The Philipps Pianella and
The Wurlitzer PianOrchestra

A Brief Introduction to the Pianella

Early Rudolph Wurlitzer Company logo.This particular project is a fulfillment of a childhood fascination with what was known in America as a Wurlitzer PianOrchestra. My initial immersion into the fascinating world of large orchestrions began in the mid 1940s, when, as a small lad, I fell in love with a huge Wurlitzer style 30A Mandolin PianOrchestra, which was located in the Playland arcade, on the Newport Beach Peninsula, California. This magnificent machine, an automatic self-playing orchestra, was housed in an ornate case emblazoned with the Wurlitzer logo. Although I grew up knowing it as a Wurlitzer PianOrchestra, it was actually an imported Philipps Model 30 Pianella (also known as a Philipps Monopol-Xylophon Pianella, manufactured by J.D. Philipps and Sons, Bockenheim (a suburb of Frankfurt-am-Main), Germany. Since the majority of my experience with Philipps machines relates to the American experience of the Pianella, the dominant naming conventions used in this project utilize terms popularized by the Rudolph Wurlitzer Company, North Tonawanda, New York.

J.D. Philipps & Sons Logo.Located in Bockenheim, a suburb of Frankfurt-am-Main, Germany, the firm of J.D. Philipps & Sons, founded in 1877, manufactured barrel operated pianos and orchestrions. It was about 1900 when the company first began producing a line of paper music roll operated instruments, utilizing a wide paper music roll, probably very similar in appearance to the wide style of music rolls used by other manufacturers of the time, such as with the firm of Michael Welte and Sons, Vöhrenbach, Germany.

Then, in 1902-03, Philipps introduced the trade name "Pianella" for a line of improved self-playing, paper roll operated pianos and orchestras. The Pianella line featured a newly devised, fairly narrow music roll, almost half the width of traditional rolls, which, according to Philipps, resisted the tendency to be rendered useless due to swelling from excess humidity and moisture. This narrow music roll, with its slender and closely spaced perforations, immediately identifies Philipps Pianella music rolls from those of all other major European manufacturers.

Although the Pianella line, as such, was first commercially produced in 1903, the revolver mechanism (roll changer), devised in 1903-04, and patented in 1905, did not become a more or less standard fixture on large and expensive Pianella orchestrions until probably 1908-09. Up until that time large Pianella machines regularly shipped with only a single roll mechanism, the roll-changer being available as an option, at extra cost.

In America, the Rudolph Wurlitzer Company, who had acquired the American agency for Philipps in 1902, applied its own trade name, "The PianOrchestra," to the new line of large Pianella orchestrions. An estimated 1000 Pianella orchestrions were brought into the USA by Wurlitzer, who imported them between 1903 and 1914, until the outbreak of World War I prevented any further business dealings with German manufacturers.

Wurlitzer did not import 100% completed machines. They were, according to Farny Wurlitzer, minus the drums and electricals, except for the pneumatically operated cut-off switch and the pneumatic/electric start button, which was located next to the roll mechanism. Wurlitzer already manufactured and sold drums, and so naturally thought is sensible to use its own American made units. The electrical standards and requirements in America were quite different than in Germany, so Wurlitzer fitted the Pianellas with American motors, electrical wiring and lighting fixtures, often decorating the exterior cases with many candelabra base colored electrical lights.

Once importation ceased Wurlitzer maintained PianOrchestra sales by selling off it remaining stock of imported Pianellas, along with used PianOrchestras (Pianellas) that had been taken in on trade and refurbished. Additionally, many PianOrchestras were assembled by Wurlitzer in its North Tonawanda, New York, factory. By using some combination of an already imported Philipps chassis, along with other Philipps parts, Wurlitzer would manufacture the exterior case, add the electricals and drums, as well as make up for any missing Philipps mechanical mechanisms by inserting its own American brand of technology.

