Entertainment, heritage lost, Petersham, Stanmore

Heritage Lost: Mastertouch Piano Roll Company

After having written the post about the Stanmore Fire Station and it’s subsequent sale to the Mastertouch Piano Roll company I sadly received an email saying the former owner of Mastertouch (and a MHS member), Barclay Wright had passed away peacefully on 25 February, 2013 after a short illness.

The Sydney Morning Herald – September 7, 1975

The Mastertouch Piano Roll Company was established in Sydney in 1919 and established a showroom at the Petersham address in 1975. It manufactured and sold piano rolls until its closure on 1 July 2005. It is highly significant both to the state of New South Wales and Australia as a whole as the longest running and only piano roll manufacturer to be operating in the country. It was also only one of two remaining large scale piano roll manufacturers in the world, the other being QRS in the USA and the only one to maintain a traditional method of manufacture giving it international significance.

Interior of the Mastertouch Piano Roll Company July 2005
Image Source: Powerhouse Museum

The Mastertouch Company is also extremely important for the role it and its owner, Barclay Wright, had in attempting to maintain the history and tradition of this major form of popular entertainment and its place in Australian culture, creating a private museum of these items. Since working in the company since 1957, Wright had not only maintained the machines in perfect working order but had also collected items from other music roll manufacturers in order to preserve some of the history of roll making in Australia. This conscientious attitude also contributed toward the collecting of keyboard instruments to help preserve the history and development of roll played music. In the 1980s when several local and long established box making companies in Sydney closed, boxes for music rolls were still necessary, so Wright bought the old machines and established a box making section in the Mastertouch company which made boxes not only for piano rolls but also for a variety of other products and artefacts.

Piano Roll Recording Machines, 2002
Image Source: National Library of Australia

Mastertouch also had an important public role in the preservation of roll music recording and manufacture generally and conveying this to the public through visits, tours, lectures and music entertainment nights. Many attempts and negotiations were made to find support and funding from various bodies to allow Mastertouch to operate as a working museum. Although this was not to be Mastertouch played an important role in disseminating and educating the public about piano roll technology. This is an important point to stress as although piano roll technology has been superceded by digital forms, there are very strong links between digital data storage and encoding of music today and data storage and encoding found in piano roll technology.

The Powerhouse Museum now holds a number of artifacts and photos about Mastertouch in their collection.

Barclay contributed an article about the Mastertouch Piano Roll Company in our journal Heritage number 10 (1998). An obituary for Barclay Wright in the March MHS newsletter (2013). Our MHS newsletter is published 11 times a year and is delivered to members as part of their subscription.

References:

Powerhouse Museum

9 thoughts on “Heritage Lost: Mastertouch Piano Roll Company”

  1. Well it is a shame that Barclay Wright never bothered to actually pass it on to those who wanted to keep it running. There were such people & he knew it! but he could never sit still and watch somebody else succeed where he had failed.So….. it now sits in pieces on pellets wrapped in shrink wrap at the powerhouse museum, Never to make another roll again.
    What sort of legacy do you call that?

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  2. Ah Yes, Who could forget Mr Barclay Wright. Once experienced-never forgotten A man who paraded around with his toyboys pretending he owned the world, had an opinion on everything and told you a pack of lies if he thought you we silly enough to believe it. There were many items “lent” to him that he never returned My family were foolish enough to trust him with important papers and a piano and when he sold his business he never made any attempt to contact my parents to return what he knew was not his property, we did learn until it was too late he had given it to a furniture remover to take to the tip. he sacked his staff, sold his building, gave away his business to the Powerhouse Museum, then took off with all his money and ignored you when he saw you in the street. We really felt sorry for him he could have been a lot nicer person especially since he owed so many people so much for helping him out, he had so many volunteers who helped and lent him things and so many people who donated money to help. Where did all the money go? There have been many many words written about him and Mastertouch it is about time somebody actually told a true account of the way things were Instead of the way he wanted things to be said. We agree with the other comment whole heartedly. What sort of legacy was that?

