Barrel Organ


Not on view

Instead of having a keyboard played by an organist, a barrel organ is a mechanical instrument that has the musical notes encoded in an arrangement of metal pins in a wooden barrel or cylinder. This instrument is activated by a person turning a hand crank, which both powers the bellows that provides air, and also rotates the cylinder that engages the mechanism that sends the air through specific pipes.

The tunes represent a typical repertoire of English and American dances, patriotic songs, hymn tunes and popular music of the period ca. 1800.

Technical description: Rectangular cherry and satinwood veneered case with inlay showing a classical portal on the front panel; lid hinges up to reveal mechanism; door on left side allows barrel to slide out; several different layers of floral design colored paper cover interior case sides and reservoir top; lid locks to front, with keyhole above portal; four brass stop knobs (two missing) operate stop levers extending through front panel, bottom, and 16 tunes are selected by engaging notches on shift pin with a latch mounted on right side; curved crank with wood handle protrudes near upper right side of front; within, the crank turns a combination worm and crank shaft, the worm engaging a spur gear on a cylindrical, brass-pinned wood barrel, while crank shaft operates two double fold feeders mounted below a reservoir; feeders and reservoir covered with brown leather; 17 sticker pins open valves in windchest below 3 ranks of wood pipes (lowest pipes mitered, pipes mainly open with tin tuning flaps, but lowest pipes stopped), and six other pipes are set horizontally into a windchest in front of the barrel and are operated by pressing 6 buttons near the front left corner inside the case (four of these pipes are open wood, two are single beating reed with cane reeds lapped with thread onto shallots); compass two octaves diatonic, D-D, plus upper C#; pipes marked with letter names and numbers; titles of tunes shown on handwritten label on sliding panel mounted in a box at right side within case.

Barrel Organ, Wood, various materials, American

Due to rights restrictions, this image cannot be enlarged, viewed at full screen, or downloaded.

Open Access

As part of the Met's Open Access policy, you can freely copy, modify and distribute this image, even for commercial purposes.


Public domain data for this object can also be accessed using the Met's Open Access API.