For generations the unique sounds that emanate from the music box have filled rooms with warmth, and soothed babies to sleep. Long before there were radios, or compact discs, cassette tapes, or even records, the music box was the source of music for most people. Unlike pianos or other conventional musical instruments, the music box was automatic and required no skill to play. All one needed to do was wind it up and enjoy the sounds it produced. Centuries later we have many more ways to enjoy the sounds of music, yet the music box still maintains its popularity to this day.
The music box first gained popularity in the 19th century. Today, in the 21st century, the basic form and function remains unchanged from the earliest versions. Most music boxes produce sound by striking the teeth of a metal comb with pins that sit on a revolving cylinder. The teeth of the comb in the music box vibrate after being struck and produce a specific tone, just like the strings in a piano. The cylinder in the music box is often wound up by hand in order to put a spring motor under tension. In other versions the music box may require the user to crank a handle attached to the cylinder in order to operate it, while modern variants may even be battery operated. But no matter how they operate, the sound has remained the same throughout the centuries.
The music box is still popular and widely used today. While some play the classical songs and lullabies like the boxes of the past, others play more recent and popular songs. The traditional box shapes still exist, but many now take other forms. Figurines of various shapes and sizes are often the face of today?s music box. Each music box can be custom ordered and many suppliers offer thousands of songs and styles from which to choose. But the continued popularity of the music box has not diminished the demand for the older styles. Antique and collectible music boxes still fuel a thriving market where it is not uncommon to find models still selling for thousands of dollars.
The dainty and unmistakable sound of the music box is something we all recognize. It is likely that we were first introduced to that sound during our first few days of life. Perhaps that explains their enduring appeal. The music box is an audible connection to our past as individuals, but as a people as well – playing unchanged melodies that have been with all of us for centuries, and will stay with us for centuries to come.