update: 4-04-2010


These 2 newspaper articles are from 1969, and recently discussed at one of the mailinglists featuring the reed organ.


Article 1:

"The Melodeon, an heirloom"
by mr. Carl Closs. 1969

Article 2:

"Repairing melodeons"
by mr. Carl Closs. 1969

Article 3:

Rebuttal by Jim Tyler, restorer. 2010





The text these 2 articles you are about to read below, is considered to be full of misinformation. The late mr. Closs was - despite his enthousiasm - most defenitely NOT a skilled restorer. Most of his solutions mentioned in his text are not in the interest of the instrument in both historical and musical perspective.

I have asked a well known restorer to comment on the article.

Nevertheless: His way of promoting was way before the ROS was founded. In this way it was well meant.

The reply or even a 'rebuttal' is printed below the original articles.




1969 (name of newspaper unknown) / Supplied by courtesy of Tommy Covington

The melodeon, in my estimation, is one of the most desirable as well as practical of all antiques. This fine old musical instrument is closely as­sociated with the cultural and social life of our 19th century ancestors and deserves a prominent place in the records of that era and in the collec­tions of the present and future.

Synonymous with the name, melodeon, I think of happy family gatherings, parties, singing bees and Christmas carols of the past. The melodeon is representative of a certain period of affluence and is associated with the better cultural progress of the family circle of the early and middle 19th century.

Considering the age of this instrument, I believe it to be a remarkably well engineered piece and the craftsmanship in the design of the cabinet and legs of most good melodeons is incomparable. The size and design of the average melodeon is such that its use in the average modern home is very practical from the standpoint of taste, appearance and actual use.
The tone of the melodeon cannot be rivaled for its soft and pleasing effect on the listener in this present day of Jive and Jitterbug. -,

My interest in melodeons came about this manner. Having once seen a melodeon, I could not rest until I owned one. About five years ago I saw my first one and having an extra supply of imagination I could visual­ize the fine instrument it once had been, in spite of years of abuse and neglect.

Scars, scratches and grime covered its fine rosewood cabinet, its cameo carved legs and ivory keys. Restora­tion seemed hopeless. The bellows were useless and the valves worthless.

On examination I discovered it be a genuine B. Schonninger (sic!). This firm made fine pianos in later years.

I decided to buy the instrument if possible and restore it at any expense.  After considerable correspondence and bargaining I purchased it, meanwhile deciding to attempt the restoration, myself. Without any previous ex­perience and aided and abetted by my wife I began the job. Two months later, working in my spare time the job was done. New finish, new bellows and valves and we now have an antique from which we derive more enjoyment and pleasure than any­thing we have ever experienced.

Everyone who has seen this melo­deon, has been thrilled by it. People, invariable mistake it for a type of spinet piano. My wife derives endless enjoyment playing it, and I in listening.

As a result of my experience and wanting to provide future entertain­ment for my spare time, I began to search for another melodeon.  After several months I located another in about the same condition as the first, except that the pedals and lyre were missing,
Meanwhile friend attempted to buy my original melodeon and natur­ally we did not wish to sell it. On hearing of my second purchase, a friend persuaded me to sell it to him in the rough condition. Knowing that it was useless without the pedals and lyre, I set about devising a method to apply a blower to this instrument, eliminating use of the pedals and making for greater speed and efficiency in playing. I succeeded in developing the idea and my friend immediately began the restorations of the melodeon and you might say electrification.

He now possesses an enviable and practical musical instrument that is a source of constant pride to him. I do not believe this type of restoration and modernizations is sacrilege, but I belie it is sacrilege to disembowel an honorable old melodeon in the process of making a spinet desk as so many people do.

These two melodeons spurred me onward until I have since had several of them and in addition have progressively collected and am now a small dealer in antiques of all kinds, realizing a satisfaction I have never known before.

My principal aim now is to compile all data possible on the melodeon and, write a history of this instrument for posterity. I will need a lot of help as there is no existing record covering it to my knowledge. Outside of the collector, it is surprising how few people know what a melodeon is.

Picture: Melodian (sic!) Rosewood, ca. ? refinished, 32 keys ( sic!), New bellows. Price $ 850.00

Shoninger Melodeon


Repairing Melodeons

- 1969, unknown newspaper. Supplied by courtesy of Tommy Covington

Organ reeds differ from melodeon reeds in that the tongue of the organ reeds leads underneath the reed frame (sic!), whereas the melodeon reeds extend lightly above the frame. The organ is a pressure instrument and the melodeon a vacuum instrument. This is not common knowledge as most people think of the melodeon as a type of organ.

