Beginning about 1910, reaching a manufacturing peak in the 1920's, and continuing until the early 1930's, the U.S. and some European countries designed and built coin-operated mechanical musical instruments for restaurants, bars, dance halls, and other types of parlors. They were usually built around a piano and one or more instruments such as xylophone, bells, organ pipes, and drums. They were operated by punched paper rolls with multiple tunes. Driven by electric motors, these machines contained large reciprocating pumps circulating air through long lengths of small tubes, through elaborate valves, and into tiny bellows controlling each piano note or other instrument or control. To attract attention, the machines had elaborate leaded glass fronts and fancy colored lighting.
These machines were the forerunners of radio, jukeboxes, and other forms of musical entertainment. Besides offering musical enjoyment, they were money making machines for the proprietors gobbling up nickel after nickel. Captivated patrons delighted to snappy popular tunes of the day and received hours of musical entertainment. Some machines had keyboards similar to upright pianos, but most were simply in large, elaborate cabinets.
The Seeburg KT Special was introduced in 1924 and originally sold for $1500. Marketed as "Ballroom Favorite," it was designed to serve in places requiring the ultra-supreme in automatic orchestral development. The elimination of a keyboard reduced the instrument to convenient dimensions.
This instrument contains piano, xylophone, mandolin, bass drum, snare drum, tympani, cymbal, castanets, triangle, tambourine, and chinese block.
It plays a 10-tune type "G" roll. This instrument is totally restored and plays magnificently
The great depression of the 1930's and newer forms of entertainment such as radio and jukeboxes brought a rapid decline to these instruments during the 1930's and 1940's. By the 1950's, most had been cut up for scrap until few were left. Today, those that survive are mostly in private collections with a few on public view in theme parks or similar exhibitions.
This collection contains ten different examples of these automatic musical instruments. Each is completely original, yet totally restored to appear, operate, and play as new.
The Wurlizer style AXB piano was built around 1910 and represents one of the earliest examples of a coin - operated piano. The Rudolph Wurlizer Company was one of the most famous and prolific manufacturers of automatic musical instruments.
This instrument has a piano, mandolin, 38 violin pipes, and a set of 16 orchestra bells. It has a unique roll changing mechanism which automatically plays 5 tunes on one roll, then changes to the next roll until all 30 tunes on 6 rolls have been played. The elaborate transmission and number of moving parts are excitingly primitive and a pure pleasure to listen!
The Nelson - Wiggen Piano Co. was a late comer to the coin-operated piano business. It's activity was confined mainly to the decade 1920 - 1930.
Nelson - Wiggen's marketing strategy for its "better automatic" was to make its instruments as fine pieces of furniture suitable for sophistocated settings. Most of its instruments were made in fine walnut cases with clear beveled glass to display its classy interior.
This Nelson - Wiggen Style 8 plays piano, mandolin, orchestra bells, and xylophone. It plays a 10 tune style "A" roll.
This Wurlitzer Style C Orchestrion is the anchor and focal point of the collection. It was built about 1920 and features the delghtful combination of piano, 38 flute pipes, 21 violin pipes, and 17 viola pipes. It also has 16 orchestra bells, 16 xylophone bars, a mandolin attachment, bass drum, and snare drum. It plays from Wurlitzer Automatic Player Piano rolls, each with 10 tunes and orchestrated to play any combination of the instruments included in this delightful music machine.
One of Wurlitzer's most popular entertainment devices, these instruments were sold to operators of large saloons, dance halls, restaurants, parlors, and other places where a machine capable of high volume would dazzle a crowd encouraged to put nickel after nickel into its coin slot.
It has recently been restored inside and out to better than original condition.
This Link Coin-operated model 2-E nickelodeon features a piano, mandolin attachment and a 25-note repeating Deagan Xylophone or "marimbaphone" as the Link company called it.
Link pianos were unique in that they were often sold to route operators who would place them in suitable revenue generating locations for patrons anxious to deposit nickels to hear snappy music. They also were one of the few nickelodeon makers to employ the "endless" style of music rolls. As can be seen from the photograph, these rolls were spread out in an apparent tangle of paper that tracked through a maze as it fed over the tracker bar activating the playing notes. Each roll played 15 tunes in succession, 1 for each nickel, and never had to be rewound.
This piano has been restored to better than original condition except that the lower front wood panel was replaced many years ago by glass to allow viewing the piano mechanism and the tangle of paper. This encouraged more coins for more music!
Another view of the Wurlitzer C showing the interior of the piano.
