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MMD > Archives > August 2004 > 2004.08.27 > 01Prev  Next

J. W. Whitlock Violin Playing Machine
By Mark Reinhart

I saw the recent posting in which someone was seeking a Mills Violano
Virtuoso.  There is regular interest in the Violano largely because
they are so well known.  I thoroughly enjoy my own Violano and the
music it provides me.

While the Hupfeld Phonoliszt Violina is also well documented,  scarcity
makes these fine machines something that is rarely encountered by most
collectors today.  Even more scarce are the few other violin machines
of which there are only single known examples.  The Poppers violin
playing machine being an example.

The J. W. Whitlock violin playing machine is another violin playing
machine of which there is but a single example.  J. W. Whitlock, maker
of the Wurlitzer Harp, began experimenting with a violin playing device
after the success of his self playing harp.

According to Bowers' "Encyclopedia", the Whitlock violin playing
machine exists in a single prototype, built circa 1910.  Probably
after Wurlitzer became saturated with self playing harps, the sale of
instruments dropped off and interest waned for harps.  Mr. Whitlock
moved on to other endeavors.

The Whitlock violin playing machine[*] was set up to play using 15
rotating celluloid bows, not unlike the Mills Violano machines.  The
Whitlock device used 15 separate strings that were stopped with concert
harp like brass stops which, when twisted, stops the string securely.
With 3 stops per string the Whitlock Violin player had a range of 60

The frame is wooden like the player harps he built; in fact, the
reservoir in the base is identical in it's placement.  Vacuum was
provided from a remote pump.  There is no indication that there was
ever a case built around the mechanism since this was a shop prototype.
When I bought the machine the pneumatics and roll frame were gone.
I did obtain the only two rolls that were cut for the machine.
Interestingly, the rolls are marked in grease pencil, "New Instrument".
The Whitlock device does not play an actual violin but simulates the
tone with rotating bows on the strings.

It would be work to put the machine into working order but all the
important parts are there.  I will send photos to be posted on the MMD
web site.  I am in a garage cleaning mode;  if someone is interested
in purchasing this rare machine, please contact me.

Mark Reinhart
Charles Town, West Virginia

 [ * Historian Q. David Bowers knew the Whitlock family, and we
 [ assume he repeated their name, "violin playing machine," in his
 [ book, "Encyclopedia of Mechanical Music," page 666:
 [   Following the success of the [Wurlitzer Automatic] Harp, J. W.
 [   Whitlock experimented with a violin playing machine.  A prototype
 [   which used fifteen rotating celluloid discs (a concept similar to
 [   that used on the Mills Violano Virtuoso) was partially completed.
 [   The project was dropped when the second Wurlitzer order for 1000
 [   Harps was cancelled midway through its completion and both parties
 [   engaged in a lawsuit.
 [ Whitlock evidently hoped the machine would simulate the sound of
 [ a violin.  I disagree with the name since it looks nothing like
 [ a violin but, rather, it resembles a large zither with bow wheels.
 [ I will place Mark's photos at
 [ -- Robbie

(Message sent Fri 27 Aug 2004, 18:30:12 GMT, from time zone GMT-0400.)

Key Words in Subject:  J, Machine, Playing, Violin, W, Whitlock

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