Music Box Society of Great Britain

Introduction to the Music Box Society of Great Britain.

In December, 1962 about 30 people from all over Britain met at the Mandeville Hotel, London, at the invitation of Mr Cyril De Vere Green.  A dentist by profession, on this occasion his main interest was in a different sort of tooth: that found on a musical box comb.  The purpose of the meeting was to inaugurate the Musical Box Society of Great Britain. 

The Musical Box Society International, with its home in the USA, had been founded in 1949, and originally it was thought that its British members would become an overseas chapter of that organisation, but the decision was taken to form a completely independent Society, to bring together a burgeoning group of musical box lovers in Britain and give them a vehicle for exchanging information, knowledge and ideas on their interest, as well as sharing the enjoyment of their instruments.  With its aim of promoting an increased  interest in and appreciation of musical boxes, furthering research into them and promoting ‘best practice’ in their restoration and conservation, it attracted members from far-flung corners of the world as well as many in Britain, and soon widened its remit to cater for enthusiasts of all forms of mechanical music. 

The stated aims of the MBSGB have not changed over the years, although the method of implementation may have done at times.  Over the decades it has kept members up to date with the latest research and activities within the mechanical music field, mainly through the publication of its quarterly magazine, The Music Boxand through presentations at various Society meetings.  

Originally four ‘national’ meetings per year were held: two one-day events in London, and two weekend events at different locations in the ‘provinces.’ Over the years as venues and travel to the capital became prohibitively expensive, the meetings were reduced to two weekends per year as before, and a single one-day event consisting of the AGM and Society Auction held in the Midlands at the beginning of June each year. 

The popular weekend meetings offer the opportunity to socialise with like-minded people while enjoying a mechanical music experience.  Visits to collections, many of them not open to the public, and other places of interest are a feature, along with lectures and presentations on topics of interest. Many long-standing friendships were first sparked at an MBSGB meeting through sharing the common interest. In addition to the national meetings there are a number of local groups which usually meet 2 – 4 a year, making Society activities more accessible to those for whom long-distance travel poses a problem. 

The full-colour quarterly magazine, The Music Box, never less than 40 pages and sometimes more, carries a variety of articles and news items on mechanical musical instruments, research, technical subjects, Society affairs and members, ‘sister’ organisations, occasional reprints from overseas publications, and news from abroad.  More recently, (since 2000) the Society has published a number of books on varying aspects of the topic, such as The Organette (now with an additional supplement), The Nicole Factor [in the musical box industry], The Disc Musical Box Book (also with a supplement) and The Musical Box Tune Sheet Book.  This latter is up-dated periodically with supplements, and the work now carries information on over 500 different cylinder musical box tune sheets (or tune cards), which help in identifying both makers and dates of manufacturer. 

In line with its aims and objects, the Society has also facilitated the publication in English of a book dedicated to Austrian cylinder musical boxes, originally published in German in 2017, by funding equally with the Musical Box Society International, the entire printing costs, without which there would have been no English version. 

Besides having an archive containing numerous publications on instruments and aspects of mechanical and ephemera, It is custodian of the A D Cunliffe Cylinder Musical Box Register, which has data on approximately 12,000 cylinder musical boxes, and to which data is still being added.  This is literally a lifetime’s work of invaluable data, which compiler and long-standing member Arthur Cunliffe has painstakingly gathered over decades.    

MBSGB also acts as an interface with members of the public seeking information on mechanical music matters, through its internet presence, occasional exhibitions, and presentations given by members.  As well as all the activities above, the benefits of membership include the facilitation of access to private collections and introductions to restorers willing to share their experience and expertise: a number of members wishing to find advice and practical mentoring on their restoration projects have been helped in this way.  

For further information on mechanical music and MBSGB’s activities, see