Database Reports for Automatic Musical Co. / Marcola / Link Coin Pianos
This history of Automatic Musical Company and Link is abbreviated from the much more detailed history in the forthcoming Guide Book of Coin-Operated American Pianos and Orchestrions by Reblitz and Bowers. A work in progress, its availability will be announced on the home page of this web site and other mechanical music resources.
In March of 1901 the brothers Benjamin and Louis H. Harris (sales agents for Roth & Engelhardt, of St. Johnsville, New York), along with Frederick Root Goolman (an inventor and technician who had formerly worked for Roth & Engelhardt) formed a partnership that was soon to become the Automatic Musical Company of Binghamton, New York (the forerunner of the Link Piano Company). Goolman immediately began development on the Self-Playing Xylophone (actually a misnomer, because the device played metal bell bars, not wooden xylophone bars). In 1902 and 1903 the instrument was marketed nationwide, but it was soon realized that the device was a commercial failure. Goolman was then asked to develop a coin operated piano and in 1904 the company's "Reliable" keyboard style coin operated piano had been perfected. It was a marketing success and became the mainstay product of the company. Goolman Patent #917,288 for the Reliable Self-Playing Piano in PDF format.
In October of 1905, The Binghamton Press reported that the company had "just placed an order with the Brewer-Pryor Piano Company, also of this city, for 1,000 pianos to be delivered within the present year. Another order for 500 additional instruments to be supplied within the year has also been placed with another manufacturer." Who this other "brand x" piano manufacturer was is unknown. However, it is known that over the years AMC did purchase pianos from both Schaff and Haddorff (and these two concerns were amongst the creditors at the later 1913 bankruptcy proceedings), and there are extant AMC specimens built around either a Schaff or Haddorff piano. Curiously, there are currently no known surviving AMC instruments with a piano attributed to the Brewer-Pryor Piano Company, albeit due to the paucity of surviving AMC machines this apparent lack proves nothing. Nevertheless, the newspaper article continued by proclaiming that "the business of this company has grown so rapidly that it is fast becoming one of the most important factors of this city’s industrial growth."
Thus, the company seemed to be rocketing onward toward an enviable and triumphant outcome. In April of 1906 this notice, headlined "Making Shipments Abroad," appeared in The Music Trade Review: "The Automatic Musical Co., of Binghamton, N. Y., are making large shipments to Mexico and Canada, and the fame of the creation has even spread through England, for they have recently received some English pianos in which they are installing their equipment with slot machine attachments." This article suggests that Automatic Musical was enjoying a brisk international business (in addition to their aforementioned trumpeted domestic success), but was this happy article mere hyperbole, or was it actual fact? It is likely that the company did have sales that ended up in the countries mentioned, but the inference of a substantial and ongoing international business trade remains questionable due to the lack of surviving physical evidence supporting such a claim, other than the foregoing trade journal article.
In 1906 the Mandolin Piano was put on the market. The mandolin effect was obtained very differently than was the case for pianos built by other coin piano manufacturers in that instead of the usual mandolin rail (that dropped down between the piano hammers and the strings) the Mandolin Piano had a separate attachment with its own mandolin strings and sound box. The device, patented August 2, 1904, was essentially independent of the piano and consisted of a mechanically operated set of 31 pluckers that strummed a pair of strings, there being 31 pairs of strings, beginning with C sharp (key #41 on the keyboard) through G (key #71). The whole thing, pinblock, soundboard, and plucker assembly was mounted in an elaborate, well designed casting that was mounted in front of the mid-range portion of the piano. A small round-belt driven crankshaft provided the oscillating motion for the individual pluckers.
In late 1906 the Automatic Musical Company was incorporated by Louis H. Harris, Fred R. Goolman, Frederick P. Ackerman, and Samuel H. Harris of Binghamton, N. Y., with capitalization of $250,000.00. Then in July of 1908 Louis H. Harris was amongst the incorporators of yet another company, the Automatic Music Operating Company, with a capitalization of $20,000.00, and whose purpose was "the purchase and sale of all kinds of automatic instruments and everything connected with them." It was also noted that the company would act as selling agents for the Automatic Music Company, also of Binghamton, N.Y., with branch offices to be located in the principal cities of the country.
During the years 1906 and 1907 the company worked with Joseph D. Wauters, a Danish immigrant, who had developed an automatically played violin. The device, when fully perfected, was to be marketed as the "Royal Violista," of which at least two versions were made. However, fate was to intervene. Due to a downturn in the coin-piano market in 1908 and other financial woes that would come to the forefront by 1910 the device never enjoyed successful commercial marketing.
The company's popular keyboard style pianos, such as the Reliable Self-Playing Piano and the Mandolin Piano, utilized an endless roll mechanism that was mounted below the keyboard and used a bulky, but detachable storage bin to hold the loops of music roll paper. In 1908 the company adopted a new horizontal endless-roll system devised by George R. Thayer. He seems to have first became associated with the Harris Brothers and their Automatic Musical Company in 1905, listed by the New York State Census as a "clerk in a music store (Harris–Automatic Musical Company)," and later shown as a machinist in the 1905 Binghamton City Directory. Starting out in the company's music store outlet would be the perfect place to learn about the company's pianos, discover mechanical issues, resolve customer complaints, and to take what is learned and incubate new ideas to help resolve any technical inadequacies. In this Thayer seems to have excelled, and in 1913 he would go on to become an important part of the Link Piano Company, successor to the Thayer's earlier engineering work. The new endless music roll system took two basic formats, both of which were internal and structurally integral with the piano case, and without the detachable storage bin as per earlier designs. In the 61-note keyboardless instruments the roll was housed in a wide compartment below the piano action, and in upright keyboard pianos it was on a shelf in a case extension at the top. This new system would be further improved upon by the Link Piano Company and would remain the music roll methodology of choice until production of coin pianos ceased in 1929.
Around 1910 the Automatic Musical Company was in dire financial straits and facing bankruptcy, essentially due to an unsettled patent infringement lawsuit, a serious downturn in sales following the 1907 panic, and other in-house factors. The company had been buying many of their pianos from the Schaff Piano Company, located in Huntington, Indiana, who through a generous extension of credit had effectively become an investor in the company. Finally unable to pay their bills, a committee of creditors appointed Edwin A. Link, then President of the Schaff Piano Company, as receiver and asked him to go to Binghamton and see if he could save the company from complete ruin. "E. A. Link to Binghamton," was the headline for an article in The Music Trade Review of July 16, 1910: "Binghamton, N. Y., will have a new resident shortly, as E. A. Link, now of the Schaff Bros. Co., Huntington, Ind., is about to settle in the former city as manager of the Automatic Musical Co. The Schaff Bros. Co. are said to be interested in the Automatic Musical Co., and the change will probably not affect in any way the policy of the Huntington concern." Their choice of Edwin A. Link was a logical one, because his duties with Schaff, including upper level management, had at one time encompassed checking on suppliers and maintaining quality on the production line, a combination of skills that made him an ideal person to attempt a rescue of the Automatic Musical Company.
Announcement in The Music Trade Review of the
But the legal and resulting financial situation continued to deteriorate and in late 1912 a petition for involuntary bankruptcy was filed. Curiously, on January 24, 1913, a Mr. Armer E. Johnson, who was one of the founders and an officer of the Haddorff Piano Co., Rockford, Ill., offered to purchase the Automatic Musical six-story building for $5,200, in addition to assuming the mortgage on the property amounting to $21,000, so that in reality the price of the property was $26,200. However, Mr. Johnson's bid was rejected. Then in early February of 1913 the United States District Court ordered that a Receivers Sale be set for February 14, 1913 which was to include "all the stock on hand, machinery, tools, fixtures, and other personal property of the Automatic Musical Company." Apparently the firm had been quite liberal in its extension of credit. The bankruptcy appraisers placed the face value of the accounts receivable at $232,523, but the probable value of the accounts at only $14,104. The face value of the bills receivable was given at $36,533 and the appraised value was $25,644, which represented notes given to the company by customers. The value of the company's machinery was placed at $8,731, and the merchandise on hand at the time the petition was filed, $16,108. The value of pianos out and not charged for was $1,505, the office fixtures were valued at $447, and the value of the C. O. D. shipments was $123.
