Rick and Betty Cooley's note about the economy of mechanical music was
an eye opener. I've made a bit of a hobby watching the price trends
here and viewing the investment potential of these machines. Charlie
Morgan brought up a point I never considered, the one about young folks
with money spending it on fast women. My Violano never would have made
it home had thought of that one.
Unfortunately, a great part of American's spending is driven by
marketing. As there's virtually no commercial source benefiting from
these sales, they are out of the eyes of the American "consumer". But
put a Violano or small orchestrion on an installment of a television
series, and thousands of folks will say, "I gotta have one". That
happened to the fortune teller machine in the movie "Big". Prices
of that those things soared fifty-fold overnight.
Culture has changed too: we have a generation that never "tinkered"
with things. Our fathers, many World War vets, learned about mechanics
in the service and put those skills to work as America's premiere
generation of handymen. I grew up in the 1960's playing with mechanical
things -- and there were plenty of them with which to meddle. They
simply don't exist today. And we can go on and on about lessening
leisure time, economics in general, devaluation of the dollar, raising
taxes and the cost of Socialism in America.
When I bought the Violano, I had five small children, who, of course
love it. They share my mechanical interests in part because of that
machine. I mortgaged the house to buy it, but was able to make a few
extra dollars to pay the note. Luckily I live in part of the country
where housing costs are huge and salaries are somewhat higher.
Millions of folks take loans to buy new automobiles, or lease them at
a far higher cost than any small orchestrion. And none of those cars
have any value as investments. That Violano cost me $150/month which
was less than my New York electric bill, and a sixth of most car
Will the market crash on these machines? Hardly. There are too few
of them around, a good supply of money out there and always someone who
wants them. Perhaps the high-end stuff will take a bath as foreign
investors move on, but there too prices will continue to be determined
by supply and demand.
As an investment, a low end, small orchestrion purchased at a reasonable
price and nicely restored is sound. It probably won't appreciate 10%
a year and you may have to eat the cost of restoring it, but your widow
will probably get back more than you paid.
A guy who wants music and fun without spending much can find a player
piano for the price of haulage. We've spent hours around our old
Stroud Duo-Art singing verses of junk shop rolls. And regulating the
thing has been loads of fun too. Ken Caulkin's new RAM stuff is priced
pretty low too. While its investment value is yet to be seen, it will
bring music to a home for less than most folks pay for new pianos.
Don't wait forever for that "deal of a lifetime." It isn't coming.
Like any investment, figure out a way to raise the cash, look for sound
value and make the purchase. The sooner you buy it the longer you'll
The memories of your Little Ones dancing will be priceless!