a pipe to speak. I know of no instruments of this design to be extant.

The paper roll revolutionized orchestrion building. The ease of changing music, the reduced cost and the availability of a large selection of music made the pinned-cylinder organ obsolete very quickly. Many new mechanisms were required. Welte continued to develop and refine their designs. Pneumatic Orchestrions were placed on the market in 1887, according to one Welte catalog. The pneumatic mechanism shown in the Welte patent of 1889 changed little over the course of production (Figure 6). This system required both a pressure and a vacuum supply which became standard for Welte orchestrions. These new pneumatic machines could still be ordered powered by a weight driven clockwork motor as the earlier pinned-cylinder machines, but also, an option of electric or water motor was now offered.

The pneumatic stack in these instruments was of a single valve design operated by vacuum. The pneumatics pulled down a wire connected to a bell crank on the wind chest. This bell crank then pulled a wire running horizontally through the wind chest opening pallet valves to each pipe of a given note. The ranks of pipes (registers) only spoke when their channels (ventils) were charged with pressure as called for by the music roll. In the earlier pneumatic instruments, the same mechanical lock and cancel system was used to control the registers as found in the pinned-cylinder organs. The 1889 patent also shows the pneumatic lock and cancel system which was used on all later organs. This design required two valves and the use of two ports on the tracker bar to control each register.

Percussions on these instruments included a triangle, snare drum, bass drum and cymbal. A tympani effect was achieved by smaller hammers on the bass drum.

Cover for a Welte Cottage and Concert Orchestrion Catalogue.By 1900, Welte listed eleven standard styles in their catalogs. These were known as Cottage and Concert Orchestrions (Figure 7). They were numbered Styles 0-10 denoting successively larger models. It is unknown what type of roll the Style 0 used. Styles 1-7 used a 75 key roll. Styles 8-10 used a 120 key roll. All rolls from this period were drawing board arrangements, that is, a master roll was laid out by hand from a score of music. This master roll was then used to produce perforated copies. Great skill was required to make the music sound realistic with tempo changes and subtle rubato as found in orchestral performances.

The 75 key roll scale had six perforations to the inch and was 12 7/8 inches wide.Figure 8 shows the complete 75 key scale. Note that all pitch notation is in the German style where a# = b and b = h. This scale uses 52 playing notes and is chromatic with the exception of the missing lowest F#. There appears to be little order to the note placement on this scale until one realizes the scale follows the general order of the pipework as it is artistically arranged on the wind chest. This is a direct descendant of the placement of the keys on a pinned-cylinder.

Welte 75 Key Orchestrion F Scale.The Cottage Orchestrion series included Styles 1-3 and played the 75 key scale. There are two variations of this scale. Because the Cottage instruments had fewer pipes and a playing range of only 44 notes, a sub category of 75 key rolls was made and designated with the letter “B” sometimes found stamped on the leader of the roll. The “B” roll scale arrangements only call for notes and registers found in the Cottage organs. Figure 9 compares the playing range of the “B” scale to the full scale. The stars show the notes and functions not used on the full scale. Other designations of this scale range have been found infrequently such as “A” and “AB.”

One instrument is known, an early Style 2, which uses a 54 key roll. Figure 10 shows the roll frame on this organ. This smaller roll scale was eliminated in favor of the two category 75 key scale.

Concert Orchestrions Styles 4-7 use the entire 75 key scale designated as “F”. This scale utilizes the full 52 note playing range (Figure 9). Other markings found on similar rolls include “C” and “CF.”

Either variation of 75 key scale could be played on any style machine from 1 through 7 with more or less musical results. For example, if a “B” roll was played on a Concert Orchestrion, it would not use every function of the organ, but it would be musically acceptable. Conversely, if an “F” roll was played on a Cottage Orchestrion, it would call for notes and registers not found. Missing notes would be apparent.

The larger orchestrions, Styles 8-10, used a 120 key roll which was 14 13/16 inches wide (Figure 11). This was a much more elaborate scale with 83 playing notes divided into bass, melody and counter-melody sections with a variety of registers and percussions including a glockenspiel, castanets and two snare drums. As with the 75 key scale, the placement of the notes on the scale follows the placement of the pipework on the wind chest.

The Welte catalog illustrations that follow are from several undated issues printed in English and in German.

