J.P. Seeburg and Western Electric
Coin Operated Pianos and Orchestrions

Introduction to Seeburg and Western Electric Pianos

Introduction to Seeburg and Western Electric Pianos
by Art Reblitz

Seeburg Piano Company Logo.The J.P. Seeburg Piano Company of Chicago, Illinois, was one of the two largest makers of coin-operated pianos and orchestrions in the U.S. from 1909 through 1928, second only to the giant Wurlitzer company in the 1910s, and then dominating the industry in the 1920s. Seeburg products are the favorite of many collectors, thanks to their excellent musical performance, beautiful cabinets and art glass, and mechanical durability.

Justus P. Seeburg immigrated to America from Sweden in 1887. He spent the next 18 years working in the piano industry in the Chicago area, first for C.A. Smith (which later became Smith, Barnes & Strohber), then Bush & Gerts, then as manager of the Conover piano manufacturing facility of the Chicago Cottage Organ Company (which became the Cable Piano Company), and then as a co-founder of the Kurtz-Seeburg Action Company in Rockford, Illinois in 1903.

In 1905, he returned to Chicago from Rockford and co-founded the Marquette Piano Company (for details, see the Marquette Piano Company Registry page). After developing the Cremona A roll piano at Marquette, he formed the J.P. Seeburg Piano Co. in 1907, which distributed Marquette’s entire production of Cremona coin pianos and operated them in locations in Chicago.

In 1909, Seeburg left Marquette and began building Seeburg coin pianos with new and different mechanisms, cabinet styles, and the Seeburg name, for sale to other customers. Oscar Nelson and Peder Wiggen, two of Seeburg’s key employees, designed and patented almost all Seeburg player mechanisms before leaving the company in 1920. After working for other businesses, they founded the Nelson-Wiggen Piano Co. in 1922 (for details, see the Nelson-Wiggen Piano Company Registry page).

From 1909 to 1921, Seeburg bought pianos from other piano manufacturers and installed the player mechanisms, art glass, electrical parts, etc. In 1920, Seeburg began manufacturing its own pianos, and used them exclusively from late 1921 through 1928. Over the years, Seeburg produced many styles of coin pianos, orchestrions, photoplayers, and mortuary organs, until the electronic amplifier caused their demise, and the company went on to became one of the major manufacturers of coin-operated phonographs.

Western Electric Piano Company

In 1924, a group of current Seeburg and former Marquette officials formed the Western Electric Piano Company, as a secret subsidiary of the Seeburg company. Seeburg had already established exclusive dealership territories for its products all over the United States, and the rival Western Electric brand was offered to new distributors in the same areas to stimulate sales. In late 1926, Western Electric, which had been in a different location in Chicago, moved into the Seeburg factory. The cabinets and piano assemblies, and most of the pneumatic stacks, were made by Seeburg; with pumps, roll mechanisms, extra instruments, controls, and coin mechanisms of different design resembling the earlier Cremona parts.

How This Project Developed

The primary information that went into building up the Seeburg database was collected over many years by Art Reblitz, an avid collector, historian, and mechanical music restoration expert.

Art’s intense interest in the history of the J.P. Seeburg Piano Company began when he was a young boy and heard a KT Special orchestrion in an amusement arcade. When he was in high school, living in a Chicago suburb, he discovered and then regularly visited the famous Svoboda’s Nickelodeon Tavern in Chicago Heights, Illinois. He happily dropped numerous coins into the various coin operated pianos, orchestrions, and organs that filled rooms throughout the sprawling tavern. Being involved in music all his life, he also learned to tune pianos while in high school.

A few years later, while attending college, Art was hired by Al Svoboda, and was given the opportunity to service and help with the restoration of many instruments at Svoboda’s Nickelodeon Tavern, learning basic rebuilding skills from the late Dave Ramey Sr., and piano regulation and repair from Tom Sprague, each of whom already worked there for years. There were numerous Chicago-made Seeburg coin pianos and orchestrions in the collection, many of which were still in original condition, offering the opportunity to observe what materials were used originally, and to see the original dimensions of pneumatic cloth, valve travel, pouch dish, gasket thickness, regulation specifications, and other details that are difficult to find today because most instruments have been through at least one rebuilding. In four years, Art became very familiar with the Seeburg line.

Whenever Art had the opportunity to study, service, tune, or rebuild a Seeburg piano—first at Svoboda’s, and then in his own tuning and restoration business—he observed and took note of historical and mechanical details. As the decades went by and the database grew, he learned to watch for and document even the most minor cosmetic and mechanical changes in each instrument.

Many collectors, enthusiasts, and restorers have submitted information to Art for many years. The result of their combined effort is presented in an orderly, easy to read format in the reports offered below. Special acknowledgment is given here (in alphabetical order) to Jerry Biasella, Terry Hathaway, Dana Johnson, Rusty King, David Ramey Jr., John Rutoskey, and Don Teach, not only for gathering and organizing data, but also for help with the creation of this introductory section and the survey form. Many others, without whose help this registry would be much smaller and less informative,  are listed in the Registry Acknowledgments page.

Using the Information on This Page

Of all the coin piano brands for which we have created registries, we have gathered far more details about extant Seeburg instruments than for any other manufacturer. As a result, we are able to reconstruct a fairly detailed history and timetable of production and mechanical development for the products of this firm. Of course, we always welcome more information so we may continue to refine these details.

This page continues with detailed descriptions and photos of technical and mechanical features, which are considered important for a thorough understanding of Seeburg piano development, the database reports, and to help with filling in the Survey Reporting Form. Clicking on the small pictures to the right of the text will open groups of pictures and captions, illustrating the descriptions in the text. The database reports and survey form can be accessed below under the heading Distribution of Database Information by clicking on the large Download buttons at the bottom of this page.

Seeburg and Western Electric piano back assemblies—the soundboard, pinblock, plate, and strings for each instrument—were constructed and assembled on the same assembly line, and were numbered in the same serial numbering series from 1924 through 1928. The master Seeburg database report includes Western Electric pianos to show how pianos for the two brands were intermixed as they came off the assembly line. We also provide reports showing only Seeburg pianos in this registry, and only Western Electrics in that registry, to facilitate the study of each brand separately. More background information on Western Electric is also included in that registry.

J. P. Seeburg Piano Company Models

Seeburg Logo.The J.P. Seeburg Piano Company introduced its first basic coin-operated piano with the Seeburg name in 1909, installing its own mechanisms in pianos made by other companies. The cabinet for the first model resembled an ordinary upright piano, but it had plain glass in the upper front allowing a view of the piano action as it played, similar to the immediately preceding Cremona A roll pianos built by Marquette. At first, this basic model had no style letter, but when other, fancier styles were added to the Seeburg line, it was named the style A.

In late 1909, J. P. Seeburg announced a new concept that would revolutionize the industry—the art style coin piano. Having attended design classes at Chicago’s famous Art Institute a few years earlier, he pioneered the use of colorful art glass in the upper front panel of the piano, illuminated by electric lights inside. New models, issued in alphabetical order, included the styles B through F. Most examples of these instruments feature a beautiful, colorful art glass panel or panels. These were followed by several models of tall keyboard style orchestrions (styles G, H, J, and L Orchestra), and two smaller models without a keyboard (styles K and KT), all introduced from 1912 through 1914. In 1914, a line of photoplayers with the name “Pipe Organ Orchestra” was added.

When prohibition was ratified in early 1919, Seeburg was concerned that sales of coin-operated instruments to taverns and saloons would decline, so he set out to manufacture home player pianos. He sold his interest in the J.P. Seeburg Piano Co. to several existing company officials, and formed the Marshall Piano Company for the purpose of manufacturing pianos instead of continuing to buy them from various other piano builders. Home player pianos were offered under the brand names Seeburg, Marshfield, and Marshall. Once this new company was established, he bought back his former company, and combined the two companies under the original name.

Although many large saloons and taverns were shut down by the government, a tremendous business developed for small coin-operated pianos and orchestrions in smaller speakeasies, restaurants, ice cream parlors, etc. Seeburg revamped the line, simplifying and standardizing the cabinets, art glass, and mechanisms. Pianos in the new line retained many of their old style designations. Early styles C, F, J, and L Orchestra were discontinued, and several new small cabinet style instruments were added. In the mid to late 1920s, several styles of Seeburg mortuary organs also became popular. In 1929, all automatic pianos were discontinued and replaced by the first coin-operated phonographs, commonly known as “jukeboxes.”

