Mechanical Music Through the Ages

A collection of Mechanical Music and Arcade Machines – highlighting examples of the development in mechanical entertainment over time.

Aeolian Model Y (1902 – USA)

The Aeolian Company introduced their “Aeolian” player organ in 1891 playing a 46-note roll. There were other player organs on the market at that time, Wilcox & White’s “Pneumatic Symphony” 44-note organ being the main competitor. Within a few years Aeolian introduced the Aeolian Grand playing a 58-note roll and Wilcox & White introduced their 58-note “Symphony” organ. The Aeolian Grand was unusual in that not all stops could be played from the keyboard – some could only be operated in automatic mode. This was an advance from earlier instruments which incorporated two completely separate organs, one for hand-playing and the other only operable via the roll mechanism.

Around 1898 Aeolian introduced the Orchestrelle. The “improvement” was the entirely new organ system. This was built by the Vocalion Organ Company and was based on Vocalion’s own “Wright system” reed organ. This was patented in 1893 and used individual resonators over each reed. These resonators modified the tones with slightly different shapes for each rank. There were larger reeds and these were operated by pressure as opposed to the usual suction method. The organ operated by a pneumatic pouch and valve system. The combined width of the reeds, resonators and pneumatic system were wider than the the 58-note keyboard and this is why the instruments were substantially larger than normal suction American organs. Whilst Orchestrelles get mostly played via a music roll,  they are also excellent organs to play manually due the quality and characteristics of the Wright system.

There were a few different Orchestrelle size configurations i.e. the V, W and the Y. A new range of exquisite case styles such as “Grecian”, “Colonial”, “Francis 1st”, “Mazarin” were available in different types of mahogany, walnut or oak. Additionally, custom made cases were available.

Around 1906 the pneumatic system was further enhanced. The mechanical stop rail and connecting mechanism were replaced with pneumatically operated alternatives. The tracker bar was changed from wooden to brass and the pneumatic system was made into a double valve system instead of the earlier single valve system.

The Solo Orchestrelle was introduced in 1907 which could play 2 manual music from a single roll of 116-note scope. The Solo system was fitted into Orchestrelles and also into Aeolian player pipe organs. Aeolian Pipe Organs had been introduced around 1896 and played initially from the standard Aeolian Grand 58-note music roll. In 1906 production of Orchestrelles was also commenced in the UK at Aeolian’s Hayes factory. With the exception of very early models, Solo Orchestrelles had their own range of case styles.