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  3. Anonymous geese below, I met Barclay Wright and toured the factory about 10 years before it closed. Barclay's biggest problem was that he could never find anyone with the level of passion that he could trust that he was sure wouldn't destroy his life's work.

    So many Australian landmarks handed to people whose grandiose titles on business cards far outstrips their actual abilities and intelligence.

    Regarding his foibles, if his name had been Rod Taylor instead of Barclay Wright all would have been forgiven.

    Sadly, from what I could see, he never seemed to have the personal popularity (for whatever reason) to generally liked. But being an engineer and a musician I admired his commitment to what he was trying to preserve. I wish that kind of commitment was more common.

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  4. I used to own the collector shop opposite Barclay’s fire station in Petersham. I got to know him quite well. I liked him. He was trying to get the Powerhouse to take over the collection for years, keeping it together as a lot of people were trying to get their hands on it for whatever reasons. He always seemed stressed. That was my impression, as I said, I liked him.

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  5. I am absolutely flabbergasted at what I have just read about Bart. I taught with him at Redfern School 1964-66 and a nicer, kinder man never walked this earth. His work with disadvantaged students was wonderful and he also taught English to hundreds of migrants at evening classes twice a week. He often brought unfinished rolls into school and we would add an extra note or octave during a lunch hour. He was Godfather to my first child and we spent many wonderful evenings at his parents lovely home in Mosman before they moved to Blues Point Tower. He was devoted to the world of music and was an accomplished pianist as was his mother. RIP Bart.

    Jim Turner 31 July 2015

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  6. The history and roll catalogues of the Mastertouch Piano Company is something uniquely Australian and is something which deserves to be preserved.
    The Web site:
    Last year I was able to retrieve the Mastertouch web site and have it reactivated on my domain https://mastertouch.bookproduction.org. Using this site you can find details of the many Mastertouch rolls that were in production when they closed. If you use the Alphabetical Roll Title Catalogue you will see blue numbers on the right.
    When time permits I will add to this database using old catalogues and my own substantial collection of Mastertouch rolls.
    The Catalogues
    This year I have been concentrating on scanning as many of the Mastertouch catalogues that I can find. Some of these came from the late Barry Lloyd collection which is currently held by Ray Palmer other material came from the Marrickville Heritage Society. These have been reconstructed as clearly and accurately as possible and apart from some of the Supplement leaflets can be printed on A4 size paper from the PDF files. The electronic PDF files have also been processed so that they are searchable for any key-word or number. This has been achieved using Adobe Acrobat Professional text recognition software called Optical Character Recognition (OCR). The scanning of the Catalogues was carried out using a Kodak i2900 scanner set at 600 ppi (pixels per inch). This scanner is auto-feed double-sided 60 page per minute (120 sides per minute). Other scanners used were an Epson Perfection V850 Pro and a Plustek Opticbook A300.
    Catalogues & Supplements
    The Catalogues include the years 1926 and 2 others from the 1920s, 1969 (Golden Jubilee), 1973, 1977, 1978, 1979 (Diamond Jubilee), 1980, 1984, 1987, 2000 (New Century).
    The Catalogue Supplements are dated 1972-73 (Summer), 1977 (Fireside), 1980, 1980? (Life of the Party), 1985, 1993.
    Music Notes:
    Volume 1: 4, 6, 23, 26-52, 54-60, 63-63. Missing are: 1-3, 5, 7-22, 24, 25, 53, 61, 62.
    Volume 2: 1-17 (complete set)
    Other items include The Mastertouch Collection of Musical Instruments 1977, The Mastertouch Story, various price lists, and newspaper and magazine articles.
    Call for loan or donation of other material
    If any members have Mastertouch items that they can loan or donate could they please let me know 0478 595 336 or bruce @bookproduction.org

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