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MMD > Archives > December 1999 > 1999.12.15 > 03Prev  Next

Austrian Music Box Industry of the 19th Century
By Robbie Rhodes

(Adapted from a description provided by the author.)

  Die Oesterreichische Spielwerkemanufaktur im 19. Jahrhundert --
     Ein fast vergessener Zweig des Kunsthandwerkes
  (The Austrian Music Box Industry of the 19th Century --
     An almost forgotten branch of the craft )
  by Luuk Goldhoorn (c) 1999   ISBN 90-9013185-X
  In German, 176 pages, hardbound, 32 color and 12 black & white
  pictures.  Limited autographed edition of 800 copies.

Musical boxes are a specimen of craftsmanship, but we love them because
they played the music that our ancestors loved.  They appear to be a
monopoly of Switzerland (including, to a lesser degree, the French Jura
region), but this impression is deceiving.  By roughly 1830 a true
'industry' was also established in Vienna, and also in Prague.  (At
that time Prague and Vienna reigned as the big metropolitan cities of
the extensive Hapsburg Austro-Hungarian Empire.)

Not much has been written about the music box industry in Austria,
perhaps because the Swiss, who offered a diversity of products in
attractive cases, exported their products to rich countries like
the USA and Great Britain, where they were cherished by their owners
and preserved by succeeding generations.

The Austrian boxes all appear almost identically to each other, which
is not an attractive point for the collector of today, but the main
reason why they were not preserved is that they weren't a stand-alone
unit -- they were installed inside clocks and behind paintings.  When
the music mechanism failed the clock or painting was discarded, al-
though sometimes the music box movement was replaced.  It must also be
acknowledged that the output of the Swiss industry far surpassed the
output of Austria.

A selection of early works is presented, which trace the development
of the early sectional combs to combs produced from a single block
of steel.

Special chapters are devoted to the brothers Anton and Joseph Olbrich
of Vienna, as well as Anton Jr., and to the Rzebitschek (Rebicek)
family of Prague, based upon the extensive family archive preserved by
the great-great-granddaughter of Franz Rzebitschek.

A list of compositions is included.   Whereas most of the Swiss boxes
were exported to England, and were programmed with English popular
tunes, in the Austrian boxes more songs of their own are found.  A
top-hit song like "Home Sweet Home" was not found; moreover, it turned
out that most songs were found only once or twice.  The programs
played, as well as the arrangements used, are extensively discussed.

The book ends with a survey of the museums in Eastern Europe where the
products of this long forgotten industry can be seen and heard.

Some of the photos, especially those from the very old mechanisms, could
only be made after dismantling the clock in which they were housed.  The
opportunity to see these works is practically non-existent, as most, if
not all of them are stored in museums.

The annexes are copied from original sources and, along with the photos
from the persons and their belongings, give a good impression of the
circumstances in which these charming items were made.

Distributor for continental Europe is the author:

  Luuk Goldhoorn
  A. van Schendelstraat 137
  3511MB Utrecht
  the Netherlands
  Price DMk 44.50, postage not included

Distributor for English speaking lands is

  Nancy Fratti - Panchronia Antiquities
  PO Box 210, Whitehall, NY 12887-0210 USA
  tel: 518-282-9770  or fax: 518-282-9800
  Price is $24.95 + $3.50 postage.

Robbie Rhodes

(Message sent Thu 16 Dec 1999, 05:22:02 GMT, from time zone GMT-0800.)

Key Words in Subject:  19th, Austrian, Box, Century, Industry, Music

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