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1907 Weber w/Aeolian
Themodist player action

1907 Aeolian-Weber
Themodist Model
(Comments Made About This Piano - Click Here)

The following Comments have been made by members of the Mechanical Music Digest in response to an inquiry that I posted in the MMDigest on October 23, 2006. The authors names have been deleted for privacy reasons.

Obviously a European made Weber Themodist. The unstained wood spoolbox is very German 
like the German orchestrions. The veneer, while in some pics it looks like rosewood, 
when the whole piano is seen I would have to call it Zebrawood. Very rare, and I would 
say a special order item.

As in a Duo Art the two ganged levers control the snakebites. There should be a lever 
for theme and accompaniment. Everything in the piano looks like a run-of-the-mill 
Themodist to me except for the color of the spool box.

Good morning John ... that wood reminds me of Mulga (Acacia anu- something) 
an inland Australian wattle tree. As a kid (40s-50s) I  remember scads of 
mulga wood articles, all with that dark banding and  a yellowish heart. The 
colour might have been tinted but the banding  was natural.

This site:


doesn't show mulga as I recall it - perhaps all the really big stuff  
has been chopped down (surprise!). Maybe the guy who runs the site  
might be able to do better than I can with your pix. Since the  
machine is 87 yo, the mulga (if that's what it is) was probably the  
pick of whatever was available then. It's a shame that, whatever the  
wood, some clown has seen fit to elaborate on it with inlays, however  
well done, the wood is very busy by itself.

I wonder if the player is unusually heavy indicating a hard wood?  
Perhaps another contender might be River Red Gum (Eucalyptus  
camuldulensis) from the banks of the Murray River, still cut today,  
still making burls, but of course in trouble since they need floods  
every now and then to flower. Anyway, the pictures of RRG on that  
site don't add up to what I see on your pix.

This is a total guess: Camphor Laurel - ring any bells? It should  
still have a faint camphor smell even after all these years.

Hope this helps! Though I do wonder if a northern hemisphere  
manufacturer would import wood from Australia but then, at that time,  
it would have been relatively cheap since the folks in those days  
thought there was an endless supply.

I can't help with the technical matters, the the general style of an 
upright with doors is called a "Manx Piano".  The original was designed 
by architect M.H.Ballie Scott for an early 20th C. commission on the 
Isle of Man, and it became popular for a while. 
As to the wood, it looks something like Olive wood: http://www.bethlehemolivewood.net/  
which also might explain the slightly eastern look of the piece. 

I suspect that somebody decided to "fancy up" the case and simply remade it
using a Tigerwood from the Philippines called "Pao-Dao,"  or as we used to
call it, just Dao. There are a number of varieties, the most rare being
called "Ribbon Dao." That's Dao that looks just like a satin ribbon.

I saw this piano on Ebay a year or two (or three) ago, and I wonder if the 
current owner bought it at that time, or it remained unsold. In any case, 
the hand levers do not make sense to me; all I can see in the photo are the 
two "snakebite" accenters, and another lever to the right of that. I would 
like a photo of ALL the hand levers, looking straight down along the front 
of the stack, as well as a view from the normal playing position. I suspect 
that the mystery lever is the manual damper lifter, but I can't be sure from 
these photos. When I can see all the levers, I will have a better idea of 
what the heck is going on-------

Hi! It looks like a custom case design. The wood is Zebra wood veneer--I 
have a Victor Victrola XVII that was a custom order made around 1920 made 
of the same veneer. 

What a beautiful case.  It looks like Rosewood.
(I would also guess that the vacuum hose from the pump box is Electrolux.....Ha Ha)

Eric Chapeau is a world class expert; he was hired by Steinway a few years back 
to re-create the greatest of all Art-Cases, the Alma-Tadema Piano. These photos 
are worth looking at. You can see them at: 
Eric thinks that this is a species of Macassar, probably from the 
Phillipines since it has a lot of orange in it.

