Hand Crank Music Box: Knowing What’s What

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There are many variations to the original music box that was first created by the Swiss. The hand crank music box is just one out of the many versions that the original music box. In fact, the hand crank was one of the very first versions that were introduced to the public.

However, there are more to this version of the music box that you must know.


Contrary to public knowledge, the hand cank music box was not the first of the music boxes. Although, it is the first one that was introduced to the public.

The first known music box was the carillon. This was very prominent in the Middle Ages mostly because it is what they called the very mechanism that told the people the time. It was also normally attached to a large bell which is struck by a hammer every hour to help tell time.

Its presence is also very prominent in places where there is one because the carillon was normally set up in a giant bell tower which is normally where a village is centered around.

The second known version of the music box is the very one that the person who invented the music box had – a pocketwatch which he made himself.

When Antoine Favre invented the music box that we know today, he only intended it for himself. He built the mechanism into his pocket watch to be set as an alarm whenever the time hits the hour. It was just unfortunate that he was not alive to see his invention progress to its many version.

It was only after Favre’s invetion did the hand crank music box come about, making it the third one in the long line of variations that there were for the music box.


The hand crank music box is self explanatory – it is a music box with a mechanism that requires someone to turn the lever by hand. By turning the lever, you are tightening the spring which turns the mechanism inside that will trigger it to play the composition that it was programmed to play.

However, to understand this fully, it is vital that we understand the mechanism that goes inside a hand crank music box.

The Home of Music Boxes

Sainte-Croix is being considered the home of mechanical music, and it is here that you can see all kinds of music boxes inluding the hand crank music box in its original design.

Sainte-Croix gained the reputation because Antoine Favre, considered to be the inventor of the music box, lived and died in its borders. However, the tragedy of Favre not able to see how huge his invention had become did not stop them from living on his legacy because to this day music boxes are still being produced from Sainte-Croix.

In addition, residents in Saint-Croixe has also been crafting musically inclined automatons – human-like mannequins that play compositions like they are human. However, this is only because a music box, regardless if it was a hand crank music box or not, has been installed in its construction.

The Parts of a Hand Crank Music Box

Again, to fully understand the mechanics of how a hand crank music box works, it is important to first know what makes up the mechanism inside the machone. To others, this is called a movement, which we will be calling from here on out.

So, what are the parts of a hand crank music box?

The parts inside a movement of a hand crank music box includes the following:

  1. Lever – the lever is the component of the movement that receives the most human interaction. In some hand crank music boxes, they are identified as keys. Its role is to provide the entire movement with the needed energy to propel it to move.
  2. Clockspring – in some instances, this component is simply called a spring. This is where the energy is stored from turning the lever. It is also responsible for transferring this stored energy to the entire movement for the music to play the composition
  3. Governor – this is the only part of the movement of a hand crank music box that will regulate how quick the composition will be played. In its absence, the notes will be correct, yet the speed will be too fast. Additionally, the governor works in cooperation with multiple gears from within
  4. Comb and Teeth – collectively, these ones are solely responsible for representing the notes in the composition which is done through varying the length of each tooth. The longer the teeth, the lower the tone.
  5. Cylinder – this is the barrel that holds many protrusions that triggers the teeth as it spins around its axis. The turning motion is the result of when the energy is released from the spring

All these parts, when simultaneously cooperating with one another results in the tune that you hear from a hand crank music box.

Although, there are some notes that need to be taken into consideration (in case you did not know):

  1. The cylinder was changed into a disc with later iterations of the music box, even if it is the hand crank music box. The advantage of a disc is how it is easier to change it from one to another. In fact, because of the introduction of the disc into the movement, the music box industry lasted a bit longer than it already did.
  2. For a hand crank music box, having the lever and the clockspring work well together is a vital point because if they do not, then the movement would not be able to work well enough for the composition to be played.
  3. For every tooth that was plucked, it produced vibrations which cause the resulting tone that is produced from the music box. However, these teeth have another secret – their tips are also weighted, meaning, their tips are thicker than the body. What this does is allow for the comb and teeth to remain as small as it is now because, without the weighted section of the teeth, manufacturers might need to grow the size of the component to accommodate the tone that each tooth should have.