At the Receiver's Sale Edwin A. Link stepped up and bid $12,500 for the factory building, subject to a $21,000 mortgage. Two other bidders attended the sale. The sale to Edwin A. Link was subsequently confirmed upon order of the Referee and the amount received placed with the assets of the defunct concern. But this newspaper announcement in The Binghamton Press ended with these revealing comments: "The building was previously sold Jan. 24, to Armer E. Johnson of Rockford, Ill. for $5,200 above the mortgage, but Referee Wales refused to confirm the sale. Mr. Johnson is owner of the Link Piano Company." This suggests that for at least some period of time that Mr. Johnson, and/or the Haddorff Piano Company of Rockford, Ill, was an "invisible hand" in the creation and operation of the Link Piano Company. Whatever was going on behind the curtain, Edwin Link seeing the possibilities soon relinquished his official affiliation with the Schaff Piano Company and took control of the remaining assets of the Automatic Musical Company, some or all of which might have been "unofficially" owned by the Haddorff Piano Company. Nevertheless, the revitalized company went on to great success as the Link Piano Company (later the Link Piano and Organ Company). However, the bankruptcy affairs and related legal wrangling over the defunct Automatic Musical Company would continue on, with a final discharge for the 50 or more weary creditors accepted in September of 1915.
In the meantime, Louis H. Harris was apparently undaunted by previous business troubles. In The Presto of January 8, 1914, was this headlined notice: "New Instrument for the Movies: Company Being Formed at Binghamton to Make Operator Act as Piano Player."
"Binghamton, N. Y., will soon have a new industry if present plans of the Harris Player Piano Company go through. These plans call for a capitalization of $500,000 and a plant employing from 300 to 500 skilled workers.
"The invention which the company will control is believed to possess selling merits of unusual kind. The invention is the property of Fred R. Goolman of the company. It is said it will revolutionize the trade of the film picture houses and open up new opportunities for trade with the `movies.' The principal novelty, it is claimed, will be that the man who operates the films will also change the music records in his own booth. At the side of the operator will be a device into which he places the required music, and then he presses the button, starting the mechanism. Instantaneously the piano down in front plays the selections.
"For years Mr. Goolman has been at work on this invention. The Harris Player Piano Company is headed by Louis H. Harris, and Mr. Goolman is an officer. Mrs. Harris and others from New York are also interested. H. C. Haggerty of Endicott, an officer of the 'International Time Recording Company, is also in the company. As a result of this new invention an expansion of the present company, or the creation of an entirely new company, is in prospect.
"The company's present capital is $50,000. The cost of the new factory, one story has it, will be in excess of $100,000. There is a report that this factory may be built outside the city of Binghamton, but of details there seems to be no one with authority to talk.
But, alas, the stalwart efforts of Louis H. Harris, a founding force in the Automatic Musical Company (predecessor to the Link Piano Company) and other companies was to come to a sudden end. In the March 1915 issue of The Music Trade Review was this notice: Death of Louis H. Harris. "Louis H. Harris, manager of the Harris Piano Player Co., Binghamton, N. Y., died suddenly last week at his home in that city in his fifty-seventh year. He had just returned from his office to his home and was found dead on the floor by his wife, who shortly afterwards entered. He is survived by his widow, two brothers, Samuel Harris, and Benjamin, and one married sister who resides in Syracuse."
John A. Marquette, of Detroit, Michigan, conducted business under the name of Marquette Musical Company, also known as the Automatic Orchestra Company, and sometimes used the trademark name of "Marcola." The company was known to have reconditioned and sold various American made coin pianos. Under the Marcola brand the company produced at least two cabinet style orchestrions, maybe more, but only two such instruments are known to exist as of this writing. Curiously, the Marcola orchestrion was made by taking an intact Automatic Musical Company (forerunner of the Link Piano Company) keyboardless piano with pipes, stripping off the doors and top, and then fitting the instrument inside a much larger case fitted with colorful art glass panels. The identity of the true manufacturer was concealed by fastening a cast iron plate over the Automatic Musical Company, Binghamton, New York name cast into the piano plate, with the covering plate showing the Automatic Orchestra Company, Detroit, Michigan as the builder.
In the June, 1969, Hathaway & Bowers, Inc., catalogue a Marcola was listed for sale. The instrument was in a large ornate cabinet that measured 6'10" high, 5'2" wide and 2'9" deep. The front was ornamented with two large art glass panels, ornate scrollwork, and two hanging art glass lamps. Curiously it had four separate coin slots, one on each side of the instrument, and two on the front. The instrumentation consisted of a piano with expression controls, a mandolin attachment, and a rank of wooden open flute pipes. Having such a rarity to examine prompted Q. David Bowers to send photographs of it to Harvey Roehl of the Vestal Press. Harvey then discussed the instrument with Ed Link, Jr., who lived nearby, and then wrote back to Dave:
"He (Mr. Link) says that he has a vague recollection of the Marcola instruments. They probably were built about the time his father took over the Automatic Musical Co. business from the Harris brothers. There was a route operator in the Detroit area whose name he believes was Marquette (uncertain of the spelling), and this chap operated so many instruments that he got the idea of putting them out under his own name. Evidently he purchased some Link instruments and encased them to suit his own purposes. Ed Link said that the fellow had several hundred instruments in all. He also had a recollection that the same man owned and operated a place which allegedly had the "longest bar in the world." Perhaps this minor piece of evidence would help to track down his name...."
From the comments by Ed Link, Jr., and the fact that he even remembered Mr. Marquette and the Marcola brand, it seems plausible that at least a few Link pianos may have been bought and then converted into Marcola machines. But this is just unconfirmed speculation, because the only Marcola machines known to exist as of this writing were built using stripped down Automatic Musical Company instruments, before Edwin Link took over the assets and operation of the company.
What was to become the Link Piano Company, of Binghamton, New York (later called the Link Piano and Organ Company), formally commenced operations in February of 1913, using the premises formerly occupied by the then defunct Automatic Musical Company. But exactly when the Link Piano Company name was first applied to the reorganized enterprise is not clear. One thing that is known is that a few months later, in July, 1913, a setback occurred when an adjacent building caught fire. According to a report in The Presto: "The Link Piano Company, Binghamton, N. Y., sustained a $20,000 loss consequent on the fire which burned the factory of the Binghamton Clothing Company, and in which over fifty persons lost their lives. The Link Piano Company occupied quarters in an adjacent building." Thus by July of 1913 the reorganized firm must have officially been operating under the name of the Link Piano Company. The company soon recovered from any fire damage and carried on developing a new line of instruments, again using endless rolls and with the mechanism developed, circa 1908, by George R. Thayer, and it would be Thayer who would run the Link factory and continue to develop and refine the company's product line.
Success was immediate. in January of 1914 Matthew J. Kennedy announced that he would be the vice-president and general manager of the Link Piano Company and would have entire charge of the Western business of the company, with branch offices and wholesale warerooms on the third floor of the Wexford building in Chicago. Two instruments, a Style O and a Style R, were set up in the new display room, where prospective customers found the instrument to be very attractive. A January advertisement described the Link Coin-Operated Piano as "The Missing Link in Electric Piano Construction." Link adopted as its signature trademark four links of a chain with one letter of the name within each link. "We selected this trade-mark," said M. J. Kennedy, "because we believed it to be original and easily remembered and because there have been four big links in our success—our four piano styles. They have been the basis of the business we have attained. Perhaps the most popular of the quartet has been our Style R. The reasons for its popularity are easily understood when all of its distinctive features are known...." However some mystery remains here, because this revealing Music Trade Review article of April 4, 1914, makes no mention of the three other piano styles making up the so-called "Link quartet." An example of the Link trade-mark can be seen by clicking on the thumbnail image at above left.
