PianoLodeon Rolls & Imperial Industrial Co.
By Douglas Henderson
Hello Bob and MMD readers, the period of the PianoLodeon development
was at the time I was working for Max Kortlander (and J. Lawrence Cook)
at Imperial Industrial Co. in the Bronx. This period overlapped with
a drawn-out purchase of one of his Acme perforators (but that's another
The old Rolmonica equipment was being dusted off and the arrangements
were perforated in tandem, so that strips could be slit, each becoming
a different music roll, much as a wallpaper cutter operated.
Cook had high hopes for the PianoLodeon instrument at the time, but
the finished product was so wheezy and lackluster that I scuttled our
two purchases of the instrument. We had one of the earlier maroon
models with the fake-gold ornaments on each side of the spoolbox, and
the next year purchased an all-white model with less detail work. Both
"suffered" through the music, however, and I still think that for a
slightly higher cost a credible instrument could have been built, much
as the Melody Player had been before World War II (by the same company,
Sets of rolls were offered, at first, and then individual PianoLodeon
I found the fact that the repetition was so poor and "note skipping"
seemed to happen on most PianoLodeon scales, that the finished product
was more of a premise than the Rolmonica and QRS Clarola, etc. etc.
were in their time.
At the period I frequented the Bronx roll factory -- doing most of the
perforating work on a Leabarjan #5 in Wash., DC at the Konvalinkas'
musical box shop (Old Salzburg Music Boxes) and taking the results to
New York City -- there were several plant topics which "made the
rounds" of that frozen-in-time enterprise:
1) The PianoLodeon was going to revive the Rolmonica sideline of
2) Conlon Nancarrow had just visited QRS and used Cook's truncated
Leabarjan #8 as a model for having a new perforator built for his
3) The on-going Recordo expression roll line would be revived by the
Walnut St. piano factory (Winter) which could have added the Recordo
unit to electrified versions of the Hardman Duo -- built of wooden
materials then, and based upon the Std. Pneumatic Action designs.
A year or so later, Max stopped putting "It's Twice The Fun When
Your Piano Is Two-In-One" stamps on the QRS roll leaders, and nobody
discussed a Recordo revival again. Shortly after that came the plastic
Hardman action valves and the player assembly moved to Memphis or some
location away from New York City.
Cook was fired while on a vacation in Haiti and briefly worked for the
Aeolian roll business, duplicating its products on the West Coast.
(Later, these were revived by Harold Powell as Klavier Music Rolls.)
Max died during this period and that's when Imperial Industrial was
courting a series of arrangers, beginning with me. Cook returned to
QRS, I believe, a bit later on, but the company was in the midst of a
transition after 1963, while my work with Danilo and Lois Konvalinka on
starting The Musical Wonder House (museum) took most of my focus.
The PianoLodeon -- after much press hype and publicity -- wound up
being discounted at E. J. Korvette's and similar stores of the kind,
after only two seasons of production.
It all seems like yesterday but was really nearly 30 years ago!
(Time flies when you are having fun, as they say.)
Regards from Maine,
Douglas Henderson, Artcraft Music Rolls
PO Box 295, Wiscasset, ME 04578