Roller Organ's and Organette's are hand-cranked reed playing instruments that were produced from the late 1870's through the mid 1920's. They quickly fell out of favor after the introduction of the phonograph around the turn of the century but cost much less than disk or cylinder music boxes manufactured during the same period. Organette's were produced in the thousands in both the USA and Europe and were considered the common-mans form of entertainment since music boxes and other automatic mechanical music instruments were much more expensive. Sadly most ended up in the attic, in the barn or simply thrown away, but thanks to the internet they're enjoying a renewed interest.
Some organette's use paper music-rolls similar to a player piano, some use metal or cardboard disk's and others use thick folded cardboard book-music as the media. The Autophone Co. of New York produced thousands of instruments called the "Roller Organ" which used pinned wooden cylinders that are commonly called "cobs" or "rollers". The name stuck, and even today paper-roll playing organette's are mistakenly called Roller Organ's. Organette's are a relatively inexpensive introduction to mechanical music as well as a great investment. So look around - there might be one waiting to be found in your attic, estate sale or local auctions.
The "Autophone", invented by Henry B. Horton in 1878, was the first organette produced in the U.S.A. The pressure operated organette's were available in a hand-squeezed 22-note model and larger 32-note model. The larger 32-note machine was also produced in an elaborate floor standing model. Horton also invented the Calendar Clock in 1864.
Click on any photo for a video of the organette playing!
The Autophone Company replaced the early model organette's invented by Horton and began production of the Gem, Concert, Grand, Chautauqua and Home Music Box, as well as a few other branded names. Earlier models, like the one pictured above, were pressure operated which forced air out through the reeds. This was changed early on in production to the more efficient vacuum system which became the standard for the majority of American made organette's.
The pneumatic operated organette's, such as the Mandolina, Celestina, Symphonia and others were the most expensive organette's made due to their higher quality craftsmanship and more complex mechanical systems. Each individual note is actuated by a small pneumatic valve that opens the airway to the reeds. The pneumatic action allows the organette
to play fast and repetitive notes not possible on standard
paper-as-valve organette's or cob organs. They are by far the best sounding and most powerful of all the organette's that were produced.
The "Tournaphone" and "Cabinetto" had the largest music roll of all the table top organette's produced that's almost 13" wide! The large resonator for the reeds gives this instrument a deep mellow tone not heard on smaller organette's. The Tournaphone Company also produced the Aurephone and Celcelia organette's.
Produced by Paul Ehrlich, the Ariston is one of several pressure operated organette's that were produced in Germany. Ariston's were available in 16, 19, 24 and 36 reeds. Some models were also sold with a Tremolo Stop, Forte Stop, and double reeds. The majority of German instruments that were made used punched zink or thick cardboard disk's as the music media. Most European organette's are pressure operated rather than vacuum.
The Web Ring below is a ring of web sites for Enthusiasts
and Collectors of Crank Organs, Roller Organs, Organettes, Paper Roll or
Disc Organs, Barrel Organs, Busker Organs, Monkey Organs, Street Organs,
or any type of Hand-Operated Mechanical Reed or Pipe Organ.