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2006/151/39 Player saxophone, metal, made by QRS, United States of America, 1925-1935

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Object statement
Player saxophone, metal, made by QRS, United States of America, 1925-1935
Building on the success of player reed organs and pianos and the perforated music roll, were a number of other instruments, largely novelties, developed using a paper roll containing musical data that could be easily played by the non-musician, usually only requiring the player to have breath and the energy to turn a small crank handle. One of these was the player saxophone or "Play-a-Sax" made by music roll manufacturer, QRS. These adapted instruments were all of a free reed type and included the Clarola player clarinet also by QRS, the Rolmonica (a reed harmonica that played tunes via a small music roll), the Filmophon (another type of player saxophone) and more substantially, the paper roll accordion. Most of these instruments were sold during the 1920s and 1930s although player accordions and concertinas had been made since the early 1900s. One of the earliest of these type of instruments was the Trumpetto Phonographic Cornet developed in the late 1870s. These instruments collectively show another stage in the development of the player music roll and the widespread influence this technology had on domestic and informal forms of entertainment.

The Mastertouch Piano Roll Company was established in 1919 in Sydney and manufactured and sold piano rolls until its closure on 1 July 2005. It is highly significant both to the state of New South Wales and Australia as a whole as the longest running and only piano roll manufacturer to be operating in the country. It was also only one of two remaining large scale piano roll manufacturers in the world, the other being QRS in the USA and the only one to maintain a traditional method of manufacture giving it international significance.

Three piano roll companies were initially established in Australia; the Anglo American Player Roll Company producing rolls under the Broadway label in Melbourne (c.1917-1919), Mastertouch in Sydney (1919) and later the American company QRS (1920s). The Mastertouch collection is also extremely significant as it contains machines and equipment from all three companies, therefore maintaining the material culture of piano roll manufacture in Australia which was a major form of domestic entertainment from the early 1900s through to the 1950s. The Broadway label established by Len Luscombe was the rival Australian company to Mastertouch. The collection now contains two roll making machines used for Broadway rolls as well as Luscombe's original recording piano. The other rival, QRS from the USA is also represented with one of its multi-roll roll cutters. The bulk of the equipment however, comes from H Horton and the original Mastertouch factory which also includes associated items of office equipment used at Hortons prior to its sale to Barclay Wright in 1961.

The Mastertouch Company is also extremely important for the role it and its owner, Barclay Wright, have had in attempting to maintain the history and tradition of this major form of popular entertainment and its place in Australian culture, creating a private museum of these items. Since working in the company since 1957, Wright has not only maintained the machines in perfect working order but has also collected items from the other music roll manufacturers in order to preserve some of the history of roll making in Australia. This conscientious attitude also contributed toward the collecting of keyboard instruments to help preserve the history and development of roll played music. In the 1980s when several local and long established box making companies in Sydney closed, boxes for music rolls were still necessary, so Wright bought the old machines and established a box making section in the Mastertouch company which made boxes not only for piano rolls but also for a variety of other products and artefacts.

Mastertouch also had an important public role in the preservation of roll music recording and manufacture generally and conveying this to the public through visits, tours, lectures and music entertainment nights. Many attempts and negotiations were made to find support and funding from various bodies to allow Mastertouch to operate as a working museum. Although this was not to be Mastertouch played an important role in disseminating and educating the public about piano roll technology. This is an important point to stress as although piano roll technology has been superceded by digital forms, there are very strong links between digital data storage and encoding of music today and data storage and encoding found in piano roll technology.

Scope of the Collection:

The Mastertouch collection is extensive and not only documents the history of the company but also the history of piano roll production in general given it was one of the last remaining companies in the world. The collection comprises piano roll recording and roll making equipment and associated materials such as the original masters and stencils for the rolls. The collection also includes a selection of box making equipment purchased by Mastertouch during the 1980s from local box making firms that were forced with closure. The Mastertouch collection also contains an extensive but selective range of keyboard instruments, particularly player pianos and organs that documents the development of piano roll playing technology. Other associated items in the collection include archival materials such as stock books, catalogues and advertising material as well as smaller items of office equipment that were used by the company prior to the 1950s. This also includes items of the kind sold by EF Wilks, the partner of George Horton, who operated a music retail business which sold Mastertouch rolls as well as pianos and radios. There are also several pieces of equipment used in the manufacture and repair of pianos that were previously owned by several Sydney piano repair companies such as Winkworths and Garner & Hancock.

Michael Lea
Curator, music and musical instruments
May 2006
Part of the Mastertouch Piano Roll Company's collection of musical instruments.

 This text content licensed under CC BY-NC.

Player saxophone, metal, made by QRS, United States of America, 1925-1935

Small novelty player saxophone made of tin and plastic shaped like a full size instrument. Paper music roll fits onto central column and turned via a lever at the side. Air provided by player through a mouthpiece sounds metal reeds that are operated as holes in the roll allow air to got through a particular reed.
"Play A Sax"
Production date
1925 - 1935

 This text content licensed under CC BY-SA.
Acquisition credit line
Donated through the Australian Government Cultural Gifts Program by Mr Barclay Wright, 2006
Acquired with the assistance of the NSW Heritage Office
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{{cite web |url=https://ma.as/359776 |title=2006/151/39 Player saxophone, metal, made by QRS, United States of America, 1925-1935 |author=Powerhouse Museum |accessdate=21 February 2017 |publisher=Powerhouse Museum, Australia}}

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