The earliest instruments had “Automatic Musical Co.” cast into the piano plate, while the Link Piano Company’s trade-mark decal was on the piano's fallboard, but any reference to the former Automatic Musical Company soon changed as old pre-Link stock was used up. Link vigorously promoted the endless roll as an advantage and successfully used this format up until the end of coin piano production in 1929. Other coin piano manufacturers, in contrast, generally preferred the rewind type of roll transport, mainly due to the ease of quickly changing music rolls. About 80% of Link’s sales were to route operators, who found the endless mechanism to be simpler and easier to maintain, and there was no unproductive pause while a music roll rewound. For the non-technically oriented owner of a restaurant or other public place changing an endless roll was a clumsy and often very time consuming process in dealing with the pile of looped paper, especially when comparison to what was required to change rolls on a rewind-type instrument.
Route operators found Link pianos to be low maintenance and they provided music the customers enjoyed. They were also easily serviced, with the mechanical components readily accessible. A faulty stack valve/pneumatic unit, for instance, could be quickly replaced by loosening two screws, removing the offending unit, and slipping another unit into its place. Operators often carried a supply of spares when they traveled. In contrast, in some makes of coin pianos, such as Seeburg and Wurlitzer, the repair of a valve and/or the replacement of a pneumatic might take several hours, and necessitate removing the entire pneumatic stack. Thus, the snappy tunes, low maintenance, few mechanical changes over the years to deal with, and easy servicing made Link coin pianos very popular in commercial locations.
In the spring of 1914 Link introduced its first photoplayer, which used only one roll mechanism. Improvements were soon made and the standard MP (Movie Player) model consisted of a piano, violin pipes, flute pipes, harmonium, and chimes, with a side cabinet that held two endless music roll mechanisms, one with popular tunes and the other with classical music. By means of a panel in the projection booth the music could be switched from one roll to another, in keeping with the action on the movie screen. By December of that year the company announced a new instrument for use in motion picture theaters that would consist of an upright piano with a pneumatic stack, and a large side cabinet containing four Link endless roll mechanisms, with each roll containing a different type of music to fit different types of scenes: romantic, fast music for chase scenes, classical, marches, and so on. The instrument was also to be equipped with a distance control box by which the operator of the film could control the piano as to tempo, volume, or music roll selection. During the frantic 1914-1915 heyday of photoplayer production the factory worked overtime to meet sales needs, with coin-operated piano production taking a backseat interest.
In March of 1916 the Link Piano Company had an Orchestral Organ on display. The organ as described, "is entirely automatic in its operation, three tracker-boards being provided so that the pictures may be followed accurately at all times. One of the most important features of this instrument is the fact that the person operating it may be located in another part of the theatre, a set of push-buttons enabling the operator to control the three tracker-boards at will." By the 1920s Link marketed a line of unified, electro-pneumatic theatre organs, which were marketed nationwide through distributors, but were never important in the music trade. These pipe organs were manufactured mainly for the mortuary and theater trade, although some were made for private home use as well, and were marketed under the name "Link C Sharpe Minor Unit Organ." By the mid 1920s the Link Piano and Organ Company had expanded its coin piano line and was turning out about 300 coin operated pianos and a dozen or more theater pipe organs per annum.
It would not be until May of 1916, when the Link Piano Co., of Binghamton, N.Y., was finally incorporated, with a capitalization of $75,000. According to The Music Trade Review, the incorporators were K. M. and E. A. Link [Edwin A. and Katherine (Martin) Link - husband and wife], and G. R. Thayer, of Binghamton, N.Y. Then during the following month, on or about June, 19, 1916, "the Link Piano Co. purchased the plant of the former Automatic Musical Co., which went into bankruptcy, the property being obtained from Armer E. and Hannah B. Johnson, of Rockford, Ill., who purchased it from George C. Morris, as trustee for the creditors of the Automatic Musical Co. By the terms of the sale the Link Piano Co. assumes the mortgage on the property held by the Security Mutual Life Insurance Co., for $20,000. The property consists of a six-story brick building, facing on Water, Dwight, and Center streets, the purchase price paid being reported at $12,500." It is speculated that it is at this point that Armer E. Johnson divests himself of any further direct involvement with the Link Piano Company.
Click here for a facsimile Link Piano Company instruction sheet. This instructional information on the use and care of Link coin pianos consists of the text from an original Link flyer that has been re-set in a similar type font and formatted to closely resemble the original document. The textual information is courtesy of Dana Johnson.
Starting in 1927 it appears that business at the Link factory started to seriously decline. To keep busy Link started to offer a piano and player piano repair service at the factory just to keep busy. The company also started to do automobile repairs as well. At This point Edwin A. Link, Jr., was also starting to build and design the airplane trainers and run an aviation school. Then Link, like most manufacturers of coin pianos, stopped making pianos and pipe organs in 1929, when the new amplified radio and phonograph took over in popularity. Link had its new Autovox, a selective coin-operated phonograph, on the market by 1928, but this wasn’t enough to save the company from the stock market crash, and the company was essentially bankrupt by the end of 1929. Factory equipment and supplies were liquidated for cents on the dollar; all else was scrapped. In The November-December, 1932, issue of The Presto, under the heading "Activities in Retail Trade," was this terse announcement: "The contents of the Link Piano Company's six-story building at 183 Water street, Binghamton, N. Y., were sold at public auction by the assignee, the sale being made by Herbert Action Segal & Company, liquidation specialists, of 1441 Broadway, New York City." This sale signaled the end of Link's musical business, although music roll production was carried on by Ray Deyo, a talented music arranger at the Link factory, under the Deo Music Roll Company name, until demand ended several years later. Then Deyo's Link music roll perforator was junked and the remaining two or three thousand music rolls were burned for firewood.
There is some confusion as to the final close-out sale of the Link Piano Company assets. The 1932 Binghamton City Directory lists both the Link Piano Company and Aviation School at the Water Street building. Referring to the article mentioned above in the November-December, 1932, issue of The Presto it is stated that all factory contents had been liquidated. But did this refer to the assets of both the Link Piano Company and the Aviation School, or just for the Link Piano Company? Perhaps substantiating that a liquidation sale did occur within 1932 is something in the writing's of the late Lyle Martin, whereupon he observed that Link music roll RX15416 had a Deo label on the box and it had tunes from late 1932. If Ray Deyo began perforating music rolls under his own name by late 1932 then he must have acquired one of the Link roll perforators when the Link Piano Company plant was closed out, or maybe a perforator was merely given to him before the sale, after the company had given up pursuing any further business activity. But in the March 29, 1933, issue of the Binghamton Press is successor notice for a "Public Auction of the Link Piano Company." In bold letters, "Everything Must Be Sold; Building Must Be Vacated in the Next Few Days." It may be that the first "finale" sale in 1932 cleared out assets of any persistent value used for piano and organ manufacturing, such as metal and woodworking machinery, while the second and really finale sale in 1933 cleared out anything remaining within the building, so that it would be clean and vacated.
Click here for the Factory Location and Key Personnel Timelines, which is in PDF format. The timeline information is a product of the tireless research by Charles (Rusty) King and Glenn Grabinsky, who are both enthusiastic fans of the Link Piano Company and its colorful history. The accompanying photographs that adorn the timeline pages are courtesy of Rusty King, with one due to the further courtesy of the Broome County Library. The timelines presented offer a linear comparison of factory locations for the Automatic Musical Company and Link Piano Company, as well as timelines for Louis H. Harris, for George R. Thayer (inventor and mechanical genius), for George Raymond Deyo (music arranger), for George Theron Link and his son Edwin Albert Link (Senior), and lastly for Matthew J. Kennedy, all key people in the history of Link coin pianos.
This page continues with detailed descriptions of various technical and/or mechanical features, which are deemed important for a truly useful understanding of both the database reports and to effectively fill in the Survey Reporting Form. The actual database reports and survey form can be accessed in the Distribution of Database Information section and then clicking on the large Download button at the bottom of this page.