All styles of Seeburg coin pianos, orchestrions, photoplayers, and mortuary and related organs are described and illustrated in The Encyclopedia of Automatic Musical Instruments by Q. David Bowers, and in the forthcoming Reblitz-Bowers Guide to American Coin-Operated Pianos and Orchestrions. The latter book will also contain the most detailed history of all known American manufacturers and major distributors ever published. Its publication will be announced on this web site and other mechanical music sites and publications.

Cabinet Finish

Most Seeburg coin pianos and orchestrions were veneered in oak, with smaller numbers having mahogany or walnut veneer. Before 1920, two finishes were the most popular on oak: dark brown mission finish with black filler in the pores, and golden oak. In one original press release, Seeburg said the mission finish was dull, and golden oak finish was a heavier, glossy finish. Other colors were also available. All known Seeburg photoplayers were veneered in oak.

After 1920 when cabinets and art glass were simplified, many keyboard style pianos and small cabinet style Ls had a brown oak finish with a slightly greenish tint, while most Ks, KTs, KT Specials, Greyhounds, and cabinet model C “Xylophonians” were finished in silver gray oak. The silver gray finish was achieved by using a special silver gray stain and filling the pores with light colored filler. The trim on these pianos was usually painted gold, and the finish was probably a thin coat of shellac, instead of the more expensive and time-consuming rubbed-out varnish that had been used on earlier pianos.

Most Celesta DeLuxe piano organs had oak veneer, usually finished in golden oak, while most MO and HO mortuary organs had walnut veneer, finished in a medium to dark brown walnut color.

Art Glass

Most Seeburg models had standardized art glass, but the glass designs for certain models were changed occasionally, and the model B had numerous different designs. Seeburg art glass made before 1920 was usually assembled with copper foil soldered together, while glass made after that time was made with zinc came. Seeburg art glass from the 1920s, almost all of which was standardized, was made by Drehobl Bros. Art Glass Co. in Chicago. In the 1970s, Drehobl still had sets of original art glass that had never been picked up by Seeburg, and sold most of it to area restorers. The author acquired a box of original art glass patterns for Seeburg and other Chicago area piano companies in 2007 from a granddaughter of the founder after the business had been sold to new owners. Drehobl is one of a very few businesses involved with Seeburg in the 1920s that remains business today.

Many styles of Seeburg art glass are shown in Bowers’ Encyclopedia of Automatic Musical Instruments, Reblitz’ The Golden Age of Automatic Musical Instruments, and the forthcoming Reblitz-Bowers Guide to American Coin Operated Pianos and Orchestrions. Common names for various glass styles may be found in the registry reports.

Brands of Pianos used in Seeburg Instruments

Before Seeburg began making its own pianos in 1920, it obtained them from several piano manufacturers to avoid being totally dependent on one supplier, and to keep its suppliers competitive. The large majority of these pre-1920 Seeburgs were made by one of four known companies. None of the pianos is identified with the actual maker’s name where it can be seen, but each brand has a piano plate (the heavy cast iron frame) of distinctly different design, and a different series of serial numbers than the other three major brands.

In addition to the four major brands that were used before 1920, Seeburg sometimes used pianos of at least two other types during that era, each with its own distinct design. These two less common types of pianos each had serial numbers in the same series as one of the major brands, but they look different enough to enable easy identification.

In 1920, Seeburg began to make pianos with its own serial numbers, and by the end of 1921, it no longer bought pianos from outside suppliers. For the first few years of the 1920s, Seeburg used serial numbers in the same series one of their suppliers used in the ‘teens, but these are easy to tell apart once you know how, as described below.

To identify the age and maker of a Seeburg piano, find the serial number, which is almost always stamped on the plate or into the pinblock just under the lid. Then identify the maker of the piano by comparing the number and design of the piano plate to the text and pictures below. Finally, look up the number under the appropriate manufacturer’s name in the chart below.

The following companies supplied pianos to Seeburg:

Smith, Barnes & Strohber (Chicago, Illinois)

One of the oldest known Seeburg coin pianos, made in 1909.If a Seeburg has die-stamped serial number between 99,500 and 109,000, with four sections of piano hammers instead of the usual three, an exposed (or open-face) pinblock, and the wording “New Scale” cast into the plate, the piano was made by Smith, Barnes & Strohber (also known as Smith & Barnes) in 1909. These pianos have very early Seeburg mechanisms, including double-valve stacks and side-mounted metal hinges on the pumping bellows.

Unknown brand used in very early Seeburgs

Unknown brand of piano used only in very early Seeburgs.If a Seeburg has a die-stamped number between 7,000 and 9,000, a full plate covering the pinblock, one round hole near the bottom right corner of the plate, and usually a Seeburg decal instead of having the lettering cast into the plate, it is the unknown very early brand. The pianos of this type seen to date originally had very early Seeburg mechanisms, including double-valve stacks and side-mounted metal hinges on the pumping bellows. Only a few survive. These serial numbers fall within the range of Edmund Gram pianos used in Seeburgs, as described below, but they are older pianos.

Haddorff (Rockford, Illinois)

Haddorff piano in Seeburg B #56,714.Keyboard-style Haddorff pianos have a two-piece plate. The upper part is painted gold, with the pinblock exposed in the tuning pin areas, and the lower part originally was painted black, although some have had the lower portion incorrectly repainted gold. If a Seeburg has this type of plate with a rubber-stamped serial number between 31,000 (1909) and 96,000 (1922), the piano was made by Haddorff.

All Seeburg keyboardless pianos made from 1913 through 1919, and some made in 1920-21, were made by Haddorff. They are in the same numbering series as the keyboard styles, with rubber-stamped numbers.

A few Seeburgs containing Haddorff pianos no longer have a serial number because a rebuilder painted over the rubber-stamped original. In that case, determining the piano’s age must be done by comparing the stack number to number in the registry report, and comparing mechanical details to information and photos found later in this page.

Edmund Gram (or Gram-Richtsteig; Milwaukee, Wisconsin)

Typical Edmund Gram plate in Seeburg G #12,312.Edmund Gram pianos have a heavy one-piece plate with large cloverleaf-shaped holes in the bottom portion. If a Seeburg has this type of plate with a die-stamped serial number between 6,000 (1910) and 13,000 (1920), the piano was made by Gram-Richtsteig, shortened to Gram on this web site. The plate completely covers the pinblock, and the serial number is die-stamped.

The brand of this piano remained unknown until Dana Johnson found the name partially cast into the plate in Seeburg style J orchestrion #8,854 in his shop. Much of the lettering on the casting pattern had been removed, but enough remained to identify the brand of the piano.

Another related company name was Richtsteig-Nussbaum, and that name is also found on a few Seeburg plates, sometimes on an overlay casting covering the Gram name as shown in the accompanying picture, and other times cast into the plate itself but hidden by a Seeburg overlay casting. After Edmund Gram joined Max Richtsteig to form the piano company in Milwaukee bearing their names, Richtsteig also founded the first technical school for piano builders in the United States. On page 85 of Pianos and Their Makers, Vol. II, by Alfred Dolge, 1913, there is a picture of the same unusual style of piano plate with large cloverleaf holes that was used in Seeburg pianos, sitting in Max Richtsteig’s classroom (this book was reprinted as Men Who Have Made Piano History by Vestal Press in 1980).

Seybold (Seybold Piano and Organ Co., Elgin, Illinois)

Common Seybold plate in Seeburg G #17,098.Seybold pianos have a full one-piece plate with the upper portion completely covering the pinblock. These pianos are identified by their peculiar three-up and three-down pattern of tuning pins in which the pins for each consecutive note are staggered vertically much farther than in any other piano. A separate "Seeburg" overlay plate covers the "Seybold" name at the upper right corner of the plate.

If a Seeburg has each consecutive group of three tuning pins staggered more than usual, the piano was made by Seybold. The plate completely covers the pinblock and the serial number is die-stamped. Seybold numbers run from about 14,000 (1911) to 20,xxx (1913) (Seybold pianos were later used in Peerless, and then Operators, instruments. Refer to those registries for more information).

