Lyon & Healy Company -- Everything Known in Music
The Lyon and Healy Company was founded in 1864 in Chicago, Illinois, by George Washburn Lyon and Patrick J. Healy, and it eventually became one of the largest music houses in the U.S., with a motto of "Everything Known in Music." This was probably not much of an understatement. However, pneumatically operated mechanical music instruments, like band organs and coin pianos, were never a big part of the Lyon & Healy inventory, but perhaps to keep up with their motto the company did have a smattering of representative items to fill the "less refined" band organ and coin piano void.
To mention a few automatic pneumatically operated instruments sold but not made by Lyon & Healy:
And there were other rather minor coin piano dabblings, but our main interest here is to explore Lyon & Healy's own Empress Electric and Leland brands, introduced circa 1912. And while our interest here may be limited to these two brand names, it may be worth remembering any such coin operated instruments were but a minuscule part of the enormous Lyon & Healy business.
In May of 1916 Lyon & Healy opened a palatial new store and headquarters building in Chicago, located at the northeast corner of Jackson Boulevard and Wabash Avenue. In conjunction with this momentous affair, the company published a souvenir booklet giving some otherwise hard to find details regarding the company's beginning years, its major setbacks, and its subsequent and steady climb to unprecedented success. Here are some excerpts from the souvenir booklet:
The Lyon & Healy Souvenir Booklet.
The music house of Lyon & Healy is now entering a new epoch in its career in the occupancy of its new building in May, 1916, has grown from small beginnings to its present position of supremacy in the music business.
It was in October, 1864, during the period of the Civil War, that Lyon & Healy began business in Chicago. The firm name bears the distinction of being one of the very few in the city that has remained unchanged through the vicissitudes of half a century.
The first store of Lyon & Healy was located at the corner of Washington and Clark streets, on the spot where the Conway Building now stands. Then, as now, the site was opposite the County Court House, and in the centre of what was then the leading retail section of the city.
The founders of the business, George W. Lyon and Patrick Joseph Healy, had been for some years previous employees in the music houses of Oliver Ditson & Co. and Henry Tolman in Boston. In May, 1864, the two men decided to move to Chicago and engage in business as Western representatives for the Ditson productions. After making a thorough investigation of the situation, the new firm arranged to open for business in the fall. The principal business of the house at that time was in sheet music and books, small musical instruments and cabinet organs.
From the start the business grew rapidly and soon exceeded all expectations. The Boston concern sought to encourage the young men by saying: "If you have good luck, in ten years' time you will do a business of $100,000 a year." Before the first year was up the new firm had passed that mark and many new lines had been added.
After five successful years spent at their first location, Lyon & Healy moved to larger quarters in the new Drake Building on Wabash avenue and Washington street. By this time they were doing both a wholesale and retail business, and their trade grew by leaps and bounds.
On September 4, 1870, after being in the new home but a few months, the building was entirely destroyed by fire. The great task of gathering together another representative stock of musical merchandise was promptly undertaken, and a building was leased at 150 South Clark street. Soon the stock of Lyon & Healy was larger and more complete than before, notwithstanding the severe loss of the former store.
In the spring of 1871, Lyon & Healy took over the piano business of Smith & Nixon, who had occupied the premises jointly, which marked a further step in the expansion of the business.
Then, in October, 1871, came the great Chicago Fire, which wiped out the principal part of the city, including the establishment of Lyon Healy. Fortunately there was sufficient time after the fire began its work of devastation for Mr. Healy and some of his employees to get to the store at night and carry away the contents of the safe, including the money, bills receivable, ledger, and other valuable papers, to a place of safety on the West Side.
After the fire, which swept so many Chicago firms out of business, Lyon & Healy secured temporary quarters in a small store at 287 West Madison street, and later, to get more space and a better location, they moved into a little church building on Wabash avenue at the corner of Sixteenth street. Here they waited the better part of a year while the business section of the city was being cleared of debris and rebuilt.
Fortunately the insurance carried by Lyon & Healy had been so judiciously placed that 85 per cent of its face value was realized, which made it possible for the business to continue in spite of the great disaster.
