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Orchestrions

Welte 3 Cottage Orchestrion at Zaharakos, Columbus IN

An orchestrion is a non coin-operated instrument that is meant to have a more orchestral sound rather than sounding like a military band. These were almost all manufactured in Europe for use in beer halls, restaurants, hotels, and other upscale places. In the United States, sales of new orchestrions almost vanished with the prohibition, the large saloon or beer hall no longer being a viable place to serve alcohol.


Most orchestrions are chromatic, having the ability to play in any key without any issues. Orchestrions based around a piano always is chromatic, while ones that are just pipes may vary. Manufacturers such as Hupfeld, Phillips, (These were sold in the U.S. under 'Wurlitzer') Popper, and Weber primarily made instruments based around a piano, varying vastly in percussion, pipework, as well as additional instruments. Others such as Welte mostly made instruments that were strictly pipes and percussion with a few exceptions. 


There are many unique orchestrions such as the Hupfeld Phonoliszt - having 3 real expressing violins and a piano providing amazingly realistic music. There are a few Popper orchestrions around with functioning slide whistles making quite the fun machine!

Other more common instruments have a vast selection of pipework as well as having pitched percussion. There are a number of desirable instruments with attractive cases with stained glass, electric lights, and even mechanical moving scenes!


Music rolls for these vary between makes and models of these. While some can only use short, 1 tune rolls, others, such as those built by Phillips can have up to 36 tunes on an instrument at one time. This is due to a 'carousel' roll system that rotates to a new roll after one plays and rewinds. The type of music for these also varies. Earlier machines, especially those built by Welte and Imhof and Mukle were made to play light classical music. After the turn of the century, machines were made that could handle marches and waltzes quite well - and into the 1920's, instruments such as the Weber Maesto and Popper Happy Jazzband were built specifically for popular dance orchestra music. Wurlitzer's imported instruments from Phillips used their own arrangements of American popular music from the early 'teens up through the early 20's.


As far as where to find these today, many have been imported to the United States for private collections as well as public museums. In Europe, there are a number of museums worth visiting with a large number of impressive instruments. 

Wurlitzer style 12 Mandolin PianOrchestra (Phillips Pianella)