Saved From The Scrap Heap……Or A Marriage Made in Heaven?

Saved From The Scrap Heap….. Or A Marriage Made in Heaven?

By Mark Singleton.

Once upon a time, long, long ago in the days before the advent of both mobile phones and the Internet, there was a time when we relied upon off peak telephone calls, handwritten letters and trusty postmen. Way back then I received a call late one evening from a rather eccentric friend from Liverpool (You have to be eccentric if you prefer a life size Dalek in your living room, taking up the valuable space, where a huge coin operated Polyphon could stand . . . I mean . . . come on! . . . let’s get real!! ) He enquired, in his broad Scouse accent, if I would be interested in “One of dem der musik box cases dat yer like” He went on to tell me it was originally a Symphonion, but had been used as a coal scuttle in recent years; anyway it was £25 if I was interested. So, sight unseen I agreed to take it.

A good year or more passed, when once again he rang late one Saturday evening and asked if I still had an interest, if not, he would take it to a car boot sale the following morning. He then guided me to a page of the Millers Antique Price Guide, and there it stood! Imagine my surprise to see it was the then considered rare, 11.7/8 ‘Rococo’ model

Quite excited, I duly arrived 36 hours later but to my horror, there were two broken case legs, missing at .opposite sides front and rear, furthermore it was tinder dry, the original shellac perished, leaving the finish light brown with a granular feel. Yes it would self-combust at the merest hint of daylight. To make matters worse, there was a split in the top of the lid, which left the top panel depressed by almost half an inch. On lifting the lid, with yet another split between lid frame and the applied moulded top panel, which, I hasten to add, was now flapping around in thin air.

Almost hidden amongst the somewhat grimy coal residue, sat a little inlaid ivorine trade label. Upon wiping the diamond shaped lozenge, the well-respected retailers name ‘Rushworth’s of Liverpool’ was uncovered.




Rushworth’s of Liverpool

This particular business was founded in 1828 by organ builder William Rushworth and at its height, with goods on display over five floors, it was considered the largest retail music house in Europe. Latterly they sold Paul McCartney his first guitar and in 1962 presented John Lennon and George Harrison with Gibson Guitars.


Anyway a deal was a deal, so without further ado; I reluctantly paid the agreed sum. The blow was softened by the vendor miraculously producing the remnants of both missing legs from behind his back, long saved in a plastic bag. Upon my return home, I carefully looked over my lot and tentatively offered the legs up. They fitted, after a fashion, but the front right was missing nearly half an inch of the surface veneer, along with the steam pressed substrata. To repair a wood carving is one thing, to replace veneer another, but steam pressed papier-mâché, with a wafer thin pressed skin was a whole new territory to me.

The repair.

With legs firmly re attached, the missing material was replaced with a chemical dent filler, as used in the automotive industry. Upon curing, it was carefully pared away until the original curve took shape, and the finished decorative carved relief effect was replicated with a little careful use of a Dremel. The bright pink filler does not readily accept a wood stain, and so the use of a dark brown indelible marker pen was employed as a base, this was later gone over with two or three coats of walnut coloured shellac polish, and later cut back dull with 0000 gauge wire wool.

The perished and loose shellac was carefully removed out of the deep relief detail with natural bristle nailbrush. (A nylon brush, being self-lubricating, literally rode over the surface, and as such, proved quite unsuitable for woodworking). The split in the lid was forced back into shape by brute force and sheer ignorance, and subsequently glued with super strength Cascamite wood adhesive. A makeshift tourniquet was employed to keep the split closed and the piece physically stressed into its raised profile. Upon removal 24 hours later and very much to my surprise . . . It held tight . . . Result!

The whole case was still woefully dry, and upon taking a tin of black wax polish and brush feeding it a generous helping, working into the deep relief, it soon consumed the full can with a most hearty appetite, and subsequently took two more full tins of tan wax polish before it’s hunger was satiated, Left to stand a few hours, then buffed along the way with a shoe brush and soft cloth, the transformation complete.

Sadly, no mechanism, so until such time, it was stored on top of a wardrobe, a container for household light bulbs and the lid held ever so slightly ajar by the contents.

