Old instruments find a home in this rare museum

A collector passes on his passion to the public at the Nisco Museum.

When Nisan Cohen moved from New York to Israel 20 years ago, he had a lot to drag along with him.

"I've been collecting things since I can remember," the 90-year-old told From The Grapevine, and he wasn't going to leave his collections behind. Chief among them is his collection of old musical instruments, some of which are nearly 200 years old.

Interior of the Nisco Museum.Nisan Cohen has been collecting old wind up instruments for nearly 50 years. (Photo: Zach Pontz)

Cohen's collection includes music boxes, an automatic organ, an automatic piano that recreates the performance of famous pianists, and a collection of turntables.

Today this and much more constitute the contents of the Nisco Museum, located in the art colony of Ein Hod, at the foot of Carmel Mountain.

This organ is one of the largest in all the region.This automatic organ is a rare find. On Saturdays visitors can come to a concert where, if they are lucky, Nisan Cohen will play it for them. (Photo: Zach Pontz)

"There's no other place like this in the region," he explained. "There are people in Austria, Germany, where most of these boxes originated, with collections like this, but nothing else like it around here."

Cohen, who despite his age remains extraordinarily sharp and is always quick with a joke, still offers tours of the museum.

He's more than happy to demonstrate how the instruments work, and on Saturdays the museum is even home to what he claims is the only live mechanical music concert in the world.

Nisan Cohen, owner of the Nisco Museum.Nisan Cohen and his daughter hold court in the museum gift shop. (Photo: Zach Pontz)

Cohen's collection is as international as his audience. He has an old Wurlitzer jukebox from the United States and a music box from Switzerland that plays the Marseillaise, the French national anthem.

"I had some French tourists in here not long ago and they very much enjoyed that one," he said.

A music box a the Nisco Museum.This music box, one of many at the Nisco Museum, plays the French national anthem. (Photo: Zach Pontz)

Cohen's offbeat collection has slowly gathered attention over the years.

He gets a steady stream of visitors, both Israeli and from abroad. Respected travel guides Lonely Planet and Fodor's even list the museum as a top destination to visit in Israel, a step back in time for vintage enthusiasts and music lovers alike.

interior of the Nisco Museum.An old piano and a few record players are among the treasures of the Nisco Museum. (Photo: Zach Pontz)

For a world that is quick to embrace the newest gadget at the expense of what came before it, the Nisco Museum is a reminder of what objects, engineered perfectly and built to last, are capable of.

"Everything here winds up. There's no electricity used," he said, adding, "and everything here is old, chief among them being me."


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Old instruments find a home in this rare museum
At Israel's Nisco Museum, a longtime collector revels in introducing old instruments to a new audience.