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What's It Worth?

A Sound Investment

July 10, 1999|KATHY BRYANT | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

WHAT IS IT?

This is a Swiss-made music box, 15 inches long, probably made by Paillard in the early 1880s.

It is veneered with Amboyna wood, an ornamental wood from a Malaysian tree used for inlaying and small articles. The wood was discovered during the reign of Louis XV (1710-74) of France, who decreed that it could only be used for him.

The inlay banding is king wood and holly wood. There is an ebonzied edge.

WHAT'S ITS HISTORY?

"The first historical reference to musical boxes was in Geneva, Switzerland, in 1796," says Christian Eric, owner of Antique Music Box Restoration in Costa Mesa. "They were all handmade, so they had to be pricey. Swiss folk songs were the first melodies put in the boxes. The Swiss put musical movements in anything they could sell."

Eric collects music boxes himself. One is a jeweled harp as small as a finger and several others were also used as snuff boxes. He has one music/snuff box that was given by Napoleon to one of his generals.

WHAT'S THE LEGEND?

This music box belongs to Lealand Risk of San Juan Capistrano and has been in his family for 80 years. "I am the fourth generation to have possession of this. It was obtained to entertain my blind paternal great-grandfather. According to family lore, it was purchased in Pasadena at a sale of donated items to raise money during World War I."

WHY IS IT POPULAR TODAY?

People still love music boxes because they combine art, history, craftsmanship and sound.

"They're such a piece of history. I think that the Swiss developed them because of their cold, dark winters when everyone stayed inside. From the music in the boxes you can really be transported back to a particular time. For example, music from the 1790s is much quieter than that from the 1890s," says Eric.

WHAT'S IT WORTH TODAY?

"It's difficult to appraise a music box without hearing it, because that's where a lot of its value is. This box plays four tunes, and that's very good, since that means the sound is more complex," says Eric.

"If there are lots of songs in a box, that lowers the value, since the songs have to then be simpler and shorter. This box has double-spring barrels, which give it extended play and indicates that it was expensive when it was made," he says. "Valuing it on the low side, I would guess it's worth around $3,000."

WHERE CAN I FIND IT?

Music boxes can be found in most antique stores. They are antiques that don't lose value if they're restored. To a collector, the sound of the music is more important than the box itself.

Music boxes were incorporated into clocks, sewing and jewelry boxes, steins, plates, toys perfume bottles and furniture.

WANT MORE?

Contact Musical Box Society International, Box 297, Marietta, Ohio, 45750. The society has a Web site (http://www.mbsi .org) where several different tunes can be heard.

Eric recommends the book "The Cylinder Musical Box" by Graham Webb for further information. Books by Arthur W.G. Word-Hume are also recommended.

* To have an item considered for this column, send information, a photograph of it and a phone number to: What's It Worth?, Home Design, The Times Orange County, 1375 Sunflower Ave., Costa Mesa, CA 92626.

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