Welte Style 0 Miniature Orchestrion

Welte Style 0 Miniature Orchestrion.The smallest orchestrion, the Style 0, was called a Flötenwerk mit Triangel in the German catalogs and a Miniature Orchestrion in the English version (Figure 12). The catalog descriptions were always vague concerning specifications of the organs. From variations seen, it is likely that Welte would build whatever the client wanted and in any style of case desired. The Style 0 probably had a single set of pipes with flute pipes in the lower end and metal Zinn pipes in the upper end, and a triangle.

To this author's knowledge, no Welte Style 0 orchestrion is extant as of 2016.

It is interesting to notice the table and chair seen in many of the orchestrion catalog photographs. They appear to shrink as the organs get larger—a great indication of scale.

Welte Style 1 Cottage Orchestrion

Welte Style 1 Cottage Orchestrion.The Style 1, Figure 13, is the smallest of the Cottage Orchestrions. Figure 14 (immediately below) is a chart showing the playing ranges, number of pipes and registers found in the Style 1. In all cases, the Crescendo register refers to a swell shade which controls volume of the organ. It has only two positions, open and closed, but a restriction on the supply to the controlling pneumatic slows its movement.

Welte Style 1 Cottage Orchestrion pipe ranges.

(Chart courtesy of Durward Center)

Figure 14.

The above chart shows the playing ranges, number of pipes, and registers found in the Welte Style 1 Cottage Orchestrion. The crescendo register refers to a swell shade which controls volume of the organ. It has only two positions, open and closed, but a restriction in the supply to the controlling pneumatic slows its movement.

In this chart the small c (with a single underline and located near the center of the scale) represents the musical note middle C. Using this as a reference point, lower case letters to the right with two underlines are one octave higher, and lower case letters with three underlines are two octaves higher, while those notes to the left with upper case (capital) letters are one octave lower, and capital letters followed by a period are two octaves lower.

The Wien Flöte (also called Wald Flöte) pipes are wooden open flute pipes with an inverted round upper lip. This register is found on all Welte orchestrions of this period and is the foundation for their specifications. The Zinn pipes are a small scale Principal made of polished tin. The six pipes in the bass end of this register are stopped wood pipes. The Clarinet register is located in its own expression box in front of the Zinn. These are tunable free reeds.

Welte Style 1 Cottage Orchestrion built in 1901.Figure 15 shows one of the five Style 1 Orchestrions known to exist. This one built in 1901 is believed to have been originally installed in the Willard Hotel in Washington, DC. The roll frame on this organ is the earliest style. It requires manual rewinding of the roll.

There are five Welte Style 1 orchestrions known to be extant as of 2016.

Welte Style 2 Cottage Orchestrion

Welte Style 2 Cottage Orchestrion.The Style 2 Cottage Orchestrion was the first to display a set of radiating brass Trompet pipes, see Figure 16 and Figure 17 (immediately below). The Trompet replaced the Clarinet of the Style 1 and a Gedeckt register has been added. These are stopped wood pipes. Also found on most Style 2 organs are a bass drum with tympani effect and cymbal.

Welte Style 2 Cottage Orchestrion pipe ranges.

(Chart courtesy of Durward Center)

Figure 17.

The above chart shows the playing ranges, number of pipes, and registers found in the Welte Style 2 Cottage Orchestrion. The crescendo register refers to a swell shade which controls volume of the organ. It has only two positions, open and closed, but a restriction in the supply to the controlling pneumatic slows its movement.

In this chart the small c (with a single underline and located near the center of the scale) represents the musical note middle C. Using this as a reference point, lower case letters to the right with two underlines are one octave higher, and lower case letters with three underlines are two octaves higher, while those notes to the left with upper case (capital) letters are one octave lower, and capital letters followed by a period are two octaves lower.

Welte Style 2 Cottage Orchestrion in an ebonized Italian Renaissance case.Figure 18 shows a typical Style 2 in an ebonized Italian Renaissance case. This one was originally installed in Mexico in 1905. It has the manual rewind roll frame and was weight powered. Note the snare drum beater mechanism is also a weight driven device which requires winding after each playing.

Figure 19 shows another Renaissance case Style 2 in quarter sawn oak, again with the manual rewind roll frame. This instrument was originally weight operated and converted to electric at a later date. Of all the extant Welte Orchestrions, the Style 2 has the highest survival rate.

There are fifteen Welte Style 2 orchestrions known to be extant as of 2016.

