The Evolution of the Music Box

Antique music boxes are important and cherished pieces of history that are collected worldwide. Their rich history enchants collectors through the ages. Read along and learn all about the evolution of the music box.

Swiss Rosewood Cylinder Music Box With Table, circa 1885

The automatic music box has a long and storied history. Music boxes gained popularity starting in the 1800's. Automated machines became more and more popular as technology developed. Music boxes were known as status symbols of their day, because only the most affluent could afford to purchase one. They delighted royalty and wealthy families throughout Europe and the United States.

JH Heller Rosewood Music Box, circa 1880

The cylinder music box was most popular from the 1840's to the 1890's.  Handmade predominantly by the Swiss, these music boxes could play multiple songs on one cylinder. Some cylinder music boxes had interchangeable cylinders with different songs. Makers like Nicole Freres and Heller became famous for their unique music boxes.

Symphonion Disc Music Box, circa 1890

The late 1800's saw the shift from cylinder music boxes to disc music boxes. These music boxes used steel discs that measures from six inches up to 27 inches wide. Discs made it easier for specific songs to be played at the user's request. German manufactures excelled at making disc music boxes, and in this decade American manufacturers grew in popularity as well. Makers like Regina and Olympia mass-produced disc music boxes in America, allowing American households to have a method of playing music on-demand.

American Olympia Disc Music Box, circa 1890

By 1900, disc music boxes had effectively replaced cylinder music boxes in popularity. By this time, these mechanical wonders had evolved into works of art. Music boxes were made with ornate inlay, intricate designs, and even stained glass. The music box below is a beautiful example of a top quality coin-operated disc changer music box by Regina, dating from 1900.

Regina Corona Stained Glass Double Comb Disc Music Box, circa 1900

This coin-operated music box has an automated disc changer and tune selector.

The music box's heyday ended with the rise of the phonograph, a revolutionary way to play recorded sound. As the cylinder and disc phonograph found intense popularity, music boxes became less and less popular. Some music box manufacturers merged with larger companies, while most went out of business. Other companies like Regina attempted to break into the phonograph industry but proved to be unsuccessful due to larger companies like Edison and Victor.

Edison Oak Cygnet Horn Cylinder Phonograph, circa 1906

Today, antique music boxes are collected by enthusiasts around the globe. They are viewed as beautiful and stunning works of art. Most antique music boxes were built to last, and this is why they are so widely coveted by antique admirers today. The music box below, a reproduction by Porter, is a modern version of the Edwardian-era disc music box. Music boxes make great gifts for the history enthusiast or antique lover in your life.


Estate Double Comb Porter Disc Music Box


Automatic Musical Instrument Collectors Association

Collector's World, Inc.

Musical Box Society International

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Posted in Antique Features.