Museum Quality Antique Chalet-Stlye Interchangeable Music Box on Table by J.H. Heller of Berne, Switzerland, c. 1870
This is an extremely rare, museum-quality music box made by J.H. Heller of Berne, Switzerland in c. 1870. While antique musical chalet musical boxes do come to the market, it is incredibly rare to find one of this great size and detail, with a six-cylinder interchangeable movement, and the added bonus of a striking clock. It is a truly spectacular item.
The house and table are a work of art. Carved from walnut, most probably in Brienz, the level of detail, right down to the smallest the window shutters or the slats in the balconies, is superb. On the house itself there is a double staircase, 21 mirrored windows, one wrap-around balcony and then a further balcony towards the top of the house. Two outhouses flank the sides, packed with wood for the winter and with small staircases and ladders leading up into them. In the grounds before it sit a pair of gentlemen next to a water fountain, clearly proud of their abode. The house sits in serpentine-shaped grounds marked out around the boundary by cross-fencing.
This all sits on a table stand that is also made of walnut, with carved scrolling acorn-and-foliate design to the front that is echoed in the upper levels of the house. The pattern continues along the sides of the stand and down onto the scrolling cabriole legs. The patina of both the house and stand is a beautiful honey-colour, reflecting the age of the piece.
The musical movement has an Expressive Harpenspiel arrangement, giving it lovely tone and range. It has been fully refurbished, and comes with the original six cylinders as detailed on the original tunesheet. These cylinders are housed in a separate, custom-made case. Each cylinder plays 6 operatic airs, making 36 tunes in total, including Norma, La Traviata, Martha, Il Trovatore, Faust, Rigoletto, and even 5 different quadrilles of Orpheus in the Underworld.
The clock in the centre of the house is a French 8-day pendulum clock striking on a bell every hour and half hour.
The piece also comes with a beautiful piece of provenance: a letter dated 18 April 1886, addressed to the owners from Jacot, Juillerat & Co of 37 Maiden Lane, New York (right behind where the Federal Reserve sits today) in reply to their request for more cylinders. Clearly almost 130 years ago this was already a prized and well-loved music box.