Reed organs

Reed organs. Keyboard instruments which produce sounds by means of vibrating metal tongues ('reeds'), one for each note. The vibration is caused by air forced into or out of a set of two bellows. Related instruments are accordions, bagpipes, concertinas, and mouth organs.

Reed organs

Reed organs. Keyboard instruments which produce sounds by means of vibrating metal tongues ('reeds'), one for each note. The vibration is caused by air forced into or out of a set of two bellows. Related instruments are accordions, bagpipes, concertinas, and mouth organs. All have a common ancestor in the ancient Chinese sheng or cheng, a mouth organ with bamboo pipes and freely vibrating reeds.

Although the 15th-to-17th-century regal was a type of reed organ, the modern instrument originated in France as the orgue expressif (1810). The first reed organs used the air compression principle, but the suction method, developed in France about 1835, was refined in the USA some 20 years later, and the 'American organ' became the dominant type in North America.

The small reed organs built in Canada about the middle of the 19th century were called melodeons or cottage organs; the larger models, introduced after 1860, were known as harmoniums, cabinet organs, parlour organs, and, popularly, pump organs.

Among the first melodeon builders in Canada were William Townsend (Toronto, late 1840s, Hamilton 1853-5), R.S. Williams (Toronto, mid-1850s), and probably Abner Brown (Montreal, fl 1848-74). The Montreal pipe-organ builder S.R. Warren and the Guelph, Ont, brothers William and Robert Bell were other pioneer reed organ makers. Their instruments commonly had keyboards of four or five octaves, two small horizontal bellows, and modest foot treadles to pump the bellows. Many came with detachable legs and thus were portable (early versions of the 'missionary' organ); others were larger and heavier, similar in style to the so-called square piano.

The American organ was built in Canada as early as 1865 by R.S. Williams and soon afterwards by W. Bell, D.W. Karn, and many other companies. It had enlarged, vertical bellows and was encased in a solid desk-style cabinet, with drawstops over the keyboard. Until the 1870s it remained fairly simple in design and was less than four feet in height.

By the late 1870s, however, demand had grown and competition among manufacturers was increasingly keen; in Ontario, companies such as Dominion (Bowmanville), Doherty (Clinton), and Thomas (Woodstock) entered into the production and assembling of reed organs. As a result, factories grew in size and number, though many were merely parts and assembly shops. While most were located in Ontario and in southern Quebec, a few could be found in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia and in Victoria, BC.

Equipment became more sophisticated and later instruments were built with more complex actions and elaborate case designs. Gradually the methods of voicing the reeds became less individual. Many such instruments resembled High Victorian furniture rather than organ consoles.

Cheaper, lighter, and requiring less maintenance than pianos, reed organs were at their most popular ca 1870-1910, and public demand was increased by highly exaggerated newspaper advertisements. Most models were intended for home use, though some were found in auditoriums. As early as the 1870s larger companies manufactured some two-manual models for church and orchestra use. In most instances these lacked foot pedals and required two operators - a player and someone to pump the handle located on one side of the instrument. Like single-manual reed organs, these had less individuality of sound than pianos or pipe organs.

During the height of their popularity, thousands of reed organs were produced each year. Several manufacturers also built pianos and in this period reed organs and pianos often looked much alike. Some of the larger companies established factories and agencies in England and Australia. The advent of other forms of music-making and entertainment (the player piano after 1901 and, later, the gramophone and radio) led to a decline in popularity, and by the 1930s even the larger builders had sold their businesses or switched to dealing exclusively in pianos and/or gramophones. Only Sherlock-Manning continued to build Doherty reed organs until the 1950s.

Fortunately, many individual instruments have survived and may be found in private homes and in museums such as Black Creek Pioneer Village, Toronto; the Brome County Historical Society, Knowlton, Que; the Bruce County Historical Museum, Southampton, Ont; the Fort Malden National Historic Park Museum, Amherstburg, Ont; the Ontario Pioneer Community Foundation, Kitchener, Ont; the Organery, a collection assembled by Jan van der Leest of Truro, NS (see Instrument collections); the Trent River Museum, Trent River, Ont; the Western Development museums in Yorkton and Saskatoon, Sask; and the Glenbow-Alberta Institute, Calgary.

Among experts on reed organs in Canada in the 1980s were William L. Keizer of Ottawa, Tim Classey of Toronto, and Jan van der Leest of Truro, NS.

