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Dead medium: The Regina Music Box
From: (Bill Burns)
Source(s): personal experience Bruce: Some comments and clarifications on how disc music boxes work.

Stefan Jones quoted Sears and Roebuck ad copy in Note 24.8:

"The Regina Music Box

"The Queen of Automatic Musical Instruments. The first of the kind ever manufactured in America, and it surpasses anything of similar nature manufactured by anyone anywhere. The mechanism of these music boxes is entirely different from any other. Interchangeable music sheets are used instead of the round cylinder found in the old style music box."

Most cylinder music boxes had fixed cylinders, which played 4, 6, 8, or sometimes 12 tunes. Only the most expensive cylinder boxes had interchangeable cylinders, which were very expensive ($20 or more for each cylinder, perhaps), and easily damaged when removed from the player.

The interchangeable cylinders were individually matched to the box they came with, so it was not easy to get new tunes for a cylinder music box. Regina discs were interchangeable between all their boxes of the same size, and were available for many years.

Stefan Jones: "The list of tunes increases every day, and is already large and varied enough to meet the taste of every purchaser. The metallic tune sheets are easily interchanged, thus making it possible for each individual box to play an unlimited variety of airs."

Interestingly, the Regina tune sheet is one of the less dead of our media. There are at least two companies currently making reproductions of old tune sheets, and even transcribing new music for the old music boxes, many of which survive.

Stefan Jones described a Sears catalog picture of the Regina's interchangeable 'tune sheets.' "The tune 'sheets' are actually discs. They are depicted as white in color, with a printed (?) logo and graphic flourishes, and what appear to be hundreds of small slots. Are these simple punch holes, or does a tongue of metal protrude from the lower surface?"

The Regina tune sheets are steel discs; the title and logo are screen printed onto them. The tongue of metal from each slot is bent down and back up on itself, forming a U shape underneath the tune sheet. Other manufacturers used plain slots or different shapes of metal tongue to get around patent restrictions.

Stefan Jones also described the machine: "One of the machines is shown without a disc. Underneath the drive arm is a small rectangular platform that has what look like eight small buttons... or are they bolts?"

They are bolts, four for each comb. The combs are mounted with their plucked ends facing each other.

Stefan Jones: "What *might* be a cylinder is mounted directly under the drive rod as well. The exact method by which the notes are struck is not apparent."

The metal projections below the tune sheet hit an eight-pointed "star wheel" (imagine a coarse clock gear) as they pass by. The star wheel as it rotates plucks the teeth of the music combs in synchrony.

Stefan Jones: "What might be the metal tone-comb is visible underneath this mechanism. The tongues run the full width (21") of the case."

It may look like this in the Sears catalog picture, but on most Reginas the one or two combs are mounted under one radius of the tune sheet, and thus run across about half the case width. The comb(s) and star wheel mechanism are mounted on a solid steel bedplate which runs across the full width of the case. The bedplate is securely bolted to the wooden cabinet, which thus acts as a sounding board and produces quite a good volume of sound.

The largest, top of the line Regina would be a $3500 to $4000 music box in the collectors' market today, somewhat more for the fancier case styles. The Regina's metal tune sheets now run $10 to $20.

The gramophone pretty well killed the music box; the lifespan of the disc box was from about 1890 to about 1915. Regina did produce a combination music box and phonograph, also a coin-operated cylinder phonograph changer. Later they turned to vacuum cleaners == still around today, I believe.

Stefan Jones: "I imagine the Regina sounding like my Creative Labs 8-Bit Sound Blaster playing a MIDI file of harpsichord music."

They don't really sound like a harpsichord. Remember, the tune sheets were musically arranged in the same way as a piano roll, and the sound is an original sound, not a reproduction of any instrument. Of course the dynamics are limited, but a good arranger could get a very musical sound from a Regina, particularly the larger models with 78 notes. (The 156 comb teeth referred to in the description are arranged as 78 on each comb, each pair tuned together to give 78 notes total).

I have a life, too, but I spend some of it listening to these machines!

Bill Burns (
Long Island NY USA

(((bruces remarks: Andrew Siegel ( also wrote in, stating that the Regina Music Box Company has survived to modern times as the Regina Vacuum Cleaner Company. The Regina hybrid music-box/phonograph was clearly a notable gizmo for necronauts. Its techno-transitional qualities and general design ungainliness give it a high Cahill Rating.)))