Monday, July 30, 2012

Restoring a Reed Organ - Part 4: An Overview of the Instrument

As mentioned in a previous post, when the organ was at Jan and Bill's place, I only had my old Blackberry with me and the picture quality was not great.  Now that we have the organ in Dad's workshop, we decided to take some photos with his Nikon camera.  Now, one thing you should know is that photography is not amongst the Churchman's greatest gifts. At any rate, the should give you an idea of what the organ looks like and some of its interesting, and quite lovely features.

Here is a view of the keyboard with the keyboard cover opened.  It is quite a nice presentation.

Here are a few close up shots.  You will note that the instrument is a C-C instrument with 61 keys. Many keyboards are F-F.  The front of a few of the keys are missing and all the white keys are quite yelloed and dirty. The black keys are in quite good shape, though.  No splits or breaks on them.  A few are a bit scratched, but generally look quite good.

Here are the stop faces on the bass side and then the treble side.  You can see that a few are missing and a few of the faces have fallen off and are lost.  A couple are loose and have been placed back on and I am not sure if they are in the right place or not.  The treble stop next to the Vox Humana is missing and has a "plug" in that hole.  The Vox Human stop is stationary and is worked by two smaller on/off pistons on either side.

Here's a close up of each of the medallions:

A closer look at the Mason & Hamlin
& Mason & Risch & Newcombe stencils

Now, moving to the lower half of the organ, we can see the two knee levers.
The grand organ is on the bass side and the swell is on the treble side.

One of the two inserts is in place.

The carpet on the pedals is badly worn.  I'm not too worried since it looks like it came straight from Grandma's living room anyway.

And now, a bit of a look as some of the lovely features of the case.

Here is a view of the side carvings and candle stands:

On the front "legs" (they're not really legs but I'm not sure what to call them) on each side is this little geometric, sheild-like ornamentation, which is quite a contrast with the more florid side carvings, I think.

The cover lock is also quite ornate... anyone have a key that would fit this?

Let's take a look at the back:

It's a bit rough looking, with a very different finish?  Is it a different wood, or has the front and top been previously refinished?  You can see an oppening for the sub-bass reeds about half-way down.  It had a cover (sitting on top of the organ) that was split down the centre and needs repairing. Some close ups of that opening, below, with a view of the sub-bass reeds.

Opening the top of the case, we see that there is some significan damage around the hinges.  In fact, the original rectangular hinges are gone and replaced with something you might use on your backyard gate.  You can see the indentation and screw holes from the original hinge. It is much the same with the hinge on the other end.

Looking inside you can see some damage to the finish where water or something has been spilled (we found evidence of this all down the interior, and into the action, keys and even bellows - as we shall see in a future post).

A number is visible on the interior of the case:

Not enough digits for a serial number... probably the case number.

On the interior of the side of the case (bass side) is this cabinet patent label.  This does not give us a precise date for the organ, but it establishes it is post-1870, but we already knew that as one of the medallions is an 1873 medallion.

A Look at the Vox Human vane.  It is dusty and quite brittle.  Cracked and torn in a couple of places.

A closer look at the vane - It appears to be original.

From another angle; catching a view of the sub-bass box (still have to learn all the technical terms), and a bit of the stop action.  It is looking sideways  from the treble side to the bass side.

This is the back of the stop board.  All the stop mechanism seem to function, although several are disconnected from the stop knobs. 

Someone has conveniently numbered them all and they appear to be in the right order. "7" is completely disconnected with the cloth washer missing, but "8" is in working order, but needing a thorough cleaning!

A view inside of the front treble corner.  I should say we have found no evidence of mice so far, but lots of evidence of spiders and other little bugs.  The red cloth is the back of the grill .  I'm not sure if it is original or not. It is not a very nice material and quite faded.

 Another number, this one on the top of the action board.

 Here we are back outside again.  The base is a bit loose and will require some fixing.

Next time:  Let's get the back off this thing and take a look at the bellows!

Restoring a Reed Organ: Part 3 - Resources

Last time, I promised a post on the resources that we would be using to restore our Mason and Hamlin reed organ.  I got a little behind on that and we have now begun work on the organ, so here is a little “catch-up” post with the promised information.

One of the gurus of reed organs was the late Robert Gellerman.  Gellerman has a very useful book entitled, The American Reed Organ and Harmonium, which not only gives instruction on reed organ restoration, but includes a detailed history of the American reed organ.  He also has a detailed chapter on tuning, as well as designs for organ benches, stop face fonts, and much more.  Gellerman also is the compiler of the Reed Organ Atlas, which is a directory of reed organ manufacturers, where they were located, and known serial numbers by years.  It is a very helpful resource for identifying and dating the old reed organ in the church basement or in the attic of the proverbial “Aunt Maude.”

