The Wurlitzer Ledgers Database Project
That at least some remnant of Wurlitzer's once complete assemblage of factory Disposition of Instruments Manufactured Ledgers survived intact has been known for a long time, but only a few fragments of this once important accounting information have ever made it into public view. One example of this is the Disposition of Instruments Manufactured pages specific to Wurlitzer band organs, a copy of which was part of the Dick Howe collection of paper ephemera pertaining to automatic musical instruments. This general lack of information availability may be at least partially due to there having been no pressing reason or motive warranting anyone to go to the trouble and monetary expense of locating and then accurately capturing the surviving Wurlitzer ledger information in a way that made widespread public consumption feasible. This Registry page partially rectifies this former dearth of availability, but it came about in an unexpected albeit fortuitous way.
In early 2009 Art Reblitz and David Bowers, both longtime friends, and both mechanical music collectors, enthusiasts, and students of mechanical music history, decided to collaborate on a new book project (The Reblitz-Bowers Guide to Coin-Operated American Pianos and Orchestrions). Research for the new volume led Dave Bowers to contact his friends in the Archives Department at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC, for the purpose of gaining access to any surviving original Wurlitzer factory records, which had been donated many years earlier by the Wurlitzer Company. Dave discovered a treasure trove of information, some new and some old, amongst which were several Wurlitzer ledgers amounting to disjointed sections of what could be described as an overall Disposition of Instruments Manufactured. At the time this ledger information was uncovered no one here at the Mechanical Music Press had any thought or intention of compiling the data as part of a new Mechanical Music Registry; initially it was primarily intended to augment Mr. Bowers' already extensive knowledge of mechanical music history.
Upon Dave's and Art's request, Terry Hathaway became involved in proofing
and offering technical comments for some of the book's text as it was being
composed, text that greatly expanded upon any previous books and historical
accountings. During this process Dave mentioned that he had access to some
early Wurlitzer ledger information. About the same time Art Reblitz sent
Dave Bowers and Terry Hathaway a copy of the Coinola, Cremona, Nelson-Wiggen
and Seeburg lists that he had been compiling over many years, thinking that
this information might assist Dave in better understanding the ebb and flow
of instrument production. Dave replied suggesting that some kind of Registry
be created to make all of the "new" production information available to
mechanical music enthusiasts. Terry Hathaway took up an immediate interest
and the new Mechanical Music Press' Registry section was then in the process
of being created, with the idea that it would soon to ready for launch. In
the meantime Dave Bowers and Art Reblitz could devote their time to
finishing up the new book, while Terry Hathaway set about creating a new
Registry web section and began the laborious process of keying in any and
all pertinent handwritten Wurlitzer ledger information--a long and tedious
job at best.
With both the new book and Registry projects in mind it was decided to encode the large number of ledger pages into a new electronic database format, so that the material could not only be made public but also be indexed, collated, compared, manipulated, and studied in ways not easily possible by looking at the handwritten ledger pages alone. Thus, the material in database form enhances the historical detail and scope of the new book, while additionally making is possible to share the ledger details publically in an easy to enjoy and comprehend format.
The so-called Wurlitzer Disposition of Instruments Manufactured ledgers are just that, a collection of several sets of ledger pages that generally conform to a certain layout standard, and which sequentially list instruments manufactured by serial number. Each entry consists of a single line containing terse but essential handwritten information. Later sets of ledger pages actually have the preprinted heading, "Disposition of Instruments Manufactured," while the earlier 10,000 series (1905-1911) page set does not. Additionally, notations are plentiful in the 10,000 series pages, such as noting repairs to an instrument, in contrast to the later ledger sets, which are nearly devoid of any special notations.
The entries in this ledger page set range from serial number 10,001 (November, 1905), the first item on page #7, to number 16,470 (in the transition period between 1911 and 1912), which is the last and final item on page 300. All items in this ledger, with the possible exception of the relatively small quantity of "house pianos," were instruments manufactured by the De Kleist Musical Instrument Manufacturing Company, and then by the Wurlitzer company after it took over the de Kleist factory in 1909. Each and every serial numbered line item shown in the ledger has been included in the database project, even if blank, including the small number of non-automatic "house pianos."
There is some uncertainty as to whether this set of ledger pages are complete, since the first page is No. 7, with instrument listings beginning near the end of 1905. Yet, beginning a numbering system at 100, 1,000, or, in this case, 10,001, makes good sense. So, then, the numbering system seems to begin at a logical place, but the page numbering and starting dates do not seem so logical. These apparent inconsistencies make for the vexing question: What came before this ledger? Certainly Wurlitzer was keeping track of instruments sold prior to the end of 1905. Is this ledger a continuation of the previous ledger's numbering system, or is it a new system? Where is this earlier ledger?
