BLOG OCTOBER 2016
Above the Madding Crowd: The Wonders of Mechanical Music at Great Gatsby’s Auction Gallery
There is no other sound that inspires revelry and the thrill of spectacle quite like the bellows of a boisterous fairground organ. The end of the Victorian era saw the rise of steam-powered roundabouts and fair rides of all kinds – one that would become timelessly popular – the carousel – and a new shift in entertainment called for music generating machines that could accommodate larger crowds and their changing tastes. Enter the fairground organ and its later offshoots – dance hall organs, player pianos and calliopes – which were constructed to produce popular songs of the period while mimicking the sound capabilities of a large band. These organs were popular accompaniments at ice rinks, side shows, moving picture shows and amusement parks, where their detailed facades provided another layer to the entertainment, and became attractions on their own.
The complex mechanisms housed in most fairground organs – many of which were custom made with signature specifications found in different European firms – are designed to be ‘keyless’ and therefore free of human operation. Bellows, mounted to the base which are then filled with wind pressure from a generated motor, allow the perforated card with musical data to play through.
Great Gatsby’s Auction Gallery is delighted to offer an incredible fair organ from the collection of Marvin Horowitz of Florida, in their October 14, 15 and 16, 2016 sale. Manufactured by the Gebrüder Brüder firm in Waldkirch, Germany in 1928 and later restored by the renowned Michael Kitner, it is exquisitely carved and painted in a pleasing palette of fanciful blues, creams, and pinks.
The organ features a conductor who keeps time with his baton, flanked by two robed maidens striking hand held bells. Additionally, the case includes scrollwork and floral motifs offset by grinning grotesque masks and gilt flourishes, along with exposed drums, cymbals and pipes, making this piece not only a source of entertainment, but a true work of art and testament to Old World European craftsmanship.
In keeping with this tradition of music catering to the outdoor crowd, a handsome Tangley Electric ‘Calliaphone’ Calliope is also on offer from the same distinguished collection. Dating from the 1920s, this Calliophone, with its cylindrical brass whistles, handsome red case with exposed mechanisms and keyboard, comes with an additional twenty music rolls. Typically very loud, some calliopes – all of which produce sound by sending compressed air or steam through large whistles – can be heard for miles! Popular on riverboats and circuses during the age of steam, calliopes were known for their slightly off-pitch, boisterous sound, thanks to the temperature of the steam affecting the delivery of each note. These wonders of mechanical music are sure to delight collectors and aficionados of every age with their beautiful casing, fantastic sound and time-honored preservation for generations to come.