A book that seems to stir much controversy among the reed organ restoration community is Horton Presley’s Restoring and Collecting Antique Reed Organs.  Presley was clearly a lover of reed organs and an enthusiastic restorer. However, those who appreciate a restoration that is done using traditional materials and methods according to historic parameters view Presley as something of a philistine, with his predisposition to using contact cement on bellows cloth (what is a future restorer to do when they need to remove it?!), and his rather dangerous suggestion of using a blow torch to heat old bellows cloth in order to be removed.  Still, there is much useful information in Presley, but it needs to be carefully sifted.

A lovely little book is a reprint of an early twentieth-century edition entitled The Reed Organ: It’s Construction and Desgin, by H.F. Milne.  It is a thorough guide to constructing a reed organ or harmonium.  It has lovely diagrams that help any novice to come to an understanding of American reed organs or harmoniums.  As an aside, it should be noted that the American reed organ is an instrument that works on suction, whereas the harmonium is a pressure instrument.  There is a useful trouble-shooting section.  Anyone interested in working on either a reed organ or harmonium should read this book through carefully and pay close attending to the diagrams.  The only problem I have with the book is that Milne describes the two types of instruments in parallel throughout, and sometimes he is not clear as to which organ he is referring.

James Tyler, aka "The Reed Organ Man" has written a nice little treatise entitled The Aunt Maude Series, a compendium of a serialized set of articles on how to restore a reed organ.  It is readily available on the Reed Organ Society webpage.  Tyler has a CD available as well, entiled Aunt Maude Revisted, which we have on order, with photographs and more detailed directions. 

And while I am mentioning the Reed Organ Society, I should direct you to their website, which is worth exploring.  It has a registry of reed organs, some interesting historical information, some good photos, and a few articles from their periodical.  As of this writing it is offline due to technical difficulties but we are assured it will be up and running again soon.  Another useful website is Frans van der Grijn’s, which is the most extensive website devoted to the harmonium and reed organ.  There is also a very good online Yahoo forum where restorers can ask questions and share tips.  I highly recommend Rodney Jantzi’s website and YouTube channel.  Rodney is a Canadian organist and restorer, and one really nice guy.  He has fully documented his several restoration projects in photo-journal format and these are really helpful for the novice.  I have exchanged a couple of emails with him as well and he has been really helpful.  He has many videos online, most of which are him playing his various restored reed organs, and he is one superb musician.  He also has a wonderful five-part series entitled “Reeding 101” which introduces the reed organ and offers some pointers in playing technique. I also commend to you a neat two-part video by Artis Wodehouse explaining how the stops work on her lovely Mason and Hamlin Liszt organ.

There are many resources out there, in libraries and on the web.  If you are interested in reed organs, I encourage you to start with the Reed Organ Society, which has a page of links (although not all of them are current or active), and take a look at the many videos on YouTube.  Spend some time looking at photos and watching videos and you will see what a wonderful instrument the reed organ is and what a shame it is that so many have been relegated to the attic, or worse, dismantled and turned into desks or shelves and other forms of gaudy furniture. 

Next: Some photos before the dismantle!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Restoring a Reed Organ - Part 2: Identification

Restoring a Reed Organ – Part 2: Identifying the Instrument
As I mentioned in Part 1, when Bill Bartram showed me the Mason and Hamlin reed organ now in our possession, and offered it to me, I knew less than next to nothing about reed organs.  I didn’t even know enough to photograph it properly to begin to research it.  I took a couple of photographs with my blackberry, with its less than adequate camera, and began to do some research.  As the instrument is now at my dad’s, and I won’t be there until this weekend, these are the only photos I have at present.  I have since learned that it is imperative to photograph every step of the restoration, making note of where every part of the action, every screw, and every little part goes.  Many of the amateur restorers whose websites can easily be found have excellent photo-journals of their efforts. 

So, the first step was to find out something about the instrument and I set about that task with the few photos that I had. Now I may not know much about mechanical things, and I may only be a mediocre musician, but I am a professionally trained historian.  While I have not been able to date the instrument as of yet, as I don’t have the complete information in front of me for that, I began to use the information I had, went to the music library at the University of Toronto, consulted several handbooks (including the two very useful books by Gellerman), and looked at inventories, registries and vintage catalogues, online.  I have also received a bit of help from the friendly online community of reed organ restorers and enthusiasts. 

