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What are the Different Types of Music Boxes?

Amy Pollick
Updated May 23, 2024
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Music boxes fascinate children and adults alike. Even in this digital age, everyone stops when they hear their tinkling strains. Ever popular, music box movements are placed in every kind of knickknack imaginable.

Music boxes date from about the 16th century. They were created for royalty and other wealthy people, and mostly consisted of a revolving disk striking one pin. It took a watchmaker named Antoine Favre to produce the first "real" music box in 1796. He also helped innovate the disk music box, a forerunner to recorded music which is still produced.

Since the music box movement is somewhat watch-like, it is not surprising that the Europeans, famous for their precision timepieces, should have led the way in creating intricate music boxes. However, after World War II, Japanese watchmakers also developed world-class movements. There are currently no manufacturers in the U.S. that make movements for music boxes. The movements usually consist of flat metal pins tuned to various notes on the scale and placed side by side, rather like piano keys. A metal cylinder turns at the edge of the pins. "Bumps" on the metal cylinder cause the pins to strike their notes, and as the cylinder turns, a tune plays.

Every child loves to watch a ballerina or favorite cartoon figure turn around to a tune, and character music boxes are still popular. Most cartoon characters and toys, from Barbie to Mickey Mouse, have appeared on music boxes. The characters are usually stationary and posed on pedestals. However, animated music boxes are popular as well. They may include animals or people popping up from houses, or the treadle and wheel of a sewing machine turning, or any number of whimsical notions, all designed to delight the eye and the ear.

Jewelry boxes may also have musical movements inside, as may snow globes, models of buildings or monuments, and other figures. Almost anything that can be placed on a shelf can be musical. Seasonal music boxes are also perennial favorites.

Music boxes range from the very simple to dazzlingly elaborate. Some music boxes may cost US$2,000 and have a 72-note movement and bells that are struck by small mallets, all to create a beautiful sound. Many different tunes are available in music boxes, from classical pieces to Broadway tunes. Many sellers offer the buyer a choice of tunes available for music boxes. If the music box uses discs, then several tunes may be included with the box, and the buyer can purchase others.

Music boxes are available from stores and online, and range in price from US$20 for a quality movement, to over $1,000 for the most elaborate pieces. Some music boxes also feature digital notes that can be programmed for different tunes. Digital music may try to reproduce their sound, but nothing is as lovely as the old-fashioned tinkle of "real" music boxes.

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Amy Pollick
By Amy Pollick
Amy Pollick, a talented content writer and editor, brings her diverse writing background to her work at Musical Expert. With experience in various roles and numerous articles under her belt, she crafts compelling content that informs and engages readers across various platforms on topics of all levels of complexity.
Discussion Comments
By submariner — On Dec 20, 2010

Where can I buy music jewelry boxes? My wife is always saying she needs a good jewelry box to keep all of her earrings, bracelets, and rings so I was thinking about buying her one for Christmas...maybe hiding another piece of jewelry inside. I stumbled upon this site, and I thought it would be nice to find a box that played music too. Can anyone point me in the right direction? I would like to find something classy for an adult. Thanks.

By istria — On Dec 18, 2010

@ GiraffeEars- I bought my daughter a ballerina music box for Christmas, and she loves it. she is only eight years old, but it is like her little treasure chest. She keeps all of her little trinket jewelry and pez candies in the top part, while she keeps her more prized possessions in the locking drawer underneath. She has a coin collection of coins from around the world, and she keeps it locked up in her treasure chest (as she calls it). it is the cutest thing ever.

By GiraffeEars — On Dec 15, 2010

Making music boxes can be a fun project for parents and kids to share. You can buy the movements at craft stores, and putting them together is easy, and fun. It does require a little skill with craft tools like jigsaws, dremmels, and routers, but the finished product is rewarding. On my last vacation to see the in laws, I helped my father-in-law build a music box for my daughter. We let her help with the sanding and staining of the music box, while we took care of all the work with the sharp tools. My daughter loves the music box, and she has to have it wound up every night when she goes to bed.

Amy Pollick
Amy Pollick
Amy Pollick, a talented content writer and editor, brings her diverse writing background to her work at Musical Expert....
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