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Musical Music Boxes
When did you first see and hear a music box play? I think the first I ever saw was one which had a golden Christmas angel who played 'Silent Night'. My favourite music box was not really a music box, it was Truly Scrumptious (the actress, Sally Ann Howes) in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.
The music box most people think of is the little girl's jewellry box with the music box and the twirling ballerina inside. I had one of those too. A long time ago. They still sell them in the stores, unchanged in all those years.
A music box produces sound by having a cylinder with bumps/ pins on it revolve around while being swept with a steel comb. My description isn't great. You need to see a real music box at least some time in your life to understand how it works and appreciate how it sounds.
You can find really beautiful music boxes once you start looking...
The History of Musical Boxes
In the 15th Century, in Europe, a cylinder with pins was being used to regulate the ringing of bells. But the first known steel comb used for music was a gadget in watches, snuff-boxes and other objects, created by Antoine Favre ( a Swiss clockmaker) in 1796. They were called carillons à musique. Some of those early musical boxes had a tiny drum and a bell as well as the cylinder and steel comb.
The first musical boxes were clockwork, made by watchmakers, most of them in Switzerland. Some musical boxes were as large as a piece of furniture. However, most were smaller, a size meant to sit on a tabletop. The first music box factory was opened there in 1815 by Jérémie Recordon and Samuel Junod. In 1862 they were given removable cylinders so the boxes could play different tunes. Some music boxes were able to play up to three hours at a time.
At the end of the 18th century music boxes were being changed from the cylinders to flat metal discs.
Player pianos were replacing music boxes by the end of the 19th century. The player pianos were more melodious, when kept tuned. Gramophones (able to play back voices) came along then too.
After WWII Japan started making music boxes based on Swiss music mechanisms. In time they began making them in their own style and sometime later they were produced in Taiwan in greater quantities.
Music boxes were produced in North America for awhile but the main producer of music boxes since the 1990s is now China.