Original Location: (East) Germany
Wurlitzer, with its usual advertising zeal, would have represented this Philipps orchestrion , which has the same exact pipework specifications as the Wurlitzer 29-C Mandolin PianOrchestra (also manufactured by Philipps), as having 30 violins; 30 violas; 24 Violoncellos; 12 piccolos and 18 flutes. While this may be technically correct, depending upon your point of view, this kind of "optimistic" definition infers that the machine possessed much more musical capability than was actually the case. Instead of a whole symphony orchestra filled with 84 string toned instruments, along with 12 piccolos and 18 flutes, all packed into the fancy furniture casework, there were just three little ranks of pipes. Thus, the specification as stated by Wurlitzer could be construed as misleading, unless you expect all of the pipes in a particular rank to simultaneously sound a consecutive and different note, which would tend to create a horrible cacophony of non-musical noise. Nonetheless, in this special instance, you could honestly say that any particular rank of pipes did represent as many actual musical instruments, although it might be a painful sound to the ear.
Sometime during its early history the instrument was modified, possibly by a distributor or by the Philipps factory itself, using genuine Philipps parts of the same vintage as originally installed components. Chimes (bells) were added, and the original two-rank pipe chest was replaced with a three-rank chest. The triangle was removed, and several components, including some electrical wiring, were moved a bit to accommodate the larger pipe chest. Altered electrical routing in the upper portion of the orchestrion used fittings identical and/or similar to those used in unmodified portions of the instrument.
A few possible reasons for modifying the orchestrion include:
The modified and enhanced musical instrumentation essentially matched that of a Wurlitzer 29-C Mandolin PianOrchestra, as follows:
Oftentimes, when an instrument was altered after being in service for many years, new components of a later vintage were commonly used. The use of later style parts is usually very obvious, since they are generally quite visibly different in design and construction, and are readily detected without any need for in-depth study. There was no need nor interest in having a machine look or be original, as with collectors restoring historical instruments today. In the case of this particular orchestrion, the fact that added components were of the same evolutionary vintage and design could mean that the orchestrion was altered very early in its history. But not necessarily, as the alteration could also have been done twenty or more years after the instrument was first put in service, by a distributor, for instance, who had many circa 1910-12 Philipps parts at hand. Whatever the case, the changes to the instrument appear to have been done by someone who had familiarity with Philipps machines, had appropriate components available and who knew precisely how to accomplish the conversion.
The Model No. 40 (Celesta) Pianella was located in East Germany by Claes O. Friberg of the Mekanisk Musik Museum, Copenhagen, Denmark. Reportedly, it was still in playing condition before its removal from East Germany. It was offered for sale in the museum's catalogue, written by Dave Bowers and mailed largely to American collectors. The instrument remained unsold, however, and was shipped to the United States, along with an assortment of other mechanical musical instruments, to be assembled and set up in Terry Hathaway's Santa Monica, California, showroom.
The Pianella was cleaned, assembled, and setup for display. A cursory inspection was performed to determine the extent of the readily apparent modifications. Two of the largest wood violoncello pipes had been crushed during shipment to the United States, and the piano action had been lost, somewhere in Europe. It is known that the piano action was present when Claes Friberg (of the Mekanisk Musik Museum) discovered the instrument in East Germany. Claes Friberg was immediately notified regarding the missing piano action, but nothing beneficial came from anyone's efforts to locate it.
The furniture case was identical to that shown for the Pianella Model 40 (Celesta), known in America as the Wurlitzer style 40 Mandolin PianOrchestra, but without the two decorative hanging lights. The subject of the animated scene was different, too. Instead of an animated Roman fountain, the scene depicted a charming mountain setting, featuring an animated waterfall, alongside a colorful little chalet.
Modifications to the originally manufactured instrument, although easily noticed, used original Philipps parts and electrical fittings in accordance with what would have been expected if the instrument were manufactured in its current configuration. However, the newly added vintage components and adjustments to tubing manifolds were not as carefully aligned and installed as with original Philipps construction. Screw holes and indentation shadows from mounted components in the lower percussion shelf suggested the onetime presence of a triangle action, which had been removed to make room for re-routed electrical wiring required for the animated scene effects.
Don Pease purchased the instrument in August of 1975. About one year after its purchase, portions of the case were brought to my home in Santa Fe Springs, where I assisted Don in repairing the base of the furniture case, which appeared to have been damaged by water and much kicking at toe level, badly denting and breaking down the fiber structure of the wood. The case was then sent to John Gonzales, El Monte, California for refinishing.
After numerous attempts by Claes Friberg, Dave Bowers and Don Pease to locate the original piano action, without any favorable results, a new piano action was manufactured by the late Keith Hardesty, Whittier, California. The piano action in the Wurlitzer style 30-A PianOrchestra from Salida, Colorado (belonging to Terry Hathaway at the time) was used as a pattern. Most of the needed action parts were standard stock items readily available from German piano supply houses, and were similar or identical to materials that would have been used for the original piano action. The whippens were modified slightly to conform to the special needs of the pneumatically operated piano. Items for which no similar materials were available, mounting brackets, et cetera, were manufactured under the supervision of myself or Keith Hardesty. I made the missing mandolin bar, also giving Don replicated parts for a Philipps reiterating triangle action, replacing the missing original unit.
The Pianella remained dismantled, the components stored in several locations, with no further restoration work on the PianOrchestra completed while in the Pease collection.
The meticulous reassembly and restoration of the interior mechanisms was completed by Ron Cappel, Atascadero, California, in July of 2007, and the machine was then shipped to join the rest of the Gilson collection at the end of the month. The restoration job is spectacular in every respect, right down to the frosted light bulbs adorning the front of the furniture case. This is evidenced by the panel of color photographs that can be viewed by clicking on the photograph at right.
Information provided by Terry Hathaway, Dave Bowers, Don Pease and Siegfried Wendel.
Circa 1911/12 Philipps catalogue; 1974 Mekanisk Musik Museum catalogue; and 1975 Terry Hathaway Musical Instrument Catalogue and Ron Cappel.