In the late 20s, the Rollmonica Music Co. of Baltimore began manufacturing a new sort of harmonica- one that could be played by anyone, whether they had any musical inclination or not: The Rollmonica! It basically amounts to a player harmonica, with a music roll that is cranked across the reeds of a harmonica, all enclosed in a bakelite case. They also made a chromatic version, but ours isn’t one of those.
The rolls were cut onto dry waxed paper, exactly like a small version of a player piano roll. The biggest problem becomes obvious once you have played a roll a couple of times. You’re blowing moist, humid breath across a strip of paper, and once it gets moist, it begins to rip. You can imagine that this is exacerbated by the fact that the rolls we have are about 90 years old! So needless to say, we’re not playing the Rollmonica at any of our jam sessions!
The second biggest problem is also breath-related. As in you need more of it. Somewhere in the middle of “Turkey in the Straw,” you’ll to need to take a big, giant breath. If you can manage to take small breaths here and there throughout the song without losing the rhythm, more power to ya. I couldn’t pull it off!
The Rollmonica Music Co. continued making these little novelty instruments up until the 50s, when they were made of plastic. Although we don’t get to demo ours very often, it’s yet another great example of American musical instrument history! As always, thanks to the lovely Lauren Colchamiro of Lauren Colchamiro Photography for the gorgeous photos! Have a great weekend, everyone!