A 1925 pianola which was previously used in Bright's Theatre before it burned down in 1935 has been returned to Otaki.

The self-playing pianola has been donated to the Otaki Museum.

In the 1920s the pianola found its home in Otaki's Bright's Theatre.

It was used to accompany silent movies and theatre productions before talking movies were introduced.


After talking movies became widely available in the late 1920s, the pianola was sold to the Banks family, escaping the theatre fire in 1935.

"It's very new to us," Otaki Museum chairwoman Judith Miller said.

"We were asked if we would be interested in it after the owners were moving house and couldn't take it with them.

"We had to have a discussion whether or not we could fit it in and eventually had it transported to us a couple of weeks before Christmas."

The full history of the pianola is not known after it was removed from the theatre, however it is known that it spent some time at the house of Byron Brown, well-known in the community.

Mary-Annette Hay, Mr Brown's granddaughter, recalls playing it as a young girl in her grandfather's living room.

More than 80 years since last seeing the pianola Ms Hay was reunited with the instrument of her childhood.

After walking into the museum Ms Hay's face was alight with excitement upon seeing the instrument.

"I just can't believe that at this age its back.

"It's like having my childhood back again.

"I was 7, 8, 9 years old and I remember sitting there playing it.

"We loved it."

Di Buchan, a trustee of the museum who has played a part in getting the pianola to the museum, remembers standing in front of a pianola as a child and being amazed at the self-playing instrument.

"You had to move the pedal and the scrolls would go around and make the keys work.

"We just stood there amazed."

The pianola, which uses perforated scrolls pumped by foot pedals to create a vacuum, is now sitting in Otaki museum and is available for the public to view during opening hours.

The 1925 pianola works by suction. After placing the chosen perforated roll in the mechanism, the player pumps the pedals, creating a vacuum in exhauster bellows. Each hole in the roll allowed air to enter, causing a mechanism to eventually connect with a piano key. The roll was driven by an air-powered motor and the speed was varied by a control lever. - Otaki Historical Society