Nevertheless, whether, or not, this ledger page set is perfectly complete does not detract from the valuable information it provides about the relative production for early de Kleist made coin-pianos, such as the 44 Note Pianino, 88 Note Player Piano, Mandolin Quartette, Mandolin Sextette, and the progressive development of the soon to be popular 65 Note Automatic Piano. In later years the 65 Note Automatic Piano, including more elaborate models with pipes, entirely swept aside its older brethren, the 88-Note player, and then gradually evolved into the immensely popular Wurlitzer Style BX, CX, DX, EX, and LX orchestrions. The beginning steps of this remarkable evolutionary trail are faithfully recorded in the extant ledger pages.
PLEASE NOTE: Although these ledger pages are noted as covering the years from 1905 to 1911 this is based upon the average sell/shipping date, which is independent of the actual manufacturing date, albeit the two dates in the majority of instances are probably within a month or so of each other. However, in a few instances, for an instrument that sat unsold for a long time, the sell/ship date can be far forward of the manufacturing date by as much as several years, producing what might at first glance be mistakenly assumed to be some sort of dating error. For instance, there are numerous sell/ship dates in 1912, with one date as far forward as 1916. Such "apparent discrepancies" result from an instrument sitting around unsold for one or more years, perhaps it being a demonstration piece in a Wurlitzer showroom, although the instrument was sequentially manufactured within the average time frame covered by the ledger pages.
One curiosity that remains an enigma is raised by this cryptic notation: "Numbers marked with small red cross do not apply on order of 500." Each ledger page has hand-lined columns, with a separate column for each style of instrument, i.e., Pianino, 88 player, Mandolin Quartette, etc. A vertical hash mark in the appropriate column indicates the instrument style for each line item. For some reason only Mandolin Quartettes within a certain serial number range are excluded from the "order of 500," with the normal column mark ("|+") accompanied by a small red cross. The first exclusionary instance is for #10210, dated 2/24/1906, with the last being #11487, dated 6/13/1907. A Mandolin Quartette dated June 15, 1907, was not excluded, nor were any Mandolin Quartettes thereafter listed, and so it seems that a simplified cutoff date for the "order of 500" was probably June 14, 1907. But what the so-called "order of 500" was all about remains a mystery. Clearly, some manufacturing output was included, while at least Mandolin Quartettes were not.
The style of an item is normally determined by a vertical (or nearly vertical) line or mark ("|"), which is placed in the appropriately headed style column. The center portion of each page is devoted to a set of columns, which vary slightly in order and titling over the pages, but that represents the current coin piano models being manufactured by de Kleist, and then taken over by Wurlitzer in 1909. Throughout the ledger there are sometimes special modifiers applied to the vertical mark, or, in a some instances, especially for house pianos, the vertical mark is replaced by the letter designator for a particular style, i.e., "B," C" or "D." Some of the mark variations include "|+", "|/", "|^", "|F", "|V", "|X", "|FX". "|VX" and "|T". A few mark combinations are not clearly understood, such as "|/" and "|^" and so were never used so as to influence the database model descriptions in any way, other than to retain the actual mark designation for future historical study. Other marks are easily understood, such as "|+", "|F", "|V", "|X", "|FX" and "|VX", because they are more or less defined at some point within the ledger itself. Generally speaking, "|V" represents an instrument with violin pipes, "|F" an instrument with flute pipes, "|X" an instrument fitted with an automatic roll changer, and so on. There is one notable exception ("|T") for which the "T" modifier is at this point logically presumed to suggest that the instrument was fitted with both flute and violin pipes. One interesting anomaly is the use of the modifier "F" (representing flute pipes), which is often written as a backwards facing "F," and often interspersed with nearby entries written with a forward facing "F," depending upon which employee made the ledger entry.
Throughout the ledger pages there are frequently inserted repair notations, which were added sometimes many years after the instrument originally shipped. To make these notations easier to read commas have from time to time been added to separate discrete elements that in the original text tended to run together. These terse but informative little notes provide a sense of how quickly and often various music machines were fixed, and by inference traded in and moved about to new locations, very often to a distant city, and without the relatively easy transportation network that we enjoy and take for granted today. Unfortunately a few of the repair notes mention a specific style, such as "Repaired Style I," but the notation is placed on a line item with a category mark indicating a very different style, such as a Pianino or an 88 Note Player Piano. This kind of apparent error invariably raises doubt as to the accuracy of all other notations. In addition, there are also instances where discrepancies in the case finish occur, the notation mentioning one case finish, while the ledger entry indicates something entirely different. Since the data on hand is limited to what is written in the ledger pages there is no current way of reconciling any such conflicts. The methodology used to deal with this is to accurately record any added notations, but never use the contents of a notation to influence or adjust any item attributes set forth in the main body of the ledger page.
