Musical boxes are nearly as old as clocks. They operate by a barrel with protruding pegs striking the teeth of a steel comb or operating bells. The most familiar ones are those of small size, frequently in the form of snuff-boxes, many of which are adapted to play more than one tune. They are supposed to have been invented by a Swiss, Louis Favre of Geneva, and most of the good movements were made in that country. Some are incredibly small and were fitted into fob seals, sealing-wax holders, penknives and other articles where they might surprise a listener. A refinement was the fitting of a tiny bellows to work a whistle, which led to the making of boxes containing a small hidden bird. This would pop up and sing, to disappear when the song was ended and stay hidden until the operating button was pressed again. Late in the eighteenth century clocks were fitted sometimes with a musical box in the base, which played when the hour had struck. Grandfather clocks were made to play a short tune on bells at the hour, and on some it was possible to choose one of several melodies.
In the nineteenth century many large musical boxes were made, some playing a number of tunes and fitted with interchangeable barrels. Others played principally on a steel comb, but had bells as well and incorporated small drums played by coloured butterflies. They were replaced finally by the gramophone.