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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.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are the main types of music boxes?
Music boxes come in various forms, each with unique characteristics. Cylinder music boxes, which use a metal cylinder with pins to pluck the comb's teeth, were the earliest type and are known for their rich, resonant sound. Disc music boxes, on the other hand, play music from interchangeable metal discs, allowing for a broader repertoire. There are also orchestral music boxes that include additional instruments like drums or bells, and novelty music boxes that come in an array of shapes and often incorporate moving figures or scenes.
How does a cylinder music box work?
A cylinder music box operates through a mechanism where a metal cylinder dotted with tiny pins rotates. As it turns, these pins pluck the teeth of a steel comb, each tooth tuned to a specific note. The sequence and length of the pins determine the melody played. The intricate craftsmanship of the cylinder and comb, along with the box's acoustics, contribute to the music box's distinctive sound. Cylinder music boxes are often prized for their historical value and the complexity of their melodies.
Can you change the songs on a music box?
Whether you can change the songs on a music box depends on its type. Disc music boxes allow for song changes by swapping out the metal discs, each encoded with a different tune. This feature made them popular as it provided variety and the ability to update one's music collection. However, cylinder music boxes do not typically offer this flexibility, as the melody is fixed by the arrangement of pins on the cylinder.
What should I look for when collecting music boxes?
When collecting music boxes, consider factors such as age, condition, rarity, and sound quality. Antique music boxes, especially those in good working order, can be quite valuable. The craftsmanship of the box, including the materials used and the intricacy of the design, also affects its worth. Additionally, unique features or a well-known maker can increase a music box's collectibility. Always listen to the music box to ensure it plays well, as the sound is a crucial aspect of its charm.
Are modern music boxes still being made today?
Yes, modern music boxes are still being produced today, although they often differ from their antique counterparts in terms of mechanism and design. Contemporary music boxes may use electronic components or simplified mechanical systems, making them more affordable and accessible. They come in a wide range of styles, from traditional to modern, and can be customized with personal choices of songs or themes. Despite technological advances, the allure of the classic, hand-crafted music box endures, with artisans continuing to create these timeless pieces.