The 10 Best Music Boxes

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This wiki has been updated 40 times since it was first published in September of 2015. Elegant and timeless, our selection of music boxes includes a wide variety of designs that will please enthusiasts of every age and persuasion. These are ideal for adding a decorative touch to any room, and many serve double-duty as jewelry organizers. If you need to find a unique gift for someone special in your life or just want to add one more piece to your collection, look no further. When users buy our independently chosen editorial choices, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki.

1. Lenox Childhood Memories Ballerina

2. Bradford Exchange Disney Heirloom

Editor's Notes

December 09, 2020:

The newly added Bradford Exchange Disney Heirloom features attention to detail and an array of characters that would make it an excellent gift for the Disney lover in your life. This quality piece is made with a tiny Tinker Bell sitting on top, with 22-karat gold accents throughout and a smooth porcelain build. Vibrantly colored characters include Mickey and Minnie Mouse, Goofy, Donald Duck, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Ariel, and more. Also coming on board is the Amperer Vintage Constellations, which is sure to be enjoyed by anyone interested in the signs of the zodiac, which are depicted on its top and sides. It plays “Always With Me” and incorporates a rotating goddess figurine and LED lights that twinkle along with the music. It comes with the required batteries as well as an on-off switch on the bottom.

The Memory Building Company Unicorn joins the list as another option geared toward children. On the outside are pretty pastel colors and textured glitter accents, while the inside features a twirling unicorn, a mirror, and a pink fabric lining. With it, you’ll also receive a matching unicorn necklace and bracelet made of nickel-free stainless steel. It joins another model geared toward little ones, the Lenox Childhood Memories Ballerina. This selection is great for any youngster who is just starting a jewelry collection, and it can be engraved with a name inside the heart on the front. Leaving the list to make room for these three new additions are the Scents of The World Blue Crystal, the Enchantmints B40, and the Bradford Exchange Garden of Prayer, which suffer from availability issues at this time.

February 26, 2019:

While we feel any one of the items on our list would make a fantastic gift for a child or that special someone in your life, some are better suited to it than others. For example, the Scents of The World Blue Crystal actually comes in an attractive gift box, while the Lenox Childhood Memories Ballerina and Laser's Edge Personalizable can actually be customized with a message. The Enchantmints B40 and Lohome Luxury Carousel feature motifs that make them especially perfect for children. While the San Francisco Music Box Company Phantom of The Opera probably isn't designed to be a somewhat unnerving item, many people may find it so, making it a great choice for lovers of classic horror films. Classical music aficionados will of course appreciate the ComputerGear Grand Piano.

Special Honors

Single Red Rose Inlay Music Box Made of elm burl and rosewood with brass hardware, this music box features a light beige interior with an open compartment, along with a functioning lock and the corresponding key with a tassel. It’s equipped with the manufacturer’s USB loading sound module, with a memory of 100 megabytes and that can hold approximately 15 songs. The interior houses a light sensor and an on-off switch. The panel on the inside can be engraved with a name or a message.

4. San Francisco Music Box Company Phantom of The Opera

5. Amperer Vintage Constellations

6. Cottage Garden Special People

7. The Memory Building Company Unicorn

8. Cottage Garden Sleeping Cat

9. ComputerGear Grand Piano

10. Laser's Edge Personalizable

Music Boxes: More Than Meets The Eye

The most common example of this type of music box is the jewelry box that also plays music.

When someone says the word "music box," you likely picture something rather literal: a wooden box that, when its lid is lifted, will play brief and pleasant (albeit a bit tinny) music. That's not an inaccurate perception of a music box, but it's woefully dismissive of all the many amazing varieties of music boxes made through the years and available today. The discerning customer can acquire a music box that will perfectly complement a space in his or her home or office, or else will make the perfect gift. Few items can be both so visually and aurally pleasing as a music box, and few objects touch their beholder at such a uniquely emotional level.

Indeed many music boxes are entirely ornamental in nature. They play a dulcet tune and are pleasing to the eye. Fine examples of these include music boxes designed to look like other objects, such as a miniature piano or a carousel. Others use the movement of their winding not only to play a tune but also to bring miniature dancers to life, as it were, gently leading miniature figurines through their dance to the strains of often famous and classical songs. Many music boxes are decorated in lavish Baroque style and will dazzle with what appear to be gold and jewel inlays.

