BY JIM ENGELAGE, PhD
CAPTIVATING AND ingenious windup automation toy in which a uniformed musician actually plays up to nine different classic standards on a xylophone is the Zilotone. This truly unique toy enjoys a crossover interest among mechanical music collectors as well. As with the Clown Artist (see September, 2011 issue) the clockwork mechanism is driven by cams, but in Zilotone they are called records. The records not only control the melody, but also the precise tempo and the movement of the music maker as he strikes each of twelve keys with a pointed wooden peg held by a wire handle. While the Clown Artist is driven by a little crank, the Zilotone is driven by a windup mechanism with a strong spring and has an on/off lever. According to Joe and Barbara Freeman of Tin Toy Works, “The entire Zilotone mechanism is over-engineered.”
Cataloged as No. 48, the Zilotone was patented by the Wolverine Supply and Manufacturing Company in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania as patent number 1777712 in 1930. The tin lithographed musician is dressed in an orange and black uniform with pointed hat and is attached to a steel xylophone painted bright orange with the word “Zilotone” across the front in white letters.
There is also a rare green version. The windup mechanism on which the interchangeable records are mounted is located behind the musician figure. The pitch of the Zilotone is controlled by the length of each of the brass-colored steel keys with the higher notes being shorter. Each of the twelve keys is marked with a letter and they comprise an octave and a half starting with C and going through G. Zilotone measures 7″ tall, 8″ wide and 9″ long.