Another reason why you should move to West Chester: SECRET MOBILE ROBOTIC PIPE ORGANS

IMG_0039.JPGSince Christmas carol season is coming up, we decided to buy a used console piano. We went to Philip Jamison’s workshop to have a look at one. It’s in a square brick building, in an alley, in downtown West Chester.

Little did we suspect his shop is crammed with AMAZING PUNCH-CARD POWERED PNEUMATIC ROBOT ORGANS. MOBILE robot organs! These street organs (here’s what one sounds like) are unbelievably awesome, from the pneumatic actuators that drive the little figures, to the mechanisms that trip the mercury switches, to the… okay, I’m hyperventilating here. Just look at the pictures on Flickr!

Gad, I KNEW West Chester was a town with a million surprises. All the organs are in tiptop operating shape. Philip turned them on for us, causing Pennsylvania State Representative Barbara McIlvaine Smith to giggle like a little girl.


Fanfold cards loaded, ready to go.
All the organs are controlled by punch-cards; metal teeth interact with the cards, and pneumatic tubes deliver all the motion. Even the lights, on one of his machines: with awesome punch-card actuated mercury switches, flashing away in the dark internal guts of the machine. Those cafe organs were designed to replace human dance bands; I can’t imagine how menacing (and futuristic) it must have seemed!

This is definitely the most exciting Secret Workshop discovery I have made since the secret free tech school in a South Bronx Basement. Do you think Philip could teach me to punch a new fan-book, so I could have MY OWN THEME SONG come out of the mobile street organ?

UPDATE: A little bit more Googling tells me that two of Philip’s organs are draaiorgels. Draaiorgels were a common site in 1850s up to 1950s Amsterdam (and, I guess, still are!)

It turns out that my idea of getting a new punch-card book of I’m alright (actually, that was Kate’s selection) is not a new one. Apparently, there’s a community of punch-card musicians who are still making arrangements for these MOBILE ROBOT ORGANS. Here’s a YouTube video of a different draaiorgel playing Basshunter. Hypnotic video of the punch-card feed starts at about one minute:

Imagine finding a garage packed full of these, all operating, RIGHT IN YOUR BACK YARD, while you were looking for something totally else. I had no idea. Un-freaking-BELIEVABLE. I’m going to ask Harold if he’d be interested in photographing them; these robotic organs seem right up his alley!

2 responses to “Another reason why you should move to West Chester: SECRET MOBILE ROBOTIC PIPE ORGANS”

  1. Dude… are you just a magnet for these kind of finds??? Truly this is your super power – unearthing this stuff.
    Very cool – I want to go too!!


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