In 1872 a store was secured at 162 South State street, it being foreseen that this location would be in the heart of the new retail district. Again the business prospered, despite the deferred payments made necessary by the fire, and additional space was acquired in the adjoining corner store, and various upper floors were added, until finally the entire corner block at the northwest corner of State and Monroe streets was occupied.
Here the business grew and prospered until that next great epoch in Chicago's history, the World's Fair, in 1893.
In October, 1889, Mr. George W. Lyon, senior partner of the firm, who was then approaching seventy years of age, retired from the business, and his interests, and the right to continue the use of his name, were acquired by the corporation of Lyon & Healy, which was formed at that time. From that time until his death sixteen years later the affairs of the business were directed by Mr. Patrick Joseph Healy and his official associates.
The ideas for the expansion of the business, which had long been fostered chiefly by Mr. Healy, were now put into execution. The factories which had been established in a small way for the production of musical instruments, had outgrown their quarters and a large new factory building was erected some distance from the centre of the city, opposite one of the parks. Within a year the annual output of the Lyon & Healy factory was 100,000 musical instruments, or "one musical instrument every other working minute."
Immediately following the World's Fair, and as the result of a continued expansion of the business, Lyon & Healy removed to the block at the southwest corner of Wabash avenue and Adams street. This building, gradually augmented by various floors in the adjoining building, continued to serve the needs of the retail and wholesale portion of the business until the new building was ready for occupancy in 1916.
In 1914 the factory building of 1900, by this time out grown, was superseded by another and large factory building, located on Fullerton avenue at Crawford avenue, and which is the headquarters of the manufacturing department of Lyon & Healy, its activities, however, being augmented by absorbing the entire output of other factories operated according to the specifications of Lyon & Healy.
Mr. Patrick Joseph Healy, after forty-one years of active service in the up-building of the business, died April 3, 1905.
The responsibilities he laid down were taken up by the remaining members of the corporation, and the business carried forward in the same spirit of idealism and progressiveness which has ever characterized the institution.
The president of the company, Mr. Robert B. Gregory, has been with the business since its beginning in 1864. The vice-president is a son of Mr. Healy. The secretary has been with the business since 1870, and the treasurer since 1883.
The present officers of Lyon & Healy are: Robert B. Gregory, president; Marquette A. Healy, vice-president and general manager; James F. Bowers, secretary; Charles R. Fuller, treasurer.
Having successfully survived some early major setbacks, the company continued to grow and thrive, while continually adding other types of instruments to its catalogue. In 1876, for instance, reed organs and pianos were added; manufactured in its own factory or, in some cases, by suppliers in Chicago or nearby cities. The company also made various percussion instruments, and sometime into or during the 1990s added its own brass instruments to its lineup. Lyon & Healy also repaired instruments, and evidently engraved instruments that it retailed but did not actually manufacture. Their slogan, "Everything Known in Music," seemed to be quite fitting, the company even making small tracker pipe organs. By the early 1900s mechanically reproduced music began to make inroads on the music business, and Lyon and Healy was quick to take advantage of new mechanical music opportunities. According to Lyon and Healy, Edison’s first gramophone using wax cylindrical records sang some of its first songs in their showrooms. By this time the company had become a large music house with a fabulous assortment of sheet music, a diversified line of fine pianos and organs, bands marched to the rhythm of music played on Lyon & Healy built instruments, and the gold-crowned Lyon & Healy harp stood in just about every major symphony and operatic orchestra.
In a 1912 advertisement in The Music Trade Review the company continued to boast an annual production upward of 100,000 musical instruments, which included church organs, pianos, parlor organs, The “Lyon & Healy” Harp, Washburn guitars, mandolins, zithers, banjos, drums, fifes, batons, tambourines, band instruments, presentation instruments, dulcimers, cymbals, bones, flageolets, and music trimmings of every description. The Lyon & Healy factory was pictured at Randolph Street and Ogden Avenue, fronting on Union Park. 1912 is also the year that the Empress Electric brand was introduced—a line of coin pianos that by 1913 had been expanded and used Washburn pianos and cases, but fitted with interior mechanisms built by the Operators Piano Company (Coinola), also of Chicago.