This page was last updated on: March 5, 2013
LINK AX ORCHESTRION
The Link Piano Co. was founded in Binghamton, NY in 1913. They were soon turning out about 300 coin pianos and about a dozen pipe organs each year. In the early years, Link coin pianos were mainly of the keyboard type. Most contained a piano, mandolin, and a set of flute pipes.. By the early 1920's, pipes were mostly replaced by a xylophone, primarily to avoid the need for a seperate pressure system to drive the pipes in addition to the normal vacuum system
An electric motor drives a pump creating both vacuum and pressure. Fabric valves, pneumatic bellows, and tubing complete the complex mechanism which activates each note and control..
Link pianos were unusual in that they utilized the endless roll system. The roll of music was one continuous loop and was originally the standard in the early years of coin pianos. Only Link retained the endless roll system through its life after other companies dropped it for the easier to change and maintain rewind system. Although Link endless rolls looked hopelessly snarled, the system worked well and was liked by operators for the lack of rewind time. Link rolls were also unusual in that they contained 15 tunes rather than the usual 10. Link rolls are especially admired by collectors for their orignal, snappy, and exciting arrangements.
This Link AX was built about 1920 and contains piano, mandolin, ranks of 28 flute and violin pipes, snare drum, tambourine with seperate beating mechanisms and shaking mechanisms, triangle and wood block.
This piano was acquired in 2006 and was restored in 2009. The case and art glass are entirely original.
Another view of the Link AX showing the interior. Note the endless music roll system at the top of the piano..
SEEBURG G ORCHESTRION.
The J. P. Seeburg Piano Co. of Chicago was the leader in the automatic piano business in the teens and 1920's. Ornate styles, featuring rich and ornate glass fronts such as this "G" were added to the Seeburg line in the early teens when this piano was built, and sold then for $1,500, a hefty price in its day. Machines like this "G" were intended for larger clubs, restaurants, and parlors where patrons would enrich owners by playing lots of nickel tunes.
Driven by an electric motor to a "steamboat style" vacuum pump, the paper 10-tune roll allows openings in a 65-note tracker bar to activate tiny leather and stem valves which activate a small "pneumatic bellows" that force each piano, pipe, or percussion note to activate. Each piano key, pipe, percussion effect, plus the numerous control bellows all have separate valves, pneumatics, and lengthy tubing. Expression is also provided by automatic soft and loud pedal controls.
The included ranks of of 32 separate flute and violin pipes are also controlled and activated by the music roll. Since pipes operate on pressure rather than vacuum, the pump has a separate flap valve system and pressure reservoir to provide wind for the pipes.
The piano has 50 playing notes and mandolin rail in addition to the two ranks of pipes. Percussion is added by a bass drum, snare drum, cymbal, triangle, and two tympani beaters. The music roll controls all using a chromatic scale for piano, register "on and off" perforations for the separate ranks of pipes so they may use the same scale as piano, and controls for all effects.
This piano was acquired in 2006 and restored in 2010.
Another view of the Seeburg G with the doors open revealing the interior workings. Note the pipes and percussion in the upper section, and the roll mechanism in the lower section.
NELSON WIGGEN STYLE 6 ORCHESTRION
The Nelson-Wiggen Co. manufactured coin pianos from about 1920 to 1930. The company was started by defectors from the J. P. Seeburg Piano Co. who wanted to start a unique competitor. As a late comer, their mechanisms were quite advanced and they billed themselves as “the better automatic”, appealing to owners as fine pieces of furniture for sophisticated settings. Their cases were mainly cabinet styles without keyboards, typical for the late era, mostly walnut, and they used mainly clear rather than art glass
Driven by an electric motor to a “rotary style” vacuum pump, the paper 10-tune roll allows openings in a 65-note tracker bar to activate tiny leather and stem valves which activate a small “pneumatic bellows” that force each piano and xylophone or bell note to activate. Each has separate valves, pneumatics, and lengthy tubing. Expression is also provided by automatic soft and loud pedal controls.
The Style 6 packed a lot of music into a small cabinet and appealed to restaurants, bars, and parlors. The piano features 28 xylophone bars, bass drum, snare drum, tympani, triangle, castanets, wood block, and mandolin. Some of the percussion operates by means of a special switching mechanism that allows them to play alternatively using the same tracker bar hole. The music roll controls all using a chromatic scale for piano, register “on and off” perforations for the xylophones so they may use the same scale as piano, and controls for all other effects.
This piano was acquired in 2008 and was originally restored in the 1970’s but its deterioration since then required further work in 2008 to restore a level of playing quality.