Neither the Automatic Musical Company nor the Link Piano Company seems to have spent much time or effort advertising in the major music trade journals, preferring instead to cater more to the local tradesmen, using salesmen, mailings, and forging associations with route operators. In the January 3, 1914, edition of The Music Trade Review is an article about M. J. Kennedy, who resigned as manager of the Western office of the Peerless Piano Player Co., and announced that he had secured an interest in the Link Piano Co., manufacturers of automatic instruments, Binghamton, N. Y., of which E. A. Link was president and general manager. Mr. Kennedy was to be the vice-president and general manager of the company and was to have entire charge of the Western business of the company, i.e., Chicago, with offices and wholesale warerooms on the third floor of the Wexford building, on the southeast corner of Wabash Avenue and Van Buren Street. It was further stated that "Mr. Kennedy is one of the best known men in the selling end of the automatic instrument business in the West and has been connected with it for the past eight years, the last three with the Peerless people." This new association with the Link Piano Company signaled the opening of the Company's Chicago office and warerooms. Two different near quarter-page advertisements appeared in 1914 for Link coin-operated pianos, one in the January edition and the other in the July issue of the Music Trade Review, but no other such advertisements have been discovered for the years thereafter. Thus, there is not much Link advertising material to enjoy. However, a smattering of interesting Link oriented advertising material has survived, some of which is available for viewing here via the thumbnail link at right.
Link 2E versus the 2EX: It is thought that all Link 2E type pianos manufactured after serial number 7500 are probably Style 2EX, due to the idea that the "X" stood for the late expression device. This 2EX designation seems to also coincide with the case front that features a carved wreath flanked by two small art glass windows, as opposed to the older Style 2E with a latticework front.
Tuning Keyboards: The really late Link cabinet style pianos, such as the Link 2EX, have built in piano tuning keyboards. The individual keys are nothing more than extensions of the fingers on top of the stack, which pivot on a flange and extend all the way forward under the xylophone. Each of the tuning keys have the note designation die stamped at the outer end. This clever adaptation makes tuning a cabinet piano very easy, as compared to earlier instruments without such a tuning aid. Fortunately, there is enough room behind the xylophone to remove the mandolin rail and to access the tuning pins and apply mutes, so that it is not absolutely necessary to remove the xylophone when a tuning keyboard is present. On earlier keyboardless cabinet model designs the xylophone needed to be removed by disconnecting all of the tubing and then taking out a few easy to get at screws, so as to gain easy access to the piano action wippens. The tuning keyboard probably first appeared with the updated keyboardless cabinets featuring an upper panel with a centrally located carved wooden wreath flanked by two small clear glass windows. Link 2E #7477 does not have a tuning keyboard, for instance, and this Link is an early 1927 model with the upper panel being the older wooden latticework over a glass pane design.
Link serial numbers: A 4-digit rubber stamped number about 5/8" high, located somewhere between the bass and tenor sections on the pin block or plate. On very late pianos it is on a wood backed brass plate that is attached to the inside of the case. On Link rebuilds of earlier Automatic Musical Company instruments the Link serial number was stamped on a piece of paper that was then glued under the Schaff number. Unfortunately, many of these pasted on Link numbers have been lost due to one reason or another.
Schaff Numbers: On Schaff pianos the serial number is die stamped on the pin block and is visible through a hole in the plate casting between the bass and tenor tuning pin sections, similar to many other upright pianos.
Haddorff Numbers: On cabinet pianos the Haddorff serial number is always on the back center of the heavy board below the sound board. On keyboard pianos the serial number could be hidden anywhere. On earlier pianos it is sometimes on the back of the pin block, but has been found under a key cheek block, on cabinet doors, etc., and it is always die stamped in wood.
Link factory-assigned serial numbers currently listed in the database include from 2049 – 5255 for keyboard style pianos, and from 6101 – 7906 for keyboardless styles. If the series actually began with 2000 and 6000 respectively, that would imply an approximate total of 5100+ pianos made from 1913 through 1929. At the rate of 300 pianos per year stated by Ed Link, that could be a reasonable total. Accuracy will be refined with more submissions to the database.
There is sometimes a date scratched into the bottom of the expression mechanism that sits on top of the feeder pump. However, route operators tended to switch pumps around so this date may not be a clear indication of when the piano was built, although this date would still be accurate for the pump itself.
Automatic Musical Company's Unique Mandolin Attachment: Normally when a collector thinks about a mandolin attachment what comes to mind is a curtain made of bellows cloth or leather strips with a metal tab or hollow brass tube fastened to the end of each strip. When this "curtain" of strips is lowered in front of the piano hammers the metal tabs or tubes hit the pianos strings producing a tinkling sound reminiscent of a mandolin. Thus the mandolin attachment has come to be generally known is a simple adornment to a piano that produces what can be characterized as an effect representing the playing of one or more mandolins. But not so for the Automatic Musical Company, who took a completely different and novel approach. The Mandolin Piano, introduced in 1906, is a prime example of the company's effort to bring forth what may be the only true free-standing mandolin plucking or strumming device installed in a coin piano, one that was not dependent upon the normal piano action and strings for the mandolin effect. Please click on the image at right for detail about this amazing and clever invention.
Link pianos playing RX rolls had a musical scale of 61 notes, playing from tracker bar holes 5 through 65. These holes play notes equivalent to the lowest G up to the second highest G on a full 88-note piano. Each note of the 61-note scale has its own individual tracker bar hole.
Link orchestrions playing A rolls use tracker bar holes 5 through 16 (equivalent to the lowest 12 playing note holes on an RX roll) for percussion and automatic registers, leaving only 49 holes for playing notes. To keep from losing the lowest octave of bass notes, the lowest 12 note holes in the A roll, 17 through 28, each play their own note plus the bass note an octave lower. Therefore, the coupling provides a 61-note scale from only 49 tracker bar holes. Many music arrangements on RX rolls play the bass notes in octaves anyway, so having the lowest two octaves coupled together in orchestrions caused no significant compromise in the music arrangements.
The bass coupling in early instruments was enabled by means of pallet valves mounted above and actuated by the piano keys. Later, Link did away with the pallet valves and used the type of reverse pouch valves common in many late Link keyboard pianos. The appropriate stack valves for the coupled low octave were tubed to their corresponding reverse pouch valves on notes an octave higher to play the coupled piano octave notes. The few orchestrions with pipes built after this change continued to use the earlier pallet valve system for coupling.
A few Link A roll orchestrions also had a treble octave coupler that could be turned on and off by lock and cancel holes in the roll. This added a very bright sound to portions of the music.
Despite Link’s use of the term “Marimbaphone,” most pianos with that instrument featured a xylophone tuned an octave higher than its associated piano notes, as in the Seeburg K and E. A few cabinet-style Links, however, did have a marimba instead of a xylophone. The marimba featured heavier bars, and it was tuned an octave lower than the standard Link xylophone, or to the same pitch as the associate piano notes.
Aftermarket Kahlmen reed box: Mr. C. Kahlmen had a shop in Elizabeth, N.J. His main business was the repair of and building of new high quality accordions. During the 1920s he was also a Wurlitzer dealer, who operated Wurlitzer and Link coin pianos up and down the Chemical Coast (the New Jersey side of the Arthur Kill, which is the waterway between Staten Island, New York, and New Jersey). Kahlmen made vacuum operated reed boxes and installed them in Link Style 2 pianos, possibly as an alternative to xylophones. Link coin pianos with a Kahlmen reed box (or harmonium) installed are quite rare.
Automatic Musical Company, predecessor of the Link Piano Company, and several other coin piano manufacturers at one time or another made use of endless music rolls. There were advantages and disadvantages compared to the typically predominate rewind music roll system. Some advantages of endless rolls were, first, there was no out of service period while a music roll was rewound, sometimes very slowly, whereby an endless music roll was always ready to play at the drop of the next coin; secondly, the music roll transport mechanism was mechanically much simpler and cheaper to build; and thirdly, from the music roll arrangers point of view no tempo adjustments to the music were necessary, as was the case for rewind type music rolls. For the rewind system the paper speed over the tracker bar increases as the music winds onto and piles up on the take up spool; there is no such problem with endless rolls. Probably the greatest disadvantage of endless rolls is dealing with the unfurled wad of paper that has to be dealt with when changing music rolls. In contrast, for the rewind system the music roll is always constrained between the music roll spool and take up spool, and when rewound it is easy to lift out the old music roll and put in another. Automatic Musical and Link Piano Company coin pianos seem to have been sold mainly to route operators, who were more or less steeped in the use and care of endless rolls and therefore had little trouble using them.
