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The xylophone originated in eastern Asia, with the first evidence of a xylophone-like instrument from the 9th century A.D. found in Southeast Asia. Xylophones appeared in Africa before the 14th century and arrived in Europe with the Crusades prior to the 1500s. Early xylophones used wood, bamboo, and gourds to construct the bars and resonators, which were attached to wooden frames. Mallets were used to strike the bars to play notes.

The xylophone was introduced as an orchestra instrument in the 1800s in Europe, where traveling virtuosos caught the attention of prominent composers. In the late 1800s, the modern orchestra xylophone was developed, including two rows of chromatic bars and resonators. In 1903, John Calhoun Deagan of St. Louis, Missouri began manufacturing modern orchestra xylophones based on this style. Deagan founded the J.C. Deagan Company of Chicago, Illinois, one of the most prominent manufacturers of percussion instruments until the mid-20th century.

Today, Deagan xylophones are the most sought-after instruments by xylophone collectors. Other manufacturers of vintage xylophones include Leedy and Musser. As with other instruments, condition and sound play a huge role in a vintage xylophone's value.

Quick Facts

  • Rocks that were once part of an ancient xylophone are stored in the Natural History Museum in Paris, France. The rocks originated in the Sahara Desert and are made primarily of sandstone
  • Besides orchestras, xylophones gained popularity as a part of the musical accompaniment to vaudeville shows and theatrical performances in the early 1900s
  • Vintage Deagan xylophones from the '20s can sell for up to $1,000 in good playable condition

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