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Mechanical Musical Instruments and Automata Collection Awarded to Morris Museum

Mechanical Musical Instruments and Automata Collection Awarded to Morris Museum – The Journal of Antiques and Collectibles – February 2005

The Morris Museum, located in Morristown, NJ, recently announced it was awarded The Murtogh D. Guinness Collection of historic mechanical musical instruments and automata. The collection represents one of the most significant of its kind in the world.

The prestigious collection from Murtogh D. Guinness, a descendant of the Guinness brewing family, is an extraordinary and diverse collection assembled over 50 years. It features nearly 700 rare mechanical musical instruments and automata dating from the late 16th to the early 20th century. The musical boxes, multi-instrument devices, street organs, orchestrions and mechanically activated life-like figures reflect exquisite craftsmanship, innovative technology and dynamic sound.

Awarded by the Murtogh D. Guinness estate, the collection was a lifelong passion for the late Mr. Guinness, who was an early leader of the Musical Box Society International.

A major milestone in the history of music and technology, the mechanical musical devices encompass the first form of music on-demand, serving as a precursor to today’s recording industry. The collection includes machines playing a wide variety of musical genres covering classical, opera, folk, ragtime, polka and popular music of past eras. Every category of musical machine is represented in the collection, which features cylinder and disc musical boxes.

The automata are mechanical figures designed to mimic human and animal movements and many have musical components. Magicians, acrobats, singing birds, and others showcase the talents of their makers and constitute one of the largest and finest collections of its kind in the world.

“For more than 90 years, the Morris Museum has been a vibrant educational and cultural center in New Jersey,” said Steven H. Miller, executive director of the Morris Museum. “We are thrilled to have been given the extraordinary Murtogh D. Guinness Collection. The Morris Museum looks forward to being an international destination for this unique subject.”

Mechanical musical instruments effectively paved the way for today’s sound entertainment industry with its records, audiotapes and compact discs. First made in Switzerland and France during the late 18th century as an expensive luxury item, cylinder musical boxes survive to provide a living link to the arias, overtures and waltzes of the time. The production of disc musical boxes in the 19th century was expanded to Switzerland and Germany as well as the United States, where New Jersey cities such as Rahway and Jersey City became the home of some of America’s most important musical box productions. Machines made in New Jersey were relatively affordable and played popular music making them more appealing and accessible to the masses. These mechanical musical instruments allowed people to have music on-demand for the first time, profoundly changing leisure habits and giving way to the new phonograph, which permanently transformed the way people enjoyed music.

“The Morris Museum is fortunate to be the recipient of this historic collection that represents a pivotal chapter in the evolution of music, art, entertainment, and much more,” said Ellen M. Snyder-Grenier, curator of the Murtogh D. Guinness Collection. “The exhibition will provide yet another fun, family-friendly experience for visitors, as it touches on everything from science and technology to magic, illusion, history and art.”

To house this world-class collection, the Morris Museum plans to build a new wing with a suite of galleries that will be interactive, engaging and will include educational adventures in sight and sound for the whole family. A temporary, initial exhibition is currently open to the public and the permanent exhibition is scheduled to be unveiled in the new wing in 2006. Ultimately, the museum envisions permanent, changing and traveling exhibitions of the Murtogh D. Guinness Collection.

Morris Museum

Founded in 1913, the Morris Museum explores and celebrates the arts, sciences, and history through exhibitions, educational programs, performing arts and special events. The museum serves over 210,000 adults and children each year.

The Morris Museum, located at 6 Normandy Heights Road (at the corner of Columbia Turnpike) in Morristown, NJ, is open Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday & Saturday: 10 a.m.–5 p.m. Thursday: 10 a.m.–8 p.m.Sunday: 1–5 p.m. Admission to the museum is $7 for adults and $5 for children, students and senior citizens. Admission is always free for museum members and is free to the public every Thursday between 1 and 8 p.m. For more information, call 973-971-3700, or visit

More information about the Guinness Collection available this fall on:

Overview of the Morris Museum

Tracing its roots to 1913 in historic Morristown, New Jersey, the Morris Museum is one of the largest museums in the state, serving more than 210,000 children, adults, seniors and families annually. It is also one of the first museums in the nation to be accredited by the American Association of Museums and continues to be recognized as one of the state’s most dynamic cultural institutions.

Since 1997, the Morris Museum has been designated a Major Arts Institution by the New Jersey State Council on the Arts/Department of State, in recognition of the museum’s “solid history of artistic excellence, substantial programming and broad public service.” The museum is also recognized as a Qualified Organization of the New Jersey Cultural Trust. Offering first-rate performances for the whole family, the Morris Museum’s Bickford Theatre is a distinguished member of the New Jersey Theatre Alliance and is affiliated with the Actors Equity Association.

