Staff at the Archive of Recorded Sound recently came across a particularly unusual item while unboxing and sorting the Denis Condon Collection of Reproducing Pianos and Rolls, part of the recently announced Player Piano Project here at Stanford.
This small roll, just 4.5 inches wide, was found among approximately 7500 of its larger brothers and sisters - the reproducing piano rolls that make up the Condon Collection. Following further research, it was discovered that this roll was designed for a toy, a type of player saxophone called the Playasax, produced by Q.R.S. Q.R.S are in fact the only surviving piano roll company still in existence today.
The patent for the Playasax, filed on April 12, 1929 and finally register on Apr 1, 1930, describes the toy as being:
"...intended and adapted to allow a child or a person who has no musical knowledge and no ability to play upon an ordinary musical instrument to produce such sounds and tunes as may be desired by merely blowing into the mouthpiece of the toy and at the same time performing a simple mechanical manipulation. One such mechanical manipulation may be the operation of a crank which in turn may operate a previously prepared film or record or perforated sheet...". (Publication number: US001752978).
Like the player piano, this device was based on air pressure. The operator would blow into the mouthpiece, therefore circulating air to a tracker bar on the front of the instrument. A punched roll, secured to the back of the instrument and progressed by a hand crank, was then passed over this tracker bar. As the holes in the paper passed over the reciprocal holes on the tracker bar, the appropriate notes would sound.
This toy was part of a pair of similar devices produced by the Q.R.S company, the other being the Clarola, a clarinet version of the same idea.
Playasax and roll