Legend had it that Puccini, composer of the the famous Japanese-themed opera Madame Butterfly, was inspired by melodies he heard from a Japanese music box. For over one hundred years, historians have searched in vain for the Japanese music box that Puccini heard. Musicologist Tony Shepard, on a recent chance visit to the Morris Museum in New Jersey, heard something quite surprising. Among the dozens of automata and mechanical music machines housed at this extraordinary museum, Shepard happened to listen to a Chinese music box. Something familiar caught his ear. A discovery was made in that moment. As research continues, it seems more and more likely that a music box now at the Morris Museum is the very one Puccini heard. Not only do two of the tunes match those in Madame Butterfly, the ownership of the box can be traced to the composer. Cryptic symbols inside the mechanism of the music box look like those often penned by Puccini himself.
The Morris Museum features an exhibition of over 150 pieces from the world-renowned Murtogh D. Guinness collection of mechanical musical instruments and automata.