All Wurlitzer PianOrchestras (whether complete Philipps Pianellas or made up out of Philipps and Wurlitzer components) can be said to fall into one of following general categories:

1. Philipps Pianella orchestrions, circa 1903-07:

Designated by Wurlitzer as "The PianOrchestra," or later, after the importation of the Mandolin and Concert PianOrchestras had begun, as the "Regular PianOrchestra." No examples of these early style PianOrchestras are known to exist.

2. Philipps Pianella Model "Special" orchestrions:

Designated the "Style 17 PianOrchestra" by Wurlitzer, the music roll featured separate tracker-bar holes for each of the thirteen bell notes. This same music roll was apparently used on the earlier "Regular PianOrchestra" as well, the style 17 probably being a modernized version of the original PianOrchestra line. A number of early original red paper Wurlitzer music rolls have been noted bearing the name "PianOrchestra," "Regular PianOrchestra" or "Style 17 PianOrchestra." All three designations seem to be interchangeable, with identical looking music roll layouts, although there is a possibility that the pipe register controls were designed for different pipe voices and/or scales for the "Regular" and "Style 17" labeled rolls.

3. Philipps Pianella Mandoline (P.M.) orchestrions:

Designated the "Mandolin PianOrchestra" by Wurlitzer, this series used the Philipps "P.M." (Pianella Mandoline) music roll or the Wurlitzer Mandolin PianOrchestra roll, both essentially identical, except for the style of music arranging.

4. Philipps Pianella Cecelia (P.C.) orchestrions:

Designated the "Concert PianOrchestra" by Wurlitzer, this large and elaborate series of self-playing orchestras used the Philipps "P.C." (Pianella Caecilia) music roll or the Wurlitzer Concert PianOrchestra roll, both essentially identical, except for the style of music arranging. Basically, the Mandoline and Caecilia orchestrions differ in that the large "P.C." machines can shut off the piano, permitting pipework solo work, they do not have a mandolin attachment, and the pipework is much more extensive -- including the addition of a wind-pressure tremolo -- than it is in an any of the "P.M." machines.

5. Philipps Pianella Paganini orchestrions:

Designated by Wurlitzer as the Paganini (Solo) Violin Piano, or in the case of the larger instruments representing a string orchestra, the Paganini Violin Orchestra, the Philipps Paganini-Geigen-Pianos and Paganini-Geigen-Orchestrions represented the ultimate in musical refinement and sophistication, or so it was said. Although they were then the next step forward in automatic music technology, they still used some of the more advanced and rugged mechanical features of the earlier line of Philipps PM and PC machines. For the most part, however, they embodied totally new designs and used very high quality violin pipes. Compared to the PianOrchestra the Paganini instrument was a much more complex machine, requiring a greater degree of careful regulation, whereas the earlier Pianella machines, being of a straight forward and rather simple design, tended to be more rugged and durable in commercial applications.

Philipps Logo from a late Paganini music roll catalogue.All Philipps Pianella Paganini machines were basically built around the Philipps Duca expression piano technology, incorporating at least two ranks of beautifully voiced violin pipes (which included solo capabilities) and usually a harmonium having up to three registers. The elaborate piano expression mechanisms and a sophisticated swell shutter system afforded a high degree of musical realism. The large Paganini Violin Orchestras contained orchestral pipe voices other than just the basic violin and flageolet tones, adding flute, piccolo, clarinet, oboe, et cetera, as well as various trapwork items, such as drums, triangle, castanets, bells, xylophone, and so on. The Paganini instruments use the "P.P." (Philipps or Pianella Paganini) roll, or a special "P.D." (Philipps Duca) roll, which only plays the piano.

6. Other Philipps machines:

Philipps produced a wide variety of machines, ranging from the Duca reproducing piano, the Pianetta line (a small barrel operated orchestrions powered by a weight driven clockwork motor), a large selection of small, keyboard style coin-in-the-slot pianos and orchestrions, right up to the grand Pianella and Paganini cabinet style orchestrions. However, since my major interest is with the large Pianella and Paganini cabinet style instruments, only these large orchestrions are currently included in this site.