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Fotoplayer, Style 50, wood / metal, made by The American Photoplayer Company, United States of America, 1915-1920

Made
Fotoplayers, manufactured by the American Photoplayer Company, were specifically made to accompany silent films in cinemas and theatres. Due to the varying sizes of cinemas the Fotoplayer was produced in various sized models. The Style 20, an example of which is already in the Museum's collection, was the smallest model produced through to the largest, Style 50. These instruments were made for very large theatres and would occupy the orchestra pit. A Style 50 Fotoplayer cost $US10,750.00 in about 1920. They are now extremely rare and there is only one other Style 50 known, which was put up for sale in the USA in the mid 1970s. The Style 50 in the Mastertouch collection can be traced to its use in Australian theatres in the 1920s. The instrument comprises a central cabinet that holds a player piano (from a Style 45 of the period, but not original to this instrument) and on either side a large cabinet contains a series of effects and organ pipes. Most of the casework of this instrument is original as are its wooden and lead organ pipes. However, prior to it being acquired by the current donor it was heavily modified and used as a pipe organ and consol with extra organ pipes being added. Many of its original effects and its original piano were lost. The current donor has attempted to restore it so it currently features a rack of drum and bell effects mounted on a rack similarly to how they were housed in a Fotoplayer although this has been taken from another brand of photoplayer.

This instrument was originally housed in the Hoyt's De Luxe Theatre, Melbourne which opened in 1915 and remained there until about 1922 when it is thought to have been taken out and installed in several suburban Hoyts theatres in Melbourne suburbs including Canterbury and Richmond. Around 1926 it was sold to the Glenelg Theatre in Adelaide, later known as the Seaview Theatre. Here it remained until bought by Alf Broadbent of Macclesfield, South Australia after the theatre stopped showing films in 1959 and taken to his property. It was here that is was tracked down by Barclay Wright of Mastertouch and purchased in 1975 and installed in the Mastertouch premises in Sydney. It is greatly significant as one of the last remaining Style 50 Fotoplayers known to exist in the world.

The Mastertouch Piano Roll Company was established in 1919 in Sydney and manufactured and sold piano rolls until its closure on 1 July 2005. It is highly significant both to the state of New South Wales and Australia as a whole as the longest running and only piano roll manufacturer to be operating in the country. It was also only one of two remaining large scale piano roll manufacturers in the world, the other being QRS in the USA and the only one to maintain a traditional method of manufacture giving it international significance.

Three piano roll companies were initially established in Australia; the Anglo American Player Roll Company producing rolls under the Broadway label in Melbourne (c.1917-1919), Mastertouch in Sydney (1919) and later the American company QRS (1920s). The Mastertouch collection is also extremely significant as it contains machines and equipment from all three companies, therefore maintaining the material culture of piano roll manufacture in Australia which was a major form of domestic entertainment from the early 1900s through to the 1950s. The Broadway label established by Len Luscombe was the rival Australian company to Mastertouch. The collection now contains two roll making machines used for Broadway rolls as well as Luscombe's original recording piano. The other rival, QRS from the USA is also represented with one of its multi-roll roll cutters. The bulk of the equipment however, comes from H Horton and the original Mastertouch factory which also includes associated items of office equipment used at Hortons prior to its sale to Barclay Wright in 1961.

The Mastertouch Company is also extremely important for the role it and its owner, Barclay Wright, have had in attempting to maintain the history and tradition of this major form of popular entertainment and its place in Australian culture, creating a private museum of these items. Since working in the company since 1957, Wright has not only maintained the machines in perfect working order but has also collected items from the other music roll manufacturers in order to preserve some of the history of roll making in Australia. This conscientious attitude also contributed toward the collecting of keyboard instruments to help preserve the history and development of roll played music. In the 1980s when several local and long established box making companies in Sydney closed, boxes for music rolls were still necessary, so Wright bought the old machines and established a box making section in the Mastertouch company which made boxes not only for piano rolls but also for a variety of other products and artefacts.