Interpreting the ledger was generally very straightforward, although there were occasionally moments when the intended year to be associated with a certain month/day entry was questioned. Does this indicated month fall in the previous, current, or next year? This kind of puzzlement occurred because the year in never included with the date notation (which is in the general form of "mmm dd")--except in extremely rare instances when a date entry falls ahead into a succeeding year and is also marked accordingly (i.e., mmm dd 'yy). Unfortunately this helpful convention of adding a year to forward dated entries is used inconsistently, and often totally ignored for similar examples situated nearby on the same page, such as when a similar date obviously falls in the next year category. There are common two situation that can occur. An example of the first case would be a page filled mostly with March-April-May, 1907, dates, whereby a later year designation, such as '08, might be appended (above or along the inner column margin) for one of the date entries. Clearly, in this particular instance, this means that the month is associated with the year 1908, rather than 1907, as would be the logical conclusion for all other non-appended month/day entries. But what if, for instance, a January date occurs in and around a bunch of July to September dates? Being that there is an inconsistency in the use of forward dating notations, where does the January entry fall in this instance, 1907 or 1908? What if there are two January entries on the same page and one is clearly forward dated and the other is not? What is the logical solution to this apparent dilemma? Examining a single page with forward dated items can be inclusive, but by widening the scope of inspection to the entire ledger it becomes clear that when more than one forward dated items exist on a page it is fairly common for only one or two entries on that page to show any kind of forward dating annotation.
Another situation that can cause consternation occurs following the transition from one year to the next, because there comes a point in the progression of months whereby it can be perplexing as to whether the month November or December, for instance, might be a fallback to the previous year or if it belongs in the current new year, especially when it is quite common for the range of months on a single page to span six or more months, and there are instances where an appended year moves a month forward as much as two years, more than might be logically deduced or judged likely. Thus, there are occasional instances when the preponderance of widely scattered months on a page result in a grey area, where logic and analysis of past patterns cannot bring forth absolute certainty about what year a particular month ought to be reasonably assigned. In such cases, if there is no suggestion of any forward dating activity on the page, the month is presumed to fall within the current year.
The entries in this ledger section range from #80,000 (middle of 1925) to #82,474 (end of 1925). The database contains nothing but extracted commercial automatic musical instruments items. Because this Registry is dedicated to automatic musical instruments, and coin-ops in particular, the only data extracted pertains to such things as Pianinos, 65-Note Pianos and Orchestrions, Organettes, and the like. Most of the ledger pages are literally jammed with non-descript studio pianos and home players of various kinds. Amongst these are names such as Farny pianos and Strad Players, along with a smattering of Kingston players and Melville Clark and/or Apollo expression and reproducing pianos.
PLEASE NOTE: Although these ledger pages are noted as being in the year 1925 this is based upon the average sell/shipping date, which is independent of the actual manufacturing date, albeit the two dates in the majority of instances are probably within a month or so of each other. However, in a few instances, for an instrument that sat unsold for a long time, the sell/ship date can be far forward of the manufacturing date by as much as several years, producing what might at first glance be mistakenly assumed to be some sort of dating error. For instance, there are numerous sell/ship dates in 1926 and 1927, with one date as far forward as 1934. Such "apparent discrepancies" result from an instrument sitting around unsold for one or more years, perhaps it being a demonstration piece in a Wurlitzer showroom, although the instrument was sequentially manufactured within the average time frame covered by the ledger pages.
One thing this ledger points out vividly and quickly is that by 1925 Wurlitzer's main manufacturing activity was in various styles of house pianos and players. Coin operated pianos had definitely been relegated to nothing more than a minor activity, and it was a clear trend that in the eyes of Wurlitzer the old "automatics" were quickly becoming a relic of the past. Yet, not too far away in Chicago, the J. P. Seeburg Company was still selling large numbers of models L, K/KT, KT Special and E.
The Wurlitzer 105,000 series of pages consist of a total of three discontinuous but distinct groups of serial numbers, with each group separated here for descriptive purposes. Beginning with serial number 105,000, the overall series ends with serial number 141,013. Actually, in reality, the series continues on, but since no automatic musical instruments were thought to have been shipped during or beyond 1936 further pages were not copied.
