Music Box Mechanics

Swiss, 19th century. A Nicole Freres music box, serial no. 42531, having a 13.25 inch cylinder and a single comb

p4A ItemID F7968164
A Swiss six-tune cylinder music box in a rosewood case with floral marquetry inlays

p4A ItemID F7967873
French framed oil painting with working clock, music box and waterfall

p4A ItemID F7960945
Antique 11" cylinder 8-tune music box, circa 1890, in a floral inlaid and crossbanded walnut case

p4A ItemID F7957515

Notes on Mechanical Features of Music Boxes

Feather Dampers: Music boxes generally have dampers to prevent a harsh grating sound from being heard as the cylinder pins strike the same vibrating tooth in rapid succession. Basically, most, but not all, of the early pieces had either no dampers or feather dampers, though some of the best early pieces had steel dampers arranged in some unusual ways.

Tooth or Teeth: One of the most basic components of a music box – basically a flexible spring-like steel strip which, when rigidly held at one end and plucked on the other, gives forth a clear, ringing tone. The tooth may be altered in pitch by manipulating the tooth’s thickness, width and weight so that, in effect, a complete musical scale can be achieved.

Originally, prior to 1800, most mechanical music boxes using tuned steel teeth had those teeth screwed down individually. Later, so called ‘sectional combs’ were made which had teeth in sections of two, three and eventually five or more. Then one of the great makers, perhaps David LeCoultre, invented the solid (one piece construction with multiple teeth cut into a single block of steel) comb.


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