Unusual Instruments, Part 6 – Antique Roller Organs

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Home Music Box Roller Organ

I can’t help myself. I am addicted to music and collect objects of musical beauty. I am especially drawn to mechanical musical instruments and have been fortunate to add many to my collection over the years. In fact, you could say I invented my own by creating the first musically tuned windchimes, which are mechanical musical instruments played automatically by the wind. Some of the instruments in my collection include roller organs, which were in vogue between the 1880s and 1920s. They were made here in New York State by highly skilled craftspeople.

Chautauqua Roller Organ

In this video, I demonstrate two roller organs from my collection that play 20 reeds using pressure created by hand-cranking the gears. This rotates the cobs, and the pins on the cobs open valves that activate the reeds. The first organ I demonstrate in the video was sold by the tens of thousands in the Sears, Roebuck Catalog around 1902 for $3.25 and included 3 cob rolls. In the video, I called it a Gem Roller Organ but it is actually a hybrid of a Gem and a Home Music Box. There were 1,200 different cob rolls of music available back then representing popular music of the time, including marches, waltzes, hymns and Tin Pan Alley favorites. Later on, the phonograph and then the radio stole the show and roller organs fell by the wayside. I am always thrilled to be able to hear the past while being in the moment.

Garry Demonstrates the Antique Roller Organs

Thanks for listening!

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