Self playing organs have been around for a long time, in many small churches barrel organs were the norm, as there were few parishioners able to play a keyboard. Pinned barrels were of the form used in the larger musical boxes. In the latter half of the 19th Century the paper music roll first made its appearance. M. Welte and Sons claim to have built the first organs and orchestrions using paper music rolls with pneumatic action in 1887. Reed organs were the earliest form of instrument using paper music rolls that were at all popular. This was probably due to the fact that suction wind was already being used to produce the sound, and the addition of a player mechanism was relatively easy to achieve. A large number of these instruments were produced up until the mid 1930s, with their perfection being reached in the Solo Orchestrelles of the Aeolian Co. 58, 65 and 116 note rolls were available for these instruments with all the best loved tunes in both UK and USA.
The following text is from the Web site http://www.themodist.com: In the 19th century the reed organ became as popular a domestic instrument as the piano. Reed organs were generally cheaper and more easily mass produced than pianos at least until the 1890s. Reed organ mechanisms are simpler than complicated piano actions: all that is required is essentially opening and closing the pathway to the reed. They are not touch sensitive like a piano. It is no surprise therefore that effective player organs appeared before player pianos. All that was needed was a simple mechanism to switch notes on and off. Player pianos required a far greater degree of finesse in order to give acceptable results.
A small scale roll was entirely sufficient since their musical scope would be extended by the various stop pitches available in the organ. For example Aeolian's 46 note scale was effectively producing music over an 82 note range. The 46 notes of standard 8ft reed stop pitch was supplemented by two further high octaves in the treble at 4ft and 2ft pitch and one octave in the bass at 16ft pitch. On the same basis the 58 note scale was effectively a 94 note range when stop pitches are taken into consideration.
Good orchestral music requires a good orchestrator. Good organ music similarly requires good stop registration. There is as much an art in effective orchestration as there is in registration. With the player organ the hands are free to register the instrument much more effectively than if the same instrument were played manually and very complicated effects are possible when combined with all the technical possibilities of a well programmed organ music roll.
Player organs are however now quite rare. They never achieved the popularity of player pianos. This was due to the popularity of the reed organ generally being on the wane by the turn of the 20th century and also the cost and size of the better quality instruments. Because of their general size they are sadly less collectable. Scarcity does not enhance the price - the market is much smaller and demand is very reduced. If instruments require repairs these are potentially much more than those for player pianos.
Whilst thousands of musical roll titles were originally available with these instruments, most of the rolls now encountered with instruments or for sale generally are of classical favourites. The reason for this is that such music was more often than not the taste of the majority of the highbrow wealthy owners of these players. Sadly, because of the relatively small number of playing instruments left there have only ever been a few very limited attemptds to make new music rolls.
A lot of rubbish has been written about player organs by player piano folk who probably don't even own one. To understand the instrument and its music you should have some small appreciation of the fact that the piano and the organ are two entirely different instruments whose only common characteristic is the keyboard. Their performance capabilities, historical repertoire and development are entirely different.
We summarise that on the larger instruments, in order to achieve a rapid action, high pressure vacuum was needed. This was the same as in the player pianos also available at the time. The organs were cheaper and easier to make. Player pianos had to have a very careful gradation of tone or they would sound ``mechanical'' whereas in the organ the pipes were either sounding or not - there is no other keyboard control.
Organettes are small mechanically played instruments with free reeds and were produced by several of the reed organ makers. They were typically used for Victorian home entertainment, as were the better known musical boxes. A lot of information about them is contained in a book by Kevin McElhone and published by the Musical Box Society of Great Britain .
We note that the 20 note, 5-1/2'' wide paper roll can be played on the English Automatic Seraphone, Seraphone, Celestina or Ariel. The 14 note rolls were also a common format, and would also play on a variety of instruments such as the Mechanical Orguinette as produced by the Aeolian Company.a
All these instruments are now extremely rare.
This was a small organette with 20 notes produced in England.
39 Blenheim Road, Upper Holloway, London.
Peter Black of 10 Chorlton Terrace, Upper Brook Street, Manchester built some roll playing organettes. This would have been close to the Spencer company. It is now referred to as Brunswick M13.
One such, referred to as an English Automatic Seraphone, was in the Saltaire collection. It has 20 reeds and crank powered suction. Sometimes referred to as English Seraphone Co. c.1890.
ROS DB entry 416
ROS DB entry 416 is an English Seraphone. This is a 20 note roll playing instrument which is hand cranked.