I would say with some authority that the 1919 date is
way off. My 1910 Weber upright has a serial number of
66507, making this one extremely early. I see nothing
to suggest it is of foreign manufacture; note "New
York" on the fallboard. It seems to be built the way
one would expect an instrument this early to be built:
control levers behind the fallboard, natural wood
finish throughout the top action, and so on. You will
probably find that the stack is double-valve with only
65 notes, the tracker bar replaced with an 88-note one
and automatic sustaining pedal device either absent or
added later. Also, Weber was using a full iron plate
in their uprights by as early as 1914.

My 1910 Weber has 4 levers for expression:

Sustaining pedal
Hammer rail
Soft bass
Soft treble

Soft bass and treble levers must be engaged and
Themodist or "ACCENT" switch on in order for the
snakebites to have any effect. As with the
foot-impelled Duo-Art, Theme intensity is determined
by the amount of foot pressure on the pedals. However,
Accompaniment level is either fixed or determined by
the position of the reservoir. Perhaps the missing
parts comprised a mechanical linkage between the
accompaniment regulator and reservoir.

The piano illustrated on John Tuttle's web site is much earlier than 1919 - 
more like 1905. This earlier date makes it a great deal easier to figure out.

I've seen one other Weber Pianola with the flap at the rear of the keys 
hiding the controls, which was a 65-note instrument. The illustrated instrument 
is also a 65-noter, albeit with an 88-note tracker bar! It was not uncommon 
for Aeolian to make this adaptation in better instruments, these adaptations 
naturally appearing factory-fitted because that's exactly what they are.

Being effectively a 65-note pushup works installed directly into a piano, this 
instrument is the very earliest form of the Pianola-Piano. Later adaptations 
shifted the controls to a more rational position in the keyslip so you could 
see the keys as the instrument played, and also led to the governors moving 
to the underside of the keybed. This is therefore very interesting to the historian 
but of low market value in terms of the player action, the value obviously being 
in the wonderful casework and high-quality piano.

Age giveaways are the lack of tracking system beyond a knurled nut in the spoolbox, 
narrow wind motor boards, having the wind motor governor and Themodist regulator 
mounted on the top action. Also a giveaway is the colour-coordinated spoolbox, 
common on 65-note pushups but superseded by black with everything later (I have 
a pushup where even the takeup spool has the case finish). The 65-note stack can 
be observed from the gap between the case and end of the stack in one of the pictures.

At this date all Pianola construction (i.e. the player action part) was in America, 
with works shipped overseas as and when required. Aeolian's European factories started 
with the July 1905 acquisition of the Ernst Munck factory in Gotha, renamed Steck in 
1906, and the London Weber factor didn't open until 1910. This piano isn't a Gotha 
Steck masquerading as a Weber (it's completely different in construction), and too 
early to be from London, which points to its being American. The use of decals is 
characteristically American, European instruments inevitably having inset brass or 
boxwood lettering.

The expression system is a straightforward Themodist one, but with pneumatic on/off 
via pallette valves rather than the more common mechanical slide valves.

The case is consistent with the date in the form with the folding doors (the famous 
Manxman design), but unusual in that it's done with a fancy veneer rather than the 
fairly austere Oak cases that such pianos normally have as befits their Arts and 
Crafts backgound.

Since the 65-note Themodist rolls and tracker bars have no provision
for an automatic sustaining pedal device, it is virtually certain
this instrument never had one originally. The linkage described and
partially shown suggests a manually-operated lever either missing or
intentionally done away with in a later modification.

I do have here a piano containing an earlier 88-note "Standard"
player action with a button activated pneumatic sustaining pedal device
but no automatic sustaining pedal hole in the tracker bar or the usual
associated on-off switch. So there is a remote possibility that Aeolian
had a similar arrangement for their earliest internal player actions.
But I tend to think not, since the logical connection would be via the
vertical wood rod connecting the two horizontal steel rods.

Since the replacement 88-note tracker bar has a sustaining hole, it
is possible that automatic pedaling was added at that time, and then
removed to make way for the suction unit.  You should check the wood
rod for telltale screw holes.
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This page was last revised March 2, 2013 by John A. Tuttle, who Assumes No Liability
For The Accuracy or Validity of the Statements and/or Opinions
Expressed within the Pages of the Player-Care Domain.
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