Wednesday, May 17, 2017

This is a Wurlizter Model 153 Duplex Orchestral Band Organ, built about 1919 by the Rudolph Wurlitzer Company in North Tonawanda, New York.   It is a 54 key organ, which plays 46 notes, actuates 6 stops and plays 2 drums and a cymbal.   It has 164 organ pipes. (Some keys play more than one pipe.)  It is equipped with a glockenspiel (the row of small bells on the lower front of the machine).   This model became the standard  by which Merry Go Round organs were judged.

How Rare Is It?

There were about 169 of this particular model built, the first one in 1916, with the last one in 1936.   We don't really know  how many are still in existence, but it must be a small number by now.   As far as we know there are only 3 of this model presently in use in public.   Wurlitzer made many other models of Band Organs and there are surviving  examples of most of them.   The DeBence Music Museum has one of each of three other models of Wurlitzer band organs.

How Does It Work?

The music is contained on a paper roll with holes punched in it, designated by Wurlizter as style 150, similar to a player piano roll.   The punched holes are "read" by a vacuum  control system that in turn opens valves allowing the compressed air to enter the selected pipes and play the music.   The vacuum and compressed air are supplied by wood and leather bellow pumps driven by a crankshaft, which is turned by the electric motor mounted on tope of the organ.   This model WURLITZER is equipped with two tracker frames which allow it to play continuously, since while one is rewinding the other plays.

What Is It Worth?   What Did it Cost?

In good condition, the current value is in the $20,000 range.   In 1916 the selling price was $1500.

Where Has It Been?

Built about 1919, its location is unknown until it was in use at Idora Park in Youngstown, OH.   Jake purchased it from Idora in the early 1980's.   At Idora it was played behind an ornate front façade, from the previous German organ, but Jake was not interested in the façade at their asking price, so he bought it less the façade, which was later destroyed in a fire.   Today, it plays behind a reproduced façade.   The center section is an original Wurlitzer part donated by a museum member.   The drum and top sections were built by us from photos of original units.

Background Information

The Wurlitzer Company got its start in Cincinnati, OH in 1956 when Rudolph Wurlitzer, a German immigrant, started importing German musical instruments  for sale in the USA.   The Rudolph Wurlitzer Company was incorporated in 1890 and operated a manufacturing plant in Cincinnati.  In 1909, they bought the distressed deKleist firm in North Tonawanda, NY, which had been making mechanical music machines.   This factory became the Wurlitzer manufacturing center for their line of player pianos, orchestrions and band organs.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

                                                        The Artizan Air-Calio

Our Air-Calio, serial number 604, was built in 1927 in the Artizan Works in North Tonawanda,
New York.   This 46 note model was introduced as "The new Calliope with an Extra Punch.   Special  voicing  of pipes pitched  to play with band and lower bass tones than any other calliope made makes the instrument smooth, of pleasing tone and great volume without being offensive."   It started life on the midway at Kennywood Park in Pittsburgh, PA.   It is visible on page 144 of Jacques "Kennywood, Roller Coaster Capital of the World".   From there it joined the Larry Givens collection, where it was photographed for inclusion on page 844 of Bowers "Encyclopedia of Mechanical Music".   When that collection was broken up, it was then owned by Mr. Clark of Meadville, who used it in parades in the Sharon, PA area, until it failed. 

In 1957 it was stored in a barn in New Wilmington, PA.  Jake heard about it and went to see if it was for sale.   The story passed to us, was that he was told "it doesn't work, it's in our way, just take it".   To which Jake's reply was "I need a bill of sale", so he paid $1.00 and got a bill of sale.

The tracker bar is scaled to play 65 note Wurlitzer Caliola or APP rolls once you reverse them side for side, but since Artizan used a pneumatic system for play (they called it rewind stop) rather than the Wurlizter mechanical system, you need to add the "play" holes in the roll as well as reversing it for use here.

When it came to us, it was missing the mechanical parts to stop and start the roll drive and the tapered speed control cone was split in two.   The keyboard allowing hand playing was defeated and the play & rewind buttons were disconnected.   All this and several other features have since been restored.

