I started to write a short note in response to Angela Frucci's
inquiry in MMD 020506 [Who Maintains Museum Instruments & Automata?]
about artisans capable of maintaining automata and mechanical musical
instrument in working order. But on reflection I realize what a
mammoth topic this really is!
One would have to break the subject down into several categories, first
by time period. There are no longer the route men who used to travel
the country repairing this or that type of machine in parks, taverns,
and places of public amusement. Today you hunt down a restorer and
probably get on his waiting list, if he is a good one.
Then there is the breakdown by type of machine. Generally speaking,
restorers of musical boxes are a different group from restorers of
pianos, orchestrions, and wind instruments, while restorers of
clockwork automata are yet a different group. And most restorers seem
to have their favorites that they prefer to work on, like Durward
Center's preference for Welte orchestrions as opposed to other wind
Finally there is the matter of geography, European craftsmen and
American craftsmen being the two major groups that come to mind. But
I wouldn't be surprised to find restorers working unheralded in other
places, such as Japan, where sizable collections exist. These machines
don't ship easily, either because of their delicacy or their size, so
the repair and maintenance business tends to become local.
The MBSI [Musical Box Society International] maintains a Service
Directory listing people, principally in the U.S. but also abroad,
who offer repair and maintenance of various types of machines. Arthur
Reblitz's recently published "The Golden Age Of Automatic Musical
Instruments" furnishes many pictorial examples of the work of a wide
range of named American restorers. This book would be a good place to
start in cataloging American restoration today.
But how to guess who the artisans of tomorrow will be? I suspect that
the best living craftsmen are by their nature and their workload loathe
to take on apprentices, if young people interested in entering the
field can be found. The death last year of Michael Kitner left a large
hole in the field, and the closest thing to an apprentice that Mike had
-- as far as I know; I could be wrong -- was his close friend Dr. Bill
Black, who learned a lot from working on his own instruments together
with Mike. I wonder how many restorers are one-man operations and how
many have helpers or apprentices who can carry on their work?
Matthew Caulfield (Irondequoit, N.Y.)