Unverified Brand
(previously suspected to be Seybold, and included in the Seybold numbering series)

Unknown brand of piano in the Seybold numbering series.In the few years just before publishing this report, we discovered that the Seybold numbering series, from 14,000 through 20,xxx, actually includes two different types of pianos. Some, used in styles A, B, C, and G, were obviously made by Seybold, but others, seen so far only in styles A and B, have an exposed pinblock and a conventional tuning pin placement instead of the characteristic Seybold 3-up and 3-down design. An interesting and obvious characteristic of this plate is an insignia featuring the letter "S" surrounded by a pair of encircling leaves forming a wreath. This insignia is about 4” in diameter, and appears between the bass and mid-section areas of the plate, with the letter “S” painted black. Curiously, there is a lamp socket mounted over it in the examples studied so far. Whether Seeburg placed the lamp socket there to cover the insignia and possibly shroud the piano maker's identity is not known. Seeburg never used a wreath as their trademark, so it's very doubtful that it stands for Seeburg. At least two different variations of this plate exist, including one having a “full perimeter” design, as shown in the accompanying picture.

Because the serial numbers are die-stamped and appear to fall in order with Seybold numbers, it had been rightfully assumed until now that this was simply an alternate style of Seybold piano, and that may still very well be true. Investigation to date, however, seems to indicate that Seybold pianos for home use (both hand-played and player pianos dating as far back as 1911 and up to the late 1920s), all had the unusual Seybold 3-up and 3-down tuning pin pattern, and never had the “S” wreath insignia. If Seybold was making two completely different grades of piano for Seeburg, it would seem that both grades would be found in Seybold home pianos as well.

Further data and study are obviously necessary to clear up this mystery. We solicit any information on these pianos, including any home pianos or player pianos with the “S wreath” insignia.

Post-1920 J. P. Seeburg and Western Electric Pianos

One style of plate used in pianos made in the early 1920s by Seeburg.Seeburg began making its own pianos in 1920, although it also continued using Haddorffs until sometime in 1921. If a Seeburg or Western Electric has a die-stamped number between 51,000 (1920) to 55,xxx (1922), or from 155,000 (1922) to 168,000 (1928 or 1929), it was made in the Seeburg factory. This numbering series was also continued on early pneumatically-controlled Seeburg jukeboxes.

During the time Seeburg made its own pianos, the design of the plate changed from time to time. Some early Seeburg-made pianos have elaborate vertical openings in the lower portion of the plate, similar in style to the design found in the same area in Gram pianos. Others are simpler. Several styles are illustrated here. It is not known exactly when these various plates were used, but all Seeburg-made pianos are numbered in the same numbering series, regardless of plate style.

Marshall Pianos

Marshall and Seeburg pianos made in the Seeburg factory were identical except for the name cast into the piano plate. Marshall plates were typically installed in Marshall home player pianos, but were also occasionally used in Seeburg coin pianos. Most examples in Seeburg coin pianos had a separate Seeburg overlay casting screwed over the Marshall name. The latest Marshall plate reported is in a 1924 Marshall player piano.

Keyboardless Seeburg Pianos

Styles K, KT, and KT Special

Style K with violin pipes #55542, with a piano made by Haddorff in 1913.Haddorff made all Seeburg Ks and KTs until sometime in 1921, using the same piano backs that it supplied to Link and others (see the Link registry in this web site for more information on that brand). All cabinet style Seeburg pianos with rubber-stamped serial numbers were made by Haddorff. All with die-stamped numbers were made in the Seeburg factory. No cabinet style Seeburg pianos were supplied by Gram or Seybold, and all style KT Special pianos were made by Seeburg.

Haddorff and Seeburg both made changes to the 61-note keyboardless plate design from time to time. As with the keyboard-style pianos made by Seeburg, we don’t know exactly when these changes were made, but the Haddorff and Seeburg numbering series continued, respectively, throughout production.

Styles L, C (Xylophonian), and Greyhound

Seeburg’s 54-note piano.All keyboardless styles L, C (Xylophonian), and Greyhound have a 54-note piano, which plays 54-notes of the 58-note style A roll because the lowest note is octave-coupled to the octave below, leaving a total of 53 independent notes. The five notes that are missing at the treble end of the roll have the tracker bar holes teed to the respective notes an octave below. The first examples of the 54-note piano were made by Haddorff and were used in the Phono-Grand, introduced in 1917, and the P-G-A, made briefly in 1921; known examples have Haddorff serial numbers, so we assume the piano was designed by Haddorff.

Known examples of the 3-door L, 2-door L, and 4-door L all have Seeburg factory serial numbers, as do the later C (Xylophonian) and Greyhound. One example of a 54-note piano plate is shown here. It is possible that the L plate underwent minor variations, as did the 61-note plate used in styles K, KT, and KT Special, but the serial numbering system is straightforward, making it easy to identify when any of these pianos were made.

How the Seeburg and Western Electric Dating Chart was Created

Determining the age of early Seeburg instruments took years of careful study and analysis for two main reasons. First, because Seeburg used five or six brands of pianos from 1910 through 1921, each with its own numbering series, data for many examples had to be gathered before it became obvious what they did. Second, pianos manufactured by Seeburg at the Dayton Ave. factory between 1920 and 1922 had serial numbers between 51,000 and 55,xxx, but so did Haddorff pianos used in Seeburgs in 1912 and 1913. After learning that Haddorff numbers were rubber-stamped on the cast iron piano plates, and Seeburg factory numbers were stamped with steel stamping dies into the pinblock, we had to go back and check every piano that was already recorded in this series to see whether the number was rubber-stamped or die-stamped.

According to N. Marshall Seeburg II, J.P. Seeburg's grandson, the Seeburg company maintained exclusive regional distribution areas for their dealers, and policed the activities of dealers by keeping track of the serial number of each machine that was sold. If a piano sold to a Florida distributor was discovered in Milwaukee, for example, the Florida distributor was immediately investigated and disciplined or terminated, to protect the Milwaukee dealer's distributorship.

It seems likely that Seeburg found it difficult to differentiate between previously-sold 1913 Seeburgs containing Haddorffs numbered in the low 50,000's and its new pianos also numbered in the low 50,000's, even though the Haddorffs had rubber-stamped numbers and the early 1920s pianos had die-stamped numbers (we have occasionally encountered the same difficulty finding the same information for the present research project). In 1922, Seeburg resolved the problem by adding a “1” in front of the series, continuing the 55,000 series as the new 155,000 series. This occurred somewhere between Seeburg KT #55,139 and Seeburg A #155,309.

Not until many hundreds of examples were collected was it possible to reconstruct the Seeburg dating scheme, which would have been very simple if factory production records still existed. The following explains how we determined the dates for all varieties of Seeburg instruments.

Haddorff

We first confirmed that Haddorff serial number dates in the Pierce Piano Atlas are correct, by comparing them to the following dates:

  1. Dates of press releases and first advertisements for new Seeburg models in music trade journals.
  2. Dates written inside mechanisms by original factory technicians.
  3. Dates rubber-stamped on paper stickers inside orchestrion drums.
  4. Dates found on original sales invoices.
  5. Dates from the Holtzer-Cabot factory motor dating list, where an H-C motor was believed to be original to its piano (click here to see the Holtzer-Cabot Serial Numbers list).

Seybold and Gram

Early in our research, it became obvious that dates for Seybold and Gram pianos used in Seeburg instruments were incorrect in the Piano Atlas. From 1909 through sometime in 1923, however, Seeburg numbered its pneumatic stacks consecutively, regardless of the brand of piano. Stack numbers seem to run from 100 (1909) through 9999 (1920), and then start over with 100 in a smaller typeface, continuing up to about 1500 (1923), after which they were no longer numbered. By making a list of all Seeburgs with known stack numbers, it was easy to construct dating lists for Seybold and Gram by interpolating from Haddorff dates, which are known to be correct.

Smith, Barnes & Strohber

The lowest-numbered original stack discovered in any Seeburg piano to date is #293, in style A #107,809, a Smith, Barnes & Strohber piano made in 1909 according to the Piano Atlas. Since 1909 is known to be the first year in which Seeburg sold coin pianos with its own mechanisms, we trust the accuracy of this date (later Smith, Barnes & Strohber numbers in the 1920s seem to be incorrect in the Piano Atlas, however. This will be discussed in the separate registry for Chicago Electric coin pianos, made by Smith, Barnes & Strohber for a few years in the 1920s).