Welte Style 3 Cottage Orchestrion

Welte Style 3 Cottage Orchestrion.The Style 3 is the last of the Cottage Orchestrion series, see Figure 20 and Figure 21 (immediately below) shows the addition of the Posaune register. These are the six larger brass pipes seen in the left and right windows of the case. The remainder of the Posaune register consists of stopped wood pipes. Also added was the Octave register, a set of open wood pipes speaking an octave above unison pitch. On some Style 3 organs, an additional register is found, the Gamba. This has a string sound using small scale open pipes. Both wood and metal Gambas are known.

Welte Style 3 Cottage Orchestrion pipe ranges.

(Chart courtesy of Durward Center)

Figure 21.

The above chart shows the playing ranges, number of pipes, and registers found in the Welte Style 3 Cottage Orchestrion. The crescendo register refers to a swell shade which controls volume of the organ. It has only two positions, open and closed, but a restriction in the supply to the controlling pneumatic slows its movement.

In this chart the small c (with a single underline and located near the center of the scale) represents the musical note middle C. Using this as a reference point, lower case letters to the right with two underlines are one octave higher, and lower case letters with three underlines are two octaves higher, while those notes to the left with upper case (capital) letters are one octave lower, and capital letters followed by a period are two octaves lower.

Welte Style 3 Cottage Orchestrion in Zaharakos Confectionery.Figure 22 shows a Style 3 in Zaharakos Confectionery, Columbus, Indiana, USA. This instrument is the last Welte orchestrion to remain in its original commercial location. It was built in 1908, has the full automatic rewind roll frame and is electrically powered. The clock is not original to the case.

Figure 23 shows another Style 3 still in its original location. It is in the residence of Asa Packer in the town of Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania, USA. This organ was weight driven and manually rewound. The Packer house is open as a museum and the Welte is played by tour guides. Their descriptions of the Orchestrion can be quite colorful!

The next Style 3, Figure 24, is in a custom oak case and originally came from an English manor house. This is the first to be shown with a semi-automatic roll frame. This type of roll frame shuts off at the end of the roll. The operator must then move a lever which turns the organ on, the roll then rewinds back to the beginning and shuts off automatically. This type, and the later full automatic roll frame, were only found on electrically powered organs.

The final Style 3 shown, Figure 25, dates from the 1880's. This organ was in Australia, but its original home is not known. Indications are that this was originally a pinned-cylinder organ. The first clue is the divider in the middle of the doors in front of the roll frame, common to cylinder organ case design. Many interior components have been rearranged. It is probable that Welte converted this machine to roll operation. The work was done well and with components of a design found in later Weltes of around 1910. The roll frame is the full automatic type, the snare drum uses a vacuum reiterating beater. The conversion also required the addition of a vacuum pump, pneumatic stack and wind motor.

There are ten Welte Style 3 orchestrions known to be extant as of 2016.

Welte Style 4 Concert Orchestrion

Welte Style 4 Concert Orchestrion.The Style 4 Concert Orchestrion (Figure 26) makes significant a leap in both the number of pipes and number of playing notes. Figure 27 (immediately below) shows the registers and a playing range of 51 notes. The Style 4 organs leave out the lowest G# of the “F” scale. It is possible that a third sub category of the 75 key scale was made especially for the Style 4. Further research may provide more information. The Posaune in these organs has brass resonators for the complete 17 note range. Some Style 4 organs have a Viol register playing 34 pipes in the upper end of the scale. Notice on this style organ, more of the registers have pipes that extend through the entire playing range.

Welte Style 4 Concert Orchestrion pipe ranges.

(Chart courtesy of Durward Center)

Figure 27.

The above chart shows the playing ranges, number of pipes, and registers found in the Welte Style 4 Concert Orchestrion. The crescendo register refers to a swell shade which controls volume of the organ. It has only two positions, open and closed, but a restriction in the supply to the controlling pneumatic slows its movement.

In this chart the small c (with a single underline and located near the center of the scale) represents the musical note middle C. Using this as a reference point, lower case letters to the right with two underlines are one octave higher, and lower case letters with three underlines are two octaves higher, while those notes to the left with upper case (capital) letters are one octave lower, and capital letters followed by a period are two octaves lower.

Welte Style 4 Cottage Orchestrion with ebonized case.Another ebonized organ is shown in Figure 28. This Style 4 is weight driven by two clockwork motors, one on either side of the roll frame. It was sold to a Mexican buyer ca. 1905.

There are eight Welte Style 4 orchestrions known to be extant as of 2016.

