Some weeks ago after my tour of Chinatown, I was looking for a quiet place to have a cup of tea when I stumbled upon a space just beside the Thian Hock Keng Temple. The area housed The Musical Box Museum, The Peranakan Tiles Gallery and a little cafe and I was thoroughly amused, particularly that there was a museum dedicated to musical boxes tucked in a corner of the building and I made a mental note to pay it a visit.
The Singapore Musical Box Museum is a personal collection of Japanese collector Naoto Orui. Prior to my visit, I use to think that musical boxes were just little wooden boxes used to store jewellery with a ballerina just like the one my grandmother and my mother had. That built my fascination for jewellery boxes which led me to visit this museum but I never knew that there was more to musical boxes!
Musical boxes were invented in 1796 by Swiss Watch Artisans and were used simply to listen to music. Back then, they were not able to mass produce and each part of the musical box were made by hand and hence, only the wealthy could afford to own them.
As for the public, you’d have to join the crowd in the streets or at the circus and listen to performers winding these boxes sometimes accompanied by performing monkeys, yikes.
Since musical boxes were ordered and handmade, the wealthy decided to personalise their prized possessions as a way to show their status. This one could even change tunes.
This is one of my favourites because of the attention to detail and the needles were made to look like little birds and even chirps. It also still has the paper with the songs attached to it in great condition.
As the years passed and musical boxes became more and more elaborate, people wanted to get to the point which was to listen to music and so a new type of system emerged which was this disc-like thing which is much lighter than the heavy cylinder ones.
I really loved the story of this next one. The collector, Naoto Orui, went to a flea market in London some years back and found this musical box and he decided to purchase it despite it not being able to work because he figured he could fix it. It was sold to him for only 10 Pounds due to its condition. When he got back and opened it up, he realised that there was a ring stuck inside and went back to the market to return it because all he really wanted was the musical box. The seller told him that it was sold to him and that he should keep it. So now this piece of gem is being kept in this jewellery box beside the one that it was originally found in.
This one here can be mistaken for a cupboard but it is actually a musical box meant to be enjoyed by the public and like an old jukebox, you have to put a coin in for it to work. My guide was so kind to offer a coin for me to place in myself.
This one needs a coin to play too and it’s pretty awesome because it sounds like a band in a box! Can you believe that this almost went onboard the Titanic but they wanted an even bigger one so it went onboard the Atlantic instead. What a lucky miss or it’ll be in the bottom of the ocean and even if they manage to save it, it wouldn’t be able to play it’s beautiful tunes!
This was made in Singapore but unfortunately it’s not in working condition and is missing it’s box. What a shame because I imagine it would’ve looked and played an oriental tune.
This really caught my eye even at a distance. Can you guess what this is?
Is it a lipstick holder? If you were from the upper class, you would’ve had this on your dining table. It’s actually a cigarette holder. This one sits in front of a original Hermes Jacquard silk scarf, Orgauphone et Autres Mecaniques by Françoise Faconnetto, to commemorate the year of music in 1996.
And here we have the gramophones which then evolved to the invention of radios and the iPads that we have today.
I’ve learned so much from my time here in The Singapore Musical Box Museum. Take note that the admission comes with a guided tour which was very thorough and the guides are very knowledgeable. I was very pleased that they allowed photo-taking and even helped me take this one as keepsake. Do show your support and pay a visit.
Singapore Musical Box Museum, 168 Telok Ayer Street, Singapore 068619
Tel: +65 6221 0102
1000 – 1700 (Closed on Tue and Thus)
*Booking is Required
Singapore Musical Box Museum