Seeburg, Marshall, and Western Electric pianos made in the Seeburg factory

In most, if not all, pianos actually built by Seeburg, a date was rubber-stamped across the bottom of two or three consecutive hammers, usually in the middle section. When hammers are made, a long strip of tapered felt is wrapped around and glued to a long wooden molding under tremendous pressure. After the glue dries, the molding is removed from the press and cut into individual hammers. The date was stamped lengthwise on the molding before it was cut apart, resulting in it being cut into two or three parts on adjacent hammers. It is usually in the format of FEB 20, 1924 or something similar. Some examples are plainly legible, while others are blurred or poorly stamped. Enough have been reported to accurately date Seeburg pianos made between 1920 and 1928. To refine our database, we still encourage readers to report dates from original hammers, before they are replaced and the dates are lost forever.

Out-of-Sequence and Incongruous Stack Numbers

Stack numbers weren’t originally perfectly consecutive by piano serial number, indicating that they were produced in batches and then installed slightly out of numerical sequence in batches of pianos that weren’t kept in perfect serial number order either.

Certain extant examples of models that didn’t sell in large volume, such as the large style J orchestrion and the L Orchestra, have stacks that are a year out of sequence. It seems that Seeburg purchased these pianos with fancy cabinets but didn’t finish or sell them immediately, installing the stacks and other parts later when they finally received an order for one of these models.

Certain stack numbers are out of sequence by many years. In some examples, route operators transplanted still-functioning parts from worn out pianos into other pianos that still had a few years of life left. In others, when the player mechanisms quit working, many instruments were “converted” to hand-played pianos by removing the player mechanisms to make it easier for piano tuners to tune and service them. The removed parts were sometimes saved but separated from their original pianos, leaving many examples of gutted pianos and orphaned parts that eventually found their way to different owners. Many collectors in the past and still today have brought gutted pianos back to life by installing orphaned parts from other pianos, resulting in stack numbers that are incongruous, and parts that are earlier or later than the pianos in which they’re installed. In the context of many pianos that still do have their original stack numbers, these transplants are obvious.

Seeburg Dating Chart

Starting Piano Serial Numbers for Each Year
This chart is as accurate as possible, based on current information. There is a possibility that it will change as we receive details for more pianos, and add them to the database.
Year Smith
Barnes &
Strohber
Unknown
Brand
Haddorff Gram Seybold &
Unverified
Brand
J.P. Seeburg
(Marshfield)
(Marshall)
1909 99,500 - 109,000 7,000 - 9,000 31,000
1910     36,000 5,600    
1911     42,000 6,200 14,000
1912     46,000 6,800 16,000  
1913     51,000 7,500 17,250
1914     56,000 8,700    
1915     61,700 10,000
1916     66,500 11,000    
1917     71,500 11,400
1918     76,500 11,900    
1919     81,000 12,100
1920     86,000 12,300   50,000?
1921     91,000 52,000
1922     96,000     54 - 55,000
and 155,000
1923     156,000
1924           158,000
1925     160,000
1926           162,000
1927     164,000
1928           166,000
1929     168,000

Mechanical Details and Variations

Piano Actions

Section of a Seeburg piano action with no wippen stop rail.Pre-1920 Seeburg pianos typically have no stop rail to limit the travel of the stack pneumatics, neither on the stack nor on the piano action. With no stop rail, the pneumatic span and travel must be exactly right, or the piano action won’t work right. Post-1920 pianos have a stop rail on the piano action, allowing the pneumatics to have a little extra span and providing for manual adjustment of the stop position of each pneumatic.

Pneumatic Stacks

First series stack number 5883 in Seeburg G, circa 1914.Seeburg numbered its pneumatic stacks with steel die stamps, starting in 1909 and ending sometime in 1923. In the first series, known numbers run from 293 through 9908. Probably after 9999, a new numbering series was begun, usually stamped in smaller numbers, with known numbers from 208 through 1495, then a large gap, and then one much higher number, 2166. The new numbering series does not necessarily begin with the late style two-tier stack design, but more information is needed to pinpoint the change.

Seeburg made five types of pneumatic stacks:

  1. Patent drawing showing a cross section of the very early Seeburg double-valve stack. Very early type 1 Seeburg stack.Very early: same as #3, but with tiny primary valves & pouches, and adjustable bleeds, on top of the stack (very rare, used only circa 1909-1910).
  2. Very early Seeburg type 2 stack with single valves and adjustable bleeds.Very early: same as #3, with adjustable bleeds but without primary valves or primary pouches (very rare, used only circa 1909-1910).
  3. Front view of a Seeburg common type 3 “early” stack.Early: four tiers of pneumatics with straight wire pushrods, wooden dowels on top, and threads on the bottom, secured to the pneumatic fingers with leather nuts. Single valves, no adjustable bleeds. All valves are installed in one vertical valve box on the front, with removable inside wooden seats, each seat holding four valves, except the last one, which has fewer. Each valve is mounted on a small wooden lever that is guided by a tiny steel pin. The secondary pouches are all located in the removable front board (common, used circa 1910-1922).
  4. Type 4 (common “late style”) two-tier stack in Seeburg Gryehound piano.Late: completely redesigned, with two tiers of pneumatics. The pushrods are wires with wooden buttons on top, but the bottom ends are bent like an inverted question mark to go through bushed wooden fingers on the pneumatics. Each tier has a sandwich of two boards: a lower board with the pneumatics glued to the bottom and the pouch wells inside, and an upper board containing the valves and valve seats, forming the top of the vacuum chamber. A separate front board is attached to the two deck assemblies, and has channels that conduct the signals from the tracker bar and bleed suction to the pouches (common, used circa 1922-1928).
  5. Drawing from U.S. Patent #1,783,319, filed July 11, 1927. Late Unitype stack made by Pratt-Read.Very late: one tier of very narrow unit pneumatics. Each unit has a very small valve and pouch mounted vertically in a narrow block of wood, with the pneumatic glued to the top surface of the block. The pneumatic is so narrow that it has a partial center partition to allow the cloth to have two folds, something like a tiny accordion bellows. A similar one-tier stack was made by Bush & Lane of Holland, Michigan, and called the “Unitype” stack (very rare, seen only in Greyhound pianos made in 1928).

A few Seeburg pianos have been observed with pneumatic stacks made by the Pratt-Read company of Ivoryton, Connecticut, including at least four style L pianos made in 1923, and one style B containing a 1921 Haddorff piano. In each piano, the installation appears to have been done at the factory. Why this was done at a time when Seeburg was making its own stacks by the thousands, may never be known. It is especially odd that Seeburg would have purchased a few stacks from a company as far away as Connecticut when there were many other manufacturers in Chicago.

Color of Pneumatic Components

Early Seeburg Style K with green shellac finish on all pneumatic components.Early Seeburg coin pianos have green-dyed shellac finish on the pneumatic components above and below the keyboard, including the stack, pipe chest, mandolin pneumatic, pump, vacuum distribution box, rewind pneumatic, pedal pneumatics and miscellaneous valve boxes.

Early orchestrions have the same green finish on the pneumatic parts below the keyboard, but the stack, pipe chest, drum mechanisms, and other parts above the keyboard are finished with red-dyed shellac.

By the late ’teens, Seeburg used black-dyed shellac finish on all pneumatic components, both above and below the keyboard. A few style J orchestrions have been seen in which certain parts were first finished in red or green, but were then originally repainted with black shellac in the factory, indicating that they were made during a transitional period.

Pipe Chests

Seeburg F pipe chest with the number stamped on both the top and front side of this chest.Many pipe chests in early Seeburgs have die-stamped numbers on the top or front. The relatively few samples noted to date in our survey indicate that there might have been different numbering series for different models, with one series found on styles H and J pipe chests, another found on style G chests, etc. More information is needed. If a larger sampling of numbers verifies what the early pattern seems to indicate, the numbers might reveal how many Gs and Hs were made.

Seeburg single-rank pipe chests have a row of little pneumatics on the back, connected by tubing to the corresponding piano stack valves. When the music roll actuates the stack valves, the pipe chest pneumatics open valves inside the chest to blow air into the corresponding pipes.

