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MMD > Archives > June 2018 > 2018.06.13 > 01Prev  Next

Unknown Music Box Is By Cuendet
By Paul Bellamy

Kathy Wojtiuk posted a question and pictures [180610 MMDigest] about
her musical box, who made it and what it is worth.  The following
is a very brief account of this family of Swiss makers.  However,
the simple question has a complex answer.

It was made in Switzerland by a person or firm called Cuendet
(pronounced Kwendeh).  MBSI produced an excellent translation of
a book by Piguet, currently available at a favourable price.
Piguet's account of this well known family of Swiss makers is very
convoluted and he made little effort to distinguish between the
various members of this extensive family, probably because of the
lack of information.

There were at least two groups of Cuendets making musical boxes in
and after 1885: Jules Cuendet at L'Auberson, from 1828-1910, and
brothers (not named) at nearby Ste.-Croix.  They bought blanks and
combs from various sources, probably the most likely source being
Karrer, and made little effort to identify their products.

Philippe Cuendet (Cuendet-Develay), born in Ste.-Croix, was probably
the head of the second Cuendet branch.  He married a lady whose surname
was Develay.  They had two sons, Charles and Samuel.  Towards the end
of the 1870s, Philippe and his two sons formed Cuendet-Develay Frères.
The firm was re-registered as Cuendet-Develay et Cie and continued with
the same family members to produce watches and musical boxes.  In 1888
Philippe withdrew and the firm was reformed on 1st January with Charles
and Samuel as Cuendet-Develay Fils & Cie but ceased to make watches.

Samuel retired in 1894 and the company re-formed with brother Charles
as Cuendet-Seeker.  Seeker was probably his wife's family name.  The
firm lasted until 24th November 1899.  In the meantime Charles had
joined up with Barnett H. Abrahams, an English trader who established
production in Ste.-Croix for the manufacture of disc boxes.  This took
place on 2nd September 1895 at rue des Arts 3 and Charles was Abrahams'

There was also another Philippe Cuendet (1869 - ?), born in Prise-Perrier
near L'Auberson, also near Saint Croix.  He was probably a relative and
the father of John and Edouard.  He apparently never formed his own
company but ordered musical boxes from Auguste Jaques.  He took over
production of the Emile Bornand-Wenger Company when it was set up in
Geneva in 1902.

As to the actual maker of Kathy's musical box, it is almost certain
to be by Jules Cuendet (junior) (1830-1916).  There is some confusion
about the dates because there are other references to a Jules Cuendet
with slightly different dates.  According to the late H.A.V. Bulleid,
who wrote many books and articles on musical boxes, he was at the head
of one of the two main Cuendet branches mentioned above.  He was
established in L'Auberson in 1902 employing 12 workers (Piguet).  His
father was Jules Cuendet senior.  Piguet states that his company was
one of the most successful.

A few years ago I wrote a book for The Association of Musical Box
Collectors (AMBC), called "The Music Makers of Switzerland," and
summarised what is known about the Cuendet families.  Bulleid did
not produce a dating chart for the Cuendets.

The tune sheet illustrated by Kathy was described by H.A.V. Bulleid as
the 'line of birds'.  It is quite charming.  Identifying a Cuendet
movement can be a problem, not least because of the similarity of the
ébauche (or blank), which is common to many makers.  Fortunately, this
movement is complete with its tune sheet, a type that Bulleid claimed
was also used by Mermod and Alfred Junod.  If so, they were probably
acting as agents for Jules Cuendet, the actual maker.

In the recent AMBC journal, Issue 12, Spring, 2018, I published further
information and a possible dating chart for the maker of Kathy's
musical box.  Thus I am fairly confident that Kathy's musical box was
made in late 1890s by Jules Cuendet.

As regards value, to me the value is not what it can be sold for but
what it represents in historical terms.  Sadly, the market for most
musical boxes has degenerated so it is actually a good time to buy.
If kept by Kathy, I hope I have added to its sentimental value either
for her or the next custodian of this delightful late musical box.

Finally, take no notice of the tune sheet's title, Forte Piccolo.
They were sales terms, the forte being no louder than any other maker's
musical box and the piccolo having nothing to do with the wind
instrument of that name.  Piccolo was used to describe the 'musical'
effect (most unmusical to most ears) when a strip of paper was lowered
onto the comb to give a peculiar 'buzzing' effect, popular at the time.
The paper rarely survives and its holder is best left out of contact
with the comb unless the paper is properly reinstated.

Paul Bellamy

(Message sent Wed 13 Jun 2018, 12:38:46 GMT, from time zone GMT-0700.)

Key Words in Subject:  Box, Cuendet, Is, Music, Unknown

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