My Thomas Pacconi Music Box

Wednesday, February 23, 2011
What is a Music Box?

The music box is a 19th century automatic musical instrument that produces sounds by the use of a set of pins placed on a revolving cylinder so as to strike the tuned teeth of a steel comb. They were developed from musical snuff boxes of the 18th century and called “Carillons a Musique.” Some of the more complex boxes also have tiny drum and small bells, in addition to the metal comb. Alec Templeton, an avid collector of music boxes and a professional concert musician, once noted that the tone of a musical box is unlike that of any musical instrument.
History of the Music Box.

The original snuff box music boxes were tiny containers which could fit into a gentleman’s waist coat pocket. The musical boxes could have any size from that of a hatbox to a large piece of furniture though most were tabletop sized. They were usually powered by clockwork and originally produced by artisan watchmakers.
For most of the 19th century the bulk of music box production was concentrated in Switzerland, building upon a strong watch making tradition. The first music box factory was opened Switzerland in 1815 by Jeremie Recordon and Samuel Junod. There were also a few manufacturers in Bohemia and Germany. By the end of the 19th century some of the European makers had opened factories in the United States.
 The cylinders were normally made of metal and powered by a spring. In some of the costlier models, the cylinders could be removed to change melodies, thanks to an invention by Paillard in 1862, which was perfected by Metert, of Geneva in 1879. In some exceptional models there were four springs, to provide continuous play for up to three hours.
The first boxes at the end of the 18th century made use of metal disks. The switch over to cylinders seems to have been complete after the Napoleonic wars. In the last decades of the 19th century however, mass produced models such as the Polyphon and others all made use of interchangeable metal disks instead of cylinders. The cylinder based machines rapidly became a minority.

The term musical box is also applied to clockwork devices where a removable metal disk or cylinder was used only in a programming function without producing the sounds directly by means of pins and a comb. Instead, the cylinder or disk worked by actuating bellows and levers which fed and opened pneumatic valves which activated a modified wind instrument or plucked the chords on a modified string instrument. Some devices could do both at the same time and were often combinations of player pianos and musical boxes, such as the Orchestrion, which is a large mechanical instrument resembling a barrel organ that produces sound in imitation of an orchestra.
Stores six discs in the back of music box.