Nickelodeon unveils a rare — And working! — Tel-Electric piano-playing device from 1907

Michael Evans of the Nickelodeon Museum poses with a rare, functioning Tel-Electric piano playing machine from 1907. David F. Rooney photo

By David F. Rooney

A rare Tel-Electric piano playing device made in 1907 has been restored to working order at the Nickelodeon Museum.

The Museum’s David Evans said there are probably only three of these in the world and this may be the only one that actually works.

His son, Michael, spent a month cleaning the American-made machine’s 63 solenoids, which control the piano’s individual keys, and restoring the control system — a kind of Georgian-era remote control that would have sat in an ornate box beside owner’s easy chair.

“The piano it is attached to was donated by Bill Gallicano,” David said. “We bought the electric unit attached to a huge 1870s’ Steinway concert grand piano about 20 years ago. Not having room for a 12-foot-long piano, we removed the electric player from it and sold the Steinway on. We had been looking for a suitable piano to install it in for quite some time, and the Gallicanos’ DW Karn (that’s the upright piano) was just about the right age.”

So… how does this particular machine sound? Pretty good as you can tell from the sound on the video below. The museum has several spring loaded rolls of punched brass sheets that controlled the music. The music on this video is The Funeral March of a Marionette by 19th century French composer Charles Gounod. The tune, which you’ll no doubt recognize immediately, was used as the theme for the TV series Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Enjoy.

This is the scrolled brass sheet that was analogous to ‘a program’ that controlled the piano keys. That’s the remote control in the foreground. You’ll never lose that baby in your couch. David F. Rooney photo