Welte Style 5 Concert Orchestrion

Welte Style 5 Concert Orchestrion of Gothic design from a German catalogue.Welte catalogs show variations in case styles on the larger instruments. Figures 29 and Figure 30 show two designs for the Style 5 Concert Orchestrion. The Gothic design from a German catalog may have been a custom case. The second illustration from an American catalog shows the more standard Renaissance style, but in reality is a case used by an extant Style 6. So case style alone cannot be used to determine the style number of an organ.

The Style 5 is the first of the organs to fully utilize the 75 key “F” scale. All 52 playing notes and all eight registers are present (Figure 31 (immediately below). The Clarinet pipes are in their own expression box visible on the front of the case, similar to the Style 1.

Welte Style 5 Concert Orchestrion pipe ranges.

(Chart courtesy of Durward Center)

Figure 31.

The above chart shows the playing ranges, number of pipes, and registers found in the Welte Style 5 Concert Orchestrion. The crescendo register refers to a swell shade which controls volume of the organ. It has only two positions, open and closed, but a restriction in the supply to the controlling pneumatic slows its movement.

In this chart the small c (with a single underline and located near the center of the scale) represents the musical note middle C. Using this as a reference point, lower case letters to the right with two underlines are one octave higher, and lower case letters with three underlines are two octaves higher, while those notes to the left with upper case (capital) letters are one octave lower, and capital letters followed by a period are two octaves lower.

Welte Style 5 Concert Orchestrion from 1898.There are two Style 5 organs known. Figure 32 shows an oak cased Style 5 from 1898. This instrument was originally installed in Oakley Court, Windsor, England. Figure 33 shows a rather forlorn looking Style 5 in the Dolmabahçe Palace, Istanbul, Turkey. This organ is missing most of its pipework and will require a major restoration effort. Unfortunately, its condition is typical of the treatment some of these instruments have received through neglect and vandalism. One can hope that this Welte will be properly restored someday.

There are two Welte Style 5 orchestrions known to be extant as of 2016.

Welte Style 6 Concert Orchestrion

Welte Style 6 Concert Orchestrion from a German catalogue.A German Welte catalog shows a Style 6 with a case that is nearly identical to the two extant Style 5's with the exception of the top gallery (Figure 34). An American catalog shows a Style 6 in a painted case with either etched glass or wood panels in front of the pipework (Figure 35). The pipework for a Style 6 is similar to the 5 with the addition of the Gedeckt register extended through the full 52 note range (Figure 36 (immediately below). The Gedeckt register in many of these organs is actually a Dopple-Rohr Flöte. These are double mouth wood pipes with a hole through the stopper.

Welte Style 6 Concert Orchestrion pipe ranges.

(Chart courtesy of Durward Center)

Figure 36.

The above chart shows the playing ranges, number of pipes, and registers found in the Welte Style 6 Concert Orchestrion. The crescendo register refers to a swell shade which controls volume of the organ. It has only two positions, open and closed, but a restriction in the supply to the controlling pneumatic slows its movement.

In this chart the small c (with a single underline and located near the center of the scale) represents the musical note middle C. Using this as a reference point, lower case letters to the right with two underlines are one octave higher, and lower case letters with three underlines are two octaves higher, while those notes to the left with upper case (capital) letters are one octave lower, and capital letters followed by a period are two octaves lower.

Welte Style 6 Concert Orchestrion originally installed in Nidd Hall.Figure 37 shows a Style 6 from 1899. This organ was originally installed in Nidd Hall, Harrogate, England. It was removed from its casework at some point in the past and installed in a chamber where it spoke through a small opening. It was only after the organ was sold to a collector in 1987 and removed, that the previous owner found the moldy remains of the case in the basement. The case parts were reunited with the organ and all restored to glory.

Figure 38 shows a Style 6 still in its original location. It was installed in 1893 in Clayton, the residence of Henry Clay Frick, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA. Notice the absence of the Clarinet box. On this organ, as well as two other extant Style 6 organs, the Clarinet pipes are located inside the case with the rest of the pipework. This organ was built with double weight motors to power it, but wanting the latest technology, Frick had the organ electrified in 1904. This was accomplished by Emil Welte who traveled from New York to do the work on site.1 The two weight motors were removed, two drive shafts were installed with eccentric pins connected via cables and pulleys to the eight feeder bellows. An electric motor was installed to turn the drive shafts from the rear, a design used by Welte on all electric driven instruments. A modern pneumatic snare drum action and wind motor were also installed. No more winding up weights for the Frick servants! Today the house is open as a museum and the restored organ is played for each tour group that goes through the house.

