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Sweet Music in a Box

  • Yi Suli

Music boxes were the original home entertainment systems. Until the invention of the phonograph, music boxes were one of the few types of home musical entertainment. Today, this 200-year-old invention continues to entertain thanks, in part, to a small company in the northeastern state of Vermont. For producer Yi Suli, Elaine Lu has more on the world-renowned Porter Music Box Company and Museum.

Dwight Porter used to live here. But today it is the Porter Music Box Museum. "The museum has been open for 10 years,” he says. “So, 1997."

It all started with the Porters' personal collection of music boxes. "When we first started collecting, we just had one or two music boxes,” explained Dwight. “As years went by, the house got so full, there wasn't much living space left. So we decided to make it into a museum."

Visitors find the antique music boxes enchanting.

"I think it's just hidden treasure," said one. "I love everything Victorian. Music boxes remind me of that," explained another.

Dwight showed a group of visitors some of the music boxes. "This is manufactured in Paris around 1890 by Gustav Falluboir. And you watch his face; you will notice he opens and closes his eyes. His mouth smokes his pipe. He is fishing a goldfish from bottom of the pond. This little calf chair from Switzerland was made around late 1875 and 1880. And so if someone were to sit on this, music happens."

Porter started making his own music boxes in 1975. Today, the Porter Music Box Company is the only major manufacturer of large multiple disc music boxes in the world. Skilled workers, like Ben Robbins, make all the parts. "I'm the machinist. I make the parts for the music boxes, from small intricate stuff to the big stuff like the bedplate,” said Robbins. “There are nine machines I need to know how to operate."

Craftsman Ron Connolly explains how the delicate sound is boosted. "This is your soundboard. It amplifies the sound, basically just like a piano or a violin."

General Manager Jim Sault says such painstaking craftsmanship comes with a premium price. "If you are looking at a true Porter music box, the least expensive one is $9,500."

Over the past three decades there has been renewed interest in these jewels of a bygone era. Porter thinks he knows why. "Part of it is nostalgia. People are yearning for a return to a simpler time," he says.

Visitor Jay Derin appreciates Porter's work. "You know, it is definitely a dying art in one sense, but seeing somebody like Mr. Porter was taking the time to really advance it. I think in all likelihood he must have some people that are admirers of his and will probably continue."

For Porter, the rewards are more than just financial. "That makes me happy. I feel very fulfilled as a human being because I bring a lot of joy to other people's lives," he tells us.

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