Introduction to MBSI Museums

While the term “Musical Box” is understood to mean an instrument which plays music via the plucking of teeth on a tuned steel comb, the scope of MBSI’s interest now extends to encompass all automatically played musical instruments. These include musical boxes, musical automata and watches, pictures, singing birds, phonographs, player and reproducing pianos and organs, and self-playing stringed, wind, and percussion instruments. MBSI members refer to all of these as “automatic music.”

The MBSI collection includes representative pieces from almost all of these categories.

Museum Program Mission

The mission of the Musical Box Society International (MBSI) Museum Program is to educate the public about automatic musical instruments, thus contributing to their preservation and enjoyment. It will do so by:

  • Accumulating and maintaining a representative collection of instruments, mechanisms, and illustrations, and displaying them in suitable public venues,
  • Assembling a library of historic, out-of-print and contemporary reading and research materials, prints, visual and audio recordings related to automatic musical instruments,
  • Creating public exhibits of actual instruments and a virtual museum on the MBSI web site,
  • Seeking collaborations with existing museums interested in educating the public about automatic musical instruments.

MBSI Museum Committee

The Museum Committee consists of up to thirteen voting members appointed jointly by the Museum Committee Chairperson, and Chairs of the Operations Subcommittees. Responsibilities include recommendations to the Board regarding museum policy, proper supervision over the use of conservation techniques to maintain, repair or restore Society-owned cultural properties, and to administer museum properties.

Operations Subcommittees for each museum site are responsible for security, administration, docents, publicity, record-keeping, and display. Operations Chairs are appointed by the Museum Committee Chair and approved by the Museum Committee.

Museum Displays

A small MBSI display is located at the Lake County Historical Society in Mentor, Ohio. Occupying some 500 sq. ft. of space, the display consists mainly of cylinder and disc music boxes. Lake History County Historical Society website

A larger display of MBSI instruments can be found at the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix, AZ. This exhibit includes everything from automata, to player pianos, to disc and cylinder music boxes, to a DeCap dance organ

The largest display of MBSI-owned instruments is located at the American Treasure Tour in Oaks, PA. This collection features all shapes, sizes and types of mechanical music instruments. Daily tours guided by docents provide an excellent overview of all the types of instruments that fall under the mechanical music umbrella.

Other Museums

A number of museums devoted to automatic musical instruments are located throughout the U.S. and several foreign countries. An extensive listing can be found in the MBSI Directory of Members, Museums and Dealers published biennially.