Rolmonica Player Harmonica

Rolmonica Player Harmonica

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Description

The Rolmonica Music Company created this instrument by mounting a removable 12-note harmonica made in Germany into a hinged Bakelite (plastic) frame. The frame has a simple crank mechanism and a mouthpiece to simplify playing tunes from paper rolls that sold for 10 cents each. The Rolmonica was patented and introduced in 1928, and marketed with a package of four rolls for just one dollar. The performer had to only turn the crank and blow.

While the idea of self-playing instruments operated by a paper roll was popularized by the piano, such technology was applied almost every type of instrument imaginable from player banjos, harps, accordions, and saxophones to violins. It is surprising to find the player technology applied to the harmonica since it was already a universally simple instrument to play. Considered to be an inexpensive novelty or a musical toy, it was sold as "a player piano in your pocket."

The harmonica is engraved:

ROLMONICA
Made by ROLMONICA MUSIC CO.
Baltimore, Md
Made in Germany

(and cast on the inside of the case):

PATD 11-3-25 OTHER PATENTS PENDING
6-5-28

This instrument features U. S. Patent #RE16986E, dated June 5, 1928, a reissue of U. S. Patent #1560497, dated November 3, 1925 by Joseph Le Roy Banks for a musical instrument.

Location
Currently not on view
Object Name
harmonica
date made
after 1925
maker
Rolmonica Music Co.
place made
United States: Maryland, Baltimore
Physical Description
bakelite (overall material)
metal (overall material)
wood (overall material)
paper (overall material)
Measurements
harmonica: 2 5/8 in x 5 in x 3 7/8 in; 6.6675 cm x 12.7 cm x 9.8425 cm
roll: 3 5/16 in x 15/16 in; 8.41375 cm x 2.38125 cm
ID Number
1988.0783.556
accession number
1988.0783
catalog number
1988.0783.556
Credit Line
The Peter Kassan Collection
See more items in
Cultural and Community Life: Musical Instruments
Music & Musical Instruments
Popular Entertainment
Data Source
National Museum of American History
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Comments

RE: the Rolmonica. I’ve had access or owned a Rolmonica most of my life. As a boy in a small town, my cousin played it on stage in his annual elementary school talent show, to much hilarity and applause, as all knew he had little musical talent. The inserted harmonica is not a standard harmonica, as each hole has two reeds with the same note, unlike the standard harmonica that has a different note for blow and draw. The label on its casing is specified as “Rolmonica.” Replacing the inserted rollmonica with a standard harmonica means the paper rolls don’t produce anything like (or as nice as) the intended music. With the Rollmonica inserted the player can breathe both in and out and produce a continuous melody and chords.

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