Mason and Hamlin name, with Mason Risch & Newcombe, below
From the information at hand, here is what I have gleaned.  The easy part: It is a Mason and Hamlin reed organ, the lettering above the stops identifies it as such.  Mason and Hamlin were one of the premier manufacturers of reed organs from the mid-nineteenth century onward.  They continue to manufacture very fine quality pianos.  The firm was founded in 1854 by Henry Mason and Emmons Hamlin. Henry Mason was the son of the great Lowell Mason, the esteemed nineteenth century American musical educator and church musician.  Lowell Mason arranged and harmonized many of the familiar traditional tunes used still used in modern hymnbooks.  The Canadian Anglican hymnal Common Praise has 8 tunes arranged by him (look them up!).  The interesting thing about this Mason and Hamlin organ, though, is that there is an additional name below the stops and above the keyboard: “Mason, Risch, and Newcombe, Toronto”  -presumably, a Canadian agent or distributor.  Indeed, a browse at the Canadian Encyclopedia entry for this firm reveals that they began business as an importer of instruments in 1871, which they seem to have done exclusively for the first six years until they began building pianos in 1877.  The third partner, Newcombe, left around that time.  As his name is on the imprint on this instrument, we might therefore postulate a possible date of 1871-1877.  It is of course possible, that instruments still carried his name after that date until stock was exhausted. 

Vienna Medal; note keyboard begins on "C"
Mason and Hamlin was known for showing off their accomplishments and many of their organs feature replicas of the medals won in international fairs.  Some of the later models have what seems like at least a dozen above or to the sides of the stops.  An Estey catalogue that can be viewed online seems to take a stab at other manufactures (like Mason and Hamlin) who proudly display such honours.  This particular organ has two medallions, one on the bass end reading Vienna 1873, the other at the treble end which reads Paris 1867.  Thus, the instrument can be no earlier than 1873 and must be dated to 1873 or later.  Combined with the information about Mason, Risch and Newcombe, this suggests a possible dating of c. 1873-1877.  The other factor in dating is that most of these organs have serial numbers.  According to Gellerman’s reed organ atlas, though, dating Mason and Hamlin organs from serial numbers can be a tricky business as they were often not assigned sequentially and are thus unreliable as the only evidence for a date.  I am not as yet familiar enough as to how numbering was assigned and where the numbers are to be found.  The inside of the back of the case has the number 5696 stamped in black, and the action has 9107 stamped in black.  There is a label on the inside bass side of the case that I was not able to get a good look at, but will examine more closely this weekend. I suspect a serial number might be found there.  Some restorers have noted that they have found dates and signatures on the keys after disassembly.  So we will keep our eyes open for such clues.

The one Mason and Hamlin catalogue I have seen online gives model numbers.  I am not sure whether these apply to the case alone or a combination of case and action features.  The Reed Organ Societydatabase has nearly 350 Mason and Hamlin reed organs registered in their directory and I have scrolled through them all. Although not all have photos attached to them, I have not seen this exact case amongst them. 

Other interesting features on first glance:

The Keyboard – the keyboard is a C to C keyboard.  Many reed organs are F to F.  I wondered why the difference.  I posted the question on one of the Reed Organ internet forums, and Casey Pratt, a very kind and knowledgeable expert shared that F – F keyboards were typically marketed for personal, parlour use. C – C keyboards were marketed to professional organists (and presumably institutions). The European harmoniums were C – C instruments whereas the earlier M&H melodiums were C-C. Perhaps they were trying to draw some kind of connection with these European instruments (for the sake of prestige?).   

Stops, some out of order, I think, and some missing.
The Stops - The first think I noticed was that the Vox Humana stop (which works a fan-like mechanism that creates a vibrato sound) had smaller “on” and “off” stops on each side.  Looking at many photos in books and online I found a few that were similar, but the majority of reed organs out there simply operate using a single Vox Humana stop.  I couldn’t find any explanation of this.  Once again the folks on the reed organ forum were helpful. The Vox stop on this organ is simply a “front” with no mechanism of its own.  The Vox Humana is actually operated by these “on” and “off” mini-stops.  I note that this seems to be a feature on several other Mason and Hamlin reed organs.  I wonder why this particular method to control the Vox Humana was used in some cases but not in others.  Another question for the experts, I suppose.

