This barrel piano is a more recent addition to the museum's collection and is believed to have been used to provide music for the Merry-Go-Round or carousel at Kingston Point Park.
A barrel piano, also known as a street piano, uses a hand crank to turn a pinned barrel. The pins in the barrel hit the levers of the piano hammers, which then strike the piano strings, making a sound. How the pins are placed on the barrel determines what song is played. The person operating the crank must move it in a steady rhythm, or the music will come out jumbled.
Sometimes confused with other crank instruments like the barrel organ (which uses forced air and pipes to make sound) or the hurdy gurdy (which turns a rosined wheel against the strings of a violin-like instrument), the barrel piano was often a feature of amusement parks. Also not to be confused with the steam calliope, which would have provided music aboard steamboats and was powered by their steam engines.
The museum's particular barrel piano, also known as a cylinder piano, was manufactured by E. Bona & A. Atoniazzi in New York City. Little is known about the original owners, but the company became known later as the B.A.B. Organ Company. You can read more about the company history here.
To hear what a barrel piano might have sounded like, check out this video of one playing a very complex piece of music.
If you would like to see the barrel piano in person, come visit the Hudson River Maritime Museum and head to the East Gallery.
This blog is written by Hudson River Maritime Museum staff, volunteers and guest contributors.
Hudson River Maritime Museum
50 Rondout Landing
Kingston, NY 12401
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