Automatic Musical Endless Music Roll System: It made use of a vertically oriented endless roll system that was mounted below the keyboard and in front of the piano. A rather bulky but detachable wooden storage bin, suspended from two sliding cleats, held the loops of music roll paper. Not only did this configuration disfigure the aesthetic lines of the piano case, but it was easily subject to physical damage whenever the piano was moved if the roll bin was not first detached and moved out of harm's way. But another and probably the most aggravating issue was the roll bin being sloshed with water whenever the floor was mopped. And being that the bin just barely cleared the floor it was probable that water often pooled underneath the bin, which sooner or later seeped inside and soaked parts of the music roll paper. Special warning labels were glued to the music rolls about the dangers of not keeping the music paper dry. On the plus side, the bin could easily be pulled out from under the keybed and the music roll changed—a special forked rod with an attached crank was provided to neatly rewind the old music roll.
On May 18, 1908, the company filed for a patent (granted on October 26, 1909) for an entirely new horizontal endless-roll system devised by George R. Thayer, one that was completely contained within the piano case to make it more convenient and to better protect the roll from dampness. The new layout used a level horizontal cabinet spanning the width of the piano cabinet, and it was fitted with an effective but complicated chain driven paper conveyance system that used metal fingers to push the convoluted loops of paper slowly along the length of the roll cabinet. The patent drawing shows the fingers rigidly fastened to the chain drive, so that a good bit of space was wasted underneath the roll cabinet in order for the outstretched fingers to clear any automatic player components situated below (click here for the actual patent in PDF format). This wasted space issue was later corrected with a modified design that relied on retractable metal fingers that were caused to be vertical while traversing the roll cabinet, but that retracted and laid flat along the chain on their return track back to the front or treble end of the paper-pusher mechanism.
Marcola (Automatic Musical Company) Endless Music Roll System: In a rare Automatic Musical Company cabinet piano, that was installed in a large outer Marcola case, is what may be one of the first but short lived incarnations of George Thayer's newly designed internally housed horizontal music roll cabinet system. This particular installation is odd in comparison to the later horizontal bin designs for keyboardless pianos. In this instance the floor of the horizontal bin is stepped, by dividing it into two distinct levels. The top or higher level is fitted with chain driven moving fingers to aid the looped music roll in moving along the horizontal floor. A little more than halfway across the interior of the piano the floor abruptly slopes downward at about a 45-degree angle, where it meets another but short horizontal shelf, i.e., the second level. Thus, the looped music roll paper is mechanically assisted to the edge of the sloped floor, whereupon gravity then does the job thereafter, dumping the looped paper into the lower level, where is it lifted up over a wooden dowel and into the roll feeder as is the case with later single level designs.
Link Endless Music Roll System: The Link music roll system was inherited from the Automatic Musical Company, and the inventive genius of George Thayer. From a technical or gadget standpoint, probably the most eye-catching feature of all Link coin pianos is the method used to handle the paper music "rolls," which came boxed looking like a music roll, but were nonetheless endless. The endless tune sheet, while perhaps cumbersome to install and then later roll back up into something resembling a music roll, had the advantage of needing a relatively simple music feed mechanism, because there was no need for any complicated rewind gears, clutching device, and associated controls. In Link pianos the multi-tune music sheet laid unfurled in a horizontal storage bin that stretched across the width of the piano case. As the instrument played the music sheet was pulled over a roller at the far end of the storage bin and into the feed mechanism that held the tracker bar, whereby the music sheet was then immediately pushed back into the storage bin, where the paper formed a convoluted mass of loops that gradually worked its way to the other end of the bin.
Early Link piano models continued to utilize the Moving Finger Conveyor Device invented by George Thayer, circa 1908, while employed by the Automatic Musical Company—the forerunner of Link. By the time the Link Piano Company was formed in 1913, and took over the assets of Automatic Musical Company, it was a chain-driven paper-pusher device consisting of a series of retractable metal fingers (not fixed like shown in the original patent) that pushed what sometimes looked like an impossible mess of looped paper, so that it would feed from one end of the horizontal storage bin to the other. But this complicated chain and finger arrangement, although it possessed great gadget appeal, was soon dispensed with altogether, because it turned out to be quite unnecessary. The late Harvey Roehl told the story about how he had tried to track down George Thayer (inventor of the horizontal endless music roll system) and finally found him in a bar. At first Thayer did not want to talk about the old days, but then he went on for a couple of hours on that very subject. Thayer related the story of a piano being tested in the factory when a shear pin broke and the paper-pusher stopped. No one noticed at first, but they soon discovered that the music sheet loops would advance perfectly well through the storage bin of their own accord, and do so without the aid of the paper-pusher device.
Whether this story is perfectly accurate, or not, is unknown. One thing certain is that for the paper-pusher mechanisms examined to date there were none with shear-pins, but plenty of set-screws that could have come loose. Perhaps the early, original design had a shear-pin, which the later style with retractable fingers lacked. Nonetheless, if the chain were to stop moving the upright moving fingers would sooner or later tend to fall forward toward the bass end as paper loops bunched up behind them. While there is probably some truth to the story, exactly what happened will probably never be anything more than an enduring mystery. And yet something occurred that inspired Link to look for a much simpler roll cabinet construction that forever eliminated the complicated paper-pusher mechanism. Well, it so happens, that a patent for a much simpler horizontal roll cabinet with a sloping bottom had already been filed by one Elisha Goodell Thomas, of Washington, DC, on March 15, 1912. This patent was renewed on March 9, 1916, and then granted on June 6, 1916, whereupon it was assigned to Edwin A. Link, of Binghamton, New York (click here for the actual patent in PDF format). From this bit of evidence it is reasonable to presume that the Link Piano Company officially adopted the horizontal roll cabinet with the sloping (gravity assist) bottom circa 1916.
Automatic Musical Company endless rolls: Automatic Musical Company rolls are the predecessor to the Link RX and C type music rolls, and they both used the same basic note scale and tracker bar layout. Link RX and C rolls will play on an Automatic Musical piano, and vice versa, however there are some minor differences. Early Automatic Musical Company rolls do not use the expression controls (tracker holes #1 and #2) commonly encoded into late Automatic Musical rolls and all Link RX and C rolls. Expression in the early Automatic Musical Company instruments was limited to piano soft and sustaining pedals. It is unknown whether Automatic Musical Company cut music roll on premises, or not, but it is known that at least some of the early rolls were arranged and cut by the U.S. Music Company, Chicago, Illinois.
Link RX and C rolls (61 Playing notes – endless): Link RX and C rolls used a common tracker scale, and they could be played on all Link coin pianos that were not orchestrions. Instruments using RX and C rolls include keyboard styles R, C, and E, as well as keyboardless (cabinet) styles 2, 2E and 2EX. Link RX rolls tended to feature toe-tapping piano arrangements of popular music suitable for public gathering places, while C rolls include classical arrangements.
Link A Rolls (49 playing notes plus 12 octave-coupled bass notes - endless): Link A rolls were used on all orchestrions, including keyboards styles A and AX, and keyboardless (cabinet) styles 2B and 2BX. This roll was arranged to play wood block with two single-stroke beaters, tambourine shaker pneumatic, tom-tom (beater on the tambourine head), snare drum with three single stroke beaters, triangle, and bass drum. The roll also included two register controls for any two of the following: one or two ranks of pipes, xylophone, and/or treble octave coupler. The snare drum action is different than the reiterating type used by many mainstream manufacturers, in that Link used three single stroke beaters, each controlled by a separate perforation in the music roll. This arrangement produces a greater range of snare drum effects than offered by a single reiterating action. (Peerless also used this arrangement in its style O roll.) The Link tambourine also has both beater and shaker pneumatics for two different sounds. Oddly, no Link orchestrion is known to have been made with a bass drum, so the bass drum hole in the roll is usually teed to the triangle hole.