The accepted story is that only 3 of this model were built.   Only one other is now known, residing in Wisconsin.   It was badly damaged in a fire and has been rebuilt.   It has a set of bells mounted behind the pipes.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

                                                              BRUNSWICK MODEL R

This is is a Brunswick Model R phonograph, serial number 227064 in a lowboy style cabinet, probably built in the early 1920s.  

How Rare Is It?
Brunswick was moving into the number 2 spot in phonograph sales in the early 1920s, so there are probably a lot of these still in existence, though the lowboy style is less common.

How Does It Work?
The music is contained in the 78 rpm disc record.   For lateral cut records, the grooves move the needle on the reproducer sideways, which vibrates the diaphragm the needle is connected to, which reproduces the music stored in the disc.   From the diaphragm, the vibrating air is conducted through the tone arm to the back of the built in horn, which directs the sound to the front of the phonograph.   A major feature of this model is the 1917 patented Ultona tone arm, which incorporates a pickup for lateral groove records as produced by everyone except Edison and also a separate correct reproducer for the Edison vertical cut records.

The turntable is driven by a spring motor that you wind up with the side crank.   When fully wound, it will play 3 records before needing to be wound again.  

What Is It Worth?
Current selling price in the $300.00 range.

Where Has It Been?
We have no information prior to 2015, when it was donated to the museum.   When it came to us it needed some work.   The front grille had been inserted upside down, which jammed it in place.   While removing it we further damaged it and the first order of restoration was it's restoration.   The Ultona reproducer was stuck in an in between position due to swelling of the pot metal and had to be freed.

Background Information
John Brunswick moved to America from Switzerland at the age of 14.   He started the Cincinnati  Carriage Company and expanded into wood products by 1845.   The company slogan was "If it's wood we can make it and make it better than anyone else".  They became a major player in the billiard and bowling areas.   They got into the phonograph business in the early 1910s by first building cabinets  for others, then by producing complete phonographs.   By 1920, they were moving into second place in this market, overtaking Columbia and still behind Victor.   Their ownership of their own cabinet making facility allowed them to be first in introducing the all electric phonograph in 1925.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

                                                                   Calliope, or Band Organ?

If you are reading this blog you may not be confused, but we find that the difference between a Band Organ and a Calliope escapes many of our visitors.

Calliope was the ninth Greek muse presiding over beauty and elegance.   The word means beautiful voice, which may be a stretch for many instruments bearing this name.   Basically a Calliope is a bunch of whistles.   This instrument grew out of steam operated equipment, which had whistles used for a warning device,   Somebody listened to the whistle and figured if there were a bunch of tuned whistles, you could produce music with them.    From manually operated whistles, the move to a machine reading music from some source was a logical step.

A Band Organ grew from a different ancestor.   The church organs from the Middle Ages were powered by air generated from a pump worked manually.   The pipes were mostly wood and with some modifications they could be voiced to give various tones.   By the mid 1800s, experiments were under way to add reeds to the wood pipes to mimic trumpets.   If you had enough different sounds available, it could sound like a band, thus the Band Organ was born.   They went under several names depending on their intended purpose.   Thus the large European Dance Organs intended for ballrooms.   When used at an amusement park with a kiddie ride or a carousel, they were usually called Band Organs.   Placed on the midway, they might be called a Fairground Organ.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017


                                                          Not What We Thought It Was

When the museum was opened in 1995, we had a lot of "Extra" items that came along, which were put in storage, mostly on the second and third floors.   When we started our "Open all Floors to the Public" project, we slowly cleaned out these areas and cataloged and stored the items more properly.  

We had one phonograph listed on our inventory as a very early Columbia table model, which we had tucked away and paid no attention to.

One of our summer interns was checking out these stored items for proper ID and condition.   It did not take long to see that this phonograph was not a Columbia, but an external horn 1906 Victor VicII, without a horn.

Once we understood what to look for, we found the horn in our miscellaneous stored parts.   After cleaning and repair, this phonograph became a fine addition to our first floor tour area and is played on many of our tours.

