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A Fascination with the Mechanical

Nothing captures a child, or an adult for that matter, like a beautiful mechanical music box. I love when we I see one in an auction gallery and it's fired up. You'll see everyone stop for a second and take it in. They have always seemed to have that effect on people. I can remember vividly the first music box I ever saw. It was my sister’s ballerina jewelry box that played the theme from Love Story. Just typing that has ear wormed the tune back into my brain.


The history of the music box dates back to the ninth century when Persian brothers invented a hydropowered organ with interchangeable cylinders. Europe began to see early music boxes appear in the 13th century. The classic pinned barrel of the music box as we know it came to light in approximately 1598, and they’re still made today.


The majestic and golden era of the music box really took place during the 18th and 19th centuries. The French and Swiss were making works of art with fine woods, elaborate mechanical movements, and all the bells and whistles. Literally, many had bells, drums and whistles. Only the most affluent in this period could afford such a thing.

In the late 19th century, the metal disc players began to overtake the cylinder based systems and also became affordable. Then came the player piano, gramophone, and the record player, which kind of made the music box passé. As with all trends of out with the old, in with the new, the music box got lost for a bit. However, now prized by collectors and truly appreciated for their ingenuity, elaborate mechanics and beckoning a time long by, these little masterpieces can command great prices at auction.


A few years back at a Scottsdale auction house, a rare, coin operated Capital Penny Arcade music box by F. G. Otto & Sons sold for $7,800. A few years later, a beautiful Regina Model 35 upright bow front automatic 12 disc changer, circa 1899-1910, realized $15,600 at the same auction house. And, more recently, a Regina Music Box Company music box sold for $1,920.


These are just a few examples of local finds, but an international search of auction results shows that certain rare models can fetch in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. An auction in Indiana sold a Hupfeld Super Pan Model III Pan Orchestra for $495,000, for example.


I really believe the music box has staying power in the antique and collectible world for many reasons. Clock and mechanical works have always fascinated man, music has always been at our core and they always seem to remind us of our childhood in some way.


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