For more than 90 years, the mission of the Morris Museum has been to elevate the cultural consciousness, stimulate the mind and enhance quality of life by advancing the understanding and enjoyment of the visual and performing arts, natural and physical sciences, and humanities. The museum is committed to organizing exhibitions, musical and theatrical performances and educational programs in a welcoming, inclusive and creative environment that responsibly uses all museum resources, including stewardship of a permanent collection.

World-Class Permanent Collection

In addition to the Guinness Collection, the Morris Museum boasts more than 48,000 items in its permanent collection, which is especially strong in the areas of fine art, decorative art, costumes/textiles, dolls and toys, natural sciences, geology/paleontology, and anthropology.

  • Fine Arts: The fine arts collection is rooted in 19th and 20th century European and American painting and sculpture. Highlights include Pan of Rohallion, a bronze 1890 sculpture by the Gilded Age sculptor Frederick MacMonnies; an unusual night image by the 19th century French painter Jean Baptiste Corot; an idyllic Pastoral Landscape painted by the 18th century Welsh Romantic artist Richard Wilson; and works by American landscape painters who worked in New Jersey, including Andrew Melrose, Thomas Moran and Charles Warren Eaton. A growing collection of works by modern and contemporary artists include regional New Jersey artists, represented in the collection with sculptural works by Roy Crosse and Marion Held, prints and works on paper by artists including W. Carl Burger, Willie Cole, Mona Brody and Leon Golub and works by internationally renowned artists such as Sandro Chia, Elizabeth Murray and Gregory Amenoff.
  • Decorative Arts: The decorative arts collection contains historic and contemporary ceramics, glass and silver, both handmade and manufactured in America and Europe. Major types and styles are represented, including early studio glass, children’s china and Tiffany silver. The glass collection has recently been enlarged by donations of studio glass works by various glass artists from the 1960s and 1970s, strengthening the museum’s stellar collection. This includes works by Dale Chihuly, Dan Daily and Antoine Leperlier. Recent donations of ceramic pieces by master New Jersey potter Albert Green are significant additions to the collection.
  • Costumes and Textiles: The museum’s costume and textile collection includes both American and international examples. American textiles are represented by a selection of Amish quilts, coverlets and samplers with regional origins, and lace. International holdings include Kuba Velvets from Africa, Mexican and European weaving and embroidery, and woven silk panels from China. The Morris Museum’s extensive costume collection contains clothing and accessories dating as early as the mid- to late 1700s and as recently as the latest fashions designed by Pucci and House of Scaasi. Many pieces have historical significance, such as a striking gown worn to an inaugural ceremony for Abraham Lincoln, while still more are representative of styles significant to the history of fashion, highlighting, for example, the 1920s. While the majority of the costume collection reflects trends in American or European fashion, it also contains a number of international costumes from places such as Japan, China, and the Middle East.
  • Dolls and Toys: This collection is comprised of 19th and 20th century childhood playthings such as mechanical and transportation toys; games; ride-on toys; children’s furniture; and European and American dolls from the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. Highlights include the Heizer Doll Collection, made between 1930 and 1960 by Chatham doll-maker Dorothy Heizer; a vast international doll collection established in 1943; European and American dolls represented by early examples of Peg-wooden dolls; 1850s German glazed china head dolls; and French fashion dolls.
  • Natural Sciences: The natural sciences collection encompasses vertebrates — mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish; invertebrates — arthropods, sponges, echinoderms and mollusks; and a limited collection of botanical materials. The collection includes mounts and skeletons, mollusk shells, insects, specimens preserved in liquids and live specimens. Endangered and extinct species and non-regional fauna add important interpretive perspectives.
  • Anthropology: The museum has an impressive collection of ethnographic and archaeology artifacts. Materials from the Plains and Northeast Woodland areas comprise the North American collection. Highlights include artifacts donated by the Captain William Philo Clark collection, with impressive examples of beadwork and a 1870s Sioux warrior’s fringed leather shirt ascribed to the distinguished Sioux leader, Crazy Horse.
  • Geology/Paleontology: The museum’s geology and paleontology collection is its largest and is regarded as one of the best in New Jersey. The collection focuses largely on specimens from New Jersey with a 100 percent representation of New Jersey minerals including Franklin and Watchung Mountain materials and an outstanding micro mount collection. The rock collection is maintained primarily for educational purposes. The fossil collection includes objects from the local region, with excellent examples of regional dinosaur tracks.

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