These are clearly very rare. This is the first I have seen advertised for sale in Nov'2017 with an asking price of £750.00. There are 23 music rolls plus several hymns on paper loops.
Made self playing pianos, so why not reed organs? See 22.
Cullum and Best of London produced Green's patent Orchestrophone which was a self playing reed organ. See entry for Imperial Organ and Piano Co. Ltd. in Chapter 22. Cullum and Best were later founders of the Imperial Piano and Organ Co., see Chapter 11.
Dewhurst of Birmingham produced the Orchestrone, a kind of organette.
Uploaded on 22 Dec 2009
Joseph Mark Draper and James Bartholomew Draper applied for a patent for the Orchestral Organette on 1/7/1882. It seems that from around 1887 J.M. was working alone.
Draper of Blackburn, Lancs. produced the Jubilee Organette, the English Organette and the Orchestral Organette, the latter with two ranks of reeds. They were made around 1898 and played 14 note perforated rolls.
The above photos are of a single rank English Organette. It measures 13'' x14-1/2'' x6-1/2''h. Draper also produced a plain Organette similar to the slightly more ``polished'' Jubilee model. This was presumably for Queen Victoria's jubilee in 1897.
There is a YouTube video of a 2-rank organette here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bfde7cuQQZ8.
John Henry Ebblewhite was at 24 High Street, Aldgate, London. Fritz Gellerman has the address as 4-5 High Street, Aldgate.
I've listed him in this section because the only instrument I know of is a ``harmoniflute'' hosted on the Squeezytunes Blog site. These were normally of French manufacture.
Made mechanical harmoniums and organettes at 29 Picadilly, London.
14 Holmes Road, Kentish Town, made self playing pianos and reed organs.
Malcolm and Co. of 116-8 Bayham Street, Camden Town, London NW (1893-5) and then of Erskine Road, Regent's Park, London NW produced a 61 note pneumatic action reed organ called the Phoneon c.1898. They also produced manual reed organs. Malcolm took over the rival firm of A. Maxfield in 1918. For more information about the Malcolm firm see Chapter 12.
Some more information is from the Web site http://www.themodist.com which says: The Phoneon was a 61 note player reed organ. It was essentially a regular American organ (i.e. suction operated instrument) to which a very basic player mechanism was fitted. Various models were made, though the one in the featured advert below is the most commonly encountered. The rolls are standard 6 per inch perforated and the spools are standard 65 note spools slightly shortened to the narrower scale width. The rolls were chromatically arranged but due to the non-standard width were non-compatible with other systems. The rolls were essentially the same as those sold for use on the related 61 note "Malcolm" push up piano player also sold through Murdoch and Co. and manufactured by the same company. Whilst the "Malcolm" player quicky vanished, the Phoneon did continue to be made for a good number of years and a 58-65 note example believed to date from the late teens or early 1920s is known to exist in a private collection.
[TBA] Advertised in Chesterfield Apr'2015. This is the same style as the one in the advertisement above.
[dimensions] 5'7''h x4'w x2'd.
61 keys with a CC-c''' range.
Stops: Re-Roll, Bass Coupler, Principal 4', Piano 4', Violina 2', Diapason 8', Echo 8', Bourdon 16', Forte, Vox Humana, Dulciana 8', Melodia 8', Vox Celesta 8', Dulcet 8', Cremona 8', Clarionet 16', Dolce ?, Flute 4', Treble Coupler, Motor
ROS DB entry 381
This is a roll playing organ by John Malcolm and Co. It is said to be from 1898, has a walnut case and 61 keys with a CC-c''' range. The stops are: Re-Roll, Bass Coupler, Principal 4', Echo 8', Diapason 8', Forte, Vox Humana, Melodia 8', Dulciana 8', Dulcet 8', Treble Coupler, Motor.
This last stop controls the speed of the roll being pumped through. As you draw it, it turns the hand of a small clock dial to indicate gradually increasing tempo. The rolls have a clock dial printed on them to indicate correct tempo, and the right hand sliding door of the spool-box has a circular aperture cut in it so that you can see this when the roll has wound on far enough.
An identical (perhaps the same) instrument bearing the serial number 1105 and dated from 1900 is in the Saltaire Museum.
e-Bay item *4508
A Phoneon eventually appeared on e-Bay in March 2010. It was advertised by a seller in London. The instrument needs a complete overhaul including repairs to the bellows, but is complete. As can be verified from detailing on the case, this is not the same instrument as above.
e-Bay item *8768
This one was advertised on e-Bay in Cardiff in May 2014.
