Music boxes fascinate children and adults alike. Even in this digital age, everyone stops when they hear their tinkling strains. Ever popular, music box movements are placed in every kind of knickknack imaginable.
Music boxes date from about the 16th century. They were created for royalty and other wealthy people, and mostly consisted of a revolving disk striking one pin. It took a watchmaker named Antoine Favre to produce the first "real" music box in 1796. He also helped innovate the disk music box, a forerunner to recorded music which is still produced.
Since the music box movement is somewhat watch-like, it is not surprising that the Europeans, famous for their precision timepieces, should have led the way in creating intricate music boxes. However, after World War II, Japanese watchmakers also developed world-class movements. There are currently no manufacturers in the U.S. that make movements for music boxes. The movements usually consist of flat metal pins tuned to various notes on the scale and placed side by side, rather like piano keys. A metal cylinder turns at the edge of the pins. "Bumps" on the metal cylinder cause the pins to strike their notes, and as the cylinder turns, a tune plays.
Every child loves to watch a ballerina or favorite cartoon figure turn around to a tune, and character music boxes are still popular. Most cartoon characters and toys, from Barbie to Mickey Mouse, have appeared on music boxes. The characters are usually stationary and posed on pedestals. However, animated music boxes are popular as well. They may include animals or people popping up from houses, or the treadle and wheel of a sewing machine turning, or any number of whimsical notions, all designed to delight the eye and the ear.
Jewelry boxes may also have musical movements inside, as may snow globes, models of buildings or monuments, and other figures. Almost anything that can be placed on a shelf can be musical. Seasonal music boxes are also perennial favorites.
Music boxes range from the very simple to dazzlingly elaborate. Some music boxes may cost US$2,000 and have a 72-note movement and bells that are struck by small mallets, all to create a beautiful sound. Many different tunes are available in music boxes, from classical pieces to Broadway tunes. Many sellers offer the buyer a choice of tunes available for music boxes. If the music box uses discs, then several tunes may be included with the box, and the buyer can purchase others.
Music boxes are available from stores and online, and range in price from US$20 for a quality movement, to over $1,000 for the most elaborate pieces. Some music boxes also feature digital notes that can be programmed for different tunes. Digital music may try to reproduce their sound, but nothing is as lovely as the old-fashioned tinkle of "real" music boxes.