Q. I was wondering if you had any info on this Regina music box. I inherited it when my grandmother passed away, but supposedly it was purchased for my great-grandmother, who was bedridden. I think the music box dates to the late 1800s. In the 1950s I used to play the discs and dance to the music. The cabinet is in really rough condition, but the mechanism still works. Any history or value would be wonderful.
A. The music box became popular in the court of King XIV of France (1638-1715). These were boxes holding a brass cylinder affixed with steel pins that interfaced with a “comb” fitted with tuned musical “teeth.” As a clockwork motor rotated the cylinder, the pins plucked the teeth, playing a tune.
It was charming, but soon people wanted to hear more tunes. Examples with interchangeable cylinders were available, but around 1885, a new music box style appeared in Germany that used a flat metal disk (also called a “tune sheet”).
These discs were interchangeable and relatively inexpensive so that the owner of the box could own dozens of different tunes. By the 1890s the manufacture of these disks was widespread and makers of machines that would play these disks proliferated both in the United States and Germany.
The first manufacturer of the disk-playing music box was Symphonion in Gohrs, Germany. However, it was a rival company located in nearby Leipzig and formed by two former Symphonion employees that became the parent company of Regina.
This second company was named Polyphon Muskwerke, and in 1892 they wanted to avoid the new high import levies enacted by the McKinley Tarriff Act of 1890 (which went into effect in 1891). Also recognizing the huge potential of the North American markets, they sent workers to Rahway, N.J., to establish the Regina Co. (one source says that the company was not actually working until 1894).
Regina became known for the quality of its sound, and disk-playing music boxes were very popular until about 1915 when the phonograph essentially took over the market. The particular disk music box in today’s question appears to be the Regina #40 with a special vernis Martin finish (vernis Martin refers to a type of French imitation lacquer named after Guillaume and Etienne-Simon Martin).
This circa 1897 floor model should play a 15˝-inch dish and the cabinet should be mahogany. Some of these cabinets are found plain without the scenic vernis Martin finish. It should also be mentioned that a similar floor model turns up that was designed to be both a music box and a phonograph (complete with “morning glory” horn). These were made from golden oak and can be quite valuable.
Frankly, the pictorial surface of this Regina piece is its glory and it is in need of restoration by a seasoned professional. The condition of this piece is iffy, but we think it probably has an insurance value of $7,000 to $10,000. Properly restored (the vernis Martin finish must be saved), it could be much, much more.
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