One of the piano brands sold by Lyon & Healy was its own Washburn brand, a name probably derived from George Washburn Lyon's name, one of the company’s founders. The Washburn piano line is known to have included several models of upright keyboard pianos, and at least two upright player piano models. According to articles observed in The Music Trade Review the Washburn piano may have been made in at least two different locations, but probably most later Washburn pianos were made exclusively in Lyon & Healy's own factory:
It may be that circa 1905 and later at least some Washburn pianos were made by the Blasius Piano Company, as suggested by the Music Trade Review article. By 1912 references in the trade journals specifically mention that the Washburn piano is made in Lyon & Healy’s own Chicago factory, the same year the Lyon & Healy introduced the Empress Electric brand. It is important to note that some “Empress Electric” pianos were sold by Lyon & Healy under the company's “Leland” brand name. Most of the simple Empress Electric (and/or Leland) piano models, such as the Mandolin Piano, Bell Piano, Flute Piano, Violin Piano, Combination Flute and Violin Piano, and the Drum Piano appear to be in similar heavy duty cases with a “drop down” upper case panel (for easy access) that was fitted with a art glass panels of a geometric design. By 1915 Lyon & Healy was busy building a new factory, and this is also the year in which the Empress Electric Style Y Orchestrion in the “New Colonial Design" is featured in advertisements, which is a case style that is distinctly different than the other aforementioned styles. Lyon & Healy also offered several varieties of Empress Electric pianos and orchestrions that were "controlled by long distance switch located at box office or operator's room," thereby making the instrument suitable for accompanying motion pictures. When so equipped, for instance, the Style Y became the Style Y-1.”
The list of styles that follows is the fortuitous result of two Empress Electric advertisements brought to our attention by Andrew Barrett. The first is from the long out of print Guidebook of Automatic Music Instruments, by Q. David Bowers, circa 1966, the ad listing all but a few Empress Electric Styles, and another ad from The Music Trades journal of February 13, 1915, which illustrates and describes the Style C Empress piano with "Reed Organ Attachment."
Missing from the line-up of Empress Electric instruments in the above model listing and previous image pane is what is probably the (estimated circa 1923 or later) successor to the Empress Electric Style Y. But what was its model designation? Both the Style Y and its apparent successor are musically equivalent to Operators Piano Company's Coinola Style X orchestrions, the earlier instruments commonly equipped with orchestra bells and the later ones with a xylophone—both keyboard style pianos stuffed with mechanical goodies. Although no catalogue information has turned up specifically showing this late style model, thus revealing its true style description, at least one example survives today, which is being arbitrarily termed a late Empress Electric Orchestrion—until a more accurate style description can be ascertained. This late Empress Electric orchestrion is in a red mahogany case (probably original finish), serial number 32649, utilized Lyon & Healy's own Washburn branded piano style and art glass as did the contemporary Solo Expression Twin Tracker Empress, but notably without the distinctive upper piano case extension that makes the earlier Style Y case so unique. This beautiful example bears the Empress Electric logo on the fallboard, it has an upper front "drop-down" panel with a single rectangular panel of colorful lyre themed art glass, and it is about the same size and endowed with the mechanical functionality of a late Coinola Style X, for which this Empress Electric Orchestrion and the later Style Y was Lyon & Healy's self-branded counterpart.
Also missing from the line-up is the Solo Expression Twin Tracker Empress piano, or Model L (for which a catalogue illustration is currently unavailable) introduced during the early 1920s. It made use of a 15-¼ inch wide music roll with 134 holes, and contained two melody tracks, one playing when the roll tracked forward and the other when the roll tracked in reverse. This arrangement provided music continuously without the typical interruption necessary for rewind type automatics. A Washburn upright piano in a case style typical for Lyon & Healy coin pianos was used, complete with a small art glass panel above the keyboard also used for certain other Empress Electric models. The spoolbox, pump and expression mechanisms are unique, not resembling anything made by Operators or any other known company. The stack in the specimen belonging to the Ghost Town Museum, Colorado Springs, Colorado, has unit pneumatics of a unique design screwed to square metal channels with machine screws. Who made the player mechanisms is yet unknown, but what is known for certain is that Lyon & Healy had someone install unique innards in some of their Washburn pianos and then sold them as Solo Expression Twin Tracker pianos. One more bit of information: the coin accumulator mechanism below the keyboard is identical to those used by the Nelson-Wiggen Piano Company.
