Music boxes by Mermod Frères from 1885 on

(Bulleid: Cylinder Musical Box Technology p. 24-28)

Genial Innovations,
sometimes ham-fistedness,
and also sometimes idiotic failures


“Where there is light,
there is also shadow”,
as a proverb says

Probably most Mermod output in the 1885-1895 period was of standard movements with cylinders 6“ (15 cm) or less (Bulleid: Cylinder Musical Box Technology, 1994, p. 24-28)

Mermod Frères in the late 1880s
Mermod Frères was making cylinder musical boxes at high speed by the late 1880s. Most of them incorporated their own distinctive design including crank wind, spring drive and governor at the right, treble end and a combined tune indicator and selector with stationary cam at the bass end. The spring and cylinder bearings were in line and of cast iron, integral with the bedplate. The cylinder had a small shaft each end, screwed into its robust end-caps. The shaft at the treble end carried a driving fork to engage with a peg on the spring barrel cover, and a coil spring to maintain contact between cylinder and snail. Most larger models also had Mermod´s parachute – i.e. safety check. The stop arm was a brass plate pivoted to the bedplate near the conventional governor and bent to form three extensions; one was sprung against the face of the spring barrel and entered a hole in it at tune end, and one was bent upright and simultaneously caught the stop tail. The third extension was engaged by a small Play/Stop lever pivoted to the spring bearing. This lever protrudes through a slot in the bearing cover plate, where the Mermod patents were listed.

An objective on wether the Mermod design was an improvement on the original would probably end in a draw. No space is saved by having the spring and cylinder in line. Crank wind is handier than lever. However, the handle is loose and requires a parking slot at the bass end. The controls are slightly less convenient and are both under the glass lid. Simplified final assembly brought cost savings, and the layout was excellent for interchangeable cylinders, as shown in Fig. 4-40. (Bulleid: Cylinder Musical Box Technology, 1994, p. 24-28)

Patents up to 1888
This Mermod style with its list of patents up to 1888 spans a huge range of serial numbers; for example, observe Serial N° 60255 with 4 ¾“ (12 cm) cylinder and Serial N° 81853 with 2 ½“ (9 cm) cylinder. Both play six airs, are in simple grained cases with a small transfer on lid and are without tune selector and parachute check. The case of Serial N° 60255 is stamped 275 on the left side top surface in 0.3“ (8 mm) numbers, almost certainly denoting Ste. Croix manufacture.

They came in different sizes to suit different lids. In the left hand lower corner they show the Mermod trademark with founding date 1816. Unaccountably, this date sometimes shows up as 1840. For Mermod´s special types, such as Guitare and Bells, the design gives ample room for a descriptive heading above the tune list.

Jelly-pad duplicator
Sometimes, as on Serial N° 80428 (5 ¾“ (15 cm) cylinder, eight airs) the tune list in in purple ink from a jelly-pad duplicator, suggesting a batch of boxes all with the same program. (Bulleid: Cylinder Musical Box Technology, 1994, p. 24-28)

Design Details
The complications of the combined tune indicator and selector arise from the need to prevent the user trying to make a change during a tune, whether from mere fiddling or ignorance or because the cylinder had stopped before the end of the tune. The result would be broken tips and possibly bent pins, particularly if done while the cylinder was at rest and moved all the way from last to first tune. The resulting design is ingenious but not quite as elegant as the simple selectors fitted by Bremond, Baker-Troll and others which merely flap the air if operated away from tune end.

The main spring unwinds one turn for every tune, so it has to be as many times weaker and longer as the spring barrel to cylinder gear ratio of lever design, which needs much more winding so crank-wind is almost essential. The single bearing for the spring is only 1 1/8“ (29 mm) wide and has to stand forces imposed by heavy handed winders. To reduce float the brass coverplate is ingeniously made slightly convex so its concave underside only bears on the shaft at the two extreme ends of the V-groove of the bearing.

Assembly is very simple and quick; the cylinder first, with driving fork upright, and then the spring positioned to engage it. No skill is needed to position and screw home all the pieces, and the only adjustments required are the bearing covers, the orientation of the cylinder driving fork, and the upright extension of the stop arm. It has to catch the governor stop tail only when the stop arm has entered the hole in the spring barrel. I have found this out of adjustment at auction viewings, being set so that it always stops immediately when the lever is moved to STOP. This obliterates the automatic end-of-tune stop and probably causes stops in the middle of tunes. I suspect this has been done by owners who know better than the makers.

The spring barrel gear, which in this design acts as the great wheel, is 2 ¾“ (7 cm) in diameter with 156 teeth. This gives 2184 revs of the endless per cylinder rec, the top end of the usual range.

An idiotic feature of the case is that if you put the winding handle back in its partition it slides underneath and rattles about. Cure: a small wood block will retain it vertically in ready-for-use, rattle-free position.
(Bulleid: Cylinder Musical Box Technology, 1994, p. 24-28)

Link to the Mermod factory about 1900

Mermod in the U.S.A.
Agent Jacot

In his 1938 notes, L.G. Jaccard praises Mermod´s Ideal music box as one of the best, most simple and inexpensive ever made, explaining its popularity in the USA and its greater scope with cylinders up to 25“ (64 cm) long by 3 ¼“ (8 cm) diameter.

The expensive Mermod range is covered in a 70-page catalog issued in 1895 by Heeren Bros. of Pittsburg. It lists and illustrates 6 Peerless and 20 Ideal types, and 30 more ranging from small „tabatieres“ to orchestrals and coin-operated types. There are also manivelles, chalets, musical alarms, singing birds and sundries. No wonder the decent sized factory shown in Fig. 1-18 was needed. The catalog concludes with 15 pages listing cylinders available, all with six tunes and with unlisted tunes available at a small charge; and 10 pages listing and illustrating available spares, replacements for practically every item in every box, including springs and comb teeth – a total of 137 items.
Most movements were offerend with a choice of American made oak od mahogany cases with carved fronts, „Guaranteed never to warp or split“, as seen in Fig. 1-21. The Guitare movements all have 11“ (28 cm) cylinders playing six airs. Since they are interchangeables with wider tune tracks they have the same number of teeth as the eight-air Serial N° 56428 described above.
The catalog also contains sundry snippets of mostly good advice including DIRECTIONS FOR OILING MUSIC BOXES. This is very sound, if optimistic, concerning the governor but less happy in its advice about keeping the cylinder pins oiled …
„… otherwise they will produce a disagreeable grating sound. To do this, take a thin piece of metal one or two inches wide (or the blade of a large table knife will do), oil it well, and pass it over the pins from one end of cylinder to the other while the box is playing, so that all the pins shall be oiled.“

Ham-fisted. This conjures up visions of a genial, but ham-fisted operator downing a dopuble scotch and lighting to steady his hand as he advances on the grating musical box to lunge unsteadily at the cylinder with oil dripping from his large knife; so please see Chapter 7, page 204.
(Bulleid: Cylinder Musical Box Technology, 1994, p. 28-31)