- Associated Press - Saturday, June 27, 2015

MORRISTOWN, N.J. (AP) - Since the 19th century, music lovers have been putting coins in the jukebox to hear their favorite tunes.

On that note, the Murtogh D. Guinness Collection curators at the Morris Museum have put together an exhibit, “Musically, Made in New Jersey,” which features the rich stories behind the music box industry in New Jersey.

“It’s focusing on the early music industry because New Jersey played a very important role,” Michele Marinelli, Guinness Curator, told The Daily Record (https://dailyre.co/1TUvCTE ). “We often think of New York as the music publishing industry but here in New Jersey, this is where the manufacturers were located.”

The exhibit, which opened on Thursday, will be on display until Oct. 18. “Musically, Made in New Jersey” will feature more than a dozen mechanical musical instruments and other related objects.

“The Morris Museum, through this exhibit, will be the first institution to ever shine a spotlight on the mechanical music industry that made New Jersey its ‘home’ during the very late 1800’s and into the early 20th century,” said Jeremie Ryder, Conservator of the Guinness Collection.

“Virtually nowhere else in the United States was such a tremendous pool of talented engineers, machinists, musicians and craftsmen, who together with the entrepreneurial spirit, supplied the masses with music from around the world.”

At least six music box manufacturers employed hundreds of workers in New Jersey and the exhibit will feature three of the main ones: The Regina Music Box Co. which began in Jersey City before moving to Rahway a year later; the Aeolian Co. in Garwood and F.G. Otto and Sons in Jersey City.

“Most people don’t know about them. We’ll have several Reginas because they were one of the top companies in the world. We will have four F.G. Otto pieces, one Symphonion, the Aeolian organ and the Aeolian Duo-Art piano. These are all musical boxes and disc players and pianos.”

The Guinness Collection staff will host a special curator’s tour of the exhibit, “Guinness Spotlight: New Jersey Music Makers” on July 16 at 6:30 p.m. Cost is $7 for members and $9 for non-members. They will also host special bi-monthly programs in the fall.

“We’re going to play some of the instruments. We’ll take them around the gallery and talk in a little bit more detail about each of the companies that we’re featuring and playing some of the instruments,” said Marinelli.

Disc music box makers first became popular after Symphonion of Leipzig, Germany mass produced them in the 1800s and by 1885, New Jersey became the music box manufacturing center for America. At least six manufacturing companies produced the machines that introduced new audio technology to the masses.

The boom lasted until around 1910 with some companies managing to stay in business by diversifying and making other products like typewriters and vacuum cleaners.

“Music boxes fell out of fashion because they couldn’t compete with the recorded sound of a phonograph. They couldn’t compete with the newest technology. During that transition period, in order to try to stay current, different manufacturers would produce these hybrid machines. Regina produced a hybrid machine called Reginaphone that could play punched metal discs and 78 r.p.m. records.”

F.G. Otto & Sons was a very successful company that manufactured surgical instruments, medical supplies, early electric batteries and even electric shock machines before turning to music.

“We’ll have an early electric shock machine that was used at that time in the late 19th century when people were put into asylums like Greystone,” said Marinelli, who lives in Piscataway.

Besides the Reginaphone, the exhibit will also have one of Marinelli’s personal favorites on display, an 1899 Regina Sublima, a coin operated, spring driven juke box precursor.

“It holds 12 large discs. You dial selector on the side of the case, choose which song you want to hear, put in your nickel and it plays. People know what a juke box is and it is a very early type.”

As part of the Morris Museum’ Victorian Festival on July 11, both Marinelli and Ryder will be playing some of the instruments for the crowd.

“Because it’s a Victorian Festival and this was the height of these instruments’ popularity, we will have members of the Music Box Society International bring some of their instruments,” Marinelli said. “One of the instruments is an Aeolian Duo-Art piano. It’s a foot pumper piano and we’ll be having an old-fashioned Victorian singalong.”

The Victorian Family Festival will be held from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on July 11. The event is free for Morris Museum members; $10 for adults and $7 per child for non-members.


Information from: Daily Record (Parsippany, N.J.), https://www.dailyrecord.com

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