Empress Electric Orchestrion & Operators Piano Co.
By Don Teach
The Empress Electric coin pianos were sold by Lyon and Healy of
Chicago. There are no known production numbers for any of these
The Empress Electric pianos often have insides made by the Operators
Piano Co., Inc., of Chicago. They also can be found with insides made
by other companies. I had one Empress that had parts from Operators
in the lower section under the keyboard, and with Cremona parts in the
upper half of the piano. The rule is that, as soon as you say "they
never made this or that", one will show up.
Your Empress with the two ranks of pipes is probably Operators parts
all the way. These models with the Coinola name are not very common.
They made them in several different case styles. I have seen them in
the "J" style case and in the much rarer style "K" case.
Operators used several different stack designs over the years. The
one with the Bakelite outer valve seats can be a pain if you break
one of them. I have made rubber molds of RTV to cast these, and have
made them for my own use.
The outer seats with the red fibre and screw in brass piece for adjust-
ment are prone to warping. You can make new ones of these with a lot
of work. I made them in the lathe by cutting the fibre with a hole saw
and then chucking them in the lathe. I then drilled the center hole
and tapped them for the brass seat.
Another variety has only the brass part screwing into each pneumatic.
All of these are similar to a Simplex type unit pneumatic. You can
take these pneumatics apart by dropping them in boiling water for about
30 seconds, and then pop them open.
The pouches and every part have to be replaced. Early Coinola pianos
with rubber cloth pouches should be replaced with a rubber cloth pouch.
In orchestrions with extra instruments these pouches must be airtight.
In early Coinolas they shared the tracker bar hole with the valves in
the extra instrument. When the air supply is cut off to the extra
instrument you will have air leakage under the stack pouch unless the
pouch of the extra instrument pouch is air tight.
Coinola instruments are known to have small pumps which means you have
to have an airtight system. A well-rebuilt Coinola will play the new
rolls issued by Play-Rite in the last 20 years.
The above is only an opinion and not cast into stone. There are always
(Message sent Wed 27 Oct 1999, 15:20:01 GMT, from time zone GMT-0500.)