In early Seeburg pipe chests in coin pianos and orchestrions, each valve is mounted on a spring-loaded wire stem that sticks out of the chest through a small hole, and the pneumatic has a small wooden finger that presses on the end of the valve stem. In pianos with two ranks of pipes, the chest has two rows of valves and little pneumatics—one row on the front, and another on the back. Seeburg photoplayers with multiple ranks of pipes may have a different configuration of pneumatics and valves.

After a few years of making pipe chests with internal springs, Seeburg changed the valve design, with the valve stems pressed directly into the pneumatic fingers, and with no interior stem guides. There might be some overlap in use of the two designs, and more information is needed to pinpoint the transition.

Interior view of an early style single-rank pipe chest in a Seeburg style F.An exception to the usual pipe chest design, found in certain photoplayers and in two known style H orchestrions made in 1917, the pipe chest pneumatics are reversed, with the fingers extending over the hinge instead of the open end. In this style, the pipes are off when the pneumatics have vacuum, and they play when the pneumatics have atmosphere, the reverse of the usual system. (Each pneumatic has a spring to hold it open and the pipe valve on when vacuum isn’t present.) In the style H orchestrion, this was a transitional design between the more complicated early valve chest that turns the piano off for pipe solos, and the simpler late stack hold-down bar. (The early and late solo mechanisms are described below, under the heading “Styles H and J Solo Mechanism.”

All pipe chests observed to date have a small pneumatic and dump valve for each rank of pipes. The pneumatic closes the valve while its rank is playing, and allows it to open to vent the air pressure in the chest quickly when the pipes are turned off. In early chests, the vent valve pneumatics are inflated with pipe chest pressure to close the valves. In later chests, they are vacuum-operated, assuring positive closure.

Soft-Loud Controls

Early Seeburg manually-controlled soft-loud lever.Early Seeburg coin pianos have a manually-operated soft-loud lever near the left end of the music shelf. This is attached to a slide valve on the back of the pneumatic stack, which can be set to connect vacuum from the pump directly to the stack for loud playing, or to shunt it through a spring-loaded regulator pneumatic, also mounted on the back of the stack, for soft playing. In Seeburg pianos with the manual lever, tracker bar hole 1 operates the soft pedal, as in other brands of A roll pianos. The vacuum distribution box (the box with the vacuum reservoir attached, sitting on top of the pump) has three valves located inside a wooden cover on the front surface, for soft pedal, sustaining pedal, and the action cutoff that turns the piano off during rewind. Since the soft expression regulator and bypass are mounted directly on the stack, there is no soft regulator on the vacuum distribution box.

The automatic soft-loud control mechanism in a Seeburg G orchestrion.All G, H, and other keyboard-style Seeburg orchestrions have an automatic volume control mechanism, which is operated by perforations in the roll. In this system, a regulator pneumatic is mounted on the back of the stack as in A-roll pianos, but another small pneumatic opens or closes the bypass around the regulator automatically. Some style G and L orchestrions have two buttons in the right hand column for soft and loud. When the soft button is pushed in, the piano and drums stay on soft (low vacuum). In the loud setting, the automatic expression mechanism is enabled, to make the piano and drums loud and soft. The hammer rail works from its separate hole in the roll regardless of whether the soft or loud button is pushed.

Knob and label used with 2-way expression system from 1921 through 1926.In 1921, Seeburg added an automatic expression mechanism to its A roll pianos, providing them with more expression than most other brands of coin pianos. The first version, used from 1921 through 1926, has a small knob with two settings (soft and loud), identified as the “two-way knob” in the Seeburg survey form and reports. In this system, the vacuum regulator pneumatic and bypass are located in the vacuum distribution box instead of the back of the stack, and are controlled from tracker bar hole 1. The hammer rail is teed to the mandolin pneumatic, making the piano even softer when the mandolin attachment is on, and decreasing the wear on the piano hammers caused by the mandolin tabs rubbing on the hammer felt.

Seeburg 3-way switch, used from 1926 through the end of production.In 1926, Seeburg changed the automatic volume control to a system with three settings (soft, medium, and loud), identified as the “three-way knob.” In this system, the soft position keeps the piano on its softest setting, the medium position allows it to express between soft and medium, and on the loud setting, between medium and loud. In the first version, the manual control knob controls a slide switch with six tubing connections, and the mechanisms include several pneumatic controls to switch between various expression levels when the tracker bar hole opens and closes. In a later simplified three-way switch, the knob controls a flipper valve as in the earlier two-way switch, but with four tubing connections. It has three settings, but the control mechanisms are simpler. This has only been seen in the Greyhound dog-race piano. Readers are encouraged to submit information on any simplified 3-way switch found in another model.

Other External Controls

Early style control knob below the coin entry chute.In addition to the various expression controls described above, Seeburg provided other manual controls for turning the mandolin attachment, extra instruments, and drums on and off. Early coin pianos without an extra instrument have one knob, which controls the mandolin attachment. Early styles with a rank of pipes also have a second knob, for controlling the pipes. Similar knobs are also found on early style KT orchestrions. The early style knob is shown in this picture pane.

Many, but not all, early keyboard style orchestrions have a small metal lever under the keyboard for turning the pipes off. The lever is connected to a large wooden pallet valve mounted on top of the pump. Flipping the lever one way opens the valve, releasing the air pressure for the pipes to keep them from playing. The early pipe shutoff valve is shown later in this article in the section describing pumps. Post-1921 styles G and H orchestrions have late style external knobs for controlling the pipes. (The smaller late style knob is shown in the previous description of expression mechanisms.)

Early keyboard style orchestrions have controls mounted on the drum shelf for manually turning the percussion instruments on and off, illustrated later in this article in the section about early and late drum shelves. In later orchestrions, this function is controlled by a late-style knob on the outside of the case, with the other knobs for expression, pipes and/or xylophone.

Extra Instruments – Pipes and Xylophone

xxAll style G and some small style J orchestrions (the type installed in Peerless Wisteria cabinets) have two ranks of pipes. All style H and large style J orchestrions have two ranks of pipes and xylophone. All style L Orchestras and FTs, and some small style Js have one rank of pipes.

Before 1922, all A roll and cabinet-style G roll pianos with an extra instrument have one rank of pipes. These include styles E, F, K, and KT. (The style F was discontinued by the late ‘teens.)

In 1922, Seeburg began phasing in the use of xylophones as the standard extra instrument in styles E, K, and KT. Within a few years, almost all of these models had xylophones, although pipes could still be ordered. Xylophones were standard in the late model C, E Special, and KT Special, and none of these was ever made with pipes. As the demand for larger orchestrions waned and the popularity of small cabinet style pianos increased after prohibition was enacted, Seeburg simplified its cabinets and mechanisms to reduce costs as much as possible. A xylophone cost less and didn’t require air pressure, enabling the pump to be simplified and the pressure reservoir omitted.

XylophoneEvery Seeburg style H orchestrion had a xylophone. When xylophones were first used in smaller instruments beginning in 1922, the first styles K, KT, and E with xylophones had beater balls larger than 1” in diameter, as in the earlier H orchestrions. Sometime in 1923 and onward, the beater size was reduced to 7/8” diameter.

Until late 1923, all Seeburg xylophones had single stroke beater mechanisms. When the early style KT Special (in a flat-top, eagle-front KT cabinet) was introduced in late 1923, it was the first model to have a reiterating xylophone mechanism. From 1924 on, a few examples of styles K, KT, and E also had reiterating xylophones.

Early style reiterating Seeburg xylophone, made from late 1923 into 1926.The first Seeburg reiterating xylophone mechanism has a complicated action with a little pneumatic for each note on the back of the xylophone valve chest, a pallet valve on the bottom, and a bent metal finger on the bottom end of the pneumatic to open the pallet valve when the pneumatic closes. Starting in 1926, Seeburg changed the reiterating mechanism to a style with slide valves instead of pallet valves. This action with slide valves is more efficient and doesn’t use as much vacuum.

Spoolboxes (roll mechanisms)

Very early Seeburg spoolbox with wooden flanges on the takeup spool.

The earliest Seeburg roll mechanism has cast iron side frames. The supply spool for the music roll has wooden flanges, one of which is removable by sliding a small latch. Only a few examples exist.

