News & Insights

The Early Music Makers: Mechanical Music at Tennants

16th December 2019. By Kegan Harrison

Of the multitude of niche collecting areas at auction one of the most appealing is Mechanical Music, and in January Tennants Auctioneers will stage one of the most important sales of Mechanical Music in recent years. Part of the Scientific and Musical Instruments, Cameras and Tools Sale on 22nd January, the Mechanical Music section will include a cross-section of different formats spanning the history of musical boxes, with some fine and rare examples from private collections.

Mechanical Music encompasses not only musical boxes but phonographs, gramophones, early wirelesses and televisions and automata. Music boxes, however, tend to be the stars of the show; these amazing feats of Swiss technical engineering still stagger enthusiasts the world over. With examples from the small novice tabatiére type, to the superb bells, drum and organ accompaniment orchestral, all the way to the extremely rare and superbly notated overture format, collectors and visitors to the sale will have the opportunity to listen to and appreciate these rare objects.

The highlight of the sale is an extremely fine and rare Piano-Forte Overture Box by Nicole Frères, the Swiss makers who produced the most revered musical boxes. With nearly 240 teeth on the comb, the pre-Grand Format dimension cylinder provides an exceptional quality of sound; in the world of analogue pre-recording sound, this box provides the closest comparison to live music it was possible to produce. One of the finest examples of this super rare format to appear on the international market for some time, it is being offered with an estimate of £10,000-15,000 (plus buyer’s premium).

One of the rarest and most astounding disc musical boxes ever made is also included in the sale – the 26-inch Orphenion coin-operated upright disc music box, which stands on a disc bin. Fewer than eight examples of this music box are known to exist, and this is the first time one has appeared on the market in Europe for over a decade. A monumental piece, it comes with a fine and varied selection of operatic, patriotic and traditional melodies on both original and later period discs and is on offer with an estimate of £6,000-9,000 (plus buyer’s premium). A further Polyphon 19 5/8-inch coin-operated upright music box is also entered with an estimate of £3,000-4,000 (plus buyer’s premium).

Barrel organs were very popular in the mid to late 19th century, with larger types wheeled through the smog-misted streets of London. Home versions began to be produced, with an American company, GEM, producing models which played small barrels known as cobs. An example of the largest and best-selling Grand version is entered into the sale with an estimate of £250-350 (plus buyer’s premium); complete with a good selection of cobs and housed in the original transit case, examples of this organ are rarely seen in such good condition today.

Singing bird automatons are always a firm favourite with collectors, and three good examples are offered in the sale. An in-demand singing bird box by Reuge is offered with an estimate of £1,200-1,500 (plus buyer’s premium). Housed in a superb faux lapis lazuli case with its original factory card box, this mechanical marvel has over 100 moving parts and four separate movements despite only being one-inch wide.

Also on offer are examples of early recorded sound apparatus, such as the Edison Home Phonograph (estimate: £300-500 plus buyer’s premium); Edison was the inventor of true recorded sound, and this phonograph is complete with the original concert horn supported on adjustable crane, and comes with a good library of wax cylinders. Early televisions make an appearance too, with a 1949 Bush type TV22 on offer with an estimate of £120-180 (plus buyer’s premium). Housed in an iconic art-deco inspired brown Bakelite case, it is recognised the world over as being one of the finest and most commercially successful television sets ever made.

Packed with historical pieces and some of the finest examples of Mechanical Music, the sale is guaranteed to spark the interest of collectors the world over. An illustrated catalogue will be available from 8th January, and public viewing opens on Tuesday 21st January.

View Sale Details

Kegan Harrison

Kegan Harrison

Toys and Collectables, Sporting and Fishing, Scientific Instruments, Cameras and Tools, Musical Instruments and Mechanical Music Specialist

+ 44 (0) 1969 623780

Find out more
< Back to News