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MMD > Archives > January 2008 > 2008.01.25 > 05Prev  Next

Mechanical Music in Museums & Private Collections
By Art Reblitz

This is a postscript to my immediately previous posting regarding the
collection of coin pianos and band organs in Virginia City and Nevada
City, Montana.  In it, I offered the opinion that we need to have some
instruments on public display so future generations of potential new
enthusiasts will have the chance to learn about them.  Now I'd like to
discuss the other side of the coin: the merits of private collections.

It's obvious that private collectors who have their instruments
restored beautifully, and display them for friends, collectors'
meetings, school groups, etc., have been extremely important in saving
the instruments for present and future generations.  Without these
collectors, few people would have the chance to see and hear
instruments in their finest condition, and a majority of commercial
instruments -- coin pianos, orchestrions and band organs---would be

I've been very fortunate to work on automatic instruments for
consumers, private collectors, public museums and businesses since
1965.  Long ago, more of my work was for the owners of public displays,
but for the past 25 years or so, most has been for private collectors.
Of course it's a privilege to be chosen to restore an old instrument
back to factory condition in every detail, and to continue tuning and
maintaining to keep it playing through the years as well as it did when
freshly restored.

On the other hand, it can also be rewarding to restore and service an
instrument for public use, where people approach you and occasionally
ask intelligent questions, and you can see a spark of interest ignite
when you have fun sharing your knowledge with them.  MMD readers who
take instruments to band organ rallies know that this can be true.

To me, a good balance is to have most instruments owned by private
collectors who will give them the best of care, but with a few still
displayed publicly where new young people will have a chance to
become interested.  I don't think it's out of the question for the
Montana Heritage Commission to be one of the last organizations to
display a large collection, provided that continual improvements are
made -- even if gradually.

Now, for a few links to some good video and audio clips on line.
Some of these have already appeared in postings to MMD, but I'd like
to summarize a few of my favorites:

The Wurlitzer DX coin piano in the Nevada City Music Hall, Montana.
This takes a bit of time to load, but then plays 16 tunes.  It's quite
a contrast with the terrible band organ videos recorded in the same
place, which have been the recent topic of discussion:

A great tour of John and Nadine Motto-Ros' collection of coin pianos
and orchestrions:

Part One of the professionally-produced Musical Box Society video
"Marvels of Mechanical Music" (once there, you will find links to the
other parts):

The Ramey Banjo-Orchestra, expertly recorded by Bob Taylor:

The Wurlitzer Monster organ and carousel in Burlington, Colorado,
also recorded by Bob Taylor.  This organ has been in daily commercial
use every summer since we restored it in 1976:

The Decap Robot Band in a Lake Michigan Chapter MBSI collection,
another Bob Taylor video:

When you're viewing any of Bob Taylor's videos, click on his user name
"Ampicoab" for links to many more good videos.

Art Reblitz

(Message sent Fri 25 Jan 2008, 05:03:19 GMT, from time zone GMT-0700.)

Key Words in Subject:  Collections, Mechanical, Museums, Music, Private

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