Hupfeld Phonoliszt-Violina
Model B - Ornate Custom Case

Original Location: Ansgaruth, Germany

Catalogue illustration of Hupfeld Model B Phonoliszt-Violina.Original Catalogue Specifications:

Restored Hupfeld Model B Phonoliszt-Violina in ornate custom case.Musical Scale:

The three violins and revolving horsehair bow located in the top of the restored Phonoliszt-Violina.Notes:

Chronological History:

Circa 1924
Manufactured by Hupfeld, Leipzig, Germany.

During the middle to late 1920s interest in automatic music declined precipitously, so much so that in 1928 Hupfeld decided to stop all production of pneumatic instruments, although the manufacture of some items continued on for several years later, until parts and supplies on hand were finally exhausted. There is some conjecture as to exactly what year this instrument might have been manufactured, but because this particular specimen is fitted with very late Hupfeld mechanisms it is thought reasonable to presume this it was manufactured circa the mid 1920s, and consequently it may be one of the last few such instruments made by Hupfeld. However, it is puzzling to some historians as to why this instrument uses a case style introduced in 1911, when a Phonoliszt-Violina made during the mid to late 1920s would be expected to have been installed in the rather plain and modernistic looking Style C case.

As was the case with automatic musical instruments manufactured during the mid to late 1920s, many mechanical improvements over their earlier brethren were evident. Adjustable bleeds, perfect for fine tuning the operation of the instrument, were now standard for the main valve chest, replacing the almost universally used fixed bleed; and a new style expression device using a curtain valve arrangement further enlivened the piano realism. Another major improvement in later machines were quieter feeder pumps, along with the less noisy associated mechanical drives. The case size was adjusted somewhat, too, enabling it to accommodate standardized and more easily maintained components.

But whatever the real story behind the unusually ornate casework for this instrument, it still remains a complete mystery. It is known, however, that various manufacturers, including Hupfeld, would make modified and/or custom cases when so requested and ordered. But whether Hupfeld did that actual case modifications to this particular machine is up for debate. Whatever happened, however, the casework modifications and added ornamentation are definitely very old, perhaps as old or nearly as old as the basic instrument itself.

Circa 1990
The Old Man Johann, Ansgaruth, Germany.

There are currently two divergent stories regarding the origin of the special casework styling. The first story begins by way of Fredy Künzle and Hayes McClaran. Fredy Künzle had heard about a Hupfeld Phonoliszt-Violina located in Ansgaruth, Germany, which is a very small village way out in the country in what had just six months earlier been a part of East Germany. Hayes McClaran (a restoration expert from the United States) was visiting Freddie at the time, so as to assist him with a few days work, helping in the completion of some work on a large Hupfeld II/33 Helios orchestrion. The Hupfeld had been shipped to Lichtensteig, Switzerland, where all of the basic pneumatic restoration work had supposedly been finished, and the machine then reassembled. However, upon arrival, the giant Hupfeld lay scattered about the workshop. Thus, it was one month later, after Hayes had reassembled and regulated the big orchestrion when he, along with his wife, and Freddie were finally ready to take the long automobile journey out into the country to Ansgaruth, to visit Johann, a man who was described as being very, very old. Johann, it was discovered, lived in a stone hut, with the Phonoliszt-Violina stored in a back room that was approximately 5 feet wide by 10 feet long. It is unknown how long Johann had owned the machine, or where he got it, but it was said that he had it in his possession for a long, long time.

Single music roll mechanism in the restored Phonoliszt-Violina.According to the old man Johann, as the story goes, Freddie and Hayes were told that the custom case was made because the instrument was to be displayed at some kind of industrial exposition to be held in Turin, Italy. This claim cannot be confirmed, so it is anybody's guess whether there is any truth to it, or not. But the mystery deepens, because the special brass inlay near the bottom of the roll-case reads as follows:

Hof Pianoforte-Fabrikant -- (unknown emblem) -- Sr.K.K.H.d.Kronprinzen.

The first part, roughly translated, means: Piano Makers to the King. So, then, who is the Kronprinzen (crown prince) mentioned prominently in brass inlay to the right of the center emblem? And why would such inlay work designating royalty be used on an instrument destined for an industrial exposition?

Circa 1990
Siegfried Wendel, Germany.

Right side upper access panel for the restored Phonoliszt-Violina showing ormolu and marquetry ornamentation.Freddie Künzle inspected but did not buy the Phonoliszt-Violina, instead procrastinating, perhaps planning to go back later and purchase the instrument. However, in the meantime, Siegfried Wendel learned of the old man's Phonoliszt-Violina and he, too, wanted to buy it. According to Hayes McClaran, Siegfried won the Phonoliszt-Violina battle when the old man Johann died, Siegfried shipping the instrument to his shop in Rüdesheim am Rhein, Germany.

Siegfried has a very different story regarding the history of the instrument, claiming that the case was sent out for customizing after the machine was purchased from Hupfeld. The added ornamentation, he says, allowed the instrument to match the decor of café Bauer, a famous Berlin establishment during the 1920s. This version of the Phonoliszt-Violina's history has not been confirmed.

Circa 1996
Yaffe collection, Florida.

It was in 1995, while Mr. Yaffe was attending the Musical Box Society International convention in Orlando, Florida, that he fortuitously met Siegfried Wendel in the lobby bar of the Clarion Hotel. Siegfried showed him a photograph of the Phonoliszt-Violina. When Yaffe asked about buying the instrument, which was being stored in the back of Seigfried's warehouse, Siegfried told him that it was not something he wanted to sell. Then, in March of 1996, the Yaffe's were visiting Europe and decided to telephone Siegfried, in Germany, and arrange for a visit. Siegfried welcomed them with open arms, but still did not take to the idea of selling the "fancy case" Phonoliszt-Violina. Finally, however, an agreement was reached and the Phonoliszt-Violina become the property of Mr. Yaffe.

Mid section of the restored Phonoliszt-Violina showing ornamentation and the elegant lighting fixtures.Once the instrument arrived in the U.S.A., it was sent to Ron Cappel for a thorough restoration. However, getting this choice, but very unrestored, "fancy case" Hupfeld machine back into presentable condition was to be a very time consuming and exacting job. Close to 3000 hours of painstaking work went into the restoration of this particular Phonoliszt-Violina. The exterior casework, along with its brass ormolu ornamentation and ebony panels inlaid with intricate marquetry were repaired and restored by John Gonzales and son. Ron Cappel, and his assistant Dave Sorrow, were responsible for refurbishing all of the interior player mechanisms. The result of this collective effort is a stunning instrument, both visually and musically. Restoration was completed in August of 1999.

Bonham's Auction

On October 7, 2010, at a Bonham's auction, this Style B Phonoliszt-Violina was sold to a collector in Taiwan. The instrument is now reportedly in the Chi Mei Museum in Tainan, Taiwan, which is said to be the private museum of the Chi Mei Corporation. Established in 1997, the museum is open to the public and has several exhibition areas, including art, natural history, historic weapons, musical instruments, ancient objects, sculptures, and industrial techniques.


Information provided by Terry Hathaway, Hayes McClaran, Ron Cappel, Mark Yaffe and Ken Goldman.


Ron Cappel.