The Mills Novelty Company, better known for its slot machines, invented the Mills Violano Virtuoso in the early 1900's. The Violano Virtuoso is a self playing violin and automatic piano.
The Violano is entirely automatic run by "electric lighting current," that's what electricity was called in those days. It operated on a nickel. Unlike other automatic music machines, the Violano was not operated pneumatically via a paper roll, but was electromagnetically operated with electric motors and solenoids. As each violin string has a separate bow, two or more stings are played at the same time, thus giving the effect of a three or four piece stringed orchestra. Many of the Violanos were made with an attachment that played drums and other percussion instruments.
The Violano was activated by a revolving paper music roll. To make the paper rolls, mills had to design and invent a music roll cutting machine. According to the Story of Mills, "the artist doing the recording sat at a console similar to an organ and in touching the keys of the console corresponding to the same note on the violin, he punched a hole directly into the master music roll. Other machines at that time simply made a mark in pencil or graphite on the paper that afterwards had to be cut out by hand with a knife. This machine of Mills actually punched the paper with the proper shaped perforation directly from the playing of the artist.
Mills bragged "so superior is the Violano to all other musical instruments that the U.S. government designated it as "One of the Eight Greatest Inventions of the Decade" and exhibited it at government expense at four of the greatest exposito9ns between 1910 and 1930."
Did the government really place such an honor on the Violano? Not really, here is what happened. In 1909, the Department of Commerce set up an exhibit in Seattle featuring some recent inventions. One of the Inventions in the exhibit was the Violano. The Mills Company decided to use a little bit of advertising puffery to help it sell its product. It worked.
Mills further advertised that the Violano did not have the brazen, brassy sound so commonly heard in all other mechanically operated instruments. "A conversation may be carried on at a table placed next to it and each word can be heard distinctly while the instrument is in operation. The music is so clear and pure that it will carry to all parts of the room and still will not annoy or interrupt those placed nearest to it."
If you think an automatic violin was unique, then you'd be really impressed with the Encore Automatic Banjo. Tiny metal fingers pluck the banjo. Not unique enough, then you'd like the Wurlitzer Automatic Harp which was produced between 1905 and 1915.
For a Mills Violin Virtuoso that is for sale, go to Mills Violin Virtuoso Web Page
For a list of other music machines for sale, go to Music Machine Sales Lists
For information on jukeboxes, go to the Jukebox Resource Center
Copyright: 2009 Ken Durham, GameRoomAntiques
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