Original Location: Groningen, Holland
About 1914 a Philipps Model 34 "Luxus" Pianella (occasionally designated by Philipps as a "Silvia Xylophone"), and known in America as a Wurlitzer style 34-A Mandolin PianOrchestra, was shipped to the Café Staalstra in Groningen, Holland. The Café was a combination restaurant, beer, and dance hall, a common type of establishment for Pianellas. Judging from the superb condition of the instrument it probably played reasonably well into the 1950s.
During the 1930s, when Philipps and other orchestrion makers closed their doors, there was still a continuing demand for music rolls for instruments sold earlier by these companies. One person who took advantage of this opportunity was Eugene DeRoy, owner of the Symphonia Music Roll Co., in Antwerp, Belgium. By 1968 there were few customers remaining for these rolls anymore. However, due to the emergence of automatic musical instrument collectors in America, and the growing interest in collecting large orchestrions, Mr. DeRoy became active in locating machines to satisfy the growing American collector's market. Since Mr. DeRoy still had his mailing list of music roll customers, he sent out postcards to all the old addresses on his list. Most of the postcards were returned undelivered by the post office, but a few were answered, oftentimes with a terse comment such as "the orchestrion was destroyed years ago."
In 1969, on a Hathaway & Bowers, Inc., business trip to Belgium, I, Terry Hathaway, told Eugene DeRoy of my desire to locate a large Philipps orchestrion, such as one like a Wurlitzer style 34-A orchestrion. Eugene DeRoy immediately responded saying that "there were no more big machines," meaning that all the large orchestrions had already been discovered. I felt very disappointed, and nothing more on the subject of a big Philipps machine was said. Several months passed. Then, one morning, as I was sitting in my office at Hathaway & Bowers, Inc., Dave Bowers walked in with a big smile on his face. He tossed two black and white photographs on my desk, saying, "Mr. DeRoy found this." My eyes fell immediately on the two photographs, while Dave stood smiling, watching me intently. Astonished, eagerly picking up the pictures, I scrutinized them carefully. They were exterior views of a Philipps Pianella Model 34, with only a barest margin of the Café itself visible, since the orchestrion occupied almost the entirety of the photographs. Staring transfixed at the photographs, my eyes searching and noting every tiny detail of the beautiful cabinetwork, I could see for certain that the machine did, in fact, exist. The furniture case seemed to be in excellent condition, with no apparent cobbling, such as was often the case for orchestrions that survived into the late 1920s and 1930s, when accordions were the rage and the cases were often butchered in order to install and display an accordion attachment. But there was no indication of the condition of the interior mechanisms, or what the interior actually contained.
The asking price translated into approximately $100,000, an absurd, unthinkably high figure at that time, much too expensive for any real consideration. The Staalstra's were firm on their price. They wanted the money to buy a new home out in the country, and the Pianella was their ticket to do so, or so it seemed. After a few fitful days I finally let go of ever being able to own the machine, thinking that the instrument would never be affordable. It stayed in my thoughts nonetheless, and I would enjoy looking at the photographs frequently, wondering what it looked like inside. I still wanted the instrument, even if it seemed impossible to ever possess it. After maybe a month or so had passed, one morning, quite unexpectedly, a letter arrived from Eugene DeRoy stating that the Staalstra's would sell the Pianella for about $7,500 US funds. This rather extreme drop in price came as a complete surprise, since no negotiations or words had transpired since declining the original purchase option. Dave Bowers and I telephone Mr. DeRoy in Belgium that same day, whereupon I agreed to the purchase price. Mr. DeRoy then went to the Café Staalstra and bought the Pianella, taking the tracker bar and music rolls as he departed, as was his custom when making a purchase. He said that taking the tracker bar, music, and any other loose items helped to prevent the seller from later changing their mind.
It was a happy day when the Model 34 Pianella arrived in Santa Fe Springs, California. It was stored in the Hathaway & Bowers, Inc., shop for cleaning and restoration. The interior of the machine was pristine, although dirty from age. Minor repair work had been done over the years, as was obvious, but nothing more. Unfortunately, though, after the instrument had fallen idle, woodworms had gotten into the main chest, completely riddling the three tiers containing the primary and secondary valves, destroying the integrity of the wood almost completely. Thus, these complicated portions of the main chest had to be replicated. Then, all the original, but rebuilt, primary and secondary valves, plus various other uneaten wood parts, were refitted to the essentially new main chest structure.
The pump was rebuilt by Tom Hozaki, a superb craftsman in rebuilding pumps, using selected Kangaroo hide for its softness and exceptional durability. The remainder of the restoration consisted of nothing more than the usual refinishing of wood surfaces, replacement of cloth, leather, and rubber parts and the minor repair of several metal viola pipes. The case was originally finished in a dark oak color, and was refinished in a variation of the silver-gray type of finish so popular with Wurlitzer PianOrchestras during the 1908 to 1914 years.
The restored Pianella Model 34 "Luxus" Pianella / Style 34-A Mandolin PianOrchestra was premiered at my home in Santa Fe Springs in September of 1973. This evening event was attended by nearly 200 members of the Musical Box Society International, the Automatic Musical Instrument Collectors' Association, and friends and acquaintances.
In 1979 the beautifully varied and extensive Cohen collection suffered a disastrous fire, caused by a faulty wall mounted gas heater. After shoveling out the ashes and remaining charred remnants of the once magnificent collection, the music room was rebuilt, along with many added safety precautions to prevent such a horrible reoccurrence. Taking center stage in the newly rebuilt music room was the magnificent style 34-A Mandolin PianOrchestra purchased from and restored by Terry Hathaway, which instrument occupied the same central location in the collection that the historic Wurlitzer Style 32-A Concert PianOrchestra had stood before and during the terrible conflagration.
Many of the smaller items, such as rare a "Monopol Automat" automaton and a Caille Roulette machine, which suffered less heat damage being close to the floor and away from the intense inferno boiling near the ceiling, survived with relatively little restoration work. Within a year, or soon thereafter, the Cohen collection once again sparkled and entertained visitors with the wonderful musical melodies of a bygone era. Sadly, many of the collection's previous exhibits were missing, but new mechanical music delights had taken their place and now adorned the walls and floor space of the redecorated and much, much safer building.
Without question, Jerry Cohen loved his extensive collection of automatic musical devices and related material, and he shared his collection, excitement, and knowledge generously with mechanical music enthusiasts the world over. Jerry Cohen passed away in November of 1990. Several months later it was reluctantly decided to make his beloved collection available for purchase, so that the joy Jerry created and had known could be passed on to another generation.
The impressive Philipps/Wurlitzer orchestrion was set up and occupied a prominent location in the splendiferous Sanfilippo collection beginning in March, of 1991. Here it again entertained visitors from around the world, while standing alongside many other beautifully restored orchestrions of equal majesty.
Although purchased and its ownership legally changed, the orchestrion was never moved from the Sanfilippo collection location during the brief time it was owned by Mr. Yaffe. This was, at least in part, due to the renovation and construction effort to greatly enlarge Mr. Yaffe's residence, which left him temporarily without any convenient place to safely store the big machine, until construction on his residence was eventually completed. The Pianella was sold before residence construction was completed.
The Pianella orchestrion was purchased and then moved to become part of the extensive Gilson collection in December of 1999.
Information provided by Terry Hathaway, Dave Bowers, Sylvia Cohen and Siegfried Wendel.
Circa 1911/12 Philipps catalogue; Dan Adams photograph; Dave Bowers and Dana Johnson.