By Helaine Fendelman and Joe Rosson
McClatchy-Tribune Information Services
Dear Helaine and Joe: I am wondering if you had any information on this Regina music box. It was my grandmother’s and I always loved it. As a little girl I would spend hours playing with the metal discs and dancing to the music they produced. I am pretty sure this music box dates back to the late 1800s. The cabinet is in rough shape, but the mechanism still plays beautifully. Any history or value would be wonderful. Thank you, K.F.
Dear K.F.: The history of the Regina Music Box Company of Rahway, N.J., really starts with the Symphonion Music Box Company of Leipzig, Germany, when they introduced the disc playing music box in 1885.
Two of Symphonion’ employees — Gustave Brachhausen and Paul Reissner — decided they could make better music disc boxes than Symphonion, and decided to start a rival company. They set up their own company, Polyphon Musikwerke, in 1889, and in just a short time were outselling Symphonion.
At that point the United States Congress struck. They enacted the McKinley Tariff of 1890 (it went into effect in 1891), which placed a high tariff on music boxes imported into the United States. The new tariff was so high that Brachhausen and Reissner decided that it would be cheaper just to move to the U.S.
Brachhausen came to the United States in 1892 and leased some space in Jersey City. At first, the movements were imported from Polyphon and installed in American-made boxes, but The Regina Music Box Company was established in Rahway in 1894.
Some sources say the year was 1895, but that may be the year that production actually began in the new factory or it may be the year that Regina actually split from Polyphon to become an independent company. In any event, Regina prospered until the phonograph became serious competition.
In 1902, the name “Music Box” was dropped from the company’s name, and the enterprise began to diversify. Other than the music boxes, Regina is mainly known for its vacuum cleaners, and, during World War II, the company manufactured bomb fuses. Regina went bankrupt in 1922, but returned to business in the 1930s, mainly with the vacuum cleaners.
The cabinet on this piece could be rather attractive if it were professionally cleaned, but DO NOT, let anyone “refinish it” for any reason. We feel that most if not all refinishing processes that we can think of would probably destroy the pictorial contents of what we have seen described as “decals.”
It is our opinion, this design was meant to mimic Vernis Martin, which is a type of imitation lacquer associated with 18th-century brothers Guillaume and Etienne-Simon Martin. This type of decoration was also popular in the early 20th century when this Regina music box was manufactured.
As K.F. pointed out, the cabinet of this example is in rather rough condition — and she is not mistaken. It has a crack in the lid and this will hurt the value somewhat. We did find one auction value for a piece that is extremely similar to the example owned by K.F.
It too had a cracked lid and the surface of the cabinet appeared to need cleaning as well, but on March 17, 2012, Morphy Auction in Denver, Pa., sold it for $4,750. We feel that an insurance replacement value on this piece would be somewhat higher in the $6,000 to $8,000 range.
Helaine Fendelman and Joe Rosson have written a number of books on antiques. Do you have an item you’d like to know more about? Contact them at Joe Rosson, PO Box 27419, Knoxville, TN, or email them at email@example.com. If you’d like your question to be considered for their column, please include a high-resolution photo of the subject, which must be in focus, with your inquiry.
Treasures: Is Regina music box valuable, even with damaged cabinet?
By Helaine Fendelman and Joe Rosson