Mills Home Model Violano
Lot 22W
A fine Mills Violano-Virtuoso, circa 1915, the single-violin Home Model, in stunning case probably upgraded at time of commission,
Sold for US$ 67,100 inc. premium

Lot Details
Mills Home Model Violano Mills Home Model Violano Mills Home Model Violano Mills Home Model Violano Mills Home Model Violano
A fine Mills Violano-Virtuoso,
circa 1915, the single-violin Home Model, in stunning case probably upgraded at time of commission,
Identification number:
No. 105, stamped to frame back,

with G D E A violin tuning and start/stop buttons, piano accompaniment with the Mills Violano decal to piano action rail, roll drive mechanism with period on/rewind switches and motor, violin fingerboard bearing the numerous patent dates, rosin block and wheel-bows, counter-weight shot-filled chambers on extended rods through to the drive mechanism chamber, in rouge-finished and polished case with interior glass panel before the piano hammers, the double adverse-hinged doors to the front with oval-knob pulls, above motor doors flanked by finely tapering and fluted Corinthian column supports, typical hinged plain top as the swell flap.

With 25 rolls.
5'5"high 4'2"wide 3'deep


  • References:
    Encyclopedia of Automatic Musical Instruments, Q. David Bowers, 1972, pp.506-525
    The Golden Age of Automatic Musical Instruments, Arthur A. Reblitz, 2001, p.195, pp. 198-200
    Automatic Pianos, Arthur W. J. G. Ord-Hume, 2004, p.52, 246

    Haughawout Music Company

    The Mills Novelty Company are probably best remembered as makers of 'one-armed bandits', stereo card viewers, fortune telling machines and other amusement and entertainment devices which involved extracting people's money. When they came up with the Violano-Virtuoso, it was mainly to add an exciting new attention-grabbing model to their line, but even they could not envisage what a success it would be. Their reason for choosing such a design centered around creating an instrument which would be both functional and a technical show-off.

    A special type of piano frame was designed by Henry K. Sandell and filed as a patent on June 4 1912. It consisted of the longer bass strings arranged in the centre, whilst flanked in alternating order by the upwards scale, in a symmetrical fashion. This exerted less stress to the frame and it even stayed in tune for longer.
    Mills made several models of the Violano-Virtuoso machines, with ones even containing both cello and violins. However these were short-lived in the marketplace, while the Violano-Virtuoso was sold to the extent of around 4,000 instruments.

    This Home Model is not coin-operated, hence it was for domestic use. Mills were very careful with their choice of appropriate cabinet design features, with this particular cabinet bearing well executed carving which suited most interiors of the day. With a dustcover over the hammer rack and front turned and fluted columns providing an upgrade to the visual aspect, the rolls are stored on an internal slated rack on the right-hand side in the lower compartment. The Home model is considered to be one of their best cabinet creations, but very little, if at all, was changed with regards to the mechanism for the Violano-Virtuoso series.

    It has been noted that in some establishments where one of these been had installed one of these for public use in places such as cafés, the instruments were taking more money via the coin slot than from purchases from the shop counter.

    Mills could not help themselves when it came to 'shout loud and proud' marketing. In text from their brochure at the time, they claimed that the violins they used cost them up to $300, as they always strived to obtain the best.
    "...after years of playing, the violins are tone-balanced and therefore likely to sound and feel better, making them worth up to $1000!"
    Specialists are not sure whether an instrument clamped inside a box under a hot light bulb and rarely professionally tuned would be good for a violin, let alone make it increase in value. But then these were not usual violins. The tuning peg holes in Mills-made violins, such as this example, were never drilled and the string exit goes over the scroll and down the side of the neck, terminating with self-tuning shot-filled chambers. These violins might not be worth $300 to an orchestra member, since they cannot be played by hand, but they are certainly worth $1000 to a Mills collector today. Perhaps they were correct after all.

    Mills continued making these machines until the mid 1920s, and even cutting rolls for them until the mid 1930s. Following several take-over bids in the 1950s, financial problems with the then newly-named Bell-O-Matic Company, it led to the night guard locking up the front door of the factory on 4100 Fullerton Avenue in Chicago for the last time, in around 1983.
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