There’s something about music boxes that brings out the little girl in me. While I can’t say for certain where that started, I owe a big part of my love for trinkets to my grandma.
She was the epitome of class. Her home was filled with homemade grilled cheese, fresh peach pie and knickknacks from her travels all over the world. Grandma’s closet always contained the latest fashions, while her jewelry box held timeless gemstones.
After she passed, I received some of her possessions. My favorite piece by far is the music box she had when she was a little girl. It is round and made of silver metal. There’s no spinning ballerina figurine or velvety interior, but the soft, sweet melody still makes my daughter cry whenever she hears it.
What makes these keepsakes carry so much meaning?
I couldn’t tell you.
But I know that I’m not the only one that gets all sentimental with music boxes. Movie characters Anastasia and Félicie both felt the same way about their music boxes. (Okay, that’s because they were orphans looking for some trace of their family, but still.)
Music boxes are one of the most underrated, long-lasting and sentimental gift ideas out there.
Whether you are looking for a meaningful gesture for your loved one for Valentine’s Day, Christmas or a birthday gift, don’t overlook music box gifts.
My husband and I recently had the pleasure of picking a music box for our daughter’s eighth birthday. We’ll share our experience with you and 11 of our favorite music box gifts. But first, let’s take a look at music boxes in general.
The History of Music Boxes
It’s hard to imagine a world without music, but before music boxes came around, that’s exactly what life was like for the common folk. Unless someone in your family could make music (and make it well), beautiful melodies were things of dreams.
Music boxes got their start in Switzerland in the 1770s. Man was a long way from phones and clocks, so people relied on bells to tell time and alert the town of major events, such as a church service, wedding or an attack of some kind.
Two German inventors who grew up with this melodious communication style took it one step further. They placed small bells and tiny hammers into a watch and made the first automatic musical clock.
From there, musical movements were put into a variety of things. Oil paintings with clock towers featured the new musical element, and cuckoo clocks made their way to fame. Of all the musical elements, none were quite so popular as musical snuff boxes.
In the 1800s, snuff was the stuff. People of importance and wealth would carry their tobacco-filled snuff boxes with them everywhere they went. Some boxes were made of metal, while others were made out of wood.
But regardless of the material used, the general theme of snuff boxes was the prettier, the better. Soon, snuff boxes even began to feature images on the top of the wood, making them a miniature music box through and through.
From there, music boxes grew in popularity, and engineers found ways to increase the number of notes. Music boxes got bigger and became more widely available. They were on the quick rise to fame, and then just as quickly, went virtually extinct with Thomas Edison’s phonograph and the record player.
Today, music boxes are just a sweet sentiment of days gone by, but we love them all the more.
How a Music Box Works
While there are some specialized variations of music boxes, and each box contains several important parts to make it work, we’re just going to cover the basics. If you get excited digging into the small details, check out the Engineer Guy describe the entire process. He’ll dish out the nitty-gritty details I so love to avoid.
The first major component of a musical movement is a rotating drum or cylinder. Each metal cylinder features little knobs or protrusions unique to a song’s melody. Next up, you’ll find a metal comb with a handful of pins. Each pin represents a different note—the longer the pin, the lower the note. In an 18-note music box, there are 18 pins.
As the cylinder spins, pins pluck the protrusions and sound is made. Just as the cylinder is custom-made for a particular song, so too is the comb. It doesn’t work to pair a drum with the melody of Yankee Doodle with a comb set for Mary Had A Little Lamb.
With this level of craftsmanship, it’s no surprise that a 72-note music box will set you back more than a 36- or 18-note box. Hands down the coolest thing about the music box mechanics? They are seriously heavy-duty.
Remember those snuff boxes from the 1800s? They still work! You can open a music box and hear the exact same thing that someone did years ago. Maybe that’s why we cry when we open the music box my grandma had as a little girl.
Types of Music Boxes
Enchanted yet? It gets better. There are a few different styles of music boxes to choose from, and here are the two most popular.
Wooden Music Box
This one is self-explanatory. A wooden music box is just that… a wooden box that has a music maker inside. You may have room for jewelry, velvet inlays and moving pieces, but you may not. You can also opt for wooden inlays and locking features.
Carousel Music Box
Carousel music boxes also live up to their name. Just like an actual carousel, these music boxes feature something that spins, whether it be a merry-go-round or a part of the music box. Carousel music boxes are some of the most fun to watch, just don’t expect to find a spot to stash your jewels.