The next style is similar, but the supply spool has aluminum flanges that fit into the ends of the cardboard music roll core. This same basic style was used in all keyboard-style pianos that had the roll mechanism below the keyboard. A later version had two small steel rods, located above and below the tracker bar, to keep the paper from flopping away from the tracker bar at the end of rewind. Certain later pianos had Bakelite flanges instead of cast aluminum flanges.

Keyboard style pianos with the roll mechanism above the keyboard, including the E Special, Celesta DeLuxe mortuary organs such as the MO, and the keyboardless styles L and late C – “Xylophonian”, had wooden spoolboxes with metal hardware.

Photoplayers also had a complicated fast forward mechanism.

As a rule of thumb...

Rewind boxes

Early style rewind box with mechanical latch.All Seeburg rewind boxes have a large rewind pneumatic on the front, which lifts the spoolbox drive shaft into the rewind position. Early rewind boxes have a mechanical latch to hold the large pneumatic in rewind, with a horizontal pneumatic on the back that unlatches it at the end of rewind.

At some time in the late ‘teens or early ‘twenties, Seeburg redesigned the rewind mechanism, replacing the mechanical latch with a pneumatically locking valve, an innovation in use by 1918. The back of the unit has two small vertical pneumatics that lock the rewind valve on and off. While the early system works when adjusted properly, the late system is more reliable in commercial use because the large rewind pneumatic has vacuum in it all throughout rewind, while in the earlier design it only has vacuum while the rewind hole in the roll is open.

Many early mechanically-latching rewind boxes have been replaced with pneumatically-latching boxes by modern restorers. This change is considered acceptable because Seeburg distributors and operators seem to have replaced many of the earlier units already during the 1920s. It is perfectly acceptable to leave an earlier unit in an earlier piano because for ordinary non-commercial use the earlier system works reliably too.

Pumps

Very early scissors pump with metal side hinges and A-frame crankshaft supports.Seeburg used two basic styles of pumps: the early pump, known by most collectors as a “scissors pump” or “alligator pump,” and the late rotary pump, also known as a “box pump.”

Very early scissors pumps have metal hinges attached to the sides of the bellows. After the first year or so, the hinge design was changed to adjustable wooden blocks mounted on the hinge end of the bellows. In early pianos without pipes, the crankshaft is supported on the pump by “A-frame” castings. In early pianos with pipes, requiring combination pumps (which supplied both vacuum and pressure), the crankshaft supports are in the form of heavier vertical castings. These heavier castings were eventually used on all scissors pumps, whether or not the piano had an extra instrument.

Round belt pump drive in an early A roll piano.The earliest Seeburg pianos have a cast iron pulley on the pump, and use a round leather belt. This belt is shown crossed in an early Seeburg catalogs, which is done to increase traction on the small motor pulley. Later pianos have v-belts, regardless of pump style. During the teens, certain tall keyboard-style orchestrions were occasionally made with chain-driven or flat belt-driven pumps.

The scissors pump was used in most coin pianos and orchestrions until 1923. Styles K and KT with pipes had a scissors pump with a pressure reservoir underneath. When Seeburg started installing xylophones instead of pipes in these models in 1922, they continued to use the scissors pump, but without a pressure reservoir, for about a year.

In early style L cabinet pianos (1921-1923), the scissors pump was mounted vertically on the side of the cabinet. In mid-1923, Seeburg changed to the use of rotary pumps in the styles K and KT with xylophone, and in the smaller style L. All KT Special, late style C – “Xylophonian”, and Greyhound pianos have rotary pumps. The early style pump and pressure reservoir were retained in the relatively rare post-1923 style K and KT pianos with pipes.

All scissors pumps in cabinet pianos have early style cast iron pulleys with six spokes. Some of the first styles K, KT, and L equipped with rotary pumps have cast iron pulleys with four spokes, but most pianos with rotary pumps have stamped sheet metal pulleys.

Common stamped sheet metal pump pulley.Early rotary pumps have solid wood connecting rods, and later ones have a connecting spider on the crankshaft with heavy rubberized canvas straps instead of connecting rods. The straps have the advantage that they never knock. The late connecting spider has a fitting for a grease gun to facilitate and assure proper lubrication.

Unlike the scissors pump, which has the large drive pulley mounted on the back end of the crankshaft, the rotary pump has the pulley on the front, so the friction wheel that drives the spoolbox takes up more depth in the cabinet. Styles K and KT with rotary pumps, made from 1923 on, have cabinets that are a little deeper than earlier models with scissors pumps, to accommodate the friction wheel running on the front of the rotary pump.

In relatively shallow pianos, such as the late style E and G, there isn’t enough depth in the cabinet to accommodate a rotary pump and friction wheel, so Seeburg continued to install the more expensive scissors pump in these models all the way to the end. In post-1923 keyboard-style pianos with very deep cabinets, including the styles H and E Special, rotary pumps were used.

A few pianos had different styles of pumps that aren’t normally found in Seeburg coin pianos and orchestrions. Certain style X expression pianos had a larger than usual scissors pump with a larger pulley, so it could be turned slower to produce less background noise. Certain photoplayer models also had this extra large scissors pump, possibly to supply additional vacuum to the extra valve chests and instruments not found in regular orchestrion models.

Complicated pump used in the Seeburg Phono-Grand, PGA, and early style X.Other style X pianos, and the few Phono-Grands and P-G-As seen to date, have a small scissors pump with a small countershaft pulley. This eliminates the need for a large drive pulley, making room for the additional expression mechanisms that aren’t used in other models. Later style X pianos had rotary pumps.

Vacuum distribution boxes

Early style Seeburg vacuum distribution box.The vacuum distribution box is the rectangular wooden control box containing the action cutoff mechanism, with a number of connections for hoses and tubing, and often with the vacuum reservoir attached. This was made in early and late styles, and in various configurations.

The distribution box in early Seeburgs (1909-1921) has three valves located on the front, for the soft pedal and sustaining pedal pneumatics and for an action cutoff pneumatic inside the box. In later pianos with a two-way expression control knob (1921-1926), the box has one regulator pneumatic on the front, with two control pneumatics on the side for soft and action cutoff. With this style, the valves for the two control pneumatics are contained in a separate valve box. In even later pianos with a three-way expression control knob (1926-1928), the distribution box has two pneumatics on the front: a vacuum regulator pneumatic, and a loudening pneumatic for the regulator, plus the soft and action cutoff pneumatics on the side.

In keyboard pianos and orchestrions with scissors pumps, the box and reservoir are mounted on top of the pump, usually with the reservoir facing the right, but occasionally facing the back.

In styles K and KT with scissors pumps and pipes, the box is mounted on a shelf next to the pump, with the vacuum and pressure reservoirs (in pianos with pipes) mounted on the bottom of the shelf. Styles K and KT with scissors pumps and xylophone have the same layout but without the pressure reservoir. All style L cabinet pianos, and all other keyboardless styles with rotary pumps—K, KT, KT Special, C – “Xylophonian”, and Greyhound, have the vacuum reservoir mounted on the box and located in the bottom of the piano.

Pressure Reservoirs

The long narrow pressure reservoir behind the soundboard in a Seeburg style F coin-piano.All Seeburg pianos with pipes have a pressure reservoir. In early styles E and F, this reservoir is long and narrow, mounted between two of the back posts behind the soundboard, and it has no hinge. Instead, the reservoir opens and closes with the stationary and movable boards remaining parallel to each other. Starting in 1921 in the style E with pipes, the pressure reservoir was moved inside the cabinet, at the bass end of the pipe chest. The longest pipes found in earlier pianos were omitted to make room for the reservoir.

Tall orchestrion styles G and H have a larger pressure reservoir mounted on a tall wooden manifold attached to the left side of the case. This type of pressure reservoir also has no hinge, but has a pantograph on each side, which causes the two boards to stay parallel. In the earliest examples, the reservoir has a spill valve to steady the air on its way from the pump to the pipe chest, and to release extra air after the reservoir is inflated fully.