List of Manufacturers A-L

Acadia Organ Co, Bridgetown, NS, fl 1878-82

C.W. & F.M. Andrus (Andrews?), Picton, Ont, fl 1857

Andrus Bros, London, Ont, ca 1859-74

Annapolis Organs, Annapolis, NS, fl 1880

John Bagnall &Co, Victoria, BC, 1863-85 (harmoniums by 1882)

Bell Organ and Piano Co (name changes), Guelph, Ont, 1864-1928

Daniel Bell Organ Co, Toronto, 1881-6

Berlin Organ Co, Berlin (Kitchener), Ont, fl 1880

G. Blatchford Organ Co, Galt, Ont, fl 1895; Elora, Ont, fl 1896

Abner Brown, Montreal, fl 1848-74

Canada Organ Co, London, Ont, ca 1865-?

Canada Organ Co, Toronto, 1875

Chute, Hall & Co, Yarmouth, NS, 1883-94

Compensating Pipe Organ Co, Toronto, fl 1900-10

Cornwall, Huntingdon, Que, before 1889-95 (see Pratte)

Cowley (or Conley?) Church Organ Co, Madoc, Ont, fl 1890

Dales & Dalton, Newmarket, Ont, fl 1870

R.H. Dalton, Toronto, 1869-82?

Darley and Robinson (see Dominion Organ and Piano Co)

W. Doherty & Co, Clinton, Ont, 1875-1920 (later owned by Sherlock-Manning Co)

Dominion Organ and Piano Co, Bowmanville, Ont, 1873-ca 1935

Eben-Ezer Organ Co, Clifford, Ont, 1935

Gates Organ and Piano Co, ca 1872-82 Malvern Square, NS; 1882-after 1885 Truro, NS

Goderich Organ Co, Goderich, Ont, fl 1890-1910

A.S. Hardy & Co, Guelph, Ont, fl 1874

John Jackson and Co, Guelph, Ont, fl 1872-3, 1880-3?

D.W. Karn Co, Woodstock, Ont, ca 1867-1924

J. & R. Kilgour, Hamilton, Ont, ca 1872-88 as dealers, 1888-99 as piano and organ company


McLeod, Wood & Co, Guelph, Ont, fl 1869-72; later R. McLeod & Co, London, Ont, fl 1874-5

Malhoit & Co, Simcoe, Ont, fl 1875

Charles Mee, Kingston, Ont, fl 1870

John M. Miller (later Miller & Karn and D.W. Karn), Woodstock, Ont, fl 1867

Mudge & Yarwood Manufacturing Co, Whitby, Ont, 1873-?

New Dominion Organ Co, Saint John, NB, fl 1875

William Norris, North York, Ont, fl 1867

Ontario Organ Co, Toronto, 1884

Oshawa Organ and Melodeon Manufacturing Co, 1871-3 (see Dominion Organ and Piano Co)

Pratte, Montreal, 1889-1926 (harmoniums built ca 1912)

Rappe & Co, Kingston, Ont, ca 1871-ca 1887

J. Reyner, Kingston, Ont, ca 1871-ca 1885

Sherlock-Manning Organ Co, London, Ont, later Clinton, Ont, 1902-78 (reed organs built 1902-1950s)

J. Slown, Owen Sound, Ont, fl 1871-89

David W. & Cornelius D. Smith, Brome, Que, 1875-?

Smith & Scribner, Chatham, Ont, fl 1864-5

Frank Stevenson, North York, Ont, fl 1867

Edward G. Thomas Organ Co, Woodstock, Ont, 1875-?

James Thornton & Co, Hamilton, Ont, fl 1871-89

Toronto Organ Co, Toronto, 1880

William Townsend, Toronto, fl late 1840s, Hamilton 1853-5

Uxbridge Organ Co, Uxbridge, Ont, fl 1872-1909

S.R. Warren and Son, Toronto, fl 1878-ca 1910

Elijah West, West Farnham, Que, fl 1860-75

Thomas W. White & Co, Hamilton, Ont, 1863-after 1869

R.S. Williams &Sons, Toronto, ca1854-ca 1952 (reed organs built in 19th century only)

Wilson & Co, Sherbrooke, Que

Wood, Powell & Co, Guelph, Ont, fl 1883-4

Woodstock Organ Factory, Woodstock, Ont, fl 1876 (see D.W. Karn)