Database Reports for Cremona Pianos and Orchestrions
The Marquette Piano Company, of Chicago, Illinois, began in 1905 by manufacturing Marquette player pianos and selling player piano actions to other piano companies that didn’t want to make their own. Under the guidance of J.P. Seeburg, one of Marquette’s founders, the firm introduced the Cremona coin operated piano in 1907. Starting in that year, Seeburg took Marquette’s entire output of Cremona coin pianos and operated them in commercial locations in the Chicago area. In 1909, when Seeburg left Marquette and introduced his own brand of coin pianos, Marquette continued on its own and remained in business, adding orchestrions and photoplayers to its line, until it faded away in the 1920s.
This page continues with detailed descriptions and photos 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.
Since Marquette wasn’t a large enough company to manufacture its own pianos, it obtained many, if not all of its pianos, ready for installation of player components, from Smith, Barnes & Strohber, a successful Chicago maker of regular pianos. These pianos are characterized by a two piece piano plate, with the upper part covering the pinblock separate from the lower frame, with a large flowery casting in the upper plate between bass and treble sections, and an extra vertical frame member in the mid-treble of the lower plate resulting in four sections of hammers instead of the usual three. Similar pianos appear to have been used in early Operators (Coinola) instruments, and in 1920s Chicago Electric coin pianos made by Smith, Barnes & Strohber.
Certain early Cremonas have Smith, Barnes & Strohber piano plates and six-digit serial numbers. Examples in this group that we have observed to date have numbers ranging from 107,000 to 139,999, made between 1907 and approximately 1913. (These numbers represent the total number of pianos made by Smith, Barnes & Strohber during these years, only a small percentage of which were used for Cremona pianos.) These dates don’t coincide exactly with the dates reported in the Pierce Piano Atlas, a situation which applies to a number of early piano companies that merged with other larger companies that didn’t keep old production records.
In the early ‘teens, Marquette began using its own numbers and piano plates of somewhat different design. Documented numbers range from 7896 (circa 1912) to 12790 (circa the late ‘teens). The authors believe these to be Marquette’s own production numbers, indicating a total of over 4,800 Marquette pianos in this series. According to pneumatic stack numbers and hand-written dates found inside the cases, it seems possible that Marquette used some pianos with its own serial numbers and others with Smith, Barnes and Strohber numbers concurrently for a year or two.
There are also a few Cremona pianos and Marquette home player pianos with numbers ranging from 15,000 to 25,000 that don’t fit into the other series. Although the numbers are higher than in the paragraph immediately above (7896 to 12790), pianos in the 15000 to 25000 series have the earlier belt-drive mechanism from the crankshaft (type 2). To date we have no stack numbers for pianos in this series, except for one player piano (25254) with stack 2353, the earliest stack noted to date. More information is needed before valid conclusions may be drawn.
Most Cremona pneumatic stacks are numbered, indicating the order in which instruments were produced regardless of whether the piano serial number was Marquette’s or Smith, Barnes & Strohber’s. The number is usually stamped on the front of the stack directly behind the fallboard, usually somewhere between the left end and the center. Stack numbers tell the total number of Marquette stacks made and to help pinpoint the introduction of important mechanical changes through the years. It will be helpful if readers who submit Cremona information will take the time to remove the upper front panel and music shelf from the piano to make note of the stack number.
Cremona coin pianos and orchestrions with one rank of pipes had either stopped flutes, open flutes, or violins. Metal violin pipes or stopped wood flutes were used in a few early instruments, but the majority of later Cremona G pianos have open wood flutes. Style J orchestrions with two ranks usually had violins and open flutes, but the number of pipes per rank varied, with a few early examples having fewer pipes than later ones. Style K orchestrions had open flutes, wood violins and wood piccolos. When submitting information for an instrument with original pipework, please specify what type of pipes are used and how many there are in each rank.
Style J orchestrions either had a wooden xylophone or steel Deagan Una-Fon orchestra bells. Judging by the few remaining examples with Una-Fon bells, these occurred mainly in early examples of the style J orchestrion.