The hand crank music box, along with its many variations, started to decline in popularity along with its industry, especially after the Second World War. This was when The Great Depression happened which was compounded by the introduction of the gramophone.

The number of sales made by the music box has slowly declined, and there was no way of stopping it from fading into the history of the mechanical music industry.

However, there was one who tried to recsucitate .

Sankyo Seiki – Keeping Music Boxes Alive

A Japanese by the name of Sankyo Seiki saw the potential of the hand crank music box to make it more casual, and for everybody to enjoy. This meant shrinking the size of the music box to a scale that is more convenient for everybody to hold.

This reimagination happened immediately after the Second World War.

The drive, aside from reimagining the music box, was to make Japan known for the music boxes that it produced. So, Seiki started working on shrinking the box’s scale, and his main target is the teeth and the comb.

The Typical size of the component, before Seiki’s reimagination, could reach up to the scale of 96 teeth. However, Seiki had different plans. He shrunk the number of teeth. His shrunken version totaled 9 to 30 teeth. By simply changing this, he was able to turn it around for the music box.

Bringing down the scale of the hand crank music box also made sense where business decisions were concerned. The overall production cost of each music box was cheaper when compared to manufacturing it at full scale. With that in mind, if it becomes a hit with the public from across the world, then Seiki will be earning huge revenue.

And it did.

It was estimated back in 1990, when his business was at its peak, that Seiki’s company was manufacturing 90% of the worldwide supply of music boxes. Currently, they are estimated to be the one supplying half of the world’s supply of music boxes.

In addition, his involvement in the industry has resulted in another opportunity – the integration of the scaled down music boxes into jewelry boxes. In additon, there are also others who saw value in making it a gift item, and it makes sense. Its size makes it easy to carry around when tourists are still out and about.

In addition, due to its size it can easily become a collector’s item.

The Movement in Europe

Europe, however, did ot downsize. Instead, they kept it at the same size or even when sizes higher than what it orginally was.

Once the major suppliers of music boxes across the globe, they have upscale the sizes of the music boxes they manufacture. Instead of having them in gift shops, theirs are installed in large fixtures such as carousels. However, there has not been much movement or innovation from the Europeans when it came to the music box industry which is sad considering without the thought they put into the innovation in centuries passed, then even Seiki would have not built the industries that he has established now with the involvement that he currently has with mechanical music.


The gramophone is one of the many reason why the hand crank music box, and all the music boxes fell out with the public. In fact, it was the decisive blow. However, upon closer investigation, they have one similarity with the former – a lever outside its casing.

This just begs the question of whether or not the gramophone can be considered as a hand crank music box itself.

Digging deep into the archives of the history of the gramophone, there is one very rare gramophone which has been long forgotten because of how short-lived its lifespan in the public domain was.

This hand crank music box-like device was invented by an immigrant from Germany. His name was Emile Berliner. This device, just like most music boxes during the time, used discs rather than the cylinder. Although, its predecessor, the phonograph, used the latter. However, it had to adapt to the times and this is why the decision to use the disc was made.

The biggest downside to the instrument that Berliner created is its lack of an engine. The gramophone is literally hand-cranked for it to keep on producing the song that the disc was programmed to play. By doing so, the songs played are very inconsistent when it came to their tempo because doing so by hand puts whoever is cranking the lever in a place where they will eventually get exhausted.

It is for this reason alone that its time in the public market was short lived. It was taken away from the market and the more automated gramophone was invented then released.

Looking at this, in spite of their difference – music box and phonograph/gramophone – you may consider this first version of what a gramophone was, a hand crank music box.

This just shows that every piece of mechanical instrument that was developed overtime drew inspiration from one another. You can see the similarities whether it is in some of the components that they use on their individual mechanisms or in their functions.

One way or another, there will always be some familiarity between any of them, especially with decades of close contact and competing with one another as they do even the slightest changes to claim that they have the upper hand just like how it is with many competing brands in the same industry are nowadays.

The hand crank music box went through a lot, and it has not been with such positivity. Even being the first of the many variations of the music box is not associated with them. However, it has been looking for them and that is all they can hope for – a positive outlook in the future because there is no other way to go but forward.

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