Orchestrions to play lead at Clars auction July 13-14
Even if you’ve never heard the terms mechanical music or orchestrion, chances are you’ve heard the music. Think carousel rides at amusement parks and fairs. Remember how exciting it was to hear the carousel music and know that you were going to be able to pick your favorite horse or tiger or swan to take a spin for as long as the song lasted? Orchestrions are the instruments that played these wonderful songs. Also known as band organs, these player instruments play, not only the piano, but an entire band’s or orchestra’s worth of instruments.
Orchestrions and player instruments had their heyday at the turn of the 20th century before radio or television. They played rolls. For the big orchestrions, multiple rolls were necessary to play a song. Mechanical music rolls are long strips of paper with holes punched at intervals and come in as many different types and varieties as the pianos, band organs or orchestrions that play them. These rolls are based on the punch cards originally used in textile mills to make jacquard fabric. Essentially, they are an early computer programing mechanism. When threaded into a player piano or orchestrion, the instrument “plays” by following the holes in the paper roll. Mechanical music machines ceased to be popular with the general public as radios became more affordable and can now be found only rarely. A die-hard group of collectors and enthusiasts remain, however. Ray Siou was a part of this group, serving as a member and “Honor Roll” inductee of the Automatic Musical Instrument Collector’s Association, which will be holding its 50th anniversary convention the weekend of July 13 in San Francisco.
Siou collected for decades. When he retired from the family business he bought two player pianos on a whim. The pianos came with large collections of paper rolls and Siou was hooked. He became the “Roll Mogul” using his impressive collection of rolls as templates to recut difficult to find types and titles. Siou sold his new rolls to collectors and institutions at modest prices. His pricing and large selection helped institutions across the country build or rebuild collections. For example, Sious helped the caretakers of Glen Echo Park in Maryland build a collection of rolls for their historic 1921 Denzel carousel, whose music is played on a 1926 Wurlitzer band organ using mechanical rolls.
Clars Auction Gallery will bring Siou’s private collection to market this weekend. Among the offerings will be a “Ray Siou Special” orchestrion, a Seeburg E Special Orchestrion and a 1928 Steinway Duo-Art Grand Piano. Clars will also offer his remaining inventory of antique and recut mechanical music rolls.
For complete information on Clars’ July 13-14 Fine Arts and Antiques Auction, phone 510-428-0100 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
View the fully illustrated catalog and sign up to bid absentee or live via the Internet at www.LiveAuctioneers.com.
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