Within a year or so, the spill valve was moved to the top of the pump. To steady the air supply to the pipe chest, the pressure reservoir contains a choker or regulator valve inside. When the reservoir inflates fully, the internal regulator valve closes off air from the pump, and excess air blows out of the spill valve on the pump. When the pipes use air from the reservoir and it begins to collapse, the internal regulator immediately begins to open, allowing more air from the pump to flow in. This system produces a very steady air supply regardless of whether one or many pipes are playing at once. Many orchestrions with this type of spill valve have a rod connecting it to a small metal lever under the keyboard. Turning the lever opens the spill valve, releasing the air and turning off the pipes.

With the redesign of the G and H in 1922, small brass control knobs were added on the outside of the case for turning the pipes off. These simply open a tube teed into the “flute off” and “violin off” tracker bar tubes and keep the respective lock and cancels in the “off” position. The spill valve and manual shutoff lever on the pump were no longer needed, so the spill was relocated back to the pressure reservoir, and the internal regulator valve was eliminated.

The L Orchestra and J orchestrions have smaller pressure reservoirs located in the upper part of the cabinet behind the drums.

Coin entries

The earliest known Seeburg coin entry with a push-pull chute bent up at the end, and a round backing plate.Seeburg used several types of coin entries chutes. Early pianos have a push-pull chute, either with a flat horizontal coin slide, or with the very end bent upward to form a handle. Next was a cast brass entry chute with a round hole in the side, and the most common late style was similar but was stamped from brass sheet metal. Some examples of the very late Greyhound and C- “Xylophonian” once again had a push-pull chute, but a more modern version than the very early chute.

Coin mechanisms

The earliest known style of Seeburg coin accumulator mechanism.The first Seeburg pianos have a very early style of coin accumulator, with a vertical fiber bar with notches on both sides, and with a brass conductor strip attached to the face from top to near the bottom. When a coin hits a wooden lever, the lever pushes the bar down one space, aligns the brass conductor with two contact fingers, and turns on the motor. Each successive coin pushes the bar down one more notch. At the end of the tune, a pneumatic at the bottom pushes the bar up one notch, subtracting one credit. After the last tune is played (per the number of nickels inserted), the last step upward separates the brass strip from the contact finger, shutting off the motor. This device might have been used for the first year or so of production, but if so, most pianos from this period were retrofitted with a newer type.

Seeburg “fencepost" style coin accumulator mechanism.The next style of coin mechanism, used from about 1910 through about 1914, and known as the “fencepost accumulator,” has two opposing pneumatics mounted on a common block that swivels in a horizontal arc. Surrounding the pneumatics is a row of steel pins mounted in a semicircle. As coins are deposited, the first one trips a mechanical latch, allowing the pneumatics to “crawl” one position, and turning on an electric switch. Successive coins trip a pallet valve that actuates a valve that sends vacuum to the accumulator pneumatic, causing the unit to crawl around the semicircle clockwise, one pin at a time for each coin. The shutoff signal in the roll steps the pneumatic unit back toward the start position, and the shutoff for the last coin deposited returns the unit to the home position and latches the electric switch open, shutting off the motor.

The final version of coin mechanism was used from about 1914 through the end of piano production in several variations. The mechanism has a large brass vertical ratchet wheel with opposing pneumatics that turn it forward or back. The wheel is mostly hidden behind a fiber mounting plate. As in the fencepost accumulator, the first coin mechanically unlatches a knife switch, making electrical contact, and causes the wheel to turn the first step. Successive coins trip a pallet valve that actuates a valve that sends vacuum to the accumulator pneumatic, turning the wheel one step for each coin. The shutoff signal controls the shutoff pneumatic, turning the wheel back one step until it latches the knife switch open and turns off the piano.

First model of ratchet wheel accumulator mounted in a cast iron box.The first type of ratchet wheel accumulator is housed in a cast iron box, mounted above a cast iron housing containing a wooden cash drawer with a cast iron front. The next variation has a wood housing and cash drawer. In the final version, the accumulator and switch mechanism are in a sheet metal box. Instead of having a separate cash drawer and housing, this version has a one-piece sheet metal cash box that slides into a cast iron framed screwed to the floor of the piano, locking in place.

Patent sticker on late style Seeburg coin box, used from 1922 through the last coin pianos made.Beginning in 1922, Seeburg applied a small paper sticker to the coin accumulator mechanism, usually on the left side. Each sticker bore several patent dates and a serial number.

In the September 15, 1923 issue of the Music Trade Review, Mills Novelty Company ran this advertisement under the heading “Special Announcement to the Music Trade”:

To All Concerned in Manufacturing, Selling, or Operating Coin-Operated Pianos: NOTICE: The special multiple-coin attachment provided on the above instruments (Self-Playing Violin and Piano) for introducing a plurality of coins, all in a position at the same time for acting in succession to operate the instrument once for each coin in the series, is protected by U.S. Patents Nos. 852,848, dated May 28, 1907; 1,198,860-61, both dated Sept. 19, 1916, and 1,382,308, dated June 21, 1921. Our only licensee is the J.P. Seeburg Piano Co., of Chicago, and others using such attachment covered by any of these patents will be held responsible for the infringement.”

The Seeburg coin box stickers were a means of keeping track of patent license royalties owed by Seeburg to Mills. The lowest piano coin switch sticker number observed to date is #155 in style KT #155,866 (1922), and the highest is #7,698 in Greyhound #166,411 (1928). Since Seeburg mortuary and related organs, and Western Electric pianos didn’t have stickers, this indicates that the Seeburg company produced about 7,600 coin-operated Seeburg brand pianos and orchestrions from 1922 through 1928. The stickers were continued on similar coin accumulators in the pneumatically-controlled Autophone and Audiophone jukeboxes. The highest number observed for a jukebox coin accumulator is #8799.

Motors

Seeburg mainly used Holtzer-Cabot motors in earlier pianos, and Emerson motors in 1920s pianos. Click here to see the electric motor history page on this web site, including pictures of several styles of these brands of motors. Use caution when attempting to date a Seeburg piano by the motor number, as many motors have been moved from one piano to another.

Details Pertinent to Specific Models

The above descriptions are applicable to many different Seeburg models. Certain models also had individual variations, covered in the following section for easier understanding of mechanical development and the Survey Form.

Small Keyboardless Styles: the Phono-Grand, P-G-A, and L

Seeburg Phono-Grand.The first small 54-note keyboardless Seeburg model was the Phono-Grand, introduced in 1917 with the piano made by Haddorff. A combination expression piano and phonograph, it plays style XP rolls, which are similar to Art Apollo and Apollo X rolls made for the Melville Clark Art Apollo expression piano. The Phono-Grand has a Victrola-shaped top to emphasize the fact that it contains a phonograph, and a special pump as used in certain examples of the Seeburg style X, designed to take up less space than the regular pump. Unlike the larger styles K and KT, which have a heavier than usual cast iron plate but no back posts, the little 54-note piano contained in the Phono-Grand has conventional back posts and a cast iron plate. The Phono-Grand wasn’t a great commercial success, and only a few examples remain today. If a rubber-stamped serial number can’t be found on the plate, it might be die-stamped into the side or back of the cabinet.

The next version of a small 54-note piano was the P-G-A, or Phono-Grand playing A rolls. All have a Victrola-shaped lid, and some, if not all, examples contain the special Phono-Grand pump. Instead of the grill in front of the phonograph horn, it has one art glass panel. This was advertised briefly in 1921, and the few examples known were made in that year. If any of these were made by Haddorff, the number will either be rubber-stamped on the plate, or die-stamped into the side or back of the cabinet.

Seeburg P-G-A.The P-G-A immediately must have shown more promise than the Phono-Grand, and it was soon remodeled to make it simpler and less expensive to manufacture, with a flat top, and a conventional scissors pump mounted on the right side of the cabinet. This simplified version was first advertised in 1921 as the “Lilliputian” or style L, and it is known by collectors today as the 3-door L. If made by Haddorff, the serial number is either rubber-stamped on the plate, or die-stamped on the side or back of the cabinet. If the piano was made by Seeburg, the number is die-stamped in a window in the plate.

The 2-door L was introduced later in 1921. Both it and the 3-door model seem to have been advertised and made concurrently for a short time. Automatic Music Roll Co. bulletins typically list the models of pianos that played each style of roll (A, G, H, etc.). The May 1921 bulletin was the last to include the style L Orchestra as a model that played G rolls, and the June 1921 bulletin was the first to include the cabinet style L as a model that played A rolls. We believe all 2-door style L pianos were made by the Seeburg company and have die-stamped Seeburg numbers.

