History of the music box - The website of automatons, automata and androids.

According to the technical dictionary of musics and music boxes of the Conservatoire Autonome des boîtes à musique (Independent Conservatory of music boxes) in Geneva, a music box is a mechanical music instrument based on a steel comb with several fingers which are fixed on one edge and raisen up on the other edge by the pins of a cylinder (or disk). It rotates by means of a handle, a spring or another small device.

Created at the end of the 1800s in Europe, the music box ranges from toys to royal gifts passing through jewelry and pieces of furniture. It is also included in the "musical" items.


A 72 notes Reuge music box - The website of automatons, automata and androids.

The sound system of a music box is made up of several tempered steel fingers which are fixed on one edge and then vibrate —not through percussion or friction, but through the movement of the other mobile edge to finally release.

The vibrating steel fingers of a music box constitute the sound system if only combined with the deck to give a full and pure tone and the box itself for wood amplifies sound: the bottom deals as a resonance chamber.

The play system of the music box, i.e.fingers' raise and release, is directly enabled through bumps

A 72 notes Reuge music box
A Reuge Music disk music box - The website of automatons, automata and androids.          A Reuge Music cylinder music box - The website of automatons, automata and androids.
Reuge Music disk and cylinder music boxes

placed on a mobile area (cylinder, disk, plate), or through a set of mechanical parts which detect the punches on a mobile support: the reading system. These bumps or punches translate the score, the notes to play in a certain lapse of time: it is the memory system. The memory system driving has therefore two functions: time and energy supply.

This is made possible by a clock movement made up of a spring which stocks energy and a system ensuring a more or less steady speed, both being linked together by a proper gearing. The spring can be replaced by a weight if the musical system is set inside a weight clock or later by an electric motor.

Historically, it seems that the music box had been invented twice: once by Josef Nagy in Hungary in the 18th century being fan-shaped with platform, and twice by Antoine Favre, i.e. the cylinder type with piled up fingers and then comb-shaped.

The music box was then miniaturized in order to be set into fashionable jewlry: seal rings and other kind of rings, watch keys and sometimes along with a mounted automaton. The first commercial success of the music box (1805 - 1815) is due to this particular shape.

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