Mechanical Music Through the Ages

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

Rolmonica and QRS PlayaSax and Clarola Instruments 1920 – 1930 (USA)

The Rolmonica was invented in the 1920s as a player harmonica or mouth organ and created quite a sensation at the time, bringing player piano and harmonica technology together for the first time. It was made out of bakelite which pre-dated plastic. Other derivatives such as the PlayaSax and Clarola followed using the same sized rolls, but manufactured by QRS. These instruments had the harmonicas concealed in the body of the wooden instrument and similar to the Rolmonica, the owner blew and sucked into the mouthpiece as he or she cranked the roll over the tracker bar. The Rolmonica was one of the smallest musical instruments to use interchangeable paper music rolls.

Apart from their size, these instruments allowed  children and adults without any musical training or aptitude, to play tunes using the instrument. Harmonicas were a relatively cheap and popular musical instrument during the 1920s and 1930s, as was the player piano for home entertainment.  Popular Mechanics Magazine, Vol. 55 No. 6, June 1931, p.137  described the instrument as “Small in size, fitting your pocket, yet mighty in its finger-tickling, toe-tingling tune power.”