Standard 2-door style L, with each door running full length from top to bottom.The 2-door model with two art glass windows prevailed and became very popular until 1925, when it was replaced with the 4-door L, which would be the last variation of this style. The 4-door style L had the advantage that the upper and lower doors could have two different locks, allowing the location owner access only to change rolls, but left the cash box accessible only to the route operator. These also have die-stamped Seeburg numbers.

Style G Cabinet Variations

Seeburg style G cabinet and glass used with Gram and Seybold pianos.The style G orchestrion was made with two different style cabinets. Those containing Seybold or Gram pianos made between 1912 and 1920 have taller art glass doors, plain rectangular molding on the sides, decorative curved brackets under the corners of the keybed, and smaller front legs. Those containing Haddorff (made in 1914-1921) and post-1920 Seeburg pianos have shorter art glass doors, arched moldings at the top of the sides, elongated torch tops, and massive front legs extending all the way above the keybed as in the Seeburg F.

These two cabinet styles are not included in the survey form because the piano brand always tells what the cabinet style is.

Styles G and H Drum Shelf Design

Early Seeburg G drum shelf layout used up through early 1922.From the introduction of the styles G and H orchestrion (1912 and 1913, respectively), the drum shelf was laid out with the snare drum on the left with the beater in the back and a snare damper in front, the cymbal in the middle, and the bass drum on the right. In this style, vacuum is fed to the drum shelf through a vacuum channel in the large wind trunk mounted on the left side of the case, and there are individual switches on the shelf for manually turning off the snare drum; the triangle; and the bass drum, tympani, and cymbal. Tubing from the tracker bar is connected directly to a primary valve box for the drums, located near the right end of the shelf, and must be removed individually when the drum shelf is removed for tuning the piano.

Late style drum shelf in style G made in 1922.In 1922, Seeburg redesigned the drum shelf for the styles G and H, with the cymbal on the left and the snare drum in the middle, with the snare drum beater mounted in front. In the late style, suction is supplied by a large hose directly from the pump instead of the wind trunk. A knob on the front of the case controls a pneumatic on the drum shelf, which closes a vacuum supply valve to shut off all the drums at once. The tracker bar tubing goes through a junction block at the right end of the shelf, allowing the shelf to be removed with a number of screws, without removing the tubing separately as in the early version.

Styles H and J Solo Mechanism

Early solo mechanism used in styles H and J orchestrions, from the first examples until about 1917.Orchestrions that played style H rolls, including the style H, large style J, and some examples of the small style J in the Peerless Wisteria case, all had the capability of turning the piano treble off, to enable the pipes or xylophone to play solos.

In a Seeburg orchestrion without a solo mechanism, such as a style G, the tracker bar is tubed directly to the piano stack, and the stack valves send vacuum to the piano pneumatics and pipe chest pneumatics, playing both at the same time. In a piano with a xylophone, the xylophone always has its own separate valve chest with large “primary” (or “outside”) valves, and reversed pouches that lift the xylophone valves from the top instead of pushing them up from the bottom. The vacuum signals from the stack valves suck on the xylophone pouches, lifting the xylophone valves, and playing the xylophone pneumatics.

Early solo orchestrions, from 1913 to sometime in 1916 or 1917, have a complicated valve system with four valves per note in the treble, to allow the piano to turn off for playing pipe and xylophone solos.

How Does the Early Solo System Work?

For the technically inclined, the early solo system includes a separate master valve chest that plays from the tracker bar, a special primary valve chest on the piano stack, the usual piano stack valves, and the usual xylophone valves with overhead (reversed) pouches. The stack primary chest differs from a normal primary chest in a player piano, because its pouches are reversed (as in the xylophone valve chest), pulling on the primary valves when connected to suction, rather than pushing them up when connected to atmosphere.

When a hole in the roll uncovers the tracker bar hole, atmosphere operates a valve in the master valve chest. This sends vacuum to the pipe chest pneumatics for that note, the xylophone pouch, and the piano stack primary pouch. The stack primary valve sends atmosphere to the stack secondary pouch as usual, causing the piano note to play. The stack primary valve chest is enclosed, with a supply valve that normally admits atmosphere to all the primary valves, allowing the piano to play when the primaries are actuated.

When the roll calls for a pipe or xylophone solo, the supply valve on the stack primary chest connects the atmosphere side of the primary valves to vacuum. The primary pouches continue to work from the master valve chest, but the secondary pouches can’t play because they are fed suction regardless of whether the primary valves are on or off.

Transitional solo system used only briefly in 1917.The early solo valve system, with its many parts that had to be regulated precisely, was expensive to build and prone to having many small diameter wood screws stripping out the screw holes, no longer holding the parts together tightly. In 1917, a simpler valve system was tried, using reversed pipe chest pneumatics that required vacuum to keep the notes shut off, and atmosphere to turn them on. Only two style H orchestrions are known with this transitional solo mechanism.

Front view of the pushrod hold-down bar in a Seeburg H.Seeburg redesigned the solo system again later in 1917, eliminating the master valve chest and stack primary chest, and reverting to ordinary pipe chest pneumatics that played from suction, as in a style G. To shut the piano off for pipe solos, a simple slotted wooden bar is installed over the stack pushrods. The wooden button on top of each pushrod has a small steel pin protruding sideways and sliding up and down in a slot in the bar. When a large pneumatic pushes the bar down, it simply holds the pushrods and pneumatics down and keeps them from playing the piano.

KT Special Percussion Multiplex Shifter

The compact KT Special orchestrion has more percussion instruments than there are tracker bar holes allotted to play them, so it includes an ingenious mechanism with a slide valve that changes the function of certain holes whenever the soft pedal operates. The early model of KT Special, introduced in late 1923, has a multiplex switch with one “channel” and three tubing connections, and it changes one tracker bar hole from one instrument to a different one.

By 1926, a new style multiplex switch was used, which has two channels, and changes the function of two tracker bar holes.

Summary

Time Line of Design Changes and Mechanical Improvements

The Database Reports and Survey Form

Information in the Database

The details in each database entry generally follow the order of the survey form.

By default, no past or present ownership information for individuals and/or private parties is shown in a database report. However, a provision exists whereby the current owner's name information can be accommodated and then displayed if the owner specifically checks the "Show Owner" box in the survey form. 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.

In contrast, current or past ownership and/or location information will be shown when an instrument is, or has been, displayed at a well-known public attraction, such as Svoboda’s Nickelodeon Tavern (Chicago Heights), Clark’s Trading Post (Lincoln, NH) Horn’s Cars of Yesterday (Sarasota, FL), Cliff House (San Francisco), the Musical Museum (Deansboro NY), etc., or other public display location. In all other instances specific authorization to reveal ownership and/or location information must be provided beforehand and in written form.

Updating the Database and Reporting Errors

To ADD ANOTHER ITEM TO THE DATABASE or to facilitate the reporting of errors regarding Seeburg or Western Electric pianos and orchestrions please click on the Seeburg Survey Reporting Form or the Western Electric 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.

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Distribution of Database Information
Last Updated on January 9, 2017

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Download the current database report as a PDF file
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report another instrument by clicking on a Survey Form button.
Download the Seeburg / Western Electric All Brands by Serial Number Report.
103 pages.
Download the Seeburg Survey Form.
Download the Seeburg Group by Category and Piano Type and Indexed by Serial Number Report.
92 pages.
Download the Western Electric Survey Form.
Download the Seeburg Grouped by Model and Inedexed by Serial Number Report.
87 pages.
Download the Western Electric Grouped by Type and Indexed by Serial Number.
14 pages.
Download the Seeburg Stack Indexed by Stack Number Report.
9 pages.
Download the Western Electric Grouped by Model and Indexed by Serial Number Report.
12 pages.
Credits:

Seeburg data compiled, and introductory text written by Art Reblitz and edited by John Rutoskey, with many suggestions from (in alphabetical order): Jerry Biasella, Dave Bowers, Terry Hathaway, Dana Johnson, Rusty King, David Ramey Jr., and Don Teach.

Graphics:

Terry Hathaway, Q. David Bowers (for catalogue source material).