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Amsterdam, Netherlands

Pianola Museum

A unique collection of gilded age mechanical pianos. 

In a city chockablock with museums, one of the smallest and most unusual is home to about 50 mechanical player pianos and almost 20,000 punched rolls of music.

The player piano was an American invention of the late 1800s that very quickly became popular. The latest evolution of musical automata, self-playing pianos began to emerge along with mechanical adaptations for standard pianos in the 1870s. Most of them required a human user to use the foot pedal bellows to run machinery which pulled scrolls of pre-programmed music past the mechanical parts, which then activated the keys of the piano.

The popularity of the player pianos was launched with their performance in the 1876 Philadelphia Exposition and lasted until the stock market decline of the 1930’s. Combined with the accessibility of record players and the advent of radio, the market for these expensive music machines evaporated.

The name Pianola was a trademark of the The Aeolian Corporation of New York in the 1890s, but the name was broadly applied to all player pianos. Export to Europe began in 1899 where they quickly gained popularity in homes and music halls. Queen Victoria owned one for the last two years of her life.

The program scrolls were made of normal paper, punched with holes or slits to correspond to notes, much like early computer punch cards. Some composers took advantage of the new technology to design songs that could not be played with a mere ten fingers, creating unique pieces exclusive to the machines inexhaustible supply of virtual fingers.

The museum is housed in a small but atmospheric building in the Jordaan district of Amsterdam.

Know Before You Go

By tram: 3, 10 (stop Marnixbad).Phone. + 31 20 627 96 24. It is open Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 11:00h until 17:00h.