I am not sure how one is supposed to count the stops and whether the Vox Humana with on/off counts as 1 or 2 or 3.  In addition to the Vox Humana, there are 8 other stops, for on each side.  Many are completely disconnected and a few of the knobs are lost.  I think the existing ones may have just been set haphazardly into the holes just to keep them in place.  A wooden “plug” of some kind has been put in one of the stop holes.  These are the existing stop knob labels:

I Forte
II Forte
Sub bass
Octave Coupler

Knee levers and pedals.  Note the ornate keyhole.
Knee Levers and Pedals:  Looking at the pedals, the carpet is worn and clearly needs replacing.  There are two knee levers.  My understanding is that the lever on the left is used to open the stops to a “full organ” setting without having to manually pull stops.  The lever on the right is the swell.

The case itself has some lovely simple ornamentation on the side, and I very much like the placement of the candle platforms.  Dad tells me that the case is actually in pretty good shape although the finish is peeling quite badly in many places.  The only significant damage he sees is around the hinges that connect the top and back of the case.

Well, until I get to see in person this Sunday, that’s about all I can say.  More (and better!) photos to come. 

Next:  A list of the resources we will be using so that we can at least attempt to make a decent job of it and not butcher this lovely instrument!

Restoring a Reed Organ - Part 1: The Gift

We usually spend our summer holidays in Orrville, ON at my parents’ home on Duck Lake.  Summer days are spent sitting next to the water, catching up on reading, and by the occasional swim, walk, or visit with relatives.  This summer, a new diversion is about to be added; the restoration of a Mason and Hamlin reed organ.  Now, you may ask, what does the Canadian Churchman know about antique reed organs?  Well, I’m learning.  However, when I first saw this particular organ I knew less than next to nothing about them. 

This gem came to my attention during the March break this year when we visited our dear friends Bill Bartram and Janet Bartram-Thomas, at Dalighiri, their getaway home near Collingwood, ON.  Whenever we get together with Jan and Bill the days and evenings are filled with music.  Jan and Bill both play the piano, Jan plays the guitar, and they love to lead evenings of singing.  For many years they have hosted a carol sing at their home in Richmond Hill.   During other times of the year, such as Robbie Burns day, we gather for festive celebrations and the singing of folk songs.  Jan strongly believes, and I concur, that aside from Sunday mornings, we have lost sight of the joy of singing in community and celebrating the songs of our heritage.  It had been many years since I had been to Dalighiri, and so we got a tour of what Jan and Bill had done with the place since the last visit.  They also showed us two reed organs that had come into their possession since the death of Bill’s father.  Bill’s dad had acquired them some years ago.  After his death, they had been stored in a barn for a year or two. Bill subsequently rescued them and brought them to Dalighiri.  Both organs were single manual reed “pump” organs.

Not having much knowledge of reed organs I did not really know what I was looking at.  The larger of the two still made a sound when pumped, although the bellows droned quite mournfully underneath my attempt at “Alleluia, Sing to Jesus.”  At this point it was just a curiosity and I made no note of anything about the instrument, other than it was a bit of beast in terms of size, and that the handle on one side was broken off.  Jan asked me if I wanted it.  I was mightily tempted, but the size was a bit foreboding.  Bill then told me to take a look at the other one.  It was a lovely parlour-sized Mason and Hamlin organ, and had a much more elegant casing. Bill said that he remembered his dad playing it and that it had once made a lovely, pretty sound.  A couple of stop-knobs were missing and when pumped it made no sound, yet, I knew I wanted it.  Already, in the back of my head, I was wondering if I could fix it.

 I will understand if those of you who know the Churchman personally are laughing yourselves silly.  I am not the most mechanically inclined individual God put on this earth.  You would be very justified in asking, “how on earth is he going to manage this?”  Well, just because the Churchman has not a mechanical bone in his body that does not mean that there aren’t such genes somewhere in the family.  So I did the thing we all do when we find ourselves in over our heads, I called my dad.  Yes, the situation demanded it; it was time to call, “the father of the Father.” 

The Mason and Hamlin Reed Organ given to me by Jan & Bill
 My dad is a remarkable guy.  He has built a couple of houses, has built furniture, can wire a house, take apart and fix small machinery, and all kinds of other stuff I never know about until I see him doing it.  So, as I stood in front of this Mason and Hamlin reed organ, about which I knew nothing, or even if it could be brought back into playing condition, I was already formulating a plan.  I told them I would take it.  When I got home, I called my dad and asked him about what he thought of it as a summer project.  He was game.  So we arranged for a trailer and went to pick it up on July 9th.  It is now in his workshop.  I will be heading up north this weekend for a month and we will begin our work on it.  So there we are.  A priest with very mediocre playing skills and his mechanically gifted dad are taking on a new project.  We will keep you posted on how things progress!

Next:  identifying the instrument.