Pipe Organ Rolls: Link also made pipe organ music rolls for the company's "Link C Sharpe Minor Unit Organ." These music rolls have a completely different tracker scale than do the coin pianos rolls, and include many tracker holes for controlling various ranks of pipes. Link pipe organs and rolls are not included in the Link Piano Company database. These rolls are generally labeled as Endless-Roll Self-Playing Organ Music For Link Orchestral Pipe-Organ. A man by the name of Roberts arranged Link organ rolls along with Bill Sabin. At least some of the self-playing organ music was shown as "Improvised by William D. Sabin."
George Raymond Deyo was the talented chief music arranger of Link music rolls. As a young man he attended a local music conservatory and in 1908 began working for the Automatic Musical Company as an assembler, while still a student at the conservatory. For the next few years he apparently worked as both a musician and as an assembler for Automatic Musical, but by 1916 he had become a full time employee of the Link Piano Company.
From 1916 up until 1933 Mr. Deyo arranged most of the Link piano music. The organ rolls were arranged by William Sabin, an experienced musician who had played with John Philip Sousa’s band. After the Link plant closed in March of 1933, Ray Deyo acquired at least one of the three Link perforating machines and continued to supply Link RX music rolls under the “Deo” label. Business decreased steadily and eventually the perforator was scrapped and the remaining rolls burned as firewood. The last known “Deo” roll is No. 10547, a 10-tune roll issued in 1937, with tunes that seem to be QRS piano roll arrangements but with expression and mandolin and/or xylophone controls added by Mr. Deyo. Link Aviation was off to a slow but steady start in 1936 and Mr. Deyo went to work there, along with some of the other former Link Piano Company employees. Somewhere in the Binghamton University archives is an article by Ed Link where he writes about the formative days of the Link Aviation Company, selling a trainer or two to the US Army, a few to the US Navy, and one here and there to aviation schools. One of the first big orders was six machines to the Japanese Government, which turned out to be a mistake, but no one foresaw World War II at the time.
Most Link aficionados agree that Ray Deyo’s musical arrangements on Link piano rolls are superb, and some of the best arranged and snappiest sounding pieces to be heard on coin operated pianos. Particularly on the later rolls, Deyo used the Link expression system (far advanced from most other coin piano systems) to add even more gusto to his evolving repertoire of syncopation and rhythm patterns. He had a knack for really making the xylophone “talk” by using intricate runs and trills specifically tailored to this particular instrument. This was accomplished through the use of clever arranging techniques, as well as by making expert use of the advanced accenting system found in later built Link pianos. Moreover, Link used a reiterating xylophone with an action timed to repeat at a slightly slower rate than was the case for xylophone actions used in some other coin piano brands. The Link system was fast acting, such that a single perforation on the music roll would make a Link xylophone beater strike the bar only once, while a longer, sustained perforation would cause the vibrating sound as long as the piano note held its tone.
As Ed Link remembered, Ray Deyo arranged all of his master rolls on a drawing board. In later years this seems to have led to the idea that Deyo did not or maybe could not play the piano. Recently, however, it was discovered that he was organist for the Binghamton Elk’s Lodge (on a Wurlitzer organ), suggesting that he could indeed play keyboard instruments quite well.
William D. Sabin was also a very talented music arranger with Link, although perhaps lesser known to collectors than is Ray Deo, who arranged most of the popular music familiar to collectors of Link coin pianos. Mr. Sabin, in contrast, spent the majority of his time arranging the C music rolls used with photoplayers, as well as for music rolls for Link self-playing orchestral pipe organs. Ed Link, Jr., remembered that Sabin played cornet and led the Binghamton City Band. Recently, however, an elderly gentlemen by the name of Ed Abram reported (to contributing author Rusty King, in May, 2013) that Sabin's main instrument was the violin, and that he also played other instruments. Abram further mentioned that Sabin led a marching band in Windsor, New York. He also played in the pit orchestra at the Capitol Theater in Binghamton, New York, during the Vaudeville days. He was left handed, an enthusiastic fan of football, and said to have been the life of the party during half-time halftime festivities.
Charles Wellman was an early piano roll arranger for Automatic Musical Company, who in the 1908 Binghamton City Directory was listed as a musician, and in the 1915 Directory was listed as a "music cutter." His stint as arranger and/or "music cutter" was apparently before and during the formative days of Ray Deyo's association with the Automatic Musical Company, and later its successor, the Link Piano Company.
Changing Link Endless Music Rolls: For information on how to change endless music rolls in Link coin pianos please click here to go to Changing A Link Endless Music Roll, a pictorial demonstration by Rusty King.
Early Automatic Musical Company stacks are simple 2-tier stacks with detachable unit valve/motor pneumatic assemblies. The stack is mounted below the keybed, with each the individual sticker pushing up on the rear end of its respective piano key, which was a tradition that was carried on after Link took over the Automatic Musical Company works in 1913. Each unit valve assembly was held tight to the upper or lower stack board by two long wood screws, one on each side, resting on a shoulder along the side of the unit assembly. To make this method workably stable the unit assemblies (or a solid spacer block) were placed side-by-side with just enough room between them to allow for a wood screw. This permitted a single wood screw to clamp down on the mating sides of two adjoining valve units. Since each wood screw was clamping down on opposing shoulders of equal height the wood screws remains straight and did not slip off to one side causing stack integrity problems.
Early Link stack: These had an adjustable bleed in the unit valve and a fine brass screen for each tracker bar tube to keep paper dust out of the valve bleed and pouch. This fine mesh screen was located in a maple header board located just above the stack.
Late Link stack: When Link changed over to a more conventional bleed system the bleeds were relocated to the header block mounted above the stack, which also held the fine mesh brass screen used to keep dust out of the system. The individual bleeds were exposed to a common vacuum channel on one side. In these late style stacks the unit valve itself had no bleed. The advantage must have been that the filter screen and valve bleeds were now housed in one convenient, easy to service place.
The first Automatic pianos with pipe chests had metal pipes arranged symmetrically with the longest pipe in the middle and the shorter pipes cascading downward on each side. The simple pipe valve chest was installed between the fallboard and the piano action, and back of the pivot point for the keys. Pallet valves inside the chest were opened by means of a thin metal rod that protruded through the bottom of the chest and that was fitted with a felted button, which was pushed upwards by an adjustable capstan screw in the corresponding piano key. The pipe toe-board was a separate but attached piece, and connected to the valve chest by flexible rubber tubing. This was necessary because the spacing of the piano keys was different than that required by the pipe widths, and also because the pipes were not arranged in chromatic order, but instead they were symmetrically placed for aesthetic reasons. The pipes could be turned on or off manually; there was no automatic mechanism nor pipework control holes in the earliest music rolls.
Link pipe chests are quite similar to the Automatic Musical Company's pipe chests, but the pipes are laid out chromatically, with the bass pipes on the left to the highest treble pipe on the right. Early Link pipe chests (as used in the style R) have the tallest eight bass pipes located on a separate offset toe-board that sits lower than the toe-board for the main or treble part of the pipe rank. This is done so that the longer pipes will fit in the alloted cabinet space below the music roll storage bin. Late Link pipe chests (as used in the style C) consist of one continuous toe-board, with all pipes mounted on the same level. The pipe valve chest, like its Automatic Musical Company predecessor, is separate from the pipe toe-boards and is mounted over the appropriate range of piano keys. The coil spring loaded valves in the chest are opened by means of a metal wire fitted with a felted button that contacts an adjustable capstan screw in the backside of the piano keys, with the chest connected to the toe-board by means of flexible rubber tubing.
