Rock Harmonicon

William Till
ca. 1880
United Kingdom
gneiss and hornblende schist
Overall: H. 106.7 x L. 247.7cm (42 x 97 1/2in.); Longest stone: 77 cm (26 in.); Shortest: 22.9 cm (9 in.)
Credit Line:
The Crosby Brown Collection of Musical Instruments, 1889
Accession Number:
Not on view
This rock harmonicon or stone xylophone was made by the Till family, who were one of several so called "rock bands" that captivated British audiences during the Victorian period. All hailed from the area of Keswick in the English Lake District, the source of Skiddaw stone, a type of hornfels prized for its tone quality and resonance. Tuned bars of this sonorous rock were supported on a wooden stand and laid out much like a modern xylophone. This instrument has twenty two bars that produce a three-octave diatonic scale. It may have also originally included a second row of stones enabling it to sound a full chromatic scale. A range of hammers and leather and cloth covered mallets were used to coax different timbres from the instrument.
Audiences throughout England, Scotland and Europe heard the Till Family Rock Band during their extensive tours. The sound of the rock band caught the ear of the English art critic John Ruskin, who encouraged the family’s performances and owned a stone xylophone made by William Till. In the late 1880s, the family embarked on a concert tour of the United States and Canada, later settling for five years in Bayonne, New Jersey.
Mary Elizabeth Adams Brown
Catalogue of the Crosby Brown Collection of Musical Instruments: Europe. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1904, vol. I, pg. 293.