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On Music Boxes, Music Box Mechanisms & Tunes


FAQ - Frequently Asked Questions

Musical Boxes & Mechanical Music

The History of Music Boxes
Musical Movements in Music Boxes
Music Box Color Chart
Music Box Inlays

Customizing a Music Box
Your Own Custom Tune

Care of Music Boxes
Music Box Repair Service



The History of Music Boxes - A Short Synopsis:

Music boxes can be traced back to 1796.  Antoine Favre, a watchmaker from Geneva, is known to have fathered nearly two centuries of mechanical dreams.  At first merely a novel mechanism installed in watches, snuff boxes, perfume bottles, pendants, etc., the musical movement became the glory of Sainte-Croix during the second half of the 19th century and the industry's activity represented 10% of Switzerland's total volume of exports. It was a source of delight to the more affluent of the world, from Europe to China.

Edison's phonograph, World War I and the crash of 1929, hit the music box industry very hard, almost causing it's demise, but by the end of World War II, American troops stationed in Europe, finding great interest in these "novelties" were bringing them home as souvenirs and the Swiss music boxes were given a new lease on life.

What is Marquetry? A Brief History.

Marquetry is the art of creating decorative designs and pictures by skillfully utilizing the grain, figure and colors of thin veneers and sometimes other materials such as shell or ivory.  While the exact origins of marquetry are unknown, it is known that ancient artisans devised techniques to create objects decorated with exquisite inlays of wood, stone, metal, shell, bone, ivory and other exotic materials. They would carve out a recess and fill in the resulting void with the material of their choice, using glues made by heating the bones or skins of animals or fish. Egyptian hieroglyphs and paintings indicate that veneers were cut with bronze adzes and applied as decorative elements to caskets. At this time mosaic work was also widespread, so it can be imagined that it did not take long for craftsmen to start experimenting with designs formed from different veneers. 

In the mid-16th century, innovations in spring-driven clocks resulted in the development of the fretsaw, a handheld tool which could be used to precisely cut inlay elements. The fretsaw consisted of a U-shaped metal frame on which was stretched a narrow blade made from a clock spring, at the time the best and most uniform steel available. These relatively thin blades were given very fine teeth that were well suited to cutting thin sheets of wood and other materials.

With the ability to now very accurately cut thin sheets of wood, bone, ivory, shell and other materials into nearly arbitrarily complex shapes, 16th century craftsman began to piece together these materials and shapes into more complex images. The approach, now termed “marquetry” from the French marqueter (“to inlay as on a piece of furniture”), involved the cutting, fitting and gluing of pieces of material into a single sheet and then gluing the resulting sheet down onto a substrate. As such, marquetry differed substantially from inlay in that the design was essentially completed before being attached to the end piece of furniture, rather than being used as an element within the end piece. The earliest known example of marquetry dated 1563 is from Breslau, Germany.

Over the next few centuries, marquetry schools were established in France, Germany and Holland.  During the 16th to 18th centuries much exquisite work was produced focused primarily on decorating furniture, especially for royalty.  By the early 17th century, marquetry largely replaced inlaid decoration in furniture. Floral designs and “seaweed” marquetry (having the form of symmetrical, foliate scrolls) became quite popular design elements in furniture of the period. 

Geometric patterns (often referred to as “parquetry”) were also quite popular. Eventually, marquetry extended westward from Europe to America and beyond.  Today there is slightly more than a handful of professional marquetarians. [End Quote]

Some we (at TheMusicHouse.Com) know, reside in Sorrento and Ercolano Italy. They are the skillful masters responsible for most of our beautiful inlaid music box cabinets that we lovingly offer for sale. Sorrento music boxes are well known for their intricate detail and high-quality craftsmanship.

For more in-depth information and images, please visit The American Marquetry Association at their website

TheMusicHouse.Com offers a very extensive range of musical movements.
Notable Swiss manufacturers included Cundet, Lador, Jobin, Thorens and Reuge. Today only Reuge and Jobin survive, joined by some newer (mid 20th century), Asian companies, Sankyo's Orpheus is the most important.
Click HERE for more information about Orpheus and Sankyo

This may be the best time to explain the Swiss Romance mechanism. Click HERE for that particular information.

Musical Movements:
Basic movements you are likely to find in our inventory.:
1.12  (1 tune, 12 notes)  
1.18  (1 tune, 18 notes)
1.22  (1 tune, 22 notes)
These tunes play from 4 bars to 8 bars of music in 2/4, 3/4 or 4/4 time depending upon the diameter of the cylinder. (The older mechanism have wider cylinders. A movement can last three minutes or so when fully wound. All tunes repeat after the cylinder has made one full revolution.

