Principal players from this Scandinavian set-up were Henry Sandell, who combined a piano and violin and came up with the bizarre Violano-Virtuoso for the Chicago-based Mills Novelty Company in 1908 and Justus Percival Seeburg, who had the bright notion for this coin-operated electric piano, above, when bored with working on pneumatic models for the Marquette Piano Company, Illinois, during the first years of the 20th century.
Born in 1871, Seeburg had been something of a child prodigy working at the Malingos Piano Factory until he emigrated to America at the age of 16. The fruit of the industrial revolution was leisure and the growth of theatres and parlours serving alcohol saw great demand for popular music and a corresponding shortage of (affordable and skillful) musicians.
Having undertaken his piano making apprenticeship and offered his talents to the Marquette Piano Company, Seeburg saw the money-spinning potential of a coin-operated electric piano and in 1907 formed his own company to produce what was to become a famous series of Art Nouveau style 65-note keyboards.
Essentially a cabinet orchestra with flute pipes, mandolin, triangle, tambourine and additional castanets, this ‘style F’ piano played 10 tunes on six music rolls in the usual way, with the perforations serving to connect or break the circuits of the key-actuating mechanism through a series of electrical contact pins.
While not so elaborately ornate as the ‘style H’ Seeburg, an example of which attracted $65,000 (£39,000) at Sotheby’s sale of the Milhous Collection at Boca Raton, Florida, on March 28 1998, this ‘style F’ model attracted widespread interest from collectors when it was offered at Christie’s sale of the Herbert Berger Collection in Melbourne on October 10, selling at AUS$25,000 (£10,000) plus 15 per cent premium.
A fortune at your fingertips
SWEDEN at the end of the 19th century was the birthplace of notable inventors of mechanical music who later made their fortunes in America.