The bellows were originally covered with leather or fabric coated with an airtight solution. The original material, after 75 or 100 years, obviously deteriorates. The material dry rots and cracks beyond any possibility of repair. The only thing to do is to replace the whole bellows.

First, remove the screws around the sounding board inside the case after which the entire keyboard and bellows box will be removable from the case. The unit as a whole should then be inverted on a large table and blocked up to take weight off the keys.

The next step is the careful re­moval of the old bellows material in such a manner that it can be used for an exact pattern. This is important. It is also necessary that in each step of the operation, care be taken to remember the manner in which orig­inal material was mounted in cor­ners and on outside turns.

When new material has been cut and ready to mount, use glue, heated in the can set in a pan of hot water for the adhesive. I use Franklin Hide Glue made by Franklin Glue Co., Columbus Ohio. This is obtainable in any hardware store, I believe.

Spread hot glue on both surfaces and start applying fabric, using No. 3 carpet lacks spaced closely together. The only problem will be the fitting in the corners, unless the pattern has been cut properly. This will complete part one. In the event the bottom board of bellows chamber has cracked as often happens, fill with hot glue and sawdust and glue a piece of the bel­lows fabric as wide as necessary, al­lowing one-half inch on each side, and an inch longer than crack.

Turning unit upright, you can lift volume control boards on rear of key­board and you will see, snugly arranged the reeds. If there is no reed remover attached to organ, a spike will do. One-eighth inch from end, after cutting tip off, file a notch that will fit over projecting pins on reed. Simply hook this gadget over reed and exert pull and reed will slide out. Be careful that you do not bend reed vibrator. This is delicate and will break of. Luckily, however, it is possible to have them refitted with new vibrators or you can get new reeds by writing your wants to Estey Organ Co., Brattleboro, Ver­mont, and sending old reed or advis­ing the octave and note you need.

With small brushes and vacuum cleaners hose clean holes thor­oughly. Soak reeds in a solution of hot washing soda and scrub carefully.

A rebuttal by Jim Tyler

Restorer of musical instruments.
All text and images: © Dr. James (Jim) Tyler 2010

Mr. Closs is right to say Melodeons are important links with the past and that they deserve preservation. However, this did not lead him to lodge the necessary inquiry into how to do the repairs correctly. Typically of a novice, he forged ahead in ignorance.

His notion that one prepares a cover for a reservoir by making a pattern is nonsense: this is NOT how it's done!

He does not even mention the hinge, which is the most important part of a wedge reservoir. These were almost always plain cow-hide, and are almost always found rotten: one CANNOT do a proper re-covering job without first replacing this hinge.

Then he applies his material with heated Franklin's glue, and admits the need for closely-placed tacks. He ignores the fact there were no tacks there before, so tacks should not be necessary, and they aren't. With hot hide glue (not Franklin) the glue "takes" quickly and tacks are not required.

The wrapper is always cut oversize, and excess is trimmed away after the glue has set. [Indeed, a wrapper is just a strip of rubber-cloth about an inch wider than necessary and of the correct length: it takes its final form after all the trimming is done]. This obviates the nonsense of cutting a pattern, which he admits often does not work well at the apexes. The place-and-trim technique automatically corrects for minor imperfections in the timbers, slight warpage and so forth and results in a neat and tidy job. There are usually tacks at the corners only: any job that requires more than 8 tacks is a bad one, and pity the next guy down the line who may have to recover the organ again -- all those bloody tacks have to be pulled out!

There is also no mention of the final seal, a long strip of material (leather is best) which covers the joint along the hinge.

Many melodeon builders used battens along the edges of the bellows-board: these were probably put in place simply to hold the cloth tight until the glue set up, but they left them in place: they give as nice neat "finish" to the product.

Here are some better examples of melodeon reservoirs correctly re-covered.

Berry & Thomson Melodeon

Mason & Hamlin Melodeon

Carthart Melodeon

Carthart Melodeon

Prince Melodeon

Prince Melodeon

Prince Melodeon

Prince Melodeon




James Tyler created a cd-rom featuring restoration of an Estey reed organ. Extremely detailed information in text and images.
By now you have seen above how this is done. It kind of resembles a comic strip. Each detail explained in words and pictures.

James (Jim) has his own web site to be founde HERE

In the top menu pull the stop "Aunt Maude" and study the information.
Anyone amongst us planning to restore your Aunt's reed organ should - yes this is an imperative sentence - purchase this disc and study it.
To avoid misunderstandings: Other brands of reed organs - not only an Estey - can be restored using this information.