Then there are music boxes that are not only charming, but functional beyond mere aesthetics. The most common example of this type of music box is the jewelry box that also plays music. These charming and useful little chests often feature several different compartments, perfect for sorting and storing rings, bracelets, earrings, and other jewelry, or for separating any other diminutive objects you hold dear and want to protect. A decorative jewelry box that also happens to be a music box is an elegant blending of form and function: you need a place to store your valuables anyway, so you might as well choose an object that can be enjoyed for its own merits even while helping with the storage.

Finally, there are many music boxes that look nothing like one would expect. These include everything from solid-looking paperweights with a music box hidden within to pictures that house a music box beneath their frame. And often one of the most interesting and enjoyable music boxes of all is one that clearly displays its internal mechanical components rather than concealing them. Youngsters and adults alike are fascinated by watching the little pins on a unit's wheel striking the teeth that sound such lovely notes.

How A Music Box Works

There is more than meets the eye (and the ear) at play in that "simple" music box you thought you understood. Taking a minute to identify and understand the function of each component within a music box can help generate a much greater appreciation for the precise engineering and the impressive musical acumen needed to create a great music box.

The cylinder rotating within a music box sports a number of perfectly placed nodes usually referred to as pins.

The cylinder rotating within a music box sports a number of perfectly placed nodes usually referred to as pins. These are the objects that sound the notes, replacing a guitarist's fingers or pick or the piano's hammers, for example. The pins themselves make up the comb of the music box and are usually formed from extra strength stainless steel. The length and thickness of the tooth determines its pitch and which note it plays when "plucked" by a pin.

The cylinder turns thanks to the force produced by a spring-driven motor, a force initially generated thanks to a human hand turning a ratcheting lever (or, less frequently seen these days, a windup key). The spring slowly and steadily turns the cylinder. Sometimes a music box can run for only a few seconds even when fully wound; other units can play music for an hour or more.

The layout of the pins on the cylinder determines when notes are played, therefore creating the melody of the music box's song. Therefore the unit's creator must be skilled both in engineering and in music.

Impressively, the mechanics involved inside the music box have not changed much in the two centuries since these units first became popular.

Centuries Of Music Boxes

The first devices approximating the function of a modern music box were developed in the late 16th Century. Clockmakers from several European countries independently developed clocks that could use a rotating barrel sporting carefully arranged pins to strike bells and produce a tune at various times throughout the day. These early units were large, designed to rest on a table or be mounted on the wall.

These devices, often called Symphions, would provide the music for generations of saloon goers, and would grace the parlor of well-to-do homes.

Throughout the 18th Century, the technology and techniques used in watchmaking saw craftsmen building ever smaller, more intricate, and more accurate watches. The same miniaturization came to music making devices in the latter half of that century, with metal tines replacing bells in ever smaller and ever more accurate and reliable music boxes.

The smaller size of music boxes produced during the later 1700s dovetailed with the era's rampant popularity of snuff, and soon saw music boxes built into the compact snuff boxes lurking in the purse or pocket of ladies and gentlemen everywhere. Using a small box to house the technical components of a music box offered three distinct advantages: it protected the hardware, it amplified the acoustics, and it created a charming little package that enhanced appeal.

These diminutive music boxes were a major milestone in music box development, but were not the end of the story by any means. The 19th Century would see development of ever more complex machinery capable of playing complex songs "programmed" into interchangeable discs. These devices, often called Symphions, would provide the music for generations of saloon goers, and would grace the parlor of well-to-do homes.

Karen Bennett
Last updated by Karen Bennett

Karen Bennett lives in Chicago with her family, and when she’s not writing, she can usually be found practicing yoga or cheering on her kids at soccer games. She holds a master’s degree in journalism and a bachelor’s in English, and her writing has been published in various local newspapers, as well as “The Cheat Sheet,” “Illinois Legal Times,” and “USA Today.” She has also written search engine news page headlines and worked as a product manager for a digital marketing company. Her expertise is in literature, nonfiction, textbooks, home products, kids' games and toys, hardware, teaching accessories, and art materials.

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