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Our Latest Acquisition - A Polyphon (c.1900)

We have recently acquired a POLYPHON plus disc……

For those not familiar with mechanical music (the majority of us!), a Polyphon was a sort of disc-playing musical box. It was designed in 1870 by Polyphon Musikwerke, Leipzig, Germany and was manufactured until the early 1900s. During this period, these instruments were exported throughout the world and appropriate musical discs wereavailable for European markets, as well as further afield.

Polyphons were the equivalent of 1950/60s Juke Boxes!  They were usually installed in places of public entertainment, such as public houses or music halls, where visitors could select a tune, by the insertion of a coin into a slot – so they were also quite a useful source of a little extra revenue!

The Polyphon disc has plectra protruding from its underside. As the disc rotates, the plectra make contact with a ratchet mechanism, which plucks a tooth on an instrument comb, and so produces a sound that is then amplified by a sounding board.

Our example has been converted from the original hand-wound clockwork motor, to use a modern 240v mains motor.

Unfortunately, whoever carried out the conversion, had scant regard for modern Health and Safety standards, so that the inserted coins end up rolling into the same area as the mains terminals!

Not a good idea…… and we’ll have to carry out some work to make the system safe to use before it can be displayed!!!

At the same time, we intend to convert the coin slot mechanism to accept our largest circular coin (£2). This doesn’t mean you’ll have to pay £2 to hear it play! – simply that we will have the option of using all the circular (hopefully, British!) currency available to us. Most of our other coins (the new £1 and 50p and 20p coins) have too many sides to make rolling down the coin chute reliable.

We also hope to purchase some more discs, to give us a bit of variety in the tunes that can be played. (This is more for the benefit of the long-suffering exhibition guides rather than the visiting public!)

***As a side note:- A 1931 agreement with Polyphon gave Decca exclusive British license to record on this label, which later became ‘Polydor’.