The Victor VicII was first introduced in 1901 as the E model.   Transition to the Vic-II name came in 1905 with the change to a tapered tone arm.   It was a single spring motor table model with an external horn, selling for $30.00 when introduced.   Production continued until 1920, by which time the price was $37.50 and something like 125,000 had been made.

Ref: for background information.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

                                  A Victor Talking Machine Company Mistake

In the early 20th century, the phonograph was just coming into favor with the public and they were widely available in a price range of $25 to $200.

Victor thought that there was a market for an upscale version, so in 1915 the Victrola VV-XVIII was introduced at the selling price of $300.   The cabinet was slightly taller than the other Victor upright models, had curved sides and front, hand carved corners, fancy veneer and gold plated hardware.

Beside the front doors that opened into the lower storage area, it had rear doors (leading basically to no place).   Techinically it was a good Victrola, but it was not a commercial success.   Sales were slow and costs were high.   By the end of 1916, production was discontinued after about 3400 of the spring motor version were produced and the remaining inventory was discounted to $250.  

Our Victor VV-XVIII is not original, but was assembled from original parts.   The case was found at an antique shop in Ogunquit, Maine, where it had been stripped of its playing parts and turned into a dry bar.   The paper decal was dated J1, 1915.   The serial number plate was missing.

We bought it hoping to return it to original construction, but with no real plan to accomplish that job.   After some online hunting, we found a complete set of phonograph hardware in Plano, IL.   They came from a trashed cabinet but the serial number plate was missing.    The only remaining job was reconstructing the shelves in the storage area.   With the curve sides, it seems that the storage shelves were constructed and the case built around them.   We were thus forced to make the shelves in sections and assemble them inside the cabinet.   So we now have a mostly original somewhat restored Victor VV-XVIII with basically unknown provenance.

With thanks to Ron Haring the Victrola Man and

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

A Collections Success Story- The Cremona G

Our Cremona G is serial number 11622; the piano action carries number 7500.

We have no information about the early life of this machine, but when Jake DeBence got it, the pipes, the air chest and the piano air chest were all missing.   The electric motor was missing.   The muffler rail was gone.  The good things were that the stained glass front was intact, the pump and roll drive were intact and the mandolin rail was still in place.  The modulating unit and the pressure reservoirs were also there.

Elizabeth started a search for a piano air chest and about 1970 Don Janisch provided a Cremona piano air chest from a model 10 or 20, which Jake adapted for this model G.   The air chest had more keys and more auxiliary valves than needed, so several functions were blocked off and not used in this application.   The modulating unit was bypassed.

A standard appliance motor (alleged to have been from a washing machine) was substituted for the missing motor and Jake had it playing.

When the museum obtained it with the rest of the collection in 1993, it was displayed and played as part of the main floor tours, until January of 2014, when it was moved to the second floor shop for work.   After posting questions on MMD, we gathered a lot of necessary information from many people about details of the work needed.   In June of 2014, The Laura Smedley Trust, administered by PNC, awarded a grant to pay for having a new set of pipes and the air chest made and we continued on the other work needed to bring it back to near original condition.

A new muffler rail was made.   The mandolin rail was repaired.   A correct motor was mounted and the pumps were rebuilt.   The piano air chest was reworked to provide attachment points for the pipe
pneumatics.   The modulating unit was rebuilt and put back on line.   The piano air chest tracker bar tubing connections were moved from the top to the bottom, out of the path of the new pipe connections for the pipe air chest pneumatics, so the fall board could be closed.   (When Jake adapted the piano stack, he just ran the hosed in front of and then over the top of the stack, which prevented the fall board from closing.)   The piano air chest valves were all checked and reset to proper clearance.   The piano action was repaired as needed.   In January 2015, Bruce Newman of Gold Beach, OR shipped us the new violin pipes and the air chest.   Installing them around a bigger than usual piano air chest was challenging, but accomplished. 

In late March of 2015, everything was working and the machine was placed on our main floor to again become part of the tour.   It sounds great.   A complete article with photos was in the MBSI Journal for Sept/Oct of 2015.