Music Boxes

Antique music boxes and music box movements

Music boxes are thought by many to be among the most magical of collectibles. The very idea that a tiny piece of machinery, small enough to fit in your hand, is capable of playing such a variety of sweet, delicate tunes is such a fascinating one that millions of people have been captivated by them for hundreds of years now.

Mechanized devices that create music have been around since as early as the 14th century, although they bear little resemblance to the ones we are used to seeing. The first devices to use the "pinned tumbler" system that all musicboxes now use were created of wood. Instead of plucking the metal teeth to create sound as later boxes did, these tumblers would strike miniature bells to create their tunes. Unfortunately, the songs that could be played were limited to just a few notes, or else the machines would be enormous.

The first boxes as we recognize them today were created in Switzerland in the 16th century. Tiny metal combs with teeth of varying length were arranged in a certain order so that when plucked by the tumbler within, a gentle tinkling melody could be heard. With this innovation, artisans were then able to make them with a much wider array of melodies than the first music box movements, which were extremely rudimentary by comparison. Today, a high-quality one can play entire songs with amazing detail and clarity, some as many as 144 notes!

Despite the fact that even small countries are now able to mass produce musicboxes inexpensively, the majority of collectors still agree that a Swiss made music box movement is second to none in beauty and melody. With centuries to perfect their craft, it's not very difficult to understand why.

Advances in miniaturization have led to ever-fancier designs, even allowing movements to be placed in snow globes, jewelry boxes and figurines to create a world of musical collectibles to delight fans of every age. An inexpensive music box with movements made from plastic can even be purchased at toy stores for babies and children.

Collecting has been more of a low key hobby in recent years, having not yet enjoyed quite the popularity boom that porcelain dolls and coins are seeing, but those who collect them are extremely devoted. Part of this love can be attributed to the fact that they are comparatively harder-wearing than some collectibles. Even antique boxes from centuries past that may look a little run-down on the surface still play as beautifully as the day they were first created. Another big part is the connection they have to the past, a reminder of simpler times when a brass tumbler was the height of technology.

One of the most well-known makers in the world is the Switzerland based Reuge music box company, which has been making these musical works of art since the mid-1800s without ever compromising workmanship. In fact, they still make pocket watches with music and tiny animated characters by using the same method as their founder did in 1865, by incorporating the smallest movement in the world!

Building your new and antique music box collection is one of the areas that has been dramatically improved by the Internet. Once upon a time a collector would have had to rely on a world-traveling relative or catalogue to even dream of acquiring a Reuge, and even then they might have to order it by going on someone else's description. Online ordering makes it simple to select, view, and even listen before you buy, and most of the time the bank takes care of all the currency conversion hassles for you.

A newer and probably better known line of collectible musicboxes are the Disney water globes. If you have a beloved favorite Disney character or movie, the odds are good that there is a musical globe for you. Each year, and with the release of each new feature or character, Disney introduces a new globe for a limited time. These high-quality snow globes feature intricately carved scenes and movements that play the refrain from that movie. For example, an incarnation of the Snow White globe plays "A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes."

Most seem to only increase in value as time goes by, though in some cases the value is more sentimental than others. In either case, it's very important to take good care of them to make sure they last a lifetime. The most important thing you can do to take care of your box is to never exert undue force on the mechanism. If, when turning the key, you feel even the slightest resistance do not wind any further. Although it may not be apparent immediately, repeated force on the gears will slowly strip them and damage your box movement permanently.

Antique boxes in particular should be kept in an area that is free of extreme temperatures and high humidity. Take special care to keep them out of direct sunlight.

You can purchase maintenance kits to keep your music box's movement in good condition through the years, but if you are concerned about the condition it may be best to allow a professional to clean and inspect it. Never touch the movement unless absolutely necessary. Oils from your skin can sit on the metal and eventually eat through the mechanism. If you must touch the movement, be sure to wipe it down thoroughly afterward with a lint-free cloth.

Many antique music boxes still play in perfect working order decades later, thanks to good care by collectors. With proper care of the music movement, you can even have it transplanted into a new frame, should the old one fall into disrepair. This durability combined with the care and love of a collector will make even the most inexpensive musicbox a treasured heirloom to be passed down through the generations.


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