Most Cremona models were depicted in original advertisements and catalogs with standardized art glass designs. These have been reproduced in The Encyclopedia of Automatic Musical Instruments by Q. David Bowers, and in the forthcoming Reblitz/Bowers Guide to Coin Operated American Pianos and Orchestrions by Arthur A. Reblitz and Q. David Bowers.
Most style G coin pianos had the glass shown in company advertising, with predominantly light green (or less commonly, light blue) motif. All style K orchestrions had a combination of colored and beveled clear glass, permitting a partial view of the interior parts. Most style J orchestrions had colored glass, usually with a predominantly blue background, but a few early examples had a combination of colored and beveled clear glass.
Certain Cremona instruments also exist with art glass not shown in original literature and for which only one or a few examples are known. Some of this undocumented art glass is exquisite in design and detail, as in two known examples of Cremona Style G pianos—each somewhat different—showing ancient Pompeii depicted with Mt. Vesuvius erupting in the background.
Cremona mechanisms, including roll drives, pneumatic stacks, coin accumulator mechanisms and vacuum regulators underwent several notable design changes over the years.
In very early Cremona pianos, the spoolbox or music roll mechanism had wooden sides and a wooden tracker bar. After a short time, these were replaced with cast iron side frames and metal tracker bars.
There are two main types of Cremona piano stacks.
Many Cremona pianos, especially early examples, have a date and inspector’s initials written in pencil on the inside of the left side of the case, usually near the top, in front of the piano plate or tuning pins. Where known, they are included in the database comments, such as HW 3/26/1913 TD, or K 5-15-12. Since these easily damaged and easily overlooked markings are often the only clue to when a Cremona instrument was made, please be careful not to remove any such markings when cleaning or restoring a piano.
The late Harvey Roehl (of Vestal Press fame) often mentioned the exceptional quality of materials used when he observed the beautiful birds-eye maple interior veneer and solid mahogany pneumatic actions. Unfortunately, Cremona orchestrions often have more stripped screws than any other brand thanks to the beautiful but relatively soft mahogany parts. This problem may be overcome during restoration by cross plugging the screw holes with harder wood. Marquette’s use of adjustable vents in the pneumatic stacks and xylophone actions necessitated occasional adjustment, unlike most of their competitors’ products, although with meticulous restoration and reasonably good humidity control, it is possible to achieve excellent repetition for years without further reregulation.
The expression in Cremona orchestrions is less effective than it otherwise might be, because the control valves for the large piano pedal pneumatics are located in the piano stack instead of being in a separate valve box. If the expression regulator is adjusted to play the piano very softly when the roll calls for soft expression, the stack vacuum isn’t high enough to reliably engage the piano soft pedal, losing the effectiveness of this important expression device. If the soft vacuum level is set high enough to operate the soft pedal pneumatic, it doesn’t lower the piano stack vacuum as much as it otherwise might. Certain restorers add a separate valve box operating on full pump suction to operate the large control pneumatics, which then allows the piano to be adjusted to have greater expression.
In all, well-restored and regulated Cremona coin pianos are beautiful looking and sounding instruments. Regrettably, the Marquette Piano Company was not as prolific a manufacturer as were Seeburg or Wurlitzer, and so Cremona instruments are much less common then those two brands.
The primary information that went into building up the Cremona database has been meticulously gathered over a period of 45 years by Art Reblitz, a longtime expert in the restoration, history, and music of automatic pianos and organs. Whenever he has had access to, or enjoyed the opportunity to rebuild, a Cremona piano or orchestrion he has carefully recorded mechanical and historical details of interest. Many other people, listed under Acknowledgements in the Introduction to the Registry, also submitted information to Art. The result of his painstaking 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.
We cordially invite and solicit additional information for the database on Marquette and Cremona pianos that are not in this list, and additional details for pianos that are already listed but have little information.
To ADD ANOTHER ITEM TO THE DATABASE or to facilitate the reporting of errors regarding Marquette and Cremona pianos and orchestrions please click on the Survey Reporting Form button in the options panel below. Please note: We welcome any survey information, whether it be only the brand, model, and serial number, or all requested details. We realized 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.
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Compiled by Art Reblitz, and transferred into database format by Terry Hathaway.