The Golden Age of
Automatic Musical Instruments

Remarkable Music Machines and Their Stories
by Arthur A. Reblitz
edited by Q. David Bowers

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Yesteryear’s Treasures—The Fascinating World of Automatic Music

Lovely and elegant music boxes…
Self-playing mechanical orchestras…
Automatic violins, harps, and banjos…
Thrilling mechanical organs used in carousels, fairgrounds, and amusement parks…
Pianos that duplicate the playing of Rachmaninoff and Gershwin…

These marvels of technology performed in the royal palaces of Europe, elegant drawing rooms in New York City, speakeasies in Chicago, and the saloons of the Wild West! Learn why they were as popular from the 1890s to the 1920s as the latest electronic wonders are today.

You will discover:

If you enjoy music or mechanical things, you will treasure this book!

Table of Contents

PART ONE: Delightful Instruments from a Fascinating Era

Chapter 1 Why Automatic Music?
Chapter 2 Music Boxes
Chapter 3 Mechanical Organs and Pianos
Chapter 4 European Orchestrions
Chapter 5 American Nickelodeons and Orchestrions
Chapter 6 Violin-Playing Machines
Chapter 7 Reproducing Pianos
Chapter 8 Fairground Organs (Band Organs) and Dance Organs
Chapter 9 Photoplayers and Theatre Pipe Organs
PART TWO: Preserving a Musical Legacy
Chapter 10 The Pioneer Collectors
Chapter 11 Collecting Automatic Musical Instruments Today
Appendix I Collectors' Groups and Web Sites
Appendix II Converting Original Prices to Today's Equivalent
Appendix III List of Manufacturers, Brand Names, and Distributors
Appendix IV Musical Scales (Tracker Scales and Key Frame Layouts)
Index to Appendix IV
General Index

The Golden Age of Automatic Musical Instruments takes you back to an era when automobiles, airplanes, and electric lighting were new, and the radio and sound movies were still a futuristic dream.

Chapter 1 introduces you to the various kinds of instruments and explains why they were so popular during their golden age. Chapters 2 through 9 describe and illustrate each type of instrument. Each of these chapters begins with a colorful vignette titled You Are There, by Q. David Bowers. These settings are a composite blend of real and fictional material intended to represent the atmosphere of the era. Interspersed throughout the text are details of how these fascinating instruments work, and why each brand or type has its own musical "personality."

Chapter 10 includes a photograph album of interesting historic collections dating back to the 1920s, including the well-known Cliff House and Sutro’s (San Francisco), Svoboda’s Nickelodeon Tavern (Chicago Heights), Sanders’ Musical Museum (Deansboro, New York), Eakins’ Gay Nineties Village (Sikeston, Missouri) and Melodie Violin Museum (St. Louis), the Bovey Restoration (Virginia and Nevada Cities, Montana), and many others. Amusing anecdotes are recounted, along with the colorful history of some of the owners. Chapter 11 provides valuable tips for finding, preserving, maintaining, and enjoying automatic instruments.

The Appendices include information on collectors’ group; tables for converting the original prices of instruments into U.S. dollars and then into the number of hours it took the average worker to earn this amount; manufacturers and brand names; and tracker scales, which show how the music is programmed for many of the instruments. A Glossary, Bibliography, Index of Musical Scales, and General Index complete the volume.

Beautiful Color Photographs!

The combination of brilliant color, silhouetting, and page design makes the pictures almost jump off the page. The instruments pictured in the book were selected for their outstanding condition, making the illustrations a valuable reference for comparison and study.

Technical and Historic Specifications!

For each instrument, a detail box includes specifications such as the number of teeth on a music box comb, a description of the pipework in orchestrions and organs, dimensions, type of disc or roll used, and when known, the year manufactured, serial number, original cost, and history of previous ownership.

The tracker scales and key frame layouts in Appendix IV explain how the music is laid out for each paper roll or cardboard book operated instrument. The most popular scales for coin pianos, orchestrions, band organs, and dance organs, updated from the sought-after Treasures of Mechanical Music by Reblitz and Bowers are included here. (For a complete list of tracker scales and key frame layouts that are included, go to the “Tracker Scales” page.)

1907 Regina Corona (Style 35) 15-1/2 inch automatic disc changing music box (Krughoff Collection). The Regina Music Box Co. of Rahway, New Jersey, made this beautiful Style 35 Regina Corona music box in 1907. Its automatic disc-changing mechanism plays twelve different 15½” discs with favorite tunes like “Hello, My Baby” and “In the Good Old Summertime.”
Wilhelm Bruder Söhne 44-key Barrel Organ with Moving Figures (Gilson Collection). A Wilhelm Bruder Söhne 44-key barrel organ, made in Waldkirch, Germany. Portable hand-cranked organs were popular with organ grinders during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. This one includes little animated figures which entertain onlookers while the music plays. Its cabinet is about 25" tall, 28" wide, and 14" deep.
Welte Style 2 Cottage Orchestrion (Sanfilippo Collection). M. Welte & Sons of Freiburg, Germany, made this elegant Style 2 Cottage Orchestrion in the early 1900s. Welte orchestrions were once found in mansions of the elite with such names as Packard, Gould, Frick, Mellon, Vanderbilt, Sutro, and Barnum, just to name a few American clients.
Hupfeld Helios II/25 Piano Orchestrion, with the case front removed to show the interior mechanisms (Krughoff Collection). This large orchestrion was made by the Ludwig Hupfeld Co. of Leipzig, Germany, circa 1910-1915. It contains 179 pipes representing various wind and string instruments, xylophone and bells, drums, cymbal, and piano with repeating mandoline mechanism. The beautiful cabinet stands over 10 feet tall!
1921 Seeburg Style H Solo Orchestrion (Krughoff Collection). One of America’s most ornate “nickelodeons,” a large, impressive Seeburg H orchestrion made in Chicago in 1921. Pianos like this were a big hit in fancy ice cream parlors, restaurants, and taverns circa 1913 to the early 1920s.
Hupfeld Model A Phonoliszt-Violina, with the case front removed to show the interior mechanisms (Sanfilippo Collection). The Hupfeld Phonoliszt-Violina was one of the most amazing of all music machines. Its intricate mechanisms reproduce the music of three violins and piano, with near-human expression. The violins are played by 49 mechanical fingers and a rotating circular bow with 1,344 individually-tied strands of horsehair. Mechanisms cause the bow speed and pressure to change automatically, as controlled by perforations in the paper music roll, to provide a wide dynamic range, crescendo and decrescendo, accent, and other musical nuances.
1925 Steinway Duo-Art Model AR Reproducing Piano (Sanfilippo Collection). Reproducing pianos faithfully replay the performances of many great classical and popular pianists of the early 20th century as recorded on special piano rolls. This Steinway Duo-Art in an ornately-veneered Spanish style case was made in 1925.
Limonaire Orchestrophone Style 250 (Gilson Collection). Fairground organs like this beautiful 66-key Limonaire once provided lively band music for outdoor amusements and attractions. It was made in Paris, France, circa 1910, and it contains over 260 pipes, bass drum, snare drum, and cymbal. The facade stands 11'3" tall by 15'6" wide, and the band leader and bell ringers move in time with the music.
1915 Wurlitzer Style 125 Military Band Organ (Gilson Collection). The Rudolph Wurlitzer Company was one of America's largest musical instrument manufacturers and distributors for over 100 years. This Wurlitzer Style 125 Military Band Organ, made in North Tonawanda, New York, was popular in skating rinks and carousels across America, circa 1906-1920s.