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The Magic of Music Box Collecting

musicbox“If music is the food of love... play on”, Shakespeare, Twelfth Night.

Music is as fundamental to man as breathing and finding out ways to capture those musical notes for posterity has been one of man’s most intense quests. Whilst instruments have been around for centuries, recording them was the challenge and the music box was the first step in discovering how to capture music to give lasting pleasure.

Who would have thought that it was the habit of carrying snuff around that would be the catalyst for the invention of the music box? With the popularity of sniffing snuff came a wide variety of snuff boxes – first simply boxed, then more elaborately decorated ones to eventually one invented in the 18th Century and called ‘carillons musique’. Based on the simple placement of pins in a pattern that produced various musical notes, the musical box soon became the rage with interchangeable cyclinders that produced a variety of tunes. Soon everyone wanted to have music emanating from a variety of boxes and so musical boxes became the accessory de rigueur.


Understanding the difference between an antique cylinder music box which has removable cylinders that played up to 8 tunes engaging a set of pins and the antique disc music box with its round discs to play tunes is a must for the new collector. Learning how to identify the various music boxes from different periods, the various manufacturers and their identifying marks is very important to collecting musical boxes. Find out the history behind the music boxes you are interested in, who the manufacturer was, the period it was made and the condition of the inner workings and the outer box. One of the best ways to date your piece is to find out if the cylinder is hollow or without wax which gives the music box a metallic tone and usually indicates that the box predates 1820. Even the choice of music can give you an idea of the period of its production as certain composers and tunes were popular at certain times in history.


The range of music boxes is huge and largely depends on what appeals to you and which types of musical boxes you intend collecting. If you’re after the early 19th Century musical snuff boxes you could choose those made from wood, horn or tortoiseshell. The more elaborate musical snuff boxes were made of gold, silver or brass and are often hallmarked and highly collectable as are decorated jewellery or children’s musical boxes and those with inlays or decorated with miniatures painted on ivory. Collecting a particular master craftsman’s work, such as that of Frenchman Charles-Claude Delaye, who specialised in miniature musical snuffboxes fitted with a gilt copper frame and bevelled glass, would be the ultimate in collecting.


The range in collecting musical boxes is very wide and depends entirely on what appeals to the collector. - The really serious collector will seek out the earliest examples of musical snuff boxes, preferably in a rare burr walnut, silver or gold with the craftsman’s initials. They would also look at different types of mechanisms – from spring-wound cartel boxes, hand-cranked boxes to manivelle type music boxes. - The joy of simply collecting music boxes – whether as jewellery boxes, ballerina music boxes, carousel boxes or children’s music boxes which have beautiful inlays or themes and decorations on the lid makes for a wonderful collection. - Going for the more modern music box collectables is another area that appeals to collectors. Collecting musical boxes from Disney’s wide range of characters has also become popular – look out for the more limited editions of characters such as Cinderella, Snow White, Winnie the Pooh, Beauty and the Beast and Mickey Mouse. Vintage jukeboxes, made between the 1930’s and 1980’s have also become highly collectable and are often put to good use not only as conversation pieces in a home but as working instruments.


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