|Type C Expression Music Rolls -- 11¼” wide, tracker bar spaced 9 holes per inch; 3” cores.|
|No single instrument has been found that contains all of the mechanisms to utilize all of the functions in the “C” roll. Several Coinola C-roll instruments, an Empress Cabinet Player, and an original roll were studied, with the results enumerated separately here:|
|Complete “C” roll expression
(interpreted from examining a roll):
|Coinola Style C Piano:||Little Empress Cabinet Player
(sits on top of a keyboard):
1 Soft (low vacuum)
2 Sustaining pedal
3 Loud (high vacuum)
4-84: 81 playing notes in order, C through G#
85 Bass hammer rail
87 Treble hammer rail
1 Full hammer rail
2 Sustaining pedal
3 Not used
4-84: playing notes C-G#
85 Not used
87 Not used
1 Low vacuum
2 Not used
3 High vacuum
4-84: playing notes C-G#
85-87 Not used
|Empress Style L Roll -- Solo Expression Twin Tracker 15¼” wide, 9 holes per inch.|
|In one group of Empress Style “L” rolls examined by Art Reblitz, all from the early 1920s, the arrangements are virtually identical to contemporary Clark “A” rolls with in-house arrangements, with added expression.|
|1 Bass hammer rail
2 Sustaining pedal
4-62 59 playing notes, C – A#
64 Treble hammer rail
65 2nd intensity
66 1st intensity
|68 Bass hammer rail
69 Sustaining pedal
71-129 59 playing notes, C – A#
131 Treble hammer rail
132 2nd intensity
133 1st intensity
Other Empress Electric model designations were mentioned in late Clark Orchestra Roll catalogues, which offered type “O” orchestrion rolls for styles Y, Y1, B, BB, AS, C, F, V, R, “and all orchestrion combinations.” Of this list, the Empress Style Y is easily recognized due to prominent advertisements of the day, and because several examples of this attractive keyboard orchestrion survive in collections today. And yet relating the other model designations to an actual piano case style and/or to specific instrumentation remains a bit uncertain due to the scarcity of Empress Electric advertisements and or catalogue information. The model names (such as the Mandolin Piano, Bell Piano, Flute Piano, etc.) are known for most piano types, and the model designations (i.e., Model A, AS, B, BB, C, etc.) are known, but apart from the Style Y there is an absence of Lyon & Healy material that unarguably connects the model names and model numbers together. Fortunately, there are so few Empress Electric models, each being musically sufficiently distinct, that making an association between a model name and a model designation is quite easy, and with a very high probability of being accurate.
The Music Trade Review (issue of January 30, 1015, Page 27).
In the Report Made by Lyon & Healy—Unforeseen Opportunities That Have Been Opened by the Motion Picture Theaters and Which Are Now Being Taken Advantage of—New Catalog.
CHICAGO, ILL., January 25.—Lyon & Healy report a continuance of the excellent business that the electric piano department has been favored with for some months past. In speaking of conditions John Mitchell, in charge of that department, says: "The moving picture theater certainly has been a boon to the dealer in automatic instruments. Everybody goes to the movies. Rich and poor alike go almost every night—the rich in their motor cars and the poor afoot. The varied conditions of the business offer the maker and the dealer in automatics every opportunity to develop a wonderful business. Certainly our experience in the last couple of months shows that dealers are becoming keenly alive to the situation."
Lyon & Healy are distributing a 32-page catalog of automatic instruments which is very attractively arranged and shows that much time and care have been spent in its composition. From it we take one of the many testimonial letters reprinted therein. It is as follows:
"Eagle Grove, Iowa, December 9, 1914.
"Lyon & Healy, Chicago, Ill.
"Gentlemen:—We are proud at this time to be able to write and tell you that it has been over two years since we ordered and sold our first Empress electric, and as yet we have not had to do so much as to touch one of them with a screwdriver or make adjustments of any kind. The Empress is the piano to sell and stay sold. You always know when you sell your customers an Empress that you have made a friend and not an enemy. Very truly yours, L. B. MIDDLETON & SONS."
