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MMD > Archives > August 2008 > 2008.08.28 > 03Prev  Next

Deagan Una-Fon in Automatic Musical Instruments
By Art Reblitz

Dear Ben and group,  The Deagan Una-Fon was a popular hand-played
unit having reiterating electromagnets with beaters that played
specially-shaped orchestra bell bars, with a cable going to a small

Una-Fon bell bars, in contrast to other types of orchestra bells,
have a unique shape with concave scallops on the sides and tubular
resonators behind, giving them a different harmonic series.  The tone
is loud and clear, but with an unusual subtone reinforced by the

The most popular use was for parade units, similarly to the use of air
calliopes in the early twentieth century.  An example may be seen at
the Circus World Museum in Baraboo, Wisconsin.  (For many years the
Una-Fon appeared annually in the fantastic Milwaukee Circus Parade,
along with at least one band organ from the collection.  Sadly, that
extravaganza was discontinued after the loss of large commercial

Although complete Deagan Una-Fons were never installed in original
coin pianos or orchestrions, certain collectors added them to various
automatic instruments during the modern collecting era.  These included,
in the 1950s, a Seeburg J orchestrion in the Bale of Hay Saloon in
Virginia City, Montana (pictured in Harvey Roehl's "Player Piano
Treasury"), and a small keyboardless Nelson-Wiggen coin piano in the
Cliff House/Sutro Museum complex in San Francisco (heard on the old
record album "Razz-Ma-Tazz in Hi Fi"), and in the 1970s, a Reproduco
piano/organ made into an O-roll orchestrion at House on the Rock.

Al Svoboda certainly would have added a Una-Fon to something in his
Nickelodeon Tavern & Museum in Chicago Heights, Illinois, had he owned
one in usable condition.

Despite the fact that no electrically-played Una-Fon was used in an
original coin piano or orchestrion, Deagan did sell sets of Una-Fon
bells to makers of automatic instruments.  Small-scale Una-Fon bells
were used instead of a xylophone in certain Cremona J orchestrions
(with pneumatic Cremona player actions) and the Wurlitzer 180 band
organ -- the largest model made by that company -- featured a
large-scale set (with a Wurlitzer pneumatic player action).  In each
of these examples, the player action was reiterating, so each note
repeated continuously as long as it played, as in the original
hand-played Una-Fon.

You may see and hear beautifully-restored examples of a Cremona J and
Wurlitzer 180, each with Una-Fon bells, in the Sanfilippo Collection
by joining the Lake Michigan Chapter of the Musical Box Society and
attending their annual May meeting there.

Art Reblitz

(Message sent Thu 28 Aug 2008, 13:15:52 GMT, from time zone GMT-0600.)

Key Words in Subject:  Automatic, Deagan, Instruments, Musical, Una-Fon

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