Mastertouch also had an important public role in the preservation of roll music recording and manufacture generally and conveying this to the public through visits, tours, lectures and music entertainment nights. Many attempts and negotiations were made to find support and funding from various bodies to allow Mastertouch to operate as a working museum. Although this was not to be Mastertouch played an important role in disseminating and educating the public about piano roll technology. This is an important point to stress as although piano roll technology has been superceded by digital forms, there are very strong links between digital data storage and encoding of music today and data storage and encoding found in piano roll technology.

Scope of the Collection:

The Mastertouch collection is extensive and not only documents the history of the company but also the history of piano roll production in general given it was one of the last remaining companies in the world. The collection comprises piano roll recording and roll making equipment and associated materials such as the original masters and stencils for the rolls. The collection also includes a selection of box making equipment purchased by Mastertouch during the 1980s from local box making firms that were forced with closure. The Mastertouch collection also contains an extensive but selective range of keyboard instruments, particularly player pianos and organs that documents the development of piano roll playing technology. Other associated items in the collection include archival materials such as stock books, catalogues and advertising material as well as smaller items of office equipment that were used by the company prior to the 1950s. This also includes items of the kind sold by EF Wilks, the partner of George Horton, who operated a music retail business which sold Mastertouch rolls as well as pianos and radios. There are also several pieces of equipment used in the manufacture and repair of pianos that were previously owned by several Sydney piano repair companies such as Winkworths and Garner & Hancock.

Michael Lea
Curator, music and musical instruments
May 2006

Summary

Object No.

2006/151/35

Object Statement

Fotoplayer, Style 50, wood / metal, made by The American Photoplayer Company, United States of America, 1915-1920

Physical Description

Fotoplayer, Style 50, wood / metal, made by The American Photoplayer Company, United States of America, 1915-1920

Style 50 fotoplayer comprising several hundred parts including the central piano cabinet and upper roll cabinet, two side cabinets built to contain volume shutters, organ pipes and effects mounted on a rack and a bench. Cabinets are made of oak and feature simple grills made of vertical and horizontal crossed pattern backed with fabric.

Production

Notes

Serial numbers for this maker are not listed in the Pierce Piano Atlas.

History

Notes

This instrument was originally housed in the Hoyt's De Luxe Theatre, Melbourne which opened in 1915 and remained there until about 1922 when it is thought to have been taken out and installed in several suburban Hoyts theatres in Melbourne suburbs including Canterbury and Richmond. Around 1926 it was sold to the Glenelg Theatre in Adelaide, later known as the Seaview Theatre. Here it remained until bought by Alf Broadbent of Macclesfield, SA after the theatre stopped showing films in 1959 and taken to his property. It was here that is was tracked down by Barclay Wright of Mastertouch and purchased in 1975 and installed in the Mastertouch premises in Sydney. It is greatly significant as one of the last remaining Style 50 Fotoplayers known to exist in the world. Part of the Mastertouch Piano Roll Company's collection of keyboard instruments.

Source

Credit Line

Donated through the Australian Government's Cultural Gifts Program by Mr Barclay Wright, 2006
Acquired with the assistance of the NSW Heritage Office

Acquisition Date

20 November 2006

Cite this Object

Harvard

Fotoplayer, Style 50, wood / metal, made by The American Photoplayer Company, United States of America, 1915-1920 2020, Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, accessed 16 January 2021, <https://ma.as/359759>

Wikipedia

{{cite web |url=https://ma.as/359759 |title=Fotoplayer, Style 50, wood / metal, made by The American Photoplayer Company, United States of America, 1915-1920 |author=Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences |access-date=16 January 2021 |publisher=Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, Australia}}

Incomplete

This object record is currently incomplete. Other information may exist in a non-digital form. The Museum continues to update and add new research to collection records.