Vintage Music Box

Published: October 14, 2021
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A music box is a automatic, often wind-up musical instrument that produces tones by a set of pins placed on a slowly turning disc or cylinder so as to strike the teeth of a steel comb. They were developed from 18th century musical snuff boxes and used to be called: carillons à musique. Some of the more complex boxes also have a tiny drum and small bells, in addition to the metal tuned comb. Alec Templeton, a Welsh composer, pianist and collector of musical boxes, once said that tones of a musical box is unlike that of any other instrument. He said it is best described as somewhere between the character of a mbira.

antique music box



A musical box (British English) or music box (American English) is an automatic musical instrument in a box that produces musical notes by using a set of pins placed on a revolving cylinder or disc to pluck the tuned teeth of a steel comb. The earliest known mechanical musical instruments date back to 9th-century Baghdad. In Flanders, in the early 13th century, a bell ringer invented a cylinder with pins which operate cams, which then hit the bells. The popular device best known today as a "music box" developed from musical snuff boxes of the 18th century and were originally called 'carillons à musique'. Some of the more complex boxes also contain a tiny drum and/or bells in addition to the metal comb.

The original snuff boxes were tiny containers which could fit into a gentleman's waistcoat pocket. The musical boxes could have any size from that of a hat box to a large piece of furniture. Most of them were tabletop specimens though. They were usually powered by clockwork and originally produced by artisan watchmakers. For most of the 19th century, the bulk of musical box production was concentrated in Switzerland, building upon a strong watchmaking tradition. The first music box factory was opened there in 1815 by Jérémie Recordon and Samuel Junod. There were also a few manufacturers in Bohemia and Germany. By the end of the 19th century, some of the European makers had opened factories in the United States.

The term "music box" is also applied to clockwork devices where a removable metal disk or cylinder was used only in a "programming" function without producing the sounds directly by means of pins and a comb. Instead, the cylinder (or disk) worked by actuating bellows and levers which fed and opened pneumatic valves which activated a modified wind instrument or plucked the chords on a modified string instrument. Some devices could do both at the same time and were often combinations of player pianos and music boxes, such as the Orchestrion.

In the heyday of the music box, some variations were as tall as a grandfather clock and all used interchangeable large disks to play different sets of tunes. These were spring-wound and driven and both had a bell-like sound. The machines were often made in England, Italy, and the US, with additional disks made in Switzerland, Austria, and Prussia. 

At the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th, most music boxes were gradually replaced by player pianos, which were louder and more versatile and melodious, when kept tuned, and by the smaller gramophones which had the advantage of playing back voices. Regina produced combinations of these devices. Escalating labour costs increased the price and further reduced volume. Now modern automation is helping to bring music box prices back down.

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Vintage Music Box value and price guide

What's your Vintage music box worth in 2021? Here are some recently sold items with prices.

Item Title Date Price
Music boxes Mira Disc Music Box… Mira Disc Music Box… 07/2021 $ 3 031.29
Music boxes 1800 s Wooden Cylinder Music 1800 S Wooden Cylinder Music Box 12 Airs 08/2021 $ 2 666.40
Music boxes Rushton Rubber Face Lamb Rushton Rubber Face Lamb Thorens Music 07/2021 $ 2 524.95
no pictureSee all sold items on eBay for more prices11/2021-.--

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