The 1960s Belgian robot dance organ, 11ft 6in x 3ft x 5ft (3.3m x 91cm x 1.5m), made by Gebroeders Decap of Belgium, which led Morphy’s sale of the Henri Krijnen collection. It sold for $285,000 (£247,825) to the collector Ozzie Bilotta whose private toy museum opens this autumn in Florida. The robot band members play drums, saxophone and brass horn while a smaller robot reminds patrons to tip the performers.

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The late Henri Krijnen was a determined collector of all things relating to mechanical entertainment.

Fairground, dance and theatre organs and orchestrions, barrel organs, musical boxes and polyphons of all sizes and jukeboxes were all part on the list for his 50-year collecting odyssey.

But so too were automata, carrousel figures, slot machines and cash registers.


Belgian Mortier 84-key Belle Epoque dance organ from c.1912 measuring 28ft x 4ft 10in x 15ft 8in (8.5m x 1.47m x 4.7m) which sold for $48,000 (£41,740) at Morphy.

Krijnen, who made his fortune in the gambling and entertainment industry, moved his private museum of mechanical entertainment three times, settling finally on a custom-built warehouse in Oosterhout in the Netherlands. His fairground, dance and theatre organs were restored by well-known European experts.

Last month his collection numbering over 540 lots was put up for sale under the hammer of Morphy (20% buyer’s premium) in Pennsylvania over two days from September 9-10.

It raised a total of $1.86m hammer or just under $2.3m including premium, with a selling rate by volume of 82%.

Robot music-makers

Topping the bill was a dance organ with a difference that was one of Krijnen’s favourites: a 1960s spacethemed organ featuring three robot musician figures created in a style that reflected the popular concept of what robots might look like at the time.

Made by Gebroeders Decap from Antwerp, it is one of only three made in a 105-key configuration, the largest of this type built by Decap.

It was originally built in 1963 for Mr Krekel for the Hotel Eemland in Soest (Netherlands) and has been completely restored by AC Pilmer Automatic Music of Ossett, England.

Estimated at $100,000-200,000, it sold for a hammer price of $285,000 (£247,825).

The buyer was Ozzie Bilotta, whose private museum for vintage toys, arcade machines and related memorabilia is due to open in Florida this autumn. He has featured before on these pages as the buyer of a Popeye toy tank (ATG No 2543) and was also the subject of a collector interview (ATG No 2554).

Bilotta said: “Seeing as the robot band was created in 1963, right in the heart of the classic sci-fi era, it fits right in with the museum’s theme of robots and space toys.

“However, the band is so large – nearly 12 feet wide – that I’m considering a few options. It might become the visual centerpiece at an affiliated business to be located near the museum. It needs plenty of room to ‘breathe.’ Hopefully I’ll have things figured out by the time it arrives from its current location [in Oosterhout, the Netherlands].

“I’m excited to bring this wonderful fusion of art, music, engineering and classic robot styling to the United States.”

Another dance organ from an earlier era was an 84-key Mortier Belle Epoque dance organ from c.1912 measuring 28ft x 4ft 10in x 15ft 8in (8.5 x 1.47 x 4.8m) that sold for $48,000 (£41,470) against an $80,000-150,000 guide.

Before entering the Krijnen collection it had been in an automobile museum in France for many years. Prior to Krijnen’s death, the organ’s facade had been restored but the organ itself was not completed.

It was one of several organs made by the Belgian factories of Theofiel Mortier in the collection but not all of them got away on the day.

The 102-key dance organ from 1937 guided at $250,000-400,000 failed to find a buyer.

Jazz age

Another of the top lots in the collection, selling at a within-estimate $60,000 (£52,175) was a French automaton orchestrion from the 1920s encapsulating the mood of the French capital in the Jazz age.

Made by Gastaud et Raibaut for J Bodson of Paris, it features an accordion player automaton created in the likeness of the Italian jazz artist Tino Rossi and a drum playing automaton identified as Mr Jimson of Martinique.

Bodson made these orchestrions for sale or rent to local establishments. This example, which retains the original clothing, wood stand and accordion, is one of less than five known to survive.

Some other items surpassed their guides by considerable margins.

These included the 1890s 71-key orchestrion by the German Black Forest maker Imhof and Mukle which, despite being in need of restoration, sailed past its $10,000-20,000 guide to take $39,000 (£33,915).

A 1895 Welte 50-key Cottage cylinder orchestrion in an ebonised lattice door case, also in need of restoration, surpassed its $3000- 6000 guide to take $18,000 (£15,650).

Among the many slot machines on offer was a Frank Polk carved one-armed bandit in the form of a life-size cowboy which had a 1940s Mills slot machine embedded in its chest.

This was another strong performer, selling for $35,000 (£30,435) against a $3000-6000 guide.

Pictured here is a selection from the top-priced items plus other representative pieces from the collection to give an idea of the range of works on offer.

£1 = $1.15