1.28   (1 tune 28 notes)  
2.28   (2 tunes 28 notes) older Swiss Mechanisms

1.30   (1 tune 30 notes)  currently being made, Asian only
2.30   (2 tunes 30 notes) currently being made, Asian only 
3.30   (3 tunes 30 notes) currently being made, Asian only

1.36   (36 notes,  1 tunes) Swiss
2.36   (36 notes,  2 tunes) Swiss 

1.50 (1 Tune 50 notes) New Asian  and older Swiss
2.50 (2 Tunes 50 notes) Asian and older Swiss 
3.50  (3 tunes 50 notes) Asian and older Swiss


Changing movements:
3.50   (50 notes, 3 tunes) Older Swiss and Asian
3.72   (72 notes, 3 tunes) Swiss and Asian
3.100  (3 tunes 100 notes) Asian
3.144  (3 tunes 144 notes) Swiss

4 tunes 60 notes
4 tunes 144 notes

50 note, 5 cylinders, 10 tunes
72 note, 5 cylinders, 15 tunes
144 note, 5 cylinders, 20 tunes

Specialty items:
17 note, 1 tune (for lockets and watches)
144 notes, 4 tunes with special drum and bells movement

Disc movements:  This invention dates back to the end of the 19th century and heralded the advent of the phonograph.  The disc movements are very easy to use and allow the collector to build up a library of tunes.  This new type of musical movement led to the first real crisis among manufacturers of cylinder movements.  Today quite a number of American and Japanese collectors share a passion for this specific type of mechanical musical instrument.  

30 note, 4.5" Swiss
28 note, 4.75 sometimes called 5" Asian
41 note, 11"

Musical Movements and  Available Tunes

Example:  1.18   represents 1 tune played by an 18 note movement.   To select a specific tune, please see our TUNE SELECTOR for 1.18 movements.  Available Mechanisms, Discs (Tunes)  are on a separate page from our Music Box Section.

Some of the music boxes are available with a choice of movement size.  For example: 1.18, 1.30 or 1.36

In some cases an item is supplied with a fixed tune or with a restricted set of tunes.

We have listed some "suggested tunes" for some specific theme boxes, such as the golf inlay boxes, but if you see a "TUNE SELECTOR" you may select your tune from one of the appropriate sizes, 18, 30, 36, or 50 note tune list that will fit your desired box.

These days most of our boxes, unless otherwise noted, are priced with an Asian movement.  The Swiss movements are more expensive.  We always try to fill our customers' requests with the Sankyo (Japanese) movements but sometimes the tune is only available as a Swiss mechanism. Should that be the case we will notify you .  You may request a Swiss movement, if you wish.  Please note: Because Reuge ceased production of their 18 note mechanisms some years ago, certain tunes have become scarce.

Music Box Color Chart

Natural woods

NO: Burl walnut
OL: Burl elm
PA: Rosewood
BL: Blonde (bird's eye maple)


PI: Pink
WR: Wine Red
DB: Dark Blue
LB: Light Blue
PU: Purple
GR: Green
LI: Lilac
WH: White
RE: Coral Red
BK: Black

*Please use for personal reference only - not all available for purchase*

Inlay Pattern Chart

Inlay Pattems and other codes

AN: Anchor inlay
ANG: Angel/cherub inlay
BP: Brass and pewter
CBA: Ballerina inlay
CF: Floral inlay
CH: Heart inlay
Cj: With ring slide/section
CM: Musical instrument inlay
CR or RO: Rose inlay
CO#O: Framed effect, with plain center panel
CO#4: Frame within a frame
CS: Star of David inlay
CV-. Violin inlay
CWB: Wedding bells inlay
CX: Cross inlay
GF: Golf inlay (ball and tee)
GM: Golf inlay (man)
GW.- Golf inlay (woman)
HB: Hummingbird inlay
IN: Instruments inlay
L: Large size
LX: Lined, deluxe version
MN: Menorah inlay
MP: Mother-of-pearl
O: Matte finish"
CXMAS: Christmas inlay

Absence of "O" at end of inlay code indicates a high gloss finish.

*Please use for personal reference only - not all available for purchase*

Customizing a Music Box:  Select a music box and a tune from our TUNE SELECTOR in our Music Box Department and we'll put them together (some music boxes are not suitable for change).  Initials, names or inscriptions cans be engraved on brass or silver plates and applied to the box. Engraving is available when you add to cart. 

Your Own Custom Tune:  We can custom produce your own tune or a tune that is not on any of our tune lists (though copyright/permission must be obtained) You will have several options. We've tried to cover everything on our Custom Page.  To learn more, click on this link:  Feel free to call us if you have any questions.

Care of Music Boxes: Music boxes are precious objects which have taken weeks and sometimes months of painstaking labor to create.  Played and treated gently and given a bit of care,  they will delight your children and grandchildren forever and become a true family hierloom.

When you wind the movement, stop as soon as you feel the slightest resistance, never force it. Protect the movement from dust by keeping the box closed or by keeping the protective glass cover lowered as much as possible.  Never expose your box to sunlight or extreme temperatures.  In hot and humid countries, keep your box closed and in an air-conditioned room.  Do not touch the movement; however,  if it should be touched in error, take care to remove the fingerprints immediately using a lint free cloth.  Be sure to play it from time to time.  Contact us for further information.

Music Box Restoration:  Skilled technicians are available to repair your music box.  Most repairs are handled here, on the premises.  Sometimes we can talk you through an adjustment. Don't hesitate to contact us with your problem.

If you would like to hear other soundbites select from the following libraries:

72 note Soundbite Library  
  50 note Soundbite Library  
  36 note Soundbite Library   
30 note Soundbite Library  
  18 note Soundbite Library  


Other Resources for Music Box Information
Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia - Musical Box
Description and history of music boxes

Musical Box Society
The Musical Box Society International is a non-profit organization dedicated to the enjoyment, study and preservation of all automatic musical instruments.

If you're looking to buy a music box or music box movement or mechanism (the internal works of a music box)
Start at our Music Box Directory where our extraordinary inventory is listed by catagories


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