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MMD > Archives > November 2000 > 2000.11.04 > 06Prev  Next

Dating Wurlitzer Rolls by Paper Color
By Matthew Caulfield

By 1915 Wurlitzer was using its characteristic green paper in making
band organ rolls.  Roll 6516, datable to 1915, just passed through
my hands on its way back to its owner, Bill Black.  It is a typical
green-paper roll, once you get beyond the aged and browned paper of
its first few windings.

Q. David Bowers' "Encyclopedia" says about Wurlitzer music roll paper,
at p. 933:

  "Regular music roll paper is unacceptable for most band organ
   applications, especially when an instrument is used outdoors.
   The ever changing humidity will shrink and expand the paper,
   resulting in great difficulties in making it track properly.

  "The worldwide solution to this problem was the music book. ...
   However, as nice as music books are, there is a problem of cost.
   Music books are made by hand one-at-a-time and, consequently,
   are expensive.  Wurlitzer had a different solution.

  "Early Wurlitzer skating rink organs were used indoors.  The red
   paper rolls used on them had some tracking problems, but they were
   not insuperable.  Then came the outdoor amusement park businesses.
   Wurlitzer music rolls were a failure in those locations. ...

  "From an Erie, Penna., supplier a stock of paraffin coated paper
   was obtained.  The result was a roll immune to the weather.  .....
   Fortunately, Wurlitzer used its paraffined paper for all other types
   of rolls (coin piano, orchestrion, theatre organ) as well. ..."

I have heard that there were other colors of paper used by Wurlitzer,
besides the red paper mentioned by Dave Bowers.  Bill Black, who has
some original very early 155 rolls, can say what color they are, and
he may be able to talk about other early paper colors he has seen.
Don Teach mentions early Wurlitzer APP rolls on white paper.

It is possible that Wurlitzer was slow to switch to its new paraffined
(dry waxed) green paper for APP rolls and for rolls used on other
indoor machines, preferring to use up its old paper stock in that way,
because the need for climactically stable paper was less urgent there
than it was in band organ roll manufacture.  But certainly it was using
the new green paper for band organ rolls by 1915.

While talking about roll paper, I'll repeat some (possibly accurate)
information I have been told about it.  John Malone claims to have had
a sample of the green paper analyzed, and it was found to have a high
resin (rosin?) content.

Some believe that the paper came across Lake Ontario from a Canadian
mill, others agree with the Bowers statement.  Possibly over time
their suppliers varied, though the paper did remain consistent in
appearance.  Examination of  Wurlitzer's check ledgers in the
Smithsonian Institution archives shed no light on the supplier
question for me; the "paper purchase" entries I saw were mostly
for office stationery and the like.

Someone here on MMD has an unopened mill roll of Wurlitzer green paper.
Perhaps label information on that roll would answer some questions
about the paper.  I believe it might have been Don Rand who said that
the paper was known in the trade as "Clark gray music roll paper"
because it was the same, except for color, as the paper the Clarks
used for their rolls.

Matthew Caulfield

(Message sent Sat 4 Nov 2000, 17:42:04 GMT, from time zone GMT-0500.)

Key Words in Subject:  Color, Dating, Paper, Rolls, Wurlitzer

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