Welte Style 6 Concert Orchestrion built in 1895.The next organ shown is a Style 6 built in 1895 for the Masch. Fabrik der K. Ung. Staatseisenbahnen in Budapest as listed in a German catalog. This organ was very nearly lost when it was broken up for parts in the 1960's. The empty case had a door cut into the front for use as a closet! Fortunately, a German collector was able to locate and acquire most of the parts from three locations in Budapest and thus saved the instrument. Today, the organ has been restored. It is seen during the course of restoration in Figure 39a and completed in Figure 39b. Notice the two sets of radiating brass resonators. In this organ, both the Trompet and Clarinet pipes are in brass. Also, the case is of pine and was originally painted with false graining. It now has an ebonized finish with gold leaf accents.

There are five Welte Style 6 orchestrions known to be extant as of 2016.

Welte Style 7 and 8 Concert Orchestrions

Catalogue illustraton for Welte Style 7 and 8 Concert Orchestrions.The Style 7 Concert Orchestrion is the largest to play the 75 key “F” scale. It is an impressive instrument as can be seen in Figure 40 which describes the Style 7 and Style 8 on the same catalog page. The image shown is probably more representative of a Style 8 because of the larger roll frame shown which would play the 120 key roll. Also more pipework is visible in the front expression box and display than would be available for use by the 75 key scale.

The one Style 7 known to exist is the first testimonial listed on this catalog page, Pelesch Castle, Sinaia, Romania. Figure 41 shows this 1899 instrument. Figure 42 shows the organ as it appears with its carved front panels opened to see the pipework. During a 1991 inspection, the organ was found to be in immaculate original condition, though not playable. The electric motor had been removed. Although a complete analysis of the pipework was not possible, the main difference from a Style 6 appeared to be larger scale pipework. Two matching cabinets nearby hold a large library of rolls. A truly grand instrument in its beautiful original location, one can only imagine what it will sound like when restored.

There is only one Welte Style 7 orchestrion known to be extant as of 2016.

No Welte Style 8 orchestrion is known to be extant as of 2016.

Welte Style 9 and 10 Concert Orchestrions

Illustraton for Welte Style 9 and 10 Concert Orchestrions from a German catalogue.The final catalog pages show Style 9 and 10 Concert Orchestrions from both the German Figure 43 and American catalogs Figure 44. Note the small chair and table, and the steps required to place the roll on the machine. One catalog thoughtfully mentioned “Larger Orchestrions built to order.”

Welte 120 Key Concert Orchestrion sold in 1912 at Trustee’s Sale.Other than the 120 key scale, little is known about the exact specification of the pipework on these large organs. The following information describes a Welte offered in a 1912 bankruptcy sale of Charles Wahn and Henry Thiess. (Figure 45)2 While the information is still vague and typical of Welte’s catalog descriptions, it gives some insight into the size of this instrument:

“Trustee’s Sale! A Very Large Orchestrion in Moorish Style Case representing a full orchestra, containing about 129 brass pipes, 334 wood pipes and 142 tin pipes, totaling about 605 pipes; imitating a String Quartetto, 4 First Violins, 4 Second Violins, Viola, Violincello and Contra-Basso, Piccolo, 12 Flutes, 2 Clarinettos, Oboes, English Horn, 2 Basoons, 4 Trompettes, 4 Trombones, 1 Tuba, 2 Snare Drums, 1 Bass Drum, Cymbal and Triangle, Kettle Drum.

Has a sonorous tone, loud enough for a hall 50X200 feet, or even more; plays by pneumatic system, perforated paper music rolls, such as Overture from “William Tell,” by Rossini, Overture from “Tannhauser,” by R. Wagner, operatic selections, dances, two-steps and ragtime music, with 60 rolls of music of a mixed repertoire, adapted for concert purposes. Splendidly adapted for band stand music for park purposes where good quality of music is desired. Power: 1/4 to ½ H.P. electric motor only required. Instrument is now in first-class playing condition.

DIMENSIONS–Height, 13 to 15 feet; width, 12 ½ feet; depth, 6 1/4 feet. This instrument will be offered for sale July 8th, 1912, at 10:30 a.m. by Charles Shongood, Official Auctioneer of the United States District Court, at the sales rooms of M. Welte & Sons, 207 East 49th St., borough of Manhattan, New York City. The instrument may be inspected at the said salesrooms any time between now and the date of sale.”

No further information is known concerning the fate of this organ.

While none of the Styles 8, 9, or 10 are known to have survived, there is always the possibility that in some palace, somewhere, one sits, just considered more furniture, awaiting discovery by those who would appreciate it.

