The Herald, Sharon, PA Published Sunday, September 17, 2000


The music never stops
* * *
Museumís music boxes are amazing
* * *

By Joe Pinchot
Herald Staff Writer

The Regina Nickelodeon is about 6Ĺ feet tall and fashioned with the elegant look of a glass-front bookcase or china cupboard.

But peering in the window reveals a 27-inch metal disc containing seemingly random punched holes.

Lynn M. Zillmer slips a coin in a push slot, the disc rotates and the oversized music box plays Straussí "Radetsky Waltz."

A couple of girls are fascinated by three gown-clad dolls below the disc that spin in their own time to the music.

"These poor little dolls have been dancing for over 100 years," Ms. Zillmer tells the girls.

If Ms. Zillmer and her dedicated crew of volunteers have anything to say about it, the poor little dolls will dance for decades to come.

DeBence Antique Music World in Franklin is the home for the Regina and dozens of other casualties of progress. But shed no tears for the calliopes, band organs, music boxes and other musical oddities that make up the collection. They were made to entertain, and entertain they still do.

"Weíre known as the ĎSee and Hear Museum,í" Ms. Zillmer said.

The collection was mostly amassed by Jake and Elizabeth DeBence, dairy farmers with a penchant for auctions. They started collecting 50 years ago, when they bought two Tiffany-style lamps for $1 each, Ms. Zillmer said.

"She (Elizabeth) said life was never the same after that. They became sort of auction junkies."

They werenít musicians, electronics experts or wealthy, but savvy enough in their choices to amass a collection that is now worth a fortune.

"They were just buying them at a time that people were getting rid of them," said Ms. Zillmer, the museumís only paid employee.

The Cremona Orchestrion, which was commonly known as a nickelodeon, dates from the early 1900s, a product of Marquette Piano Co. of Chicago.

It looks like an upright piano with Tiffany-style cut glass windows. Itís different from a player piano in that you donít have to pump it with your feet to make it work, Ms. Zillmer explained.

In its heyday, you might have found an Orchestrion in restaurants, bars and dance clubs.

"When the band went on a break, people would pump their nickels and dimes in to keep the music going," Ms. Zillmer said.

Mills Novelty Co.ís Violana Virtuoso was so popular that in 1911 President Taft named it one of the eight inventions of the decade. A violin with piano accompaniment, the violin is played by rollers. Weights on the headstock provide vibrato.

"It was a commercial success," Ms. Zillmer said. "They sold a lot of these."

When phonographs came in, an early Victrola model had a platform above the record for dancing or boxing figures, which moved when the record spun. The only volume control was to open or close the front doors that contained the sound horn. The figures are now worth more than the Victrola, Ms. Zillmer said.

The star of the collection is a Berry-Wood A.O.W. Orchestrion, which features 10 instruments and is powered by a paper roll.

"Itís the last one in the world that is around playing," Ms. Zillmer said. "Jake was offered a quarter of a million dollars for it."

Noting the visual strengths of the Orchestrion, Ms. Zillmer said: "Everything in that age had beautiful art glass windows and doors. It was very common to have side lights like this."

People who wanted to hear the music in their homes but couldnít afford the cost of an Orchestrion or other ornately decorated contraption could buy a hand-wound 1901 Gem Organette, which cost $3.25 in the Sears catalog. The music cobs set you back 17 cents each.

"This is one of the first that was mass produced so everyone could have one in their homes," Ms. Zillmer said. "Another interesting thing about this is if you bought five pounds of sugar you got it free."

The oldest piece in the collection is an 1850 Mandoline Basse music box from Switzerland. Butterfly bell strikers accompany the sounds of the spinning cylinder.

Other striking models from the more than 100 in the DeBence collection include a 1931 Crosley Grandmother Clock, an early clock radio; an Artizan calliope from the late Ď20s, one of only three built; a Wurlitzer Caliola prototype band organ that is larger than models that were sold; the Wurlitzer carousel organ from the former Idora Park, Youngstown; an Edison Cylinder Phonograph from the 1890s that plays wax cylinders; and a Mills Ferris Wheel Automatic Phonograph, an early jukebox from the 1920s in which each record has its own turntable.

After DeBenceís death, his wife put the collection up for sale. A Japanese interest offered her $13 million.

"She turned them down," Ms. Zillmer said. "She knew Jake would want to keep the collection in this area."

Franklin-area citizens formed a non-profit organization that raised $1 million in less than a year to buy the collection and house it in the former G.C. Murphy five and dime store, 1261 Liberty Street. The museum opened for tours in 1994.

Until Nov. 30, museum hours are 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday, and 12:30 to 4 p.m. Sunday. There is an admission charge. Through October, the museum is hosting a display of Idora Park memorabilia. Information: (814) 432-8350, (888) 547-2377 or

Back to TOP // Herald Local news // Local news headlines // Herald Home page

For info about advertising on our site or Web-site creation:
Copyright ©2000 The Sharon Herald Co. All rights reserved.
Reproduction or retransmission in any form is prohibited without our permission.