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Nickelodeon Classifications

by Don Teach

This article appeared in the Mechanical Music Digest on Tuesday, May 27, 1997
and may not be reproduced without express written permission from the author.

Subject: Nickelodeons

More private E-Mail questions answered, since there are several members/ readers that do not yet have a copy of the Bowers book.

There were many different nickelodeons made and they can be found in for sale ads in the MBSI, AMICA, and Antique Trader publications. You can also find them at auctions.

Basic nickelodeons that used the common "A" roll were made by many major manufacturers as well as some were made from add on kits. The basic "A" roll piano in the early years were keyboard models with clear glass in the top and played the piano with soft pedal for expression.

Within a few short years of their introduction the mandolin rail was added. Then the deluxe models added an extra instrument which in the pre World War I years were pipe organ pipes and in later years xylophones. Very early "A" rolls did not have the extra hole in the roll to turn on the extra instrument. They varied by manufacturer and model as to how many pipes they had or notes on the xylophone.

Cremona was an early entry in the field of coin-operated pianos and had several models to choose from. The Cremona "G" is a very popular model from this early era. The earliest ones had slightly shorter cases than the later ones with the air supply running through wooden channels instead of hoses on the pipe pressure reservoir on the back of the piano. Cremona did not make instruments using the "G" roll. Seeburg was a very popular maker that got his start as a Cremona employee.

Cremona was manufactured by the Marquette piano company. It was reported in the Bowers book that some Seeburg pianos used Cremona parts in the 1920's. I do not believe this is true as the one Seeburg-Cremona piano known was burned in a fire at Svoboda's Nickelodeon tavern. It was later discovered that another collector had added these parts to the once gutted Seeburg.

There are also many other discoveries of unknown information since the Bowers book was published. The first "A" roll pianos had keyboards like a typical piano. Sometime before WW I a cabinet model was introduced. Link had their model 2E cabinet model and Seeburg had their model K. Link pianos all use a roll made by Link and not "A" rolls. Since the Seeburg did not use the bottom notes on the harp it is assumed that Link came before Seeburg.

There are several examples of early Seeburg "K" models that have the Automatic Musical Instrument Company (which is Link's early name) name on the harp and at least one Link piano with Seeburg cast into its harp indicating both companies bought their pianos from the same supplier. In these cases there is an overlay on the plate covering up the incorrect name with the correct one unless someone took it off and lost it.

Wurlitzer, Peerless, North Tonawanda, and others had long been making a cabinet model with 44 notes that each used a special roll. Some of these were later converted to use various different rolls including the "A" roll by route operators.

The early Seeburg "K" had pipes while the later "K" had a xylophone. After the introduction of the Seeburg "K" came the "KT" with extra instrumentation. There have been many Seeburg "K" models converted to "KT" models by modern day restorers. The Seeburg Lilliputian (L) was known as the cabinet model and was introduced after the Seeburg "K".

Collectors and historians seem to have more information on Seeburg and Wurlitzer than any of the other companies. It would be nice to know more about some of the others such as Coinola made by the Operators Piano Co. The "A" roll piano had a very long run of popularity with rolls produced up into the 1930's on a regular basis.

In the 1970's there were several people cutting "A" rolls with new tunes. It should also be noted that J. Lawrence Cook also cut "A" rolls to order in the 1950's. There should be a lot of "A" roll pianos around if someone is looking for one.

The Seeburg "E" was one of the earliest Seeburg keyboard models to use the "A" roll with an extra instrument. This was complimented by the Seeburg "F" with a larger case and more pipes. The "F" is very rare and sought after by many collectors. Seeburg models "A,B,C, and D" are "A roll" models without extra instruments. The piano on the upper right on page 603 is actually a Style D in the Bowers Encyclopedia. Only recently has an advertisement for the "D" shown up to identify the model D. It was apparently short lived in the Seeburg line as this model is not mentioned on later Seeburg material.

Coinola pianos with one extra instrument have been found with either "A" roll mechanisms or "O" roll mechanisms. They could not play both types of rolls on one instrument. Look at the tracker bar so you can tell which type of roll the Coinola was meant to use. Nine holes to the inch are usually "O" rolls and six holes to the inch a "A" rolls. Coinola did not make machines for the "G" roll. A Coinola with reiterating bells playing the "A" roll is really loud.

Nelson-Wiggen was a late comer to the field of manufacturing coin- operated pianos. Mr. Wiggen is listed as the inventor on the patent sheets for the Seeburg model "G". Their pianos with one extra instrument only played the "A" roll. Nelson-Wiggen machines with two extra instruments such as the Style "8" had Bells and a xylophone used either the "A" roll or the "G" roll. A close look at the machine will tell you which type of roll it used.

There were other manufacturers of "A" roll pianos that little is known about. These other manufacturers were apparently small in the market place as fewer machines are known to collectors. The "A" scale is hole

1 Hammer rail soft
2 Sustain Pedal
3 play (tells mechanism to stop rewind)
4 through 61 Playing Notes C to A
62 Extra instrument
63 Rewind
64 Mandolin ON
65 Coin Trip (off)

On the Seeburg K the playing notes are A-sharp to G. So if you want to hear the music played in the proper key a keyboard piano would be the choice for you.

Don Teach
E-Mail: Don Teach

About the Author

I am Don Teach and a Player Piano Technician. I specialize in antique coin operated player pianos. I have done work for collectors and museums. I make the brass name plates and excutheons for coin operated players. I also make brass rewind gears for Seeburgs. Since I primarily only do nickelodeon pianos, our service area is anywhere someone wants to send us a piano from to restore.
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