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MMD > Archives > July 2014 > 2014.07.27 > 01Prev  Next

Market For Mechanical Musical Instruments
By Art Reblitz

In response to Ed Chaban's recent posting, I don't recall ever saying
that other investments might be better than automatic instruments, but
several of my friends have said that and I don't disagree.  Every
investment has always carried a certain amount of risk, and most
things tend to run in cycles.  Today's adults can remember when the
stock and housing markets both gained and lost great value.  In the
1970, who would have imagined that they would someday see today's
situation in which the "safest" investments have paid almost no
interest for years while inflation moves on?  Those who have collected
instruments primarily because they enjoy the music more than investment
value have had the most rewarding lifetime experience as collectors.

At any given time, there are a few bargains in automatic music lurking
for people who are perseverant and patient.  I've lived through a long
cycle of music machine collecting, starting in the 1960s when most
collectors bought instruments because they liked them, not because
they were investments.  Many years ago, I asked Dave Ramey Sr. why he
didn't buy a Seeburg G for $100 when he had the opportunity in the
1950s.  He replied, "because there was just as good a chance that I'd
find one for $25 a month later."  At that time, many instruments could
be put into decent playing condition with no more than recovering
bellows and pneumatics.  As the number of collectors grew and became
more interested in large instruments, investment value became more
important.  As values rose, it became financially worthwhile to restore
very large, very decrepit orchestrions to "like new" condition.

Today most orchestrions worth restoring have been restored at least
once, to some sort of credible degree.  For the instruments that have
been restored well, a future generation of collectors will once again
face having to cover bellows and pneumatics to put them back into
excellent collection.  At this time, only a few new restorers are
coming along, but at least some of the future restoration work will
be much less expensive and involved because it won't need to include
everything from crankshaft bearings, cabinet veneer and moldings, to
pinblocks, ranks of pipes and entire piano actions.  It should be great
news to prospective collectors that restoration will be relatively
inexpensive next time, compared to all the work necessary during the
first restoration of a barroom instrument that was stored in a leaky
garage for 50 years.

By far the largest number of reproducing piano restorations we've
done over the last 40 years were for consumers who inherited a family
heirloom.  With a few exceptions, most weren't interested in collecting
rolls any more than their parents or grandparents were, nor did they
ever join one of the collectors' organizations like AMICA or MBSI.
That consumer market is almost gone, with many now preferring new
digitally-controlled pianos.  There are still collectors who value the
old instruments, but not enough to support a market for all of the
lesser brand small reproducing pianos being offered.  The positive news
here is that young enthusiasts will be able to buy a finer brand of
reproducing piano at a more affordable price than in the past,
sometimes still in reasonably decent playing condition based on a
30-year old restoration.  That being the case, learn to recognize what
the most desirable examples are and ignore the poorly-restored small
pianos with lesser brand names.

My best advice to new collectors is to collect what you like, whether
it is music boxes, player and reproducing pianos, orchestrions, band
organs, or other automatic instruments.  There are a number of active
collectors who are glad they can now afford things in mid-life that
they couldn't afford some years ago.  And there is certainly a new
generation of young enthusiasts who would like to own instruments
someday after they're established in their careers.

Art Reblitz
Colorado Springs, Colorado 

(Message sent Sun 27 Jul 2014, 23:29:04 GMT, from time zone GMT-0600.)

Key Words in Subject:  Instruments, Market, Mechanical, Musical

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