Early Automatic Musical Company pump: These were a three lobe skeletal pump consisting of three independent, rectangular pump bellows, each of them tied to the next by a flanged cast iron bracket that was screwed to the backside of two individual bellow assemblies, with the three castings tying it all together. On the bottom side connecting casting there was a pair of crankshaft bearing supports, with the two bearings fitted with brass oil cups. The connecting rods were flanged on one end so that it could be securely attached to the movable half of each bellow assembly, with no flexibility whatsoever in the connection. Each movable bellow board was free floating, in that there was nothing to keep it aligned except for the connecting rod attachment and the bellows cloth itself. Each of the three vacuum bellows were connected to each other by large diameter rubber tubing segments, with one rubber tube common to all bellows connected to the stack. On the backside of the crankshaft is a round belt pulley for driving the endless roll mechanism. Attached to the two upper pump interconnecting castings are belt idlers, one for the motor-to-pump drive belt, and the other (a double idler setup) for the pump-to-roll mechanism.
Link Vacuum/Pressure Feeder Pump: Most other brands of coin pianos have the pneumatic stack mounted above the keyboard. In Link pianos, it is below. This placement leaves too little room for the usual type of box pump used by other manufacturers. To fit in the smaller space, the Link pump has a novel design with four non-hinged feeder bellows moving straight left and right, guided and held parallel by metal rails. Link pumps were consistently similar from 1913 up to the end of coin piano production in 1929. At least some of the larger orchestrions with trapwork have been observed to have pump bellows that are slightly larger by about 1/2 inch as compared to other Link coin pianos. Probably the most pronounced and visible change over the years was the move from a round belt pulley system to a flat belt drive system, of which both types had an idler pulley to keep the belt tight.
Clean Out Pump: About the same time the late stacks went into production, Link incorporated a clever powered "Clean Out Pump" that worked off of the feeder pump crankshaft. It basically consisted of a medium sized pneumatic equipped with flap valves. It could be easily connected to a pin mounted off center on the pump pulley when needed, and then with a rubber tube attached it produced enough "suction" to pull dust and lint from the brass screens covering the valve atmospheric intake vents and for removing paper dust sucked into the tracker bar. It was recommend that this cleaning be done twice a week! When using the clean out pump the vacuum in the main feeder pump could be relieved by a dump valve located under the pump manifold. These clean out pumps are often missing.
Lock and cancel pneumatic fitted with a mechanical latch. When the power pneumatic is collapsed it is kept in that closed position by a mechanical hook or latch. A smaller control pneumatic interacts with the latching lever and releases it when appropriate, so that the power pneumatic can then return to its normal at rest position. This kind of lock and cancel register control is commonly used for mandolin rails, pipe chests, and xylophones.
Early hammer rail lift only: In this instance the only expression available is by means of the standard piano soft and sustaining pedals. Because the sustaining (or damper) pedal is a short term moderator, which does not affect the overall volume of the instrument, that leaves only the soft pedal for any effective volume control. Using the piano soft pedal means raising the hammer rail, so that the piano hammers strike the strings with less vigor. The control system that adjusts the hammer rail position responds to the expression perforations in the music roll, and does so basically the same way that a few late Link coin pianos did. One perforation caused the hammer rail control pneumatic to fully collapse, raising the hammer rail to its maximum soft position. This perforation could be extended to keep the hammer rail at maximum soft; otherwise an adjustable slow bleed allowed the control pneumatic to gradually relax producing a modest crescendo effect. Another (or second) perforation could trigger an atmospheric dump mechanism for immediate release of the soft rail to its rest or full loud position. Thus, by clever use of both the soft on and quick dump perforations some degree of piano accent was achieved.
In early Automatic Musical Company instruments the hammer rail control system consisted of an oddly designed valve box plus an independent adjustable atmospheric bleed block that was teed into the tubing going from the soft control valve box to the hammer rail pneumatic. By adjusting a large screw in the bleed block the amount of leakage (or bleed) into the hammer rail pneumatic could be carefully regulated, thus controlling the decay rate of the hammer rail lift. There are at least two extant late Link coin pianos that similarly use nothing more than a hammer rail lift for expression. In comparison, the "Balance Beam" expression system mentioned next produces an effect much like the limited hammer rail only expression, but with a much more dramatic effect, because it controls not only the hammer rail, but the vacuum level of the instrument, too.
Early "Balance Beam" expression device: The beam (with a center pivot point) controls a spill valve, and the piano has no vacuum reservoir. The vacuum level is maintained in accordance with the closing pressure exerted against the spill valve, which is maintained at a steady state by spring tension. When the opening force resulting from the vacuum level exceeds the applied spring tension sufficient air is then admitted into the system to reduce the vacuum level. Once the spring tension versus the force developed by the vacuum comes back into balance the spill valve closes. Thus it should be obvious that by merely lowering the spring tension the vacuum level will correspondingly become less, thereby softening or lowering the volume of any instrumentation that relies on a vacuum to produce a tone.
The tension of the controlling spring is varied by means of a large motor pneumatic connected to a small control box located on the top of the pump assembly. The control box pictured is probably from a machine with adjustable bleeds, but whatever the case the bleeds in this example are located behind the rubber buttons for easy cleanout. The tubing connections below each bleed are die stamped, from left to right, as follows: 4 (sustaining pedal), 2 (soft expression on), 1 (soft expression off - normal volume), 66 (coin trip - shut off). There is no atmospheric vent on the #2 valve (for soft expression on) and there is also a small nipple added to tee into the hammer rail pneumatic, so that the hammer rail is raised when soft expression is active.
Late expression Device: This particular expression device configuration is thought to have been used on all Link coin pianos about 1926 and later, which were mostly cabinet style machines. The soft expression control pneumatics are on the left and under the pump's vacuum header channel or collector box. The upper regulating pneumatic is spring loaded and is connected to and regulates a choke valve in the collector box, so as to maintain a constant vacuum level. The vacuum source for this pneumatic comes directly from the stack, and it is held open by a spring attached to the soft expression pneumatic just below it, with the soft expression pneumatic held open by an even stronger spring. When the soft expression perforation (tracker bar #2 hole) causes the hammer rail to raise and the soft expression pneumatic to close it eases up on the coil spring that holds the regulating pneumatic open, thereby closing the choker valve a little and reducing the vacuum level.
A smaller loud or sforzando pneumatic is located on top of the collector box; it is activated by tracker bar hole #1 (soft expression off). When activated it pulls open a pallet valve that bypasses the entire soft expression device and puts full reservoir vacuum on the stack. It does not dump the vacuum in the hammer rail and soft expression pneumatics as does the earlier soft expression mechanism. This expression system works well but does not affect the volume of a xylophone, if installed, which is connected directly to the vacuum reservoir.
Early Automatic Musical Company Coin Mechanism: The coin mechanism is a model of simplicity. There is no provision for accumulating plays. Drop a coin and the motor switch is tripped. Drop another coin while a tune is still playing and the coin will hit the trip spoon and then fall into the coin box, but since there is no accumulator mechanism no second tune will play. Basically, when a coin falls into the coin chute it hits a brass spoon fastened to a rod that trips the motor control knife switch. At the end of a tune a perforation in the music roll cause a large pneumatic to collapse, pulling open and latching open the knife switch, thereby shutting of electrical power to the motor.
Early Link Coin Mechanism: There was a coin chute located directly under the coin slot. It was a nicely crafted brass casting, and at the bottom was a set of electric coin contacts and the coin drop pneumatic. About 20 nickels could stack up in the chute. Located near the motor was a cast iron enclosure that contained a pair of “coin trip” electromagnets that when energized allowed spring tension to close a heavy duty knife switch. Adjacent to the fiber insulating block that held the knife switch was a narrow but long shutoff pneumatic that pulled the knife switch open when vacuum was applied, whereupon a mechanical latch kept the switch open—until the latch was tripped by an electrical impulse to the electromagnets.
