concert roller organ

Must Have Music Accessory: Roller Organ

Author: Brittany Joachim

Did you ever own a music box, or still do? When you wind it up, the way it works is similar to this artifact spotlight, a roller organ. Produced from the late 1870s through the 1920s, the roller organ was the must-have music device of the Victorian period.  

roller and metal pieces it strikes against

The device works simply enough. On the tube are metal “teeth”. When cranked the teeth strike metal in the device to produce music. A little like a piano. These portable devices came at a price that most middle-class families could afford. According to the 1898 Sears Catalog, the one pictured here with the glass door costs $12, but this issue had it on special for $8.55. 

1898 Sears catalog image of roller organs

In addition, each tube costs 23 cents. These came in a variety of sizes. From the tabletop version shown to full self-player pianos. They all worked in a very similar manner. However, by this time, the phonograph came down in price, making it the star of the home.

The Industrial Revolution brought about a new class of wealth, the middle class. While many still needed to work and generally did not have much-hired help for the home, they had more money and leisure time. Wanting to fill their leisure time with cultural activities, but some still being finically out of reach, devices like the roller organ brought the concert hall to your home. While we do not use them today, your favorite music box still works much in the same way. 

Goings, Elizabeth. “Treasures from the Vault: Concert Roller Organ”. Blog post. Articulate. From the Fort Wayne Museum. 16 July 2018. Accessed on 18 January 2024.

Organette History” Blog post. Roller Organ Restoration. Accessed on 18 January 2024. 

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