Welte pipe organ built in 1914.There is one instrument still existing which can play the Style 10 music roll. While not a Style 10 Concert Orchestrion, it is a larger and later pipe organ built in 1914 by Welte for Sir David Salomons in Tunbridge Wells, Kent, England (Figure 46). This instrument can be classified as a Philharmonic organ with three manuals and 36 ranks of pipes. It was designed to play either the 120 key orchestrion roll or the 150 key pipe organ roll.

No Welte Style 9 or 10 orchestrion is known to be extant as of 2016.

The Welte Piano Orchestrions

Welte Style II Concert Orchestrion in a gray oak Art Nouveau case.As time progressed, styles and tastes changed and so did the instruments produced by M. Welte. In a Welte catalog from the teens, all orchestrions were “Concert Orchestrions.” Figure 47 shows a Style 2 in a gray oak modernized Louis XVI case. It is electrically powered, electrically triggered to start music and has the late style full automatic roll frame. There are no reed pipes in this organ.

Around 1910, Welte developed the Piano Orchestrion and Philharmonic Organ series. These instruments were built with similar playing mechanisms to the earlier orchestrions, but the pipe specifications and case styles were more in keeping the musical and furniture styles that were then becoming popular.3

The Piano Orchestrion case styles as described in their catalogs included Modern Empire, Art Nouveau, modernized Renaissance, modernized Louis XVI, and modernized Oriental. Some cases had moving scenes. Pipework was similar to that found in the earlier orchestrions, but with the addition of a piano. The rolls used on these instruments had 100 keys. These rolls were the same width and had the same 52 note playing range as the 75 key roll, but were made with finer spacing4 and had positions for up to 18 registers including a piano and xylophone. Rolls for this scale used drawing board arrangements. Figure 48 shows a 100 key Piano Orchestrion scale. It is interesting to notice that in this scale the notes were arranged chromatically. The names and quantity of the registers varied on different style machines.

These instruments were given the name Brisgovia, followed by a letter beginning with “A”. Seven styles are found in Welte catalogs. Figure 49 shows a Brisgovia Style C Deluxe built ca.1910.

Brisgovia Style D piano orchestrion without a case.The next illustration, Figure 50, shows a Brisgovia Style D without a case from ca.1912. This organ was originally installed in a chamber and spoke through an opening in the wall. Notice the chromatic placement of the pipework, a less artistic arrangement, but since the pipes were no longer visible, this was a more practical and economical design. The organ now has an appropriate case.

Figure 51 shows another large Piano Orchestrion built for the Packard residence of motor car fame. Housed in a rather plain mahogany Louis XVI case, the front panels have been removed to show the pumps and the duplex roll frame. One roll can play while the other rewinds automatically.

In addition, there were also models called the Divinia and the Friburgia. The Friburgia is shown in Figure 52. In a catalog from around 1910, these piano based orchestrions were said to use “rolls recorded from the playing of pianists, in co-operation with an expression device that regulates the unlimited modulation of tone, and the melody and accompaniment is balanced to the finest shade. The Friburgia is built on a style of piano orchestrion; contains a first-class piano without keyboard, but to obtain an orchestral effect, a bass drum, triangle, kettle drum, small drum, cymbals, xylophone and harp have been added to the piano, and in such a way that the strength of the stroke of these instruments follows all the shades of expression of the piano, thus maintaining and perfecting the effect of the human playing.”  These two styles of instruments used a slightly modified version of the 100 key Welte-Mignon reproducing piano roll. By deleting several of the lowest notes and using these spaces on the scale for orchestrion functions, Welte had an orchestrion that played with human expression.

There are six Piano Orchestrions extant as of 2016—Style A-3, Style C-1, and Style D-2.

The Welte Philharmonic Organs

For the Philharmonic Organ, the trend was for a smoother sound where the Trompet, Clarinet and Posaune registers were replaced with Oboe, Violin and Bassoon registers. The cases were more likely to be of mahogany in the style of Louis XVI with delicate carvings, matched veneer panels and no pipes visible except non functional polished tin facade pipes.

Music roll arrangements also changed. A system was developed that allowed an organist to record his playing in real time. From this initial recording, rolls could then be produced and sold as a hand played performance by leading organists of the time, a great selling point. The Welte-Mignon piano was enjoying the same popularity.