There are three boxes of rolls, each containing approximately thirty individual rolls. These are a mixture of classical, light classical, parlour songs and dance tunes highly suited to the tone and age of the instrument. These are non standard 65 note 6'' music rolls, they are chromatically arranged but not compatible with other self playing instruments.
The Phoneon does play and you can pump rolls through it, but it would, of course, benefit from a complete sympathetic restoration. The casework is in generally good condition, but the back panel has sustained minor damage journeys. The workmanship is very nice throughout. It is estimated that there are probably between only 15 and 20 of this model still in existence.
from Rosalie and Milton Wainwright
Rosalie and Milton are in New Zealand and proprietors of the Woodville Organ museum. Milton is a regular contributor to the ROS Quarterly. In the 2011 Spring edition, he showed photos of a Phoneon recently acquired and being restored.
Dean Organs had a push up Phoneon player for sale described as probably made somewhere between 1898 and 1905, designed to play the ``Phoneon'' 61 note rolls and was intended to be used with a harmonium. It bears the serial number 185. In need of a full restoration.
[pictures from Richard Dean's Web site]
See section on reed organs 22.
St. Dunstan's Buildings, St. Dunstan's Hill, London EC.
Maxfield and Sons Ltd. of 326 Liverpool Road, London N (later 324-6) produced the Seraphon (but see English Seraphone above). There are patents from 1886. He invented the Celestina Organette in 1887 which was marketed by John G. Murdoch and Co. Ltd. 91-3 Farringdon Road, London, EC. Maxfield were well known makers of high quality automatic reed organs which could also be played using the keyboard, so were dubbed ``two instruments in one''. They were commissioned by appointment to the Prince and Princess of Wales (before 1900). The Munroe Organ Reed Co. was partly responsible for the production. Maxfield merged with John Malcolm in 1918.
We note that a Celestina is registered as DOS DB entry 0623 but there are few details. Here is a photo of one from which appeared at auction.
Photographs of a 20 note Improved Celestina Organette can be seen at http://www.photographersdirect.com/buyers/search.asp?search=organette. This is said to be an instrument from the 1890s.
A number of instruments are referred to as Seraphon II, c.1900. These were roll operated 20 reed organettes measuring 17'' x12-1/4'' x11-3/4''.
Mojons of Bartlett's Buildings, London EC. were musical box manufacturers who also made mechanical harmoniums and other instruments.
John Manger and Co. were awarded a bronze medal at the 1885 London Exhibition (entry 3,748) for novelties in manufacture of musical boxes.
The British arm of the Orchestrelle Co. was formed in September 1899 from the original firm of Geo. Whight and Co. This was a wholly owned subsidiary of the Aeolian Company in the USA, and registered in Garwood, New Jersey, but trading in the UK, the British Empire and other far off lands. The parent company tended to name its subsidiaries after the main instrument it was building at the time, and the name Orchestrelle was presumably chosen because this development of the Aeolian roll operated reed organ looked like being the company's main activity.
They built Aeolian Orchestrelle self playing reed organs from parts supplied from the USA as ``completely knocked down'' or CKD kits. Aeolian was an American company based in Aeolian, New Jersey, but also had registered premises in London. The Orchestrelle Co., originally at 225 Regent Street, London moved to Aeolian Hall, 135-7 New Bond Street when they merged. For more information see .
In 1911 they had a factory known as Benlow Works in Hayes, Middlesex which produced the updated Orchestrelle. This is shown in the following photo - it is now a Grade II listed building.
A series of photographs and descriptions of the Aeolian buildings and land can be found on the HayesMiddlesex.com Web site http://middx.net/photopost/showgallery.php/cat/842.
Aeolian, later to be known as the Orchestrelle Co. Ltd., was a large American company founded by W.B. Tremaine in 1878 and later managed by his son H.B. Tremaine who had absorbed several other producers including the Automated Paper Music Co. and the Munroe Organ Reed Co. They went on to also acquire the A.B. Chase, Farrand and Votey and Vocalion Organ Co. so they no longer had to buy in parts. E.S. Votey had invented the player piano and the Vocalion was considered to be the best reed organ poduced, so the future looked bright for a high quality self playing organ. The early history of the Mechanical Orguinette and Aeolian Company is told by Dave Kopp .