Presto (issue of April 18, 1918, Page 25),
MOST LIKELY PROSPECTS FOR ELECTRIC PLAYERS
Restaurants, Ice Cream Parlors and Pool Rooms Provide Good Customers, According to Firm.
Lyon & Healy, Chicago, report great success in their clearance sale of used and demonstrator Empress electric pianos. Dealers were prompt to take advantage of the many items listed and instruments have been sold in all parts of the country.
From the dealers' reports it seems that the restaurants, poolrooms and ice cream parlors were the most likely prospects. Though many were sold it is reported some exceptionally fine demonstration instruments are still available at savings ranging from $200 to $400.
|Lyon & Healy "Clearing Sale" advertisement in the
September 21, 1918, issue of The Music Trades Review.
How long Empress Electric coin pianos were manufactured by Lyon & Healy is uncertain. The Empress Electric brand name seems to have burst upon the automatic music scene circa 1912. Advertising for Empress Electric pianos (sometimes sold under the Leland label) are sparse and in the trade publications (i.e., The Music Trade Review and Presto) it occurs mainly during and between the years 1914 to 1918, probably peaking in enthusiasm circa 1915 with the introductory advertisement of the Empress Electric Style Y piano in the new Colonial design.
In the September 21, 1918, issue of The Music Trades a large “Clearing Sale of Empress Electric Pianos” advertisement is eye catching. The advertisement implores: "We offer, without reserve at greatly reduced prices a number of floor samples and exhanged-slightly used Empress Electric Pianos. These instruments are practically new and in excellent musical and mechanical condition. Dealers! Here is an opportunity for extra profits for you! Solicit the restaurants, Ice Cream Parlors, Lodges, etc., of your city."
The wording of this advertisement is intriguing to this author, who from 1967 to 1978 had personally been involved in the sale and restoration of all kinds of automatic musical instruments. Exactly what is meant by "floor samples and exhanged-slightly used Empress Electric Pianos?" The term "floor samples" could be construed to include any Empress Electric stock on hand, and "slightly used" could be nothing more than a standard metaphor for anything used, "slightly" abused and traded in, and/or outright returned due to customer dissatisfaction. But whatever the case, Lyon & Healy seem to be hopeful in getting rid of a lot of Empress Electric pianos.
Curiously, this ad notwithstanding, there seems to be a lack of prominent advertising by Lyon & Healy for its Empress Electric brand in the trade papers after this particular point in time. So is this clearing sale advertisement a subtle sign that Empress Electric sales had not lived up to expectations, and that Lyon & Healy might be losing interest in the coin piano trade, or was the company merely clearing out a temporary backlog of demonstration and used instruments? By this time the era of the big keyboard orchestrion was waning and the trend was moving toward the smaller and more compact cabinet pianos, such as those sold in large quantities by Seeburg and Nelson-Wiggen. In fact, one example exists of a Nelson-Wiggen Style 8 with no extra instruments, with a Washburn nameplate.
It was only a few years later in the 1920s when the company sold off its brass musical instrument manufacturing branch, an action that further suggests that the company was gradually downsizing and trending toward concentrating its efforts more and more on the renowned Lyon & Healy Harp, for which they were world famous. This and other "real" musical instruments and pianos were at the forefront of sales activity.
In 1925 phonographs were a big hit, and Brunswick-Balke-Collender Company's new Panatrope reproducing instrument (the result of several years of electrical research in the combined laboratories of the Brunswick-Balke-Collender Co., the Radio Corporation of America, and the General Electric Co.) was introduced in the Lyon & Healy Recital Hall. The Panatrope played electrically recorded records, and reproduced the recording not by acoustically vibrating a diaphragm, but by vibrating a metal "reed" in a magnetic field, which in turn produced minute electrical currents that were then amplified. The Panatrope astonished the audience by it superb tone and fidelity, which could (unlike the ordinary phonograph that could only reproduce vibrations in the 400 to 7,000 cycles per second range) accurately reproduce vibrations in the 16 to 20,000 cycles per second range.
