by Dr. Lori Verderame
History of Music Boxes
Traditional music boxes gained popularity in the 18th Century with the French court of Louis XIV. A long and established tradition, music boxes were well known in Europe and America. In the 19th Century, the invention of the original cylinder music boxes occurred which consisted of a brass cylinder and numerous steel pins that plucked a tuned steel music comb as the cylinder rotated with the aid of a clockwork motor. Cylinders ranged in length from about two inches to nearly two feet, and up to five inches diameter. Cylinder music boxes, while musically fabulous, had the major drawback of being only able to perform the tunes that had been “pinned” to the cylinder originally. The repetition of the same music became tiresome whereby these boxes would be quickly retired.
By 1886, a new music box style appeared in Germany called the disc playing music box. The new disk-playing machine allowed music box owners to change disks with ease. The disks were mass produced inexpensively using metal and by 1890, disk manufacturers were dedicated to the production of disks for the new machines including those produced by one of the most impressive firms in American music box manufacturing, the Regina Company of Rahway, NJ.
In 1894, the Regina Company was founded. The cylinders on most Regina and other high-end name brand boxes may have as many as 10,000 pins on a 13 inches long comb. The tuned music combs have teeth that must be tuned after a piece has been moved or relocated to a particular location.
The Regina Music box’s rich sound remains unsurpassed in America and elsewhere as the mechanism for the instrument differs from others of the period. The interchangeable music disks made by Regina would fit all of their boxes of the same size. These interchangeable disks or tune sheets as they were called at the time of their introduction in the late 19th Century are typically white in color or silver in color with a printed Regina logo and other graphic designs. The Regina tune sheets are steel discs with the printed song title and logo directly on the disk. The metal projections below the tune sheet hit a star wheel similar to a clock gear as the disk passes by. The star wheel rotates as it plucks the teeth of the music combs to produce music.
On most Regina music boxes, one (single) or two (double) combs are mounted under one radius of the tune sheet, and thus move across about half the case width. The comb and wheel mechanism are mounted to a steel plate that runs across the full width or half the width of the case. The plate is bolted to the wooden cabinet which thus acts as a sounding board and produces the volume for the music. The popularity of these boxes spanned from about 1890 to 1915 by Regina and values spiked upwards to $25,000 for a disc music box with tune sheets. Do you have one like this? As the gramophone replaced these state of the art music boxes, the Regina firm produced a combination music box and phonograph from 1915 to 1920, but never experienced the success of its famed music boxes.
Request an online appraisal of your Regina music box and discs from Dr. Lori.