My Obsession with an Antique Cylinder Music Box

This music box, an intricately hand-carved music box in the form of a Swiss chalet on an equally exquisite hand carved table made by J.H. Heller in Berne, Switzerland, in 1885, stopped me in my tracks.

Have you ever visited an antique shop, saw something that you fell in love with, didn’t purchase it and then thought about the item on a regular, almost obsessive basis?

What makes it all the more painful is when the object is something completely out of your price range and you have absolutely nowhere to display it.

Be honest, you know what I am talking about here.

Last December my dear hubby and I were in Lawrence, Kan., trying to find a piece for the tea set that my mom collects. For those of you who know me personally—yes, I still purchase a Christmas gift for my dear mother, even though she passed away more than three years ago. Anyway, we went from antique shop to antique shop without finding any of the patterns I was looking for. Hubby was beyond ready to head back home but I was able to sweet talk him in to one more stop and there it was, not the china pattern I was wanting, but the most magnificent cylinder music box/clock that I have ever seen.

It stopped me in my tracks.

The table has blind fretwork on the apron and carved acanthus leaves adorn the knees of the cabriole legs. Even without the music box, the table is an amazing piece of furniture.

This is not some tiny little music box to be tucked in to a corner of the house. It demands a place of prominence in the home with a chair nearby so that you can sit and listen to it and admire the workmanship that has gone in to it.

I have always had a fondness for music boxes. Like most little girls I had the dancing ballerina jewelry/music box and over the years I acquired several music boxes here and there. A few years ago I gave my music box collection to my granddaughter… well most of it, anyway. Yet the music box that has always eluded me is the Regina disk music box or a wonderful cylinder music box.

AUTHOR’S NOTE: The earliest-known mechanical musical instrument dates back to the 9th century. It was crafted in Baghdad, Iraq, by three Persian inventors. The device was a raised-pin cylinder organ and was the basis of music box creation through the second half of the 19th century.

The basic music box produces sounds by the use of a set of pins placed on a revolving cylinder or disk. As the disk or cylinder turns, a tuned comb-like apparatus is plucked and a beautiful sound comes out. There are more complex music boxes that have tiny drums or small bells inside that produce sound in addition to the music from the comb.

Prior to player pianos and gramophones, a music box served as a source of entertainment in the home and lulled many sleepy babies and children in to blissful slumber.

So what was so special about this music box/clock that I thought of it often and felt compelled to travel 30 miles to see it once again after nine months? It is an intricately hand-carved music box in the form of a Swiss chalet on an equally exquisite hand carved table. It was made by J.H. Heller in Berne, Switzerland, in 1885. 

It is almost as if you are looking at someone’s home.

Little wooden figures are in the “yard,” which also has a bench, trough and other wonderful details.

This wonderful work of art is a ratchet-wind music box with six brass cylinders, each playing six tunes, and it still has the original song list showing all 36 pieces. The timepiece above the front door has French movements.

The detail in both the music box and table is beyond words. There are two columns flanking the front door that are spiral, barley-twist turned. Little wooden figures are in the “yard,” which also has a bench, trough and other wonderful details. The entire chalet is surrounded by a fence and gate. The open fretwork looks like bits of lace. It is almost as if you are looking at someone’s home. The chalet measures 22 inches tall, 38 inches wide and 17 inches deep.

The table has blind fretwork on the apron and carved acanthus leaves adorn the knees of the cabriole legs. Even without the music box, the table is an amazing piece of furniture. The table measures 30 inches tall, 45 inches wide and 23 inches deep.

As you can see, this is not some tiny little music box to be tucked in to a corner of the house. It demands a place of prominence in the home with a chair nearby so that you can sit and listen to it and admire the workmanship that has gone in to it.

The sound of the music box is simply magical and I am so fortunate that the shop owner, Gary Strong, allowed me to listen to it, during both visits, for as long as I wanted to stand there. Antique music boxes with such intricate detail and matching stands or tables are unique and beautiful pieces. I can only imagine the hours that went in to creating this piece and highly doubt that too many of them were crafted. 

This wonderful work of art is a ratchet-wind music box with six brass cylinders, each playing six tunes.

It still has the original song list showing all 36 pieces. The timepiece above the front door has French movements.

One would be hard pressed to find another music box with table such as this one. It is in near museum quality. Mr. Strong has made minor woodworking restoration to the piece but it otherwise has its original finish.

This work of art is for sale at Strong’s Antiques in downtown Lawrence. If you are interested in purchasing this piece, I am sure that Gary would love to talk to you and can be reached at 785.843.5173.

There are a number of variations on the music box, as they come in sizes as small as a Victorian-era snuff box and as large as an organ in player-piano style. There is even a pocket watch music box. Yet, my all-time favorites are those which make beautiful music through the use of a spring wound mechanism playing a disk or cylinder.

I have faith that one of these days I will own one of these beautiful works of art if I am patient. In the meantime, I will have to settle for dreaming about and visiting the Swiss chalet a few times a year until it’s sold.

And then, I may be visiting the new owner, as well.


Michelle Staley, who insists that collectors are the happiest people, is an antique collector and dealer. Her shop, My Granny’s Attic Antiques, Collectibles and Memorabilia, is in Lenexa, Kansas.

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