In the radio department Lyon & Healy was busy expanding the company’s line of radios, and announced that they could “now offer music dealers ten different styles of radio cabinets.” The growing demand for radio cabinets had prompted the company to enlarge its line. Loud speakers were built into some of the cabinets, but each style could be furnished with or without the loud speaker unit. Nearby in the automatic music department, QRS player piano rolls were stacked high in awesome displays that caught the eye and demonstrated the tremendous volume of player piano music available. But player pianos were of lesser interest; the main focus being the Duo-Art reproducing grand piano, which was often featured in store window displays, where the moving music roll attracted a lot of attention. And, of course, standing prominently in the same window display was a Lyon & Healy Harp, which stood quietly in all of its elegantly gilded splendor. However, there are no advertisements noted or other trade journal references to any displays that mentioned or featured any Empress Electric or Leland brand coin pianos.
The next big divestment was the new and ultra modern "fireproof" factory on Fullerton Avenue, which the company moved into during 1916. This magnificent structure was sold to the Mills Novelty Company in 1926, with the stipulation that Lyon & Healy could remain in the building for one year. The first public news of this upcoming sale leaked out and into the trade journals in May of 1925, with an article headline of "DENIES REPORT LYON & HEALY PIANO FACTORY WILL CLOSE." The article continues: CHICAGO, May 18.--Marquette A. Healy, president of Lyon & Healy, emphatically denied here today the recent newspaper story to the effect that Lyon & Healy's piano factory would be closed in September. "The story has no foundation whatsoever," Mr. Healy told THE MUSIC TRADES representative. "As reported in a recent issue of your paper, we discontinued the manufacture of upright pianos because the demand was slack. We will, however, continue to manufacture grand pianos, and although we may slow up during the warm months, our factory no doubt will be running on full time in September," the time the newspaper story set for its closing.
In later years the company's narrow minded attitude toward such crass things as coin pianos was made adamantly clear in the August, 1928, issue of Presto:
Piano Business on Best Basis it Ever Has Had.
C. H. De Acres, vice-president and general manager of Lyon & Healy, Chicago, has positive views about the success of the piano now and for all time to come as an instrument of music.
"The piano business today is on the soundest basis it has ever enjoyed," said C. H. De Acres, vice-resident and general manager of Lyon & Healy, Chicago, in his office on Friday to a Presto-Times representative. He restricted the statement to cover real pianos, producers of real music. "The business is better than it ever was before," according to Mr. De Acres, "because mere noise-making pianos and squawky player-pianos have been eliminated; the day of the nickel-in-the-slot, barn-storming machine has passed by never to return.
We are becoming musically-educated as a people; we demand and get the best in pianos; it doesn't pay to manufacture poor ones; the era of the good piano, producing good music is with us, and with us to remain. So that is why the real piano has come into its Own; it is cultural, pleasing, satisfying."
Then much later, during the 1970s, the company elected to concentrate solely on making and selling high quality harps; its long ago venture into the realm of coin piano music having faded away and almost entirely forgotten. Thus it is that the Lyon & Healy made coin pianos only enjoyed a relatively brief time in the sun, but their legacy lives on in the hearts and minds of mechanical music collectors who continue to enjoy the workmanship and styling of Lyon & Healy's Empress Electric and Leland brand automatic pianos.
This page continues with descriptive technical and/or mechanical information that is important for a truly useful understanding of both the database reports and to effectively fill in the Survey Reporting Form. The actual database reports and survey form can be accessed in the Distribution of Database Information section and then clicking on the large Download button at the bottom of this page.
The Operators Piano Company, founded by Louis Severson of Chicago, Illinois in 1909, became a prolific enterprise responsible for manufacturing a wide variety of coin-operated pianos and orchestrions. Within a few years, Operators introduced the Coinola brand name and made its own mechanisms. By the early teens, Operators’ line included a variety of case styles and instrumentation, including several models of orchestrion that played style O orchestrion rolls. Operators also provided complete mechanisms for coin pianos and orchestrions to Lyon & Healy, Chicago’s largest full-line music retailer. This firm either installed the mechanisms in its own pianos, or had Operators install them, and sold them under the Empress Electric or Leland brand. For detailed photographs of Operators' mechanisms please see the Operators Piano Company page located elsewhere in this Registry. Empress Electric has been given its own section in the registry because the pianos, cabinets, and art glass are different from Operators’ pianos and fall into different serial numbering series.