Four scales were developed for the Philharmonic series. They are 75, 100, 120 and 150 keys. The labeling of these rolls is unclear. Both the 75 and 100 key rolls are sometimes marked Philharmonic I & II. The 120 key rolls are usually marked Philharmonic III & IV. The 150 key rolls are marked Philharmonic V & VI. These numbers may refer to organ styles, but I have not found any information as such.

The 75 key Philharmonic scale had the same note placement and playing range as the 75 key orchestrion roll, however, the eight register positions were given different names. The 100 key Philharmonic scale still had the same 52 note playing range as the piano orchestrion scale, but register names were changed. The 120 key scale was the first to utilize two separate divisions with a 58 note manual section, a 30 note solo section and thirteen automatic registers. It is entirely different from the 120 key orchestrion scale, although the spacing is the same. There are several variations of the 150 key scale which could control a full pipe organ with many registers. The organs using the 120 or 150 key rolls usually had keyboards.

Welte 100 key Philharmonic Organ in a mahogany case with tin display pipes.Figure 53 shows a 100 key Philharmonic in a mahogany case with tin display pipes. This instrument contains 269 pipes. Unlike most Philharmonics which only have a bass drum with a small reiterating tympani beater, this organ came with full percussions including a snare drum, triangle, bass drum with tympani beaters and cymbal.

There are fifteen Philharmonic organs extant—Three 75 key, nine 100 key, two 120 key, and one 120/150 key.

These survival numbers only include the German built machines that do not have electro-pneumatic action. A survey of those instruments is beyond the scope of this article.

Welte Brass Band Orchestrions

Welte Wallhall Brass Band Orchestrion.The final class of Welte Orchestrions is the Brass Band Orchestrions. These were very powerfully voiced instruments meant to be used in very large rooms such as skating rinks or outside in a pavilion. The three models described in a Welte catalog are named the Donar, the Wallhall and the Wotan, being the largest. The Wallhall is pictured in Figure 54. These organs play the 100 key Piano Orchestrion roll.

There are only two Brass Band Orchestrions known to have survived into the present time. Both are Wotans. One is in its original Renaissance style case, but with a moving scene behind the glass. The other has been recased into a Renaissance case with the pipes visible behind glass (Figure 55). This organ was originally installed in the Pavilion of the Detroit & Windsor Ferry Company’s Park on Bois-Blanc Island, Canada, where it was used for dancing and Sunday concerts. This room was 278 feet X 168 feet. The building fell into disuse and was abandoned. Fortunately, the Welte was salvaged for parts and eventually restored by John Hovancak and Dan Meuer for the Sanfilippo Collection in Chicago.

It is interesting to note that a few years prior to 1922, Welte had consolidated all its scales into one size–the 100 key scale, possibly for economic reasons, and ceased production of other types of rolls. All instruments made after that time utilized this scale.6

There are two Welte Brass Band Orchestrions known to be extant as of 2016.

Welte Serial Number Sequences

Welte Dating Guide
Serial # Mfr. Date Welte Style
#57 1893 Welte Style 4
#134 1894 Welte Style 2
#157 1894 Welte Style 2
#198 1895 Welte Style 6
#202 1895 Welte Style 4
#262 1898* Welte Style 5
#273 1897 Welte Style 2
#340 1899 Welte Style 7
#342 1899 Welte Style 6
#454 1901 Welte Style 1
#530 1902 Welte Style 2
#695 1905 Welte Style 2
#705 1905 Welte Style 4
#1631 1908 Welte Style 3
#1897 1908 Welte Style 2
#2816 1910 Welte Brisgovia C
#3542 1912 Welte No. 2 Philharmonic
* Welte #262 has a penciled date inside of 1898, which does not conform to the date sequence of other items in the list. The reason is unknown, but sales contract or unanticipated manufacturing delays have been known to cause serial number assigned instruments to be completed and/or shipped out of order by as much as a year or more.

By the time that Welte began producing their Pneumatic Orchestrions, serial numbers on the instruments were beginning to be used. These numbers can help to provide an idea of the total production numbers. Unfortunately, any records of this type were lost when the Freiburg factory was destroyed in 1944. When numbers are present on the organs, they have been found stamped on the take-up spool where the roll leader attached, stamped on the bed plate of the roll frame or stamped on the wood surface of the table supporting the roll frame and wind chest. The date of an organ, if not known by provenance, is sometimes found during the course of restoration written by a workman during the building of the instrument.

The few instances where numbers and dates are both known can give an approximate idea of the date of other organs with only numbers.