Attack of the Hornets

A year or two did pass and we experienced several incidents of giant hornets in the house, they look like your normal wasp, only humongous and to the power of three, very angry blighters that whirr around your head like an Apache attack helicopter, leaving you running for cover. Yes you guessed where they were residing, and as added insult, they had chewed a fair portion of the bulb’s packaging in their nest building exercise.

Roll on a good ten years and a dealer friend, many of us know both sides of the pond, had offered to purchase the case on a couple of prior occasions, for back in those days, with no internet to enlighten us, it was considered quite a find but I was waiting patiently, in the hope of re uniting it with an orphan mechanism someday.

Pass it on.

Quite by chance, this chap happened to ring one evening, literally hours before I was due to complete on a property purchase. Being a little short of financial lubrication, I agreed to sell it, not only had he found a mechanism, but he made me an offer that was too good to refuse.

He appeared at my door in what seemed like an instant, with the black, oily, and totally inoperative mechanism in hand, his smile quickly disappeared when he found the bedplate was over sized by 20mm, and by no stretch of the imagination was it going to fit.

Ah we have a problem” he declared, my response was “No . . . we don’t have a problem, you have problem” fearing the worst, I quickly held out my hand for payment, which as I anticipated, was not forthcoming.

After what seemed like an eternity of stalemate, perhaps even a full minute, the silence was broken when he asked if I had any suggestions as to what we should do. It was mutually agreed that I keep the mechanism and if it could be accommodated at some time, I would purchase it from him at cost.

Bob Minney

Sometime later I visited the now late Bob Minney on some other matter. producing both halves; I asked his advice. We had a close look at the mechanism, it was so obviously a Monday morning job, with one of the combs totally out of line with the star wheels and had been so since new, and though the mainspring intact, the whole thing was reluctant to go. “Put it under the table” Bob instructed “But I’m promising nothing” . . . I left and went about my business.

Reg Satchwell

A while later the late Reg Satchwell rang for one of our frequent musical box orientated chats and while discussing this little project, he informed me of a magnificent set of 11.7/8 discs he had, protected and preserved in a storage cabinet, each one perfect and that if I liked, I could have them.

Well of course I liked, as anyone who has owned a small Symphonion will know, the projections are quite small and rather fragile, try finding a good original one!  Tentatively I did enquire if this cabinet was painted a light green by any chance?  Much to Reg’s surprise at my knowing, he confirmed that yes it was, and asked inquisitively, how did I know? ‘ I reminded him that I had bought this lot on his behalf and delivered it to his home, when as a youngster; I did a little errand running for him. “Arrr them r’rum mate” he said with a chuckle.

A Decade later

Another year passed and out of the blue Bob rang, ‘Your Machine is ready’. Upon arriving in Luton a few days later, Bob explained the work needed, the bedplate had 10mm removed off each end, and the winding shaft had been reduced, as had the start/stop lever.  The combs protected by the old oily deposit, now shone like new and having been aligned in the correct position, the whole bedplate assembly was presented beautifully, absolutely ‘New Pin’ and to compliment the job, Bob had crafted a perfect replica of the tempo regulator that I believe was only fitted to this model of 11.7/8.

The little machine had hardly been used; there was no discernible sign of wear, probably due to the drive shaft being a tight fit where it came through the underside of the bedplate, resulting in a struggle to turn one revolution on a full winding. This was quickly remedied with a mere kiss from a round file through the hole in the bedplate, where the said drive shaft emerged.


The real cherry on the cake, which both Bob and I agreed upon, without a doubt, a sweeter more sonorous example you wouldn’t find, exemplified by the only disc I had at that point ‘Listen to the Mocking Bird Sing’  


Upon bidding each other goodbye, the ever modest Bob lamented quite ruefully “Well another one saved from the scrapheap” Still grinning from ear to ear, I countered “More like a marriage made in heaven from where I’m standing Bob” a wry smile came over his face and a quiet nod which spoke volumes.

Meanwhile, quite sadly, Reg had passed away in the interim, but some things are just meant to be, when sometime later a mechanical music sale was held at the then Phillips saleroom in Knowle, which included the residual contents of Reg’s collection. The case of discs were offered up, and secured by myself.

Twenty years on, the little Symphonion still sits atop and sings her little heart out given the opportunity. In fact, I’m going to listen to the Mockingbird sing right now.

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