Here is how it works: A trip coil (designed to tolerate a brief 120 Volt current) is wired in series with the motor, and the trip coil in turn operates an electrical switch that is wired in parallel with the trip coil and coin contacts (see diagram). When a coin is dropped it falls through the chute and wedges against a pair of electrical contacts. When this happens the trip coil is fully energized (it being of high electrical impedance compared to the motor), which then trips the latch holding the knife switch open. When the knife switch snaps shut the electrical current is shunted around both the trip coil and coin contacts, essentially removing them from the electrical circuit. As the motor spins up to operating speed the vacuum level in the machine rises, whereupon the coin-drop pneumatic pushes the coin forward and off of the contacts. At this point the coin can be safely ejected into the coin collection box without the otherwise common inductive arching, something that can potentially weld a coin to a contact point. The same pneumatic that pushes the coin aside also prevents any additional coins in the chute, if any, from falling onto the coin contacts.
When the music ends and the shut-off perforation passes over the tracker bar a pneumatic connected to the trip coil switch causes this switch to snap open, whereupon a mechanical latch keeps it open, thereby turning off power to the motor. Then as the vacuum level in the machine falls to near zero (or normal atmospheric pressure), the coin-drop pneumatic relaxes. This lets the next coin in the chute, if any, to drop between the coin contacts, thereby repeating the above process.
Late Link coin Mechanism: In the late mechanism the coin trips a ratchet wheel, which in turn operates an electrical knife switch that controls the motor.
Three brands of electric motors have been observed to date in Link coin pianos: Westinghouse, Robbins & Meyers, and Holtzer-Cabot, in roughly that chronological order, but with some overlap. It is possible that the earlier Automatic Musical Company used Westinghouse motors, and Link continued using them for a while after the acquisition of certain Automatic assets. The other brands were probably used later due to price competition.
The Automatic Musical Company conducted business out of several locations during its business lifespan. The first location was at 96 State Street, the next at 53 Chenango Street, and the third at 22-26 Henry Street, all in Binghamton, New York. The Chenango and Henry Street buildings have since been demolished. But the final and most elaborate factory location for the Automatic Musical Company, and later its successor, the Link Piano Company, was located at 183-185 Water Street, also in Binghamton, New York. With a footprint of 44 by 100 feet the four-story masonry building facing on Water Street (frontage exposure), Dwight Street (a side street between Water and Center Streets), and Center Street (rear access) is thought to have started out as the Bundy Time Recorder / International Time Recorder Company building, or at least the building was occupied by these companies as early as 1900. In 1908 ownership of the building was changed to that of the Automatic Musical Company, and at some point between 1908 and 1912 a brick extension of some 17 feet was added to the top of the structure, making it into a six story masonry building.
Very often a few pictures of the old and rather dilapidated multi-story masonry factories where band organs, coin pianos, and orchestrions were once manufactured are included in historic articles and books, but seldom if ever is the actual physical layout of the factory mentioned. What kind of work was carried out on the various floors, and how did they move the heavy stuff around? While doing some research at the Broome County Library, Rusty King came across some revealing Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps that related to the 183-85 Water Street. Binghamton, New York, multi-story brick building housing the Automatic Musical Company, and later its successor, the Link Piano Company. The floor use was described as follows:
Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps--1908 edition - 183-85 Water St.
Automatic Musical Co.
Basement: Storage of cases and drying room.
1st floor: Office and packing.
2nd floor: Assembling.
3rd floor: Machine, wood, and iron work.
4th floor: Varnishing.
5th floor: Bench work, gluing, and music roll making.
6th floor: Use nNt specified.
Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps--1912 edition - 183-85 Water St.
Automatic Musical Co.
1st floor: Office and packing.
2nd floor: Assembling.
3rd floor: Machine, wood, and iron work.
4th floor: Varnishing and bench work.
5th floor: Gluing and music roll making.
6th floor: Bench work.
Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps--1918-1926 edition - 183-85 Water St.
Link Piano Co.
1st floor: Office, packing, and record making.
2nd floor: Assembling.
3rd floor: Machine, wood, and iron work.
4th floor: Varnishing, music roll, and organ pipe making.
5th floor: Gluing, chest making, and tuning.
6th floor: Tobacco storage.
The first floor is where finished coin pianos were packed and crated up for shipment, and then shoved out onto the shipping dock where they could be loaded onto some sort of local cartage. Because the factory was not near any railroad spurs any long distance shipping would have required a local cartage service to interface with the nearest railroad siding or station. The second floor was the assembly area, so pianos from a supplier, such as Schaff Piano Company, only had to be lifted to the second floor, where the various automatic mechanisms were installed. The third floor housed the machinery for metal and woodworking, which suggests that the equipment installed was of relatively light duty, i.e., no heavy stamping presses, for instance, otherwise the sheer weight and vibration would have seriously strained the structural components and integrity of the building. The fourth, fifth and sixth floors were for handwork on various components, which were for the most part relatively light in weight and easy to transport to the lower second floor assembly area. Finding a notation regarding tobacco storage on the sixth floor of the Link factory was indeed a surprise, but there were reportedly a couple of cigar factories in the immediate area, and so it seems as though the Link Piano Company was renting out surplus top-floor storage space by 1926.
The Sanborn map for 1912 mentions a dynamo that was not in use, power and light was by electricity--at least so by 1912. There was a boiler in the back of the building. It was common at the time for industries to generate their own electricity until substantial commercial power was available, whereupon the boiler would then only be used for heat during the winter months. According to Rusty King, when the Lauter Piano Company factory in Newark, New Jersey, was demolished about five years ago (circa 2007), once the rubble was cleared away there were two steam engines located in a pit in the basement. They were badly rusted and damaged from the building coming down on top of them. The smaller engine was directly connected to a generator, while the larger one was apparently the central power for the plant's flat-belt line-shaft power transmission system.
The primary information that went into building up the Link Piano Company database was gathered over a period of many years by Charles W. (Rusty) King, Art Reblitz, and Dana Johnson, friends and longtime Link history buffs, collectors, and experts in restoration of various automatic pianos and orchestrions. Whenever these men had access to an Automatic Musical Company or Link piano or orchestrion they recorded certain mechanical and historical details of interest. Many other people, listed under Acknowledgments in the Introduction to the Registry, also submitted information to Art Reblitz. The result of their dedicated effort is presented in an orderly, easy to read format in the report offered below.
By default, current ownership information is not integral to the database project, but a provision exists whereby the current owner's name information can be accommodated and then shown in database reports. However, this will be done only if and when specific written permission is granted to the Mechanical Music Press specifically authorizing us to show and/or distribute individual ownership information. Furthermore, if and when such authorization is granted the Mechanical Music Press and/or its authors shall assume no liability or responsibility of any kind, nor to any extent, regarding any inferred, purported, or actual privacy intrusions, incidents, or claims.
To ADD ANOTHER ITEM TO THE DATABASE or to facilitate the reporting of errors regarding Automatic Musical Company, Marcola, or Link coin pianos and orchestrions, please click on the Survey Reporting Form button in the options panel below. Please note that we welcome any survey information, whether it be only the brand, model, and serial number, or all requested details. We realize that it can be difficult (even for an experienced restorer) to find certain serial numbers without partially disassembling an instrument. Nonetheless, please submit a form regardless of how many spaces you can currently fill in.
All database report information is offered "as is," without any guarantee or warranty whatsoever of any kind, neither stated, implied, nor inferred, as to the accuracy, correctness, exactness, suitability, or usefulness of any content.
The database PDF report files and the Survey Reporting Form require Adobe Acrobat Reader (or its equivalent) to view, use, or print their contents. The free Acrobat Reader can be downloaded from Adobe by clicking on the icon at left.
|Download the current database report as
by clicking the left hand button, or report another
instrument by clicking the right hand button.
Original data compiled by Charles W. (Rusty) King, Art Reblitz, and Dana Johnson. Transferred into database format by Terry Hathaway.
Glenn Grabinsky, Charles W. (Rusty) King, Terry Hathaway, Art Reblitz, Dana Johnson, and Glenn Thomas.
Terry Barnes, Glenn Grabinsky, Dana Johnson, Rusty King, Paul Manganaro, Don Rand, Elaine Pease, and the Broome County Historical Society.