The Magical Music Box

by Regina Scott


If you’re like me, you’ve already been queueing up the Christmas music. There’s something special about the hymns, carols, and jingles written to celebrate the season. But in the west of the 1800s, music was a precious commodity, at any time. There are tales of families sacrificing to bring a piano on the Oregon Trail, stories of stampedes averted by a cowboy with a calming voice. If you could play an instrument or sing well, you were instantly popular!


Perhaps that’s why music boxes were so prized. First developed in the early nineteenth century in Europe by watchmakers, some early specimens were tiny enough to fit inside a gentleman’s snuff box. The mechanism was much like what you may have seen in a child’s toy—a cylinder with bumps equating to notes and a toothed comb that the cylinder rotated against to “ring” out the song. You cranked the mechanism to tighten a spring, which slowly unwound and stopped the motion of the cylinder.

People were entranced by the sound, and demand grew. Music boxes grew larger, fancier. Some came in tortoiseshell cases, others encased in fine wood. Sizes increased to tabletop and even as large as a grandfather clock. Companies found ways to swap cylinders, so you could play more songs. The number of teeth “playing” across the cylinder grew to over 300, providing a range of octaves. More springs meant the box could play for hours without rewinding.

Catalogs allowed you to pick from a range of music, from popular tunes to classical pieces and hymns. One piece even mimicked the sound of a bird singing. Supposedly Beethoven was particularly enchanted with the devices and composed music with them in mind.


At first the price for these boxes was high enough that only the wealthy could afford them. But after the Civil War, more reasonable boxes became available. These used less durable components, such as wooden or even paper rolls. Coin-operated versions were placed in railway stations for the public’s enjoyment. Pocket watches became musical, playing chimes to mark the hour. And people on the frontier ordered the boxes and gave them to those they loved. My hero Levi Wallin gives one to my heroine Callie Murphy in this month’s His Frontier Christmas Family. Callie loves music, but her family circumstances have prevented her from owning any kind of instrument. The music box becomes her prized possession.

The advent of the phonograph and player piano toward the end of the nineteenth century usurped the popularity of the music box. But examples continued to be created long afterward. The round music boxes in this blog post belonged to my great-grandmother and her sister, both of whom were born in the late 1800s. One was used to hold face powder—the original powder puff is inside.


Perhaps, like Callie, they loved music in any form, even from a magical little box.


Leave a comment to get your name in a drawing for an autographed copy of His Frontier Christmas Family, Regina’s new release.


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Regina Scott started writing novels in the third grade. Thankfully for literature as we know it, she didn’t actually sell her first novel until she learned a bit more about writing. She now has more than thirty-five published works of warm, witty romance. She and her husband of nearly 30 years reside in the Puget Sound area of Washington State. Regina Scott has dressed as a Regency dandy, driven four-in-hand, learned to fence, and sailed on a tall ship, all in the name of research, of course. Learn more about her at her website or connect with her on Facebook, Pinterest, or Goodreads.

His Frontier Family

After taking guardianship of his late friend’s siblings and baby daughter, minister Levi Wallin hopes to atone for his troubled past on the gold fields. But it won’t be easy to convince the children’s wary elder sister to trust him. The more he learns about her, though, the more he believes Callie Murphy’s prickly manner masks a vulnerable heart…one he’s starting to wish he was worthy of.

Every man in Callie’s life chose chasing gold over responsibilities. Levi—and the large, loving Wallin family—might just be different. But she can tell he’s hiding something from her, and she refuses to risk her heart with secrets between them. Even as they grow closer, will their pasts keep them from claiming this unexpected new beginning?



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47 thoughts on “The Magical Music Box”

  1. Good morning- Music boxes are very special it always intrigued me how they designed them way back then with The beautiful music, when there was no technology just some manual keys circling metal over metal. Great history lesson. Merry Christmas to you!!

  2. I love music boxes and have several. Music boxes have always fascinated me. They are one of the first things I remember looking at and wondering how on earth did someone come about making the first one of these. Of course, I was young and now there are unlimited amounts of things that I wonder how people came up with the concept. I must remember to tell my daughter’s to keep my music boxes and pass them on. With modern technology these are the types of things people should hold on to for generations to come. Most of my music boxes were given to me by my Nanny and were from Avon. She sold Avon and Tupperwar.

  3. Hi Regina, His Frontier Chrismas Family looks like a heartwarming story. Thank you for the chance to win. Merry Christmas

  4. A very interesting post on music boxes. How unique the music box with the powder puff. Thanks for sharing the pictures and facts. This sounds like as lovely and warm read. Happy Holidays.
    Carol Luciano

  5. I have a music box that contains face powder and a puff. It belonged to my ex’s grandmother and she gave it to me.

  6. My grandfather made my four sisters and I music box’s for Christmas one year. They play a amazing grace and have our names on the top. He even painted them out favorite color.

  7. I think it’s so wonderful that you have your great-grandmother’s and her sister’s music boxes. What a treasure! Besides being beautiful, what a connection to have to your family! I’m happy for you, Regina.

    I myself have a picture of my great-grandparents with my four-year-old grandfather and his older sisters in it from 1900, and I also have my grandfather’s fiddle from when they lived in Indian Territory, which of course are treasures to me. (My great-grandfather was a fiddler too, so I like to visualize him playing at local frontier at-home get-togethers.)

    Thank you for your interesting post and the chance to win your latest book release.



    • Pieces of the past are indeed precious, Eliza. I’m so glad you have the picture and the fiddle. Sometimes I see an old picture of a bride and groom in an antique store, and I wonder that no one in the family could be found to treasure it. So sad.

  8. As a child I was always amazed at the boxes that had music when you raised the lid. I have always loved music and one of my favorite quotes is “Where words fail music speaks”.
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts today.
    Blessings and Merry Christmas!

  9. Welcome back to P&P, Regina! Your blog is just fascinating. I never thought much about how music boxes originated. I’ve always loved the sound of the music. Sure wish I had one of those old ones. What a treasure.

    Congratulations on the new book! Levi and Callie seem made for each other.

    Merry Christmas!

  10. I have a wooden music box that my mother had made for my father. It’s a simple wood box with a small well for a few pieces of jewelry, like cuff links. It plays Lara’s Theme . He loved that song. Thanks for the interesting post.

  11. I love music boxes. My husband gave me one while we were dating, it played “We’ve Only Just Begun.” A few months later, it was our wedding song.

  12. I have always like music boxes. I have two for Christmas. One is a snow globe Nativity Scene and the other a Santa Bear. I have a lovely wooden jewelry box that is a music box. There is a carousel music box in the girl’s bedroom upstairs and a teddybear snow globe music box in the family room. There may be one or two others hiding somewhere. I don’t have any antique music boxes, but am always keeping an eye out for them. I figure one day I will find a good deal on one at an auction or thrift store.
    Regina, I hope you have a wonderful Christmas and a prosperous 2018.

  13. I love music boxes. My grandparents ,my parents and my aunts and uncles have given me gifts of music boxes. musical dolls and musical snow globes over the years. I enjoyed learning about the history of music boxes. Thanks Regina.

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