Q: I hope you can help me with the value and market interest of my Symphonion. It is 20 inches by 16 inches by 11 inches, and it works when a nickel is inserted in the coin slot. I also have 22 steel disks with a 13.5-inch diameter.
A: Tabletop music boxes evolved from clock- and watchmakers. As early as the 16th century, a Flemish clockmaker developed a clock with a central cylinder. Pins covering this cylinder hit tiny tuned bells to produce recognizable music rather than simple chimes. The genius of his invention was the removable pins, which could be placed anywhere on the pierced cylinder to produce custom music.
The interchangeable steel or zinc disks for this 1890s music player from the German company Symphonion Musikwerks meant that, with several discs, a single machine could play a huge range of music. (Jane Alexiadis)
The clockwork mechanism led to the development of the cylinder music box. These contained large horizontal cylinders with pins. As the cylinder revolved, pins would strike tuned metal combs. These music boxes were expensive, and limited to the tune programmed into the cylinders. Some boxes featured multiple cylinders, but the task of swapping out one for another was awkward.
Music boxes playing flat disks, like the Symphonion, were more user-friendly and less expensive to produce than the cylinder music boxes. In both cases, the teeth of tuned metal combs are plucked by precisely placed pins. The genius of these music players was the shaft drive rotating a plate, which enabled each machine to use interchangeable disks. The relatively modest price and easy storage of the steel or zinc disks meant consumers could enjoy a huge range of music with a single machine.