Most Empress Electric piano models came with some sort of added instrumentation that complimented the basic piano with mandolin attachment. The options included (1) a rank of wooden flute pipes, (2) a rank of metal violin pipes (many ranks of metal violins were supplied by Jerome B. Meyer and Sons of Milwaukee), (3) a set of reiterating orchestra bells, and (4) trapwork that consisted of snare drum, bass drum, tympani, cymbal, Indian block, and triangle.
Early Operators A roll pianos have spoolboxes with cast iron side frames. In these, the music roll unwinds from the front of the feed spool, over the tracker bar, and winds onto the front of the take-up spool as in a Seeburg or Cremona.
An intermediate type of A roll spoolbox has steel side plates instead of cast iron side frames, again with the music roll winding from the front of the feed spool, over the tracker bar, and onto the front of the take-up spool. This type is less common than the other two types.
The final type of A roll spoolbox has steel side plates, but the roll is turned around so the paper unwinds from the back of the take-up spool, over the tracker bar (which is mounted farther back than in the earlier types), and onto the back of the take-up spool. With this configuration, the lowest notes are toward the right side of the roll, so the tracker bar tubing must be crossed on its way to the pneumatic stack.
All O roll orchestrions have spoolboxes with steel side plates. In these, the paper winds off the back of the feed spool, over the tracker bar, and then onto the back of the take-up spool. O rolls are perforated with the notes running up the scale from left to right with the paper coming off the back of the spool, so the stack tubing is connected to the tracker bar in order from left to right.
Production dates for each type remain unknown, although it seems that unit stacks with Bakelite seats or brass and fiber seats might have been made concurrently for different models or price levels. More information is needed.
Stack serial numbers might be either on the front or back of a stack; only a few stack numbers have been reported. Seeburg and Marquette stack numbers have proven to be very useful in helping to put various groups of serial numbers in order, because stacks were numbered sequentially through the years regardless of brand or model of piano.
Operators’ first style of pump has a square steel frame sitting up on one corner. This style was used in early Victor Coin and Coinola pianos and was mounted under the keyboard.
The next style of vacuum pump has two pairs of vertically mounted bellows with the crankshaft between, typically mounted above the keyboard. The bellows are mounted with the hinge ends facing down in some examples, and up in others.
The last style is a typical box pump with a wooden frame that holds four bellows and conducts the suction to the vacuum reservoir, also mounted above the keyboard. Several styles of connecting rods or straps were used to connect the crankshaft to the bellows.
In Coinola pianos with pipes, a similar box pump was used but it was enclosed with sheet metal on the front and back to capture the pressure exhausted from the flap valves on the vacuum bellows.
The Empress Electric Piano Database is configured to deal equally well with either the Lyon & Healy Empress Electric or Leland brand name, for which some of the coin piano styles were marketed under both labels. The first group of Empress Electric pianos that went into building up this database were collected by Art Reblitz and Dana Johnson, longtime experts in the restoration, history, and music of automatic pianos and organs. Whenever one of them has had access to an Empress Electric piano they jotted down its serial number, along with other mechanical and historical details of interest. Other people, listed under Acknowledgments in the Introduction to the Registry helped to gather information. The result of this effort is presented in an orderly, easy to read format in the report offered below.
By default, current ownership information is not integral to the database project, but a provision exists whereby the current owner's name information can be accommodated and then shown in database reports. However, this will be done only if and when specific written permission is granted to the Mechanical Music Press specifically authorizing us to show and/or distribute individual ownership information. Furthermore, if and when such authorization is granted, the Mechanical Music Press and/or its authors shall assume no liability or responsibility of any kind, nor to any extent, regarding any inferred, purported, or actual privacy intrusions, incidents, or claims.
We cordially invite and solicit additional information for the database on any Empress Electric Piano, and that are not in the current database report and/or additional details for instruments that are already listed but have little information.
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Compiled by Art Reblitz and Terry Hathaway, and transferred into database format by Terry Hathaway.
Terry Hathaway, Q. David Bowers, Terry Smythe, John Motto-Ros, and Andrew Barrett.