The entirety of Portugal’s Museu da Música Mecânica is made up of the work of just one collector, who has spent nearly 30 years gathering pieces from the world of mechanical instruments—instruments that play a pre-recorded song, and require the listener to crank, wind, or start them, like music boxes or player pianos.
The collection came from small beginnings. Museum founder Luís Cangueiro’s childhood house had an organette in it—a hand-cranked, table-top music instrument that is music box and record player all rolled into one. Fond memories of this 19th-century instrument turned Cangueiro into a collector later in life.
Since starting his collection in 1986, it has grown to more than 600 pieces ranging from mechanical zithers, to gramophones, to examples of the one that started it all, the organette. But Canguerio wanted to share his treasures with everyone. In 2016 he hired an architect to design a space to house his collection, and the Museu da Música Mecânica was born.
On display are items dating from the late 1800s to the 1930s. Each piece is in working order and is a glimpse into the social life of a bygone era. These instruments were the at-home listening experiences of their day, a way to gather and share sounds, and the museum encourages visitors to transport back to that time by not just seeing the instruments, but hearing and touching them as well.
The mechanical treasures inside of the museum aren’t the only things worth seeing, though. Equally impressive is the space that houses them all. The building was designed by Portuguese architect Miguel Marcelino who constructed the space to echo the instruments inside. His description of the design as a “box that seen outside looks very elementary, but whose interior dismantles this simplicity” brings to mind a music box, concealed in its container until it’s opened to reveal its secrets. The building and the collection work together to enhance the other’s beauty.