Hand Crank Music Box
If a Jack in the Box holds a special spot in your heart, you may love a hand crank music box. While these aren’t as widely popular as a carousel or jewelry music box, you can still find some cool styles, like this monkey straight out of Phantom of the Opera. Another cool thing about the hand crank options is you can make your own music with this DIY Musical 20-Note Hand Cranked Movement.
My Experience Shopping For a Music Box
With how much I love music boxes, it’s probably no surprise to hear that my husband and I picked one out for our daughter’s last birthday. With so much rich history and the promise of a lifetime of memories, how could we not share it with our kin?
We shopped around Music Box Attic, an established name in the music box industry. While we knew we wanted a wooden music box with room for jewelry, I had no idea how many music boxes there were to choose from!
I scrolled through page after page of music boxes. In the wooden music box section alone, there were pink boxes, purple boxes, boxes with animals and ones with flowers. Some boxes were rectangular, others oval.
There were military music boxes, baby music boxes, and some with no images at all. As a Hanukkah household, we were thrilled to see a few Hanukkah music boxes represented. But
I was most impressed by the handmade Sorrento music boxes.
The website describes these handmade boxes well. “The art of handmade inlaid wood is an old and noble Italian tradition typical of Southern Italy. No other place is known for its mastery of inlay woodworking than the town of Sorrento, Italy.
This type of art can only be performed by skilled and highly trained artisans whose craft is handed down from generation to generation.” Ummm, yes please!
We decided early on that the most important music box elements were:
✅ Meaningful music
✅ Something that my daughter would treasure through adulthood.
And, if we could get a handmade Sorrento box, that would really seal the deal. This traditional 18-note music box with floral wood inlay checked all the boxes. The fact that it had a lock and key was a fun benefit.
As is the case with almost all Music Box Attic boxes, we were able to add a little personalization and picked out our own song—Daddy’s Little Girl.
When the special day came, we added a little wrapping paper, even though it was already well packaged in a felt bag and handed over to our leading lady. She was surprised in the best way possible. We got a great family photo around this gift that will last her whole life. I can’t wait to watch as the treasures this box holds changes with each new season of life.
My Favorite Music Box Gifts
Even though music boxes have given way to more modern ways to access music—hello, Apple Music and Spotify!—wind-up music boxes will always be a sweet token of love and sentiment. To help you navigate the wide world of music boxes, we’ve put together some of our favorite, if not best-selling, music boxes from some people who really know what they are doing—Music Box Attic.
To save you the hours of scrolling I did, I’ve picked out some of the best music box gifts I found on Music Box Attic’s site. From traditional to modern, budget-friendly and expensive, there’s something for everyone.
Extravagant Music Boxes
I love all things floral. If it were up to me, you’d find me frolicking through a meadow with wildflowers at least once a week. But since I live in suburbia, Idaho, I’ve taken to getting my floral fix with home items. These music boxes are for those who envision a music box in a sugar, spice and everything nice way or, in this case, flowers, frills and beautiful inlays.
This Burl-Elm Arabesque inlay was handcrafted in the same place that I got my daughter’s music box—Sorrento, Italy. So it’s safe to say that you’ll get the same attention to detail and beautiful craftsmanship that we received with hers. This jewelry box features gold tones and a classy design that will never go out of style.
Another Sorrento-made box, this Octagonal Italian Music Box is sort of like a bite-sized version of the box I got my daughter. It has floral designs, cut corners, and best of all—a locking feature. I also especially love the ring roll in this one.
This scalloped Italian music box may be on the steeper side of the spectrum, but it’s worth every penny. Maybe it’s because I have Anastasia on my mind, or maybe it’s because there is royal in the name, but I can’t help but think of a ballroom of dancing couples when I see this box.
I may not be twirling in a ball gown, but I can definitely pretend I am every time I close my eyes with this beauty.
Think all music boxes are brown? Think again! This Grand Arabesque Ivory Italian box has all the bells and whistles that a music box lover could want—plenty of room for jewelry with a lift-up tray, quality that comes only from Sorrento, and a locking mechanism. This box also features a 36-note musical movement, which provides a more sophisticated sound than an 18-note movement.
Classic Music Boxes
I understand that not everyone shares my particular taste for flowers. If that’s the case for you or your loved one, here are a few boxes that offer the same sentiment with less fluff.
