Miniature and Toy Jukeboxes
Around the world you find many collectors, who are interested in miniature and toy jukeboxes, and it has become a passion for some of them. The miniatures are a new way of collecting old jukeboxes and jukebox industry related items, and therefore really interesting collectibles for jukebox freaks; - the word ‘freak’ is used here in the most positive meaning of the word, of course...
Back in the late 1930s the first toy jukeboxes were marketed in America, and most of them were made of wood (like the rare one made by The Wal-Feld Co. in New York), and some of them even had small musical movements inside. Most of these movements were at the time imported from Sainte-Croix in Switzerland (home of the small musical boxes), and actuated when you inserted a coin. The toy jukeboxes were then good and fun savings banks for the children, but there you also find a good reason why it is difficult to find them today in good condition. Quite a few of them were damaged during the play of the children. Later, in the second half of the 1940s, other types of miniatures were made, and most of them were made out of bakelite or the new generation plastics, for example at the Ideal Novelty & Toy Co. (Ideola) in New York or the E. J. Kahn & Co. and the Sidney A. Tarrson Co. (Tarco) in Chicago. These types are well known and very popular today among serious collectors. You have to be aware of the fact, that the major jukebox manufacturers, Wurlitzer, AMI, Rock-Ola, and Seeburg, still had rights and patented designs at the time, and as a consequence most toy jukeboxes were designed to look like the real thing, but not too much. Production of exact miniatures, look-a-likes, for the collector market was actually not possible until about four decades later.
In the 1950s a new type of miniature jukebox was seen on the market. The type made of thin metal with small mechanical musical unit inside looked like a Seeburg Select-O-Matic, and it was produced by various Japanese toy manufacturers for the American market. The best known type was made by HAJI, but also other toy manufacturers like Yonezawa and Yamahashi made this type of savings banks with musical movements. I have in my own collection five different types from the three factories (different brands or marks on the back), and I find them very interesting. Actually, on some of these miniatures you can see other names on the inside of the metal, and I reckon that the recycled metal sheets were meant for other products like tin cans on the American market. In the late 1950s other toy jukeboxes with names like Juke-Ace, 4-Star, Nickel-O-Deon, Juke-Voice, and Juke-Pet were produced. Most of these miniatures were made in Japan or Formosa (Taiwan) for American toy companies, and there are still different colour combinations to be found; - depending on the factory, where they were produced.
In the late 1980s, around 1986, when the jukebox nostalgia really started with the production of the Wurlitzer 1015-OMT (One More Time), also the production of miniature jukeboxes would become important for minor companies in Eastern countries. There were no longer any design patents or other rights to consider, and the companies produced miniatures in large numbers of porcelain, ceramic, and resin (also called polystone). The production mainly took place in P.R.China, Taiwan, Japan, Thailand, and the Philippines. I have in my collection one of the fantastic small wooden miniature jukeboxes with built-in musical movement made in the Philippines. A really nice item made by hand. Most of the models made during the 1990s were of course Wurlitzer 1015 look-a-likes (the classic model 1015 designed by Paul M. Fuller in 1946), but there were other types made for the companies CLEGG, Standing Ovasions, and Willitts, that have a certain similarity to the design of other American full-size jukebox models made during the Golden Age (1936 until 1948) and the Silver Age (1949 until around 1961).
The latest development in the production of miniature and toy jukeboxes is also quite interesting. In P.R.China four different miniatures with built-in electronic musical movements were made for a Spanish company in 2005. These were small models of Wurlitzer 1015, AMI I-200, Packard Manhattan, and AMI Continental. The rights to these types have since then been taken over by an Italian company, and this company developed not less than 33 different models for the market from 2006 until 2008 (the last model was put on the market in the first months of 2008). The company planned to produce a total of 38 or 41 models, and a brochure for model 34 (a nice Seeburg KD-200) was pictured in the brochure for model 33, but it never came out. The production of all 33 miniatures took place in P.R.China, and most of the electronic musicals are in fact playing Italian artists’ versions of the classic rock-n-roll tunes. I find it interesting that a company manufactures that many types of nostalgic jukeboxes (each model needs three AA-batteries), and I know that it has been very expensive. In the spring 2007 I tried myself to market a series of four small models of handpainted porcelain (Wurlitzer 1015, Rock-Ola 1428, Wurlitzer 1100, and Seeburg Symphonola) based on the original design patents. This is in fact a fun story to tell. One late afternoon at work I was talking to a visiting scientist from Beijing, and I told him that I had been interested for some time in making a ‘limited edition’ of porcelain models. After a few minutes he said “..Ohhh yes, I know!..”, and a few days later I received an e-mail in Chinese. I did not understand ‘a word’ of it all, but only a few minutes later I received another e-mail; - and this time in English language. Then it was no problem, and a few weeks later the first prototypes of porce-lain were on the way by air mail from the city Jingdezheng in P.R.China to my home in Denmark. Actually, I only wanted a limited edition of 50 models of each type for collector friends around the world, and I still have a few of them in stock, I think...
During the 1990s, and also during the latest decade, special types of miniature jukeboxes have been made in workshops in Germany or Poland mainly for the American market. These miniatures are Christmas figurines or ornaments made of very thin glass showing for example a snowman or Santa dreaming, listening, and leaning against a jukebox. These ornaments can be found with American artist or designer names like Larry Fraga, K. Rudolph, or Christopher Radko. I have in my collection about 42 different ornaments or figurines of thin glass, and some of them are in fact prototypes collected direct from workshops in Germany. It is interesting to note, that you can collect miniature jukeboxes for many years and still find new ‘old’ types at auctions. At the moment I have in my collection about 620 different types or colour variations made of wood, metal, ceramic, porcelain, glass, or resin/polystone. All models in the collection are between mere 1 cm and max 45 cm in height, but there are new types made in P.R.China or Vietnam that are even bigger. These new types, most of them Wurlitzer 1015 look-a-likes, are made as colourful radios or CD-players, but still considered miniature jukeboxes, and I expect they will also be collector items within a few decades; - although they have been produced in really large quantities.
I doubt I will ever stop collecting fun and rare miniature or toy jukeboxes....
A classic "Wurlitzer 1015" jukebox on location in
Shorty's Bar, La Plata, Maryland, ca. 1948.