Music Jukebox

Music Jukebox

Music Jukebox

Whether the jukebox will make a comeback is open to speculation. They were once focal points for socialising, and during the 1920s, restaurants, bars and cafes were suddenly transformed. Music blasted from doorways and a glimpse inside revealed people dancing and singing or standing hunched over the machine. Jukeboxes are ingenious survivors of a past age when designers and engineers worked competitively to lure the public to wherever they were installed - and for over thirty years they were certainly a way of life.

Today, they form part of the furnishing in many homes. Collectors are enjoying the sentimental charm of music being played by an old jukebox - and the prices fetched in the salerooms are reflecting the growing interest.

The John Gabel Company produced the first coin- operated record player with an automatic changer in 1906. It was a simple wind-up mechanism with a 40inch horn speaker for amplifying the sound and a visible phonograph mechanism.

This upstaged the earlier 'canned' music of the piano players and the phonograph, which Edison invented in 1877, and led the way to the jukebox in 1927. This was the year the Automated Musical Instruments Company brought out a 20 selection, coin-operated, electrically amplified phonograph that played both sides of 78 discs.

Fierce competition between manufacturers came in the following years. The J.E Seeburg Company brought out the 'Melatone' in 1927, which became a disaster when the mechanism destroyed the records and had to be replaced by the 'Audiophone' the following year. Then Homer E. Capehart produced the 'Orchestrope' in 1928. Eventually, well-known companies such as Wurlitzer, The Mills Novelty Company, Rock-Ola and AMI introduced their machines.

Mesmerising Mechanisms

Music Jukebox

At the same time as the introduction of jukeboxes, popular dance rnnusic was already being enjoyed on the radio by many people in their hoimes. So when loud speakers began booming out these familiar tunes frown outlets where groups of friends could meet, there was an immediate response from the public.

Not only that, there was also the fascination of watching the mechanism of a jukebox operating. People were captivated to see the tray swing out over the turntable, which would rise up to take the disk and carry it to the pickup arm, which would then swing across to play it.

Each manufacturer made their own modifications to the system so there were many variations to enjoy. Seeburg had a mechanism whereby the tone arm moved between a stack of spaced records.

They then changed this so that records slid out of a rack onto the turntable. AMI devised a process where records were stored in a static rack along which the record player moved.

The record was picked out of the rack and placed on the turntable by a mechanical arm. Being able to watch the mechanics of a jukebox was an essential feature manufacturers insisted upon. Vast sums of money was spent developing new models to make them more intriguing in order to compete with their competitors.

Jukebox Fever

Music Jukebox

The period between 1937 and 1948 was known as the 'Golden Age' of the jukebox. The earlier drab designs in heavy wood cabinets, resembling large radio consoles were now taking on a new look. Innovative young designers were brought in to re-style the cabinets.

Magnificent models emerged in translucent plastic together with any fresh gimmicks or other conceivable enticing glamour the creators could devise. A good deal of chrome was used, along w ith an assortment of garish colours. There were push buttons to select a chosen record and title cards popped up to confirm the selection. There were dancing bubbles, flashing lights that changed colour and zebra- patterned screens producing flickering effects - all accompanied by an ear-splitting vibrant rhythm.

The 'Throne of Music' made by Mills resembled the illuminated front of a streamlined locomotive and there were other makes influenced by car designs. AMI brought out the 'Automatic Hostess' - an extra coin in the slot would announce that a selected tune was dedicated to someone nearby.

Under Threat

Music Jukebox
In America in the early 1940s it was estimated that 350,000 jukeboxes were in operation, which caused unrest amongst musicians who feared losing their jobs to 'canned' music. In 1942 the President of the American Federation of Musicians, James Caesar Petrillo, succeeded in achieving a total ban on all new recordings and President Roosevelt attempted to get the ban lifted saying that recorded music, and the jukebox, acted as a morale-booster in war time.

However, for nearly two years no new records were made - until it was agreed that musicians would receive a royalty of one per cent of the retail price of every record. As it happened, this action turned out to be the first real threat to the jukebox. Although, at this time (he machine was too established to be at risk of extinction. Then came the second threat brought about by rapid advances in technology, and following World War II the jukebox was doomed. Discotheques became more attractive and entertainment in the home by way of hi-fi, stereos, compact discs and television became a further threat.

The sad thing is that may of these magnificent machines were sent to the scrap heap for disposal, particularly in the early days as newer models were designed. Fortunately some were salvaged and with many of them having been lovingly restored to their former glory they are now treasured masterpieces. But I he sixty-four thousand-dollar question remains - where can they be found and what do they cost? They are not the easiest things to pop along to auctioneers, so sales are few and far between.

A few years ago Bonhams did have a sale in London, however, at that time a 1946/48 Seeburg 'Symphonola' with 20 record selections went for £1,700 and another AMI, 'Model 11' made in 1957 with 200 selections sold for £2,200.

Buying at auction could provide a collector with an excellent machine and many of the jukeboxes mentioned above were in good condition and fine working order. Then there are the fully restored machines, the Wurlitzers, Rock-Ola, Seeburg and AMI's, sold at many outlets in the country, which are rebuilt to a high quality and cost in the region of £9,000.

When the jukebox became popular with its non-stop churning of modern music for teenagers, many parents criticised it severely and described it as rubbish. Now the tables have turned.

The novel fascination of music being played on a jukebox is something people are now re-discovering and for many it is a status symbol. And who knows, it may turn up as a focal point again when today's youngsters realise it's a sound they haven't heard before!

Music Jukebox

Price Guide

The following should be referred to as an estimated guide to values:
  • IA SEEBURG V200, with 200 selections, 1955 - £8,000- 10,000
    IA ROCK-OLA 1422, 1948 - £4,000-5,000.
  • IA WURLITZER P10 BANDMASTER, 1934 - £4,000-5,000.
WURLITZER MODEL 1050, 1973 - £4,500-5,500.

Music Jukebox
Points to Watch

  • It is advisable to become well acquainted with the design and complexities of jukeboxes before buying. The majority are American and an estimated 300,000 were in use there just prior to World War II.
  • 'Bal-Ami' was a model made in Britain in the early 1950s. Others have been made here since then and also across Europe, many of them influenced by the American machines made by Seeburg and Wurlitzer.
  • There will be modifications made to machines in the process of restoration - nickel being replaced by chrome for instance. Many machines may also have lost features of their original design and in some cases are imitations.
  • On the plus side it is important to remember that the majority of machines were built to demanding mechanical standards and many jukeboxes from the 1940s are still in perfect working order.

Be aware that some modem jukeboxes are installed in 'vintage' cabinets.

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