The jump to four digit numbers may include Welte-Mignon pianos and Vorsetzers. The highest number observed on an organ is #4180 which is a small Cottage Orchestrion similar to a Style 1, but with a brass Trompet instead of a Clarinet. However, most of the Cottage and Concert Orchestrions with a known serial number are in the three digit range.

Some Closing Words

Prices of Welte Orchestrions were always expensive. The catalog pages shown also include prices. Figure 56 shows an increase in prices as of 1920. The larger orchestrions are still listed, although quite obsolete by that time.

The grand total of all the existing instruments as described above is 76, very likely a small percentage of the original number made over the course of production. War, scrap drives, fires, and neglect have taken their toll on these instruments. As styles and tastes changed, or the organs began to have mechanical problems, they were too big to be shoved into a back room. Instead, many were simply dismantled and discarded as obsolete technology.

The following illustrations are but a few of those grand machines now forever lost. Only their images provide clues to their magnificence and the beauty of the music they once produced. The loss of an orchestrion in recent times, such as Figure 62, is an especial tragedy. These instruments are historical treasures from an age of opulence. Those still remaining deserve to be carefully restored and preserved for future generations. The firm of M. Welte & Söhne produced orchestrions that were truly works of art, as impressive today as when they were first made.

Grand Duke Friedrich von Baden’s pinned-cylinder orchestrion.Figure 57: Grand Duke Friedrich von Baden’s pinned-cylinder orchestrion completed by Michael Welte in 1857 and later removed to the Welte factory museum. Destroyed during the WWII bombing of the factory in 1944.

Figure 58: Atlantic Gardens, New York City. Style 10 Concert Orchestrion as shown in an advertisement by this large beer and dance hall. Originally exhibited at the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893 (The World’s Columbian Exhibition), the instrument was then sold to Atlantic Gardens. It is interesting to note that the photograph in this ad was probably taken at the Welte showroom in Freiburg. The wall treatment is the same as can be seen in many catalogs and literature by Welte. The smaller orchestrion to the right appears to be a Style 6.

Figure 59: Atlantic Gardens, New York City. Right view: pinned-cylinder orchestrion. One Welte catalog states this machine was the first orchestrion Emil Welte brought to the United States in 1865. Left view: Style 10 Concert Orchestrion which replaced the earlier machine.

Figure 60: Jeptha Wade House, Cleveland, Ohio, USA. This appears to be an early pneumatic orchestrion about the size of a Style 6 or 7.

Figure 61: H.B. Plant, Tampa Bay Hotel, Tampa Florida, USA. Style 6 Concert Orchestrion, 1891. Photo taken 1926.

Figure 62: Sumatra, Indonesia. Style 9 Concert Orchestrion installed in the Sultan’s Palace in 1897. This instrument existed until 1985 when it was intentionally destroyed as useless!7

Credits:

Durward R. Center, author; Editing and re-flow of text and conversion into HTML format by Terry Hathaway.

Captions by Durward Center, Terry Hathaway, and Art Reblitz.

Photographs:

Figure 19: Richard Sorensen.

Figure 55: Leslie Schwartz.

Figure 60: Courtesy of Western Reserve Historical Society.

Figure 61: Courtesy of Tampa Bay Museum.

Footnotes:

1. Information from the files of The Frick Foundation, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

2. Advertisement in Billboard Magazine, July 6, 1912, supplied by Fred Dahlinger.

3. Advertisement in Musical Trade Review, June 11, 1910, supplied by Art Reblitz.

4. In modern times, the popularity of these instruments has led to the necessity of producing new music rolls, either by the copying of original ones or by making entirely new arrange- ments. The spacing of the perforations of the 100 key piano and orchestrion rolls has been called into question. One must know this to produce a roll which will track well and thus, plays properly. The spacing appears to be neither Metric nor British. One possible explanation is given by Wayne Stanke, an expert on Welte piano systems:

“I learned that the unit of measure used in the Welte factory was the “foot of Lahr” (Lahr is a nearby town), equal in length to 12.025 modern American inches. The scale [speaking of the T-100 key Welte piano] is eight to the “inch of Lahr” or very nearly 0.12525 inches. The width of the finished roll is exactly 103 times 1/8 of an “inch of Lahr5.”

    Certainly more research and information on this subject would be welcome.

5. Correspondence supplied by Richard Hack.

6. Letter by M. Welte & Sons, New York, to Zaharako Brothers, Columbus, Indiana, May 5, 1922.

7. Gerssen, Jacob. Das Mechanische Musikinstrument, Ein Geshenk für S.H. den Sultan im Jahre 1897, Vol 70, December 1997.