Okay, so it does have the scalloped edge and ruffled pocket, but this scalloped jewelry box is still perfectly stylish and classy without being flashy or over the top. It has a bit more room than the picture frame music box; it can hold five necklaces, one watch, multiple rings, and anything you can fit within the three compartments. Unfortunately, this isn’t solid wood, but the burl veneer will have everybody fooled.
This 18-note musical picture frame is another classy option for the person that doesn’t want a dancing ballerina on their nightstand. It fits a standard 6×4 photo, some rings and a pair of earrings. It’s made with a white velvet interior and a high-gloss Rosewood finish, so you won’t have to worry about it going out of style or breaking down in a few months.
If your loved one prefers a more simple look, this modern turquoise music box is another one of my favorites. It features a viewable 18-note movement and two small compartments to hold special jewels. I also love that this music box isn’t made of wood. While I personally prefer those natural wood tones, I know plenty of people who would opt for this high-gloss turquoise checkered finish. Here is a wood option for my fellow xylophiles.
Musical Gifts On A Budget
The love of music knows no budget… Unless your budget is on the small side. If you want to share the magic of a music box but don’t have a fortune to spend, here are a few of my favorite picks that are under $100.
This personalizable musical paperweight is a perfect knickknack for the person that hates knickknacks. No, seriously. It’s classy, sentimental and the perfect size to complement even a minimalist design.
I can’t say for sure if my parents put a mobile in my crib, but given my love for spinning musical things, I think it’s highly likely. Throw in some beautiful wood, and this wooden ferris wheel becomes the stuff dreams are made of. Music Box Attic has a whole line of beautiful wood carousels, like these spinning ballerinas, the dutch windmill and Arc De Triomphe, among others.
This may fit a bit outside of what you would normally envision when you hear about music boxes, but as soon as I saw it, I had to feature it. You see, this is exactly the kind of trinket that my grandma would have. I remember vividly her stone eggs from Hong Kong and Brazil, and the way my grubby fingers wanted nothing less than to feel the cold, smooth weightiness of each one. I’m not sure where those eggs ended up, but it’s fun to imagine this pearl music egg sitting next to them.
11. Cuckoo Clock
I’ve always wanted a cuckoo clock. My grandma on my other side is very German and showcased a handmade cuckoo clock from Germany in her living room. I loved watching it chime.
Even after the musical movement stopped, I loved playing with the pine cone weights. So when I found out Music Box Attic not only sells Cuckoo clocks, but they also have one under $100, I knew I had to share it with the world.
This one might not have the same beautiful cuckooing bell I think so highly of, but again, it’s under $100. Fingers crossed I can convince my husband to share my cuckoo love!
If you are a fellow cuckoo lover and can talk your spouse into getting one for your home, there are actually quite a few to choose from. One of my favorites is this Black Forest Chalet with Dancing Couple and Train. It will set you back a bit more than a hundred dollars, but for a handcrafted clock from Germany, I’d say it’s worth it.
What to Consider When Picking Out a Music Box
If you’re feeling overwhelmed at our list and just aren’t sure which box to pick, here are a few things to ask yourself before selecting your music box gift.
Are You Looking For a Timeless Classic or Something Modern and Fun?
Harry Potter and Beauty and the Beast music boxes definitely have their charm. But will your recipient still be excited about their Disney boxes when they are a teenager? For some, the nostalgia of Winnie the Pooh will never go away. For others, what was once cool will become totally tacky.
How Do You Envision the Recipient Using Their Music Box?
Carousel or no carousel? Do you want a simple wood music box or a musical jewelry box? Do you want a custom music box? It’s important to get clear on how you want your recipient to use the box.
Little ones will love watching a carousel spin, while someone a bit older may appreciate a more vintage music box that will last for years to come. If you want to share your heart with something that’s truly personalizable, and you’re up for a challenge, maybe you make your own music with a DIY hand crank musical movement.
There really is a music box gift for any age and personality—you just have to get clear on what you’re looking for.
You might also be interested in: The 22 Best Gifts for Your Mother-in-Law [That She Will Actually Like]
The Best Music Box Gifts For Any Budget:
- Burl-Elm Arabesque Inlay 18-Note Music Jewelry Box
- Octagonal Italian Music Box with Floral Bouquet Inlay
- Scalloped Dancing Couple Italian Music
- BoxGrand Arabesque Ivory Italian Music Box
- 18-Note Scalloped Jewelry Box
- Picture Frame Music box
- Modern Turquoise Music Box
- Musical Paper Weight
- Wooden Ferris Wheel
- Pearl & Gold Beaded Music Egg
- Cuckoo Clock