The last automatic musical instrument mentioned in the serial number list is #120,498 (Mortuary Organ, 5-18-33, Bozeman, Mont.). Although #108,116 (a Style LX-B Orchestra Piano, 8-3-32) shows a shipping date well into 1932, this instrument was given its serial number during what seems to be a 1928 manufacturing timeframe. Thus, it is probable that few, if any, automatic musical instruments were manufactured by Wurlitzer after 1930, although the company is known to have had a few pieces of remaining stock that were eventually fully liquidated in the early 1960s.
Only data relating to automatic musical instruments was extracted from the 105000 series ledger, and then included in the database project. The "other" and major production by Wurlitzer centered around various home pianos, mostly plain studio instruments, but with a smattering of art style pianos, too. There are relatively few reproducing type pianos listed.
From surviving documentation it appears that de Kleist band organs, and then in 1909, when Wurlitzer assumed ownership of the de Kleist factory, all used the same 4 digit number system. This page, however, does not include any data from the Wurlitzer band organ related Disposition of Instruments Manufactured pages, which in actuality consists of two distinctly different lists; one for newly built instruments and the other for "repaired" organs. Copies of these ledgers (in PDF format) are available on the Mechanical Music Digest web site. To access them go to the MMD Technical Library, and under the "Wurlitzer" heading click on Wurlitzer Band Organ Factory Ledger -- by Matthew Caulfield (080212 MMDigest). These documents were once part of the large Richard J. (Dick) Howe collection of literature relating to Automatic Musical Instruments.
The Wurlitzer Disposition of Instruments Manufactured for new band organs shows serial numbers ranging from #2847 (#17 band organ, dated 3/7/1914) to #4338 (#165 band organ, dated 6/14,1939), then with blank entries up to #4375 (#180 band organ, dated 8/14/1935), which is also the last organ to be listed. In contrast, these lists do not perfectly coincide with the so-called Wurlitzer Shipping Dock Ledgers (courtesy of David Reidy), consisting of three separate ledger books. Curiously, in ledger book #1, an earlier band organ tally was written in (inserted with no logical reason discernible for its odd placement) right smack in the middle of the 1914 ledger pages, for which the earliest serial number is 2141 (#150 band organ, dated 1908), while the last serial number in this inserted material is 2672 (style not specified, dated December 27, 1911). The normal registry entries begin in ledger book #1 with #2673 (#125 band organ, dated January 11, 1912), and ledger book #3 ends with #4341 (#103 band organ, dated August 17, 1943).
Judging from the above it appears that the last band organ shipped from Wurlitzer might have been in August of 1943, but determining the date of the first Wurlitzer band organ to be shipped is, to date, quite another matter, since early Wurlitzer generated band organ data is either incomplete or missing altogether. However, some of these limitations can be overcome by referring to the de Kleist Journals. Wurlitzer was de Kleist's exclusive outlet for its line of coin operated pianos, but Wurlitzer was initially not much interested in the band organ market and appears to have made its first band organ purchase from de Kleist on September 16, 1903, followed by a second purchase on October 31, 1903. Judging from the frequency of Wurlitzer's band organ purchases it was not until 1906 that Wurlitzer began to fully engage the band organ market, and the more familiar Wurlitzer style numbers begin to supplant the older de Kleist model terminology.
Although this Registry page does not contain any Wurlitzer band organ ledger information, a comprehensive band organ page is currently in progress. Moreover, it is planned that this study will eventually include extensive band organ repair and shipping information obtained from the so-called "Wurlitzer Factory Shipping Dock Ledgers" (courtesy of David Reidy), along with information from other sources, and so the scope of this study will provide much more detailed and complete information than is provided by the above referenced Disposition of Instruments Manufactured ledger page set alone.
The database is designed to additionally accommodate current historical comments and other pertinent information relative to a particular instrument, which, if submitted, will be considered for inclusion within the database. To report errors and/or to submit new and/or supplemental information regarding the Wurlitzer Disposition of Instruments Manufactured ledgers please send corrections and/or comments via e-mail to
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.
|Download the current database reports
as a PDF
by clicking on the buttons shown below.
|The Wurlitzer 10,000 Series Ledger Pages (1905~1911)|
The Wurlitzer 80,000 Series Ledger Pages (1925)
The Wurlitzer 105,000 Series Ledger Pages (1927~1931)
Archives Department, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC.
Wurlitzer Disposition of Instruments Manufactured ledger data compiled and put into database format by Terry Hathaway, and with appreciation to Q. David Bowers for making the information available as part of a book project.