Aeolian produced the largest and the best self playing reed organs of their kind, the Orchestrelle and its variants with many unique functions and often pipes too. In fact after merging with the Skinner Organ Co. they continued making pipe organs. They also made Gregorian organs (Vocalions) and were associated with the Mechanical Orguinette Co. They also made the famous Pianola, perhaps the best known self playing piano.
The mechanism of the Pianola and Orchestrelle is described by Faust . He also notes that The tone in this instrument is produced by free reeds and each reed is provided with a pipe or qualifying tube or an acoustic cell, one of various forms and dimensions, through which the tone passes this tube or pipe and which determines the quality and character of tone and exercises a great influence on the sound produced by the vibrating tongue. It is this addition which gives the reed its fluty quality, as well as the resonance and power of tone.
Aeolian built many self playing pipe as well as reed organs. The Aeolian Co. Ltd. of Hayes built good quality instruments. This was the only organ firm in England which specialised in player organs and which had standardised music rolls for them. Some high class instruments had cases made in the factory of Grinling Gibbons, such as the one said to have been originally in Westminster Abbey . Later instruments had electro-pneumatic action.
We note that George Audsley was associated with the company at their start.
The British Piano Museum, 386 High Street, Brentford, Middx. TW8 0BD has historic instruments including almost every model from the Aeolian company, including their largest Orchestrelles.
A note on the music rolls used from http://www.themodist.com: Aeolian Grands and Orchestrelles play the same music rolls and scale. Unlike piano rolls, the organ 58-note rolls are arranged. The bottom 13 channels are generally reserved for single bass notes to simulate an organ pedal manual and the remaining two sections are divided into bass and treble divisions split at G#/A below middle C. There were several thousand titles produced. The majority were made in the USA, though there were several hundred produced by the UK branch of Aeolian. US production of new titles tailed off around 1913 and in the UK around 1918 although 58-note rolls were manufactured until the late 1920's.
Rolls were manufactured primarily by the manufacturer, Aeolian, who offered several thousand titles. The London branch of the company also offered a substantial number of additional titles not offered in the US or elsewhere. The London rolls all have serial numbers preceeded with the letter "L". A quantity of compatible organ rolls were also manufactured by the London based Perforated Paper Music Company under their Imperial brand. In the USA a small handful of companies made compatible music also.
Aeolian models were as follows:
Much more information about the Aeolian Company and the instruments they produced is preserved on the Mechanical Music Digest Web site http://mmd.foxtail.com/Tech/AeoW/index.html.
Richard Vance's Orchestrelle Model W
The late Richard Vance, in 2003, restored an English built 1912 Model "W" Orchestrelle and documented every stage photographically along the way. He also gave detailed explanations of every step. The information is preserved on the Mechanical Music Digest Web site http://mmd.foxtail.com/Tech/AeoW/index.html. Whilst internally slightly different to many models these guidance pages could be applied to the majority of earlier 58 note Orchestrelle models without any difficulty.
Pedal: Contra Bass Double Bass Bass: Treble: Muted Strings Muted Strings Aeolian Harp Aeolian Harp Viola Violin French Horn French Horn Orchestral Flute Orchestral Flute Flute Piccolo Oboe Oboe Trombone Trumpet
Electric Orchestrelle 3MP/17
Jason Fisher told me about the following advertisement from Musical Opinion Feb'1951.
FOR SALE, 3 manual and pedal Aeolian Orchestrelle Reed Organ, considerably enlarged, completely electric action, 33 N.F.I.C. stopkeys; 6 adjustable combination pistons; 17 separate sets reeds. Sacrifice £850 or near offer. Full particulars from Palmer, Yattenden Lodge, Horley, Surrey. I wonder what happened to this one?
Wm. Henry Tidder and Sons, as the business became known, worked at 228 Mile End Road, London from c.1895 to 1906 and had other related businesses, e.g. making steel reeds c.1896 and at other addresses. They started as seraphine, harmonium and concertina makers but later made American organs and portable harmoniums up to at least 1914. It is likely that Tidder was a concertina maker at least between 1884-1921, but who has ever seen one of his (labelled) instruments?
A small 3-octave portable harmonium came up for sale in Mar'2013 from a seller in North Yorkshire. Whilst in poor condition, the instrument was clearly of high quality with inlaid mahogany veneer woodwork. It was very similar to the photo above from Fritz Gellerman's data base, but in addition had 5 stops below the keyboard.
