FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)
Just as installing a CD system in your automobile does not change its essential nature as a car, installing a small novelty-type musical movement in a cigar box does not make your cigar box a music box.
The MBSI is not able to tell you much about any collectible item into which the item's manufacturer has installed a small musical movement obtained from one of several makers. The place to go for information on those collectibles -- be they furniture, ceramic items, stuffed toys, jewelry boxes, or whatever -- is the group, magazine, or collectors' club which is interested in the item used to house the musical movement.
There are exceptions to this rule. Musical Christmas tree stands is one such exception as are Lador powder boxes and musical photo albums. Boxes and watches sold under the Reuge name are usually worth repairing as are those made by Sankyo. There are a few others but by and large, when the significance of the musical aspect is far outweighed by the importance of its housing, the object in question falls outside the focus of the MBSI.
There are many ways to collect mechanical music: You can try to collect one of each type of mechanical music instrument (not an easy task, and one that requires lots of space to store them). You can specialize in one type of mechanical music such as cylinder or disc music boxes, band organs, mechanical organs, musical automata or snuff boxes or any one of dozens of types of mechanical music instruments that can still be found today. Collections can also be built around mechanical music novelties such as cigarette lighters that play a tune, ladies' powder boxes with music, musical children's toys known as manivelles and even toilet paper rollers with built-in mechanical music. With an abundance of literature related to mechanical music, interesting collections of those items alone can be accumulated. Many of these items continue to be available at reasonable prices. When assembled into a collection, they present a fascinating picture of society as it was during the object's heyday.
One thing you should know: Just as in every other collecting category, the best pieces at the fairest prices go to those who have the patience to study the field. You should read books, join the MBSI and become somewhat knowledgeable before setting out on a buying spree. By joining a collector organization, you will have the opportunity to use its library, to learn from its experts, to see the members' collections, and to participate in all the fun and joy of exploring this fascinating field. After you have learned something about mechanical music and decided what you want to collect, you will have many opportunities to find or purchase an example for yourself and to enjoy its musical performance over and over again.
One of the common characteristics of these organizations is that their members make their collections available to other members. Thus collectors can see and hear a variety of instruments far beyond anything available in any single museum or even groups of museums anywhere in the world. If learning about the field of mechanical music is of interest to you, consider joining one of the above mentioned societies. The cost is low and the rewards in terms of knowledge, pleasure and human relationships, are high! A listing of collector organizations whose focus is on mechanical music can be found under links.
Many people email us asking, "How much is my instrument worth?" Unfortunately it is not possible for us to give a meaningful or reliable estimate of an instrument's value, because such an appraisal requires a hands-on examination. Rarity, desirability, and condition are prime factors in determining value, and a collector or dealer in your area are the persons best equipped to evaluate your particular instrument.
There are lists of appraisers published on the web by such organizations as the International Society of Appraisers, whose website is at http://www.isa-appraisers.org. A 30-page list of appraisers in various fields, arranged by zip code is printed in Maloney's Antiques & Collectibles Resource Directory, 5th ed., 1999. Other, less reliable but useful sources for estimating an object's value are price guides such as the annual "Kovels' Antiques & Collectibles Price List," which you can find at your local library. Oftentimes your object or similar ones are offered on eBay, and the prices shown there may be a rough guide to market value.
You may want to use our MBSI web site links page to locate a dealer specializing in your type of instrument who may be able to offer you more individualized advice than it would be possible to obtain from the sources listed above. Remember these two maxims: An item is worth only what someone is willing to pay for it, and A dealer can offer only a portion (perhaps 50%) of what he hopes to sell an item for, if he wants to remain in business.
It is natural to want to know as much as possible about the musical instrument that you own and cherish. Fortunately much research has been published about every type of mechanical musical instrument that has ever been made -- from player pianos to carousel organs to automatic harps and violins to mechanical orchestra to cylinder and disc music boxes -- and the MBSI has much of it in its Member's Lending Library.
We are glad to provide brief answers to questions about instrument identification, as well as brief histories of the firm which made the instrument, to our website visitors. We can also refer you to the most authoritative information available, if you want more than the brief data we would provide via email. However, for a person seriously interested in the field of mechanical music, full membership in the MBSI is the answer.
A good general reference book on mechanical music -- indeed the bible of the field -- is the "Encyclopedia Of Automatic Musical Instruments," by Q. David Bowers, a copiously illustrated, well-documented, 1007-page compendium first published (by the now-defunct Vestal Press) in 1972, and reprinted many times. It is still in print and to be found in most large libraries; if not in your local library, it is available via inter-library loan everywhere (ISBN 0-911572-08-2; Library of Congress record number 78-187497). Bowers' section on the Regina disc music box, for example, is very comprehensive, covering every aspect of company history and all Regina models (p. 170-212).
For cylinder music boxes there are several books by experts such as Arthur W.J.G. Ord-Hume, Graham Webb, and others. The chief category of question we get about instrument identification is from people who want to identify the maker of their antique cylinder box. Cylinder box manufacturers did not often put their names on their products, leaving a retailer to claim the box as his.
Let us say here that pictures of the cabinet work or woodwork of a cylinder box are of no value in answering the question, "Who made my music box and when?" What is very helpful, however, is a clear picture of the box's tune card or tune sheet. Ord-Hume and H.A.V. Bulleid have done considerable work researching tune card designs and linking them to the company that used each. If we see the tune card, we can usually say who made the box -- and if the picture is clear enough to allow use to read the handwriting of the tune titles, we may be able to approximate the date of its manufacture, from knowing when the tunes were composed.
One of the MBSI services available to everyone is our Regina certificate service.
MBSI is the keeper of the
original Regina shipping records, saved from its Rahway, NJ, factory. Any
owner of a Regina disc music box can obtain the pedigree of their Regina in
the form of a certificate showing the date it was shipped and to whom. Send
the serial number of the machine, together with a $5 check made payable to
the M.B.S.I., to MBSI, PO Box 10196, Springfield, MO 65808-0196.
Certificates may also be ordered on the MBSI Store page of this web site.