What are mechanical musical instruments?
Mechanical musical instruments are machines that use coded information (such as on a metal cylinder or disk, or a paper roll) to perform musical pieces on tuned metal teeth, pipes or strings. Mechanical musical instruments create a live musical performance, unlike record players, tape players, or CDs. Although old-fashioned phonographs are not technically musical instuments, their close association with music boxes makes them of great interest to individuals interested in antique musical machines.
I want to start a collection, but how do I start?
Above all, start with an education! Speak with a reputable dealer about the differences and similarities of items that interest you. Purchase or borrow books on the subject, and read about what interests you in hobbyist newsletters and technical journals. A great source of information is among the members of the associations dedicated to the preservation of antique mechanical musical instruments. Membership is relatively inexpensive, but the return on the investment is great: a nearly limitless source of information, support, expertise, and direction in the field of mechanical music. You may contact the following organizations for more information:
- Musical Box Society International
- Automatic Musical Instrument Collector's Association
- Michigan Antique Phonograph Society
- California Antique Phonograph Society
A word about Ebay:
Ebay has become a very popular way for collectors and dealers to exchange antiques and for unscrupulous vendors to take advantage of unsuspecting individuals. Some dealers misstate the truth in their descriptions of items, describing new parts as old, refinished cases as original, and "admit" their lack of expertise in a subject they know quite a bit about. They establish astronomical reserve prices or advertise "no reserve" when in fact they would never let the auction price be carried simply by honest bidders. As a bidder on Ebay, please be careful, and whenever possible, consult with a reputable dealer or collector before placing a bid, in order to establish the accuracy of the description and the item's rough market value. In the end, there is no replacement for actually seeing an item before you purchase, observing it, and weighing the amount the seller wants for the item with your desire to purchase it. The unfrenzied atmosphere offered by many "real" and "virtual" antiques dealers -- in a non-auction format -- is, in my opinion, a better way to obtain items for your collection.