Saturday 11 November 2017

Cool Music Box!

We received an amazing musical artefact recently from the family of Earle and Hazel Armstrong of Barnesville. Earle had acquired this Concert Roller Organ from his cousin Robert Floyd in the late 1930’s or early 40’s. Robert needed a battery for his car, and Earle had always admired the Roller Organ, so in exchange for the money for a new battery Robert sold the organ to his cousin.

The copyright for the Gem Concert Roller Organ was July 14, 1885, but ours was not manufactured until June 3, 1903 by the Autophone Company of Ithaca, New York.  These hand-cranked roller organs were affordable and could be played by anyone, with a sound similar to that of parlour organs of the time.  

Roller Organs operated by placing a music roller (cob) into the mechanism and cranking the handle. The songs are encoded onto the wooden cobs (so-called because of their resemblance to corn cobs) using metal pins and staples. Pins are used for short notes, and staples of varying lengths for longer notes. This donation includes 39 cobs of popular music and hymns. Some examples are My Old Kentucky Home, Bring Back my Bonnie to Me, Abide With Me, Onward Christian Soldiers and Old Folks at Home. If you want to see a similar one in operation there are several on youtube, such as at

In the words of Confucius “Music produces a kind of pleasure which human nature cannot do without.” Roller Organs like this one brought music (and pleasure) to many homes in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  

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