When we were both knee high to a grasshopper, eager for information and with a thirst for knowledge, we would listen to the ‘old boys’ describing some instruments as ‘Pure Silver.’ Whilst we understood that in essence no two boxes sound alike, we now appreciate it takes a fair bit of experience and a whole lot of listening to establish where that rare vein of pure silver lies, and it’s embedded in the tonal structure, resonance and musical colour that make for a delightful box.
As a collector it is important that you buy what you like. Starting and building a collection is a journey: there are the usual ups and downs, sometimes we make a wrong turn, sometimes we have exhausted one route and wish to embark upon another road. That’s how our collections evolve.
One thing we’ve both learnt, that’s stood the test of time, is to buy only the very best. Walk away from anything less and let someone else have the headache. We won’t present a tome here on the historical aspects of the musical box as there are plenty of books well versed on the subject. In addition, there are specialist societies dedicated to the subject.
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In addition, the worlds first and only Mechanical Music Station has been launched. Here you can listen to Fairground, Dance and Street Organs, Music Boxes, Player Pianos and Orchestrions.
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Below is a brief chronological outline of the Musical Box evolution.
The Golden Age
Just as with fine clocks, there is a definite golden age of fine music boxes. However, it’s rather ambiguous – some say it ran as late as 1860, others 1850.
The period 1820 ~ 1845 is where the true zenith lies. Here some of the finest sounding and musically capable boxes built may be found. Great care was taken with especially piquant arrangements, delicate tonal structures displaying the sweetest colour. Generally these boxes tend to be quite plain from an aesthetic perspective but musically most endearing, very rare and as such highly prized and very difficult to acquire collectors’ pieces.
We have an academic interest in this period, always willing to learn and share knowledge to improve our depth of understanding.
Around 1850 mass production was underway. Output was up, business was good and inevitably competition grew. The cases became more elaborate, displaying the finest veneers & beautiful marquetry. It’s here that the cabinet maker’s skill meets engineering excellence.
As time and technical innovations progressed, examples of boxes with bells & drums were produced, some with a reed organ. There were expressive boxes, forte piano and mandolin to name a few. To increase the musical repertoire, boxes were built with interchangeable cylinders. Often these would sit in a fitted drawer, part of a matching table. It’s from this period that we aim to offer you the best surviving examples we can find – fantastic collectors’ pieces which we hope will turn out to be excellent long term investments.
The Advent of the Disc Box
The disc musical box industry was emerging from Germany around 1885 and mass production was in full swing by 1895, bringing to an end approximately 85 years of Swiss dominance. These new machines were cheaper, more robust and readily available with table models being in reach of the average family. Music included the latest hits of the day, which were quickly arranged to a punched metal disc. Gustave Brachhausen from Polyphon Musikwerke started production in the US under the banner of The Regina Music Co. Right at the end of the disc era, the Swiss manufacturer Mermod Freres launched a futile comeback with names like Mira and Stella displaying fantastic tonal qualities. The build quality was unsurpassable but it all came too late, the advent of the Phonograph was about to take the world by storm.
Back in Georgian England, Musical clocks were built playing on a nest of bells. In Germany however, early Black Forest clocks were built with tuned glass bells or wooden flute pipes (Flötenspieluhr). Later, elaborate automated examples were built by Emilian Wehrle of the Furtwangen school, playing on anything from 5 to 11 metal trumpets. High quality Cuckoo clocks by Jean Baptiste Beha, of nearby Eisenbach, were fitted with the best Ducommun Girod or Paillard cylinder box mechanisms. Meanwhile, some English makers made a daring move to the Harrington tube in Edwardian times. These fabulous clocks, ringing out the quarters on up to 11 massive tubular bells are generally of the highest order. We have extensive knowledge and experience in the field of these clocks. Hung and adjusted correctly, a live performance of tubular bells in your home is an experience to behold.