The Murtogh D. Guinness Collection of Mechanical Musical Instruments and Automata

Live demos at 2 pm | Tuesday through Sunday

A clown that loses its head and gets it back. A ten-foot high mechanical one-man band. A fairground organ that booms out ragtime tunes. A box that teaches birds to sing. All these amazing, 19th century mechanical marvels and more are on view, many for the first time ever, at the Morris Museum in the permanent exhibition Musical Machines & Living Dolls!

The exhibition features over 150 pieces from its world-renowned Murtogh D. Guinness collection of mechanical musical instruments and automata. Largely dating to the 19th century, these ingenious objects once brought animated, musical entertainment to private settings and public places. Now, through video and audio technology, hands-on activities and live demonstrations of select instruments, visitors can see and hear these beautiful and intriguing historic objects and experience for themselves a largely lost chapter in entertainment history.

Exhibition Overview

Stroll a 19th century Parisian street, walk the cobblestone pathways of an international exposition or open Charles Dickens’ window to hear a street organ playing outside. Musical Machines & Living Dolls vividly explains the start of our modern age of public entertainment, while bringing you on a journey through the history of on-demand, repeatable, replayable entertainment.

In the Orientation Theater, be introduced to Murtogh D. Guinness, an heir to the Irish brewing family who assembled the collection and learn how the stories of these amazing objects will unfold in the exhibition. Upon exiting the theater, choose to discover more in four areas of the gallery.

Music Revolution explores the advent of mechanical music in the late 1700’s and how it changed how, when and where people could listen to music. Initially, mechanical musical instruments were luxury items such as the rare organ-playing clock made in 1780 by Swiss virtuoso craftsman Pierre Jaquet-Droz. By the late 1800’s they could be heard in parlors and pool halls from Brooklyn to Berlin, playing everything from opera to the blues. View early cylinder musical boxes, hand-cranked organettes and massive public instruments like the Violano-Virtuoso, with its self-playing violin.

Mechanical Universe highlights the science and technology behind the objects. You will explore how 19th century craftspeople and factory workers mechanized music and motion to create ingenious machines, ranging from a cacophonous English street piano to the Reginaphone, a New Jersey-made response to the threat of the phonograph (the hybrid is both musical box and record player). Try out a spring motor, play a sound matching game to test your mechanical music listening skills, make a caterpillar move with cams and more.

Next, enter the ancient, narrow streets of Paris’ Marais District in Animated Worlds. There, in the 19th century, artisans created moving, musical figures and scenes for sale. Here, automata peek out from store windows: dancing clowns, high-wire acrobats, ballerinas, and a full menagerie of animals. Enjoy seeing these mechanical marvels perform on video, and then make your own automata in a fun flipbook.

In The Workshop, you will try out “hands-on” what you have learned in the exhibition by programming a cylinder to play a song, sit in a musical chair to play a tune, pull out an activity box (with puzzles, gears and more) or explore efforts to make tunes longer-lasting, better-sounding and portable. If you have dancing feet, break in the dance floor with a Mechanical Music Jukebox that plays polka, clog or boogie to Hilarity Rag!

Viewable Storage

A Guinness Collection Viewable Storage Gallery and Resource Center is located on the Lower Level, revealing, a high-density mobile storage system for on-site viewable storage of the 600 remaining instruments, automata and related program media. Guinness Viewable Storage provides public access to the collection in its entirety for the first time, while the Resource Center serves as a source for academic research and for special programs and demonstrations that highlight this extraordinary collection.