Dear Jim, There were earlier piano players than Mr. Fourneaux'
pianista. Patents exist of Mr. Debain's mechanical piano playing
wooden boards with steel projections (planchettes), and Mr. Teste's
Cartonium, playing series of cardboard sheets. All these systems
worked without pneumatic action.
Mr. Fourneaux, of France, took a patent on his "Piano Mecanique" on
23-April-1883; the French patent number is 155051. It is the first
piano player with (partly) pneumatic action, playing 52 piano notes
by means of carton book music. The patent was bought by Mr. Gavioli
on 10-February-1885. Gavioli started to produce the mechanical piano,
which he called "Pianista Gavioli". Some additions and modifications
were patented by Gavioli in 1885 and 1887.
An interesting fact is that the Fourneaux system was later used by
Gavioli for his fairground organs, including the strange key spacing
of 3.48 millimetres, and it is still used today for French fair organs
and Dutch street organs. The piano had two foot pedals, just like any
normal piano, and with the same functions, so they have nothing to do
with the Pianista. An article with description can be found in Het
Pierement, quarterly of the Dutch organ preservation society KDV, of
April 1998, on page 55. (It is, however, written in Dutch!)
I have digitized pictures of the patent drawings, which I could send
over if you are interested. They are very high resolution, however,
so they make big files.
Regards from the Netherlands,
Hans van Oost, KDV