A number of small organettes or keyless reed organs have been built by Peter Trueman of Derby in recent years.
20 keyless organ 48/HT34
The first instrument shown, number 48/HT43 plays the standard 20 key English Book playing scale (as in fairground organs). It is unusual as Peter is the only builder in the world to produce book playing reed organs, most other reed organs use the 20 key roll playing scale. There are 9 double reeds on the melody, 8 single reeds on the accompaniment and 3 single bass reeds. Wind is produced by hand from a single double acting bellows
The following is a similar 26 note instrument instrument which plays Alderman 26 note music rolls as well as Raffin scale 20 note rolls.
This next one, serial number 90/HT75 was built in 1998. It is a 20 note instrument.
Information on Wallis can be found in Chapters 21.74 and 23.35.
Wallis were the London agents for the Auto Organ Co. who (not surprisingly) made the Auto Organ c.1900. It is thought that some were actually made in London.
Peter K. Watts of 14 Rock Hill, Chipping Norton, Oxford OX7 5BA was building organettes in the 1980s called the Cotswold Organette.
ROS DB entry 115
A roll playing organette is listed as entry 115 in the ROS DB. It is hand cranked and of modern construction.
M. Welte and Sons of Freiburg, Germany, made among others the Welte Philharmonic self playing pipe organ. Several were installed in London, e.g. at Steinway and Sons (the agents), Harrods and Maples. A very important one which has recently been restored was installed in Sir David Salomon's residence in Kent around 1912. They were built for playing concert music from 150 note paper rolls. The specification of Salomon's organ, the largest 3MP model 10 built, is given in NPOR, but does not appear to contain any free reed stops.
Another specification which was said to be the largest 2MP model of these instruments is given by Webb . His following description however is probably based on observations of a different instrument.
He says The Bassoon [not listed] is quite worthy of attention: in the two lowest octaves it is a free reed with wooden boots and short cylindrical cardboard tubes, the tone being very quaint and pastoral like, and of a quality the writer has not heard before in any organ. Unfortunately the stop is continued upwards in metal flue pipes and the peculiar quality is lost in the treble.
The Clarinette [possibly 16' on the Swell], which extends to fiddle G, merits description. It is a free reed with wooden boots and large scale cylindrical cardboard tubes open at the top, the tuning wires being brought through the body. The tone is not at all like the orchestral prototype, it is more brazen, and would be more correctly described as a schalmei or broad toned corno di bassetto; it is quite characteristic and forms a good solo stop a little on the brassy side.
Whight and Mann sold Excelsior sewing machines from 143 Holborn Bars, London. They were listed as manufacturers of sewing machines from 1862-77 and using this address from 1864-76. They became Geo. Whight and Co. 1878-88, when machines were imported. Previous to that the premises were used by John Camp Pin, a boot and shoe manufacturer.
George Whight imported and marketed the Victolian, Aeolian and other self playing instruments from the USA. He was therefore not a British manufacturer (?), but was influential in the reed organ trade and is given as an example of such importers. He had at first dealt in Wilcox and White imports. Around 1888 he was advertising the self playing Victolian organ from 225 Regent Street, London. It turns out that the Victolian was in fact the Aeolian ``Princess'' model. This was shortly before Wilcox and White began to make their own self playing Symphony organ, so clearly George Whight understood the market for these instruments.
Whight lived at 13 Wood Lane in Highgate, N. London. His business prospered as he concentrated on Aeolian organs and dropped the Wilcox and White franchise. His business was bought by the Orchestrelle Co. which manufactured the Aeolian in 1899, and they traded from the same address from 1899 onwards before moving to 135-7 New Bond Street, see Section 27.16. This must have been a lucrative opportunity for Whight who died in 1906 leaving the substantial fortune of £40,000.
There are photographs of a roll playing instrument with this name, but we have yet to find more details. It shows a rather large standing hand cranked instrument with a cupboard for the music rolls below.
The Cabinetto (or Musical Cabinetto) was a 25 note organette, played by large paper rolls 14'' wide, made by Geo. Whight and Co. London, patent 1879. It is quite a large instrument and is said to have an excellent loud tone, good examples therefore command a high price.
This advert is for a Musical Cabinetto - it also mentions sewing machines.
This one was advertised in Jan'2012.
This one advertised in USA in Nov'2014 with a walnut case carries the serial number 1058. Measurements are given as 17-1/2'' x13-1/2'' x12''h.