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 honestly tell you.
But I know that I’m not the only one that gets sentimental with music boxes. Movie characters Anastasia and Félicie both felt the same way about their music boxes. (I recognize 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 picked out a music box for our daughter’s eighth birthday. We’ll share our experience with you, but first, let’s take a look at music boxes in general and some of my favorite Christmas music boxes.
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 play a musical instrument (and play it well), beautiful melodies were only in your 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, became more widely available, and then went virtually extinct with Thomas Edison’s phonograph that led to the record player.
Today, music boxes are 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, full of the nitty-gritty details.
The first major component of a mucal 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. Here are the most popular.
Wooden Music Box: This one is self-explanatory. A wooden music box is just that… it’s a wooden box that has a music maker inside. You may have room for jewelry, velvet interiors 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.
Our Favorite Music Box Gifts For Christmas
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.
Not sure where to start looking for this unique gift?
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.
As much as I hate this line, the truth of it stings each year: Christmas will be here before you know it. If you are struggling to find the perfect Christmas gift for your loved one, a music box could be just your thing. Or, as you’ll see below, even a Christmas musical gift that extends a bit beyond a traditional box.
You won’t find any room for trinkets, but the magic is alive with this wooden train carousel music box. With the switch of a button, you and your kiddos will watch a train make its way around the Christmas tree. If you can’t put an actual train around the tree, this is the next best thing.
This metal trinket box is as adorable as it is classic. Imagine it sitting on a shelf next to a Christmas cactus or on your bookcase next to your other Christmas home decor items. Although small, this music box is the perfect size for little hands. And, it’s a little more durable than the carousel in case those little hands begin to wander.
What makes Christmas special? Is it the presents? Maybe for some. But for most of us, Christmas is so much more than a day of the year. It’s the anticipation, the excitement, the magic. Everywhere you look, lights are twinkling as if to remind you that there is something special about this time of year. Even the snow looks different in the weeks leading up to Christmas. This snowglobe captures the heart of the season and offers it up all year long.
Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and Happy Everyday.
Something that makes the holiday season so special is the traditions. Yesteryear’s seemingly mundane details become some of today’s most cherished memories. This Locking Santa Jolly Box is made to hold all of the season’s most prized treasures, like those top-secret letters to Santa.
This may fit a bit outside of what you would normally envision when you think about music boxes, but as soon as I saw it, I knew 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 Santa egg sitting next to them.
If the egg has any resemblance to my grandma’s style, then this wooden rocking horse speaks to my moms. Each year, I couldn’t wait to dig into the Christmas boxes and pull out the decorations. I had a spot for each piece of garland, and I knew where each string of lights belonged. Even more, I knew every single ornament that would go on the tree. I knew them so well that I’m sure I could still point out which ones were missing if they didn’t all make it on the tree. Of my favorites were a wooden nutcracker that moved its arms and legs when you pulled a string and a wooden rocking horse that looked almost exactly like this one.
While I may take sentimentality to a whole new level, traditions really are made in the details. And this wooden rocking horse is the stuff that Christmas memories are made of.
My Experience Shopping For A Music Box
After reading about my sentimental heartstrings, it’s probably no surprise to hear that my husband and I picked out a music box for our daughter this year. Her birthday is in early December, and we decided that our box would be a gift for her birthday. With so much rich history and the promise of a lifetime of memories, how could I not pass it on to my 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 as well.
What was most impressive to me was 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.”
Sign me up!
We decided early on that the most important music box elements were:
✅ Meaningful music
✅ Something that my daughter would treasure through adulthood.
This traditional style 18 note music box with floral wood inlay checked all the boxes. The fact that it had a lock & key was a fun benefit.
As is the case with all Music Box Attic boxes, we were able to add a little personalization and picked out our own song—Daddy’s Little Girl.
My favorite thing about this wood music box is how truly lovely it is. The craftmanship went far beyond my expectations, and I can tell a lot of care went into building this box.
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 your 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 is really 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 31 Best Christmas Movies [That You Can Stream Right Now]