The Value of a Reed Organ


The question (in some form or another) "What is my reed organ worth" is one with which we have to deal most often. I hope you can appreciate that, without actually seeing and testing any instrument, there is no ready answer. Even photographs do not get us far, for an instrument that is striking to behold, yet unable to produce "musick" is not likely to stir the imagination (or pocket-book) of a musician, whilst it may well turn a furniture-freak into a well-spring of ready cash. Obviously, the reverse is true: some fine musical instruments exist in absolutely plain (and occasionally revolting) cases.

Nevertheless, there are a few guidelines that may be helpful.

  1. The organ that has "been in the family for generations" should stay there. Yes, little grand-son Johnny at the ripe old age of 9 may have no interest in it, but when he marries the church-organist 15 years on, what then? Therefore, document your instrument! Who bought it? When? What did they pay for it? How many times have they moved it? How many times has it been repaired? By whom? Are old pictures of it extant? (And so forth!) Little Johnny may appreciate this trivia when it comes *his* turn to ask, "what is this thing worth?"

  2. There just is *not* a large market for reed organs, anyway. They have not yet achieved the status of the British "Penny-black" postage stamp - and are not likely to. Reed organs take up too much room, are often found out of order, sometimes harbor vermin and/or moths, are difficult to move about, are considered hopelessly passe’ by most, and... Like I said, there just is NOT a large market for reed organs. I’m sorry, but there it is!

  3. The most common brand (marque) is that of Estey, who built more reed organs than anyone else. Consequently, there are still more Estey reed organs extant than any other brand, which tends to make them less valuable. Unless it is in an especially ornate case; is an especially old instrument; has one of the few "special" actions; or is in particularly good condition, most Estey’s can’t be given away. They should, therefore, be treasured for the family-piece they probably are, with the hope that future generations will come to prize them more than we do today.

  4. As with any antique, the older the better. Officially, antiques today must be at least 100 years old:  the bulk of reed organ production occurred from about 1895 to 1910, so most of the organs found today are "antiques" - or soon they may be. Melodeons and small cabinet organs from the period (roughly) 1850 to 1870 *are* antiques, and these, in good condition, are beginning to fetch prices more in line with what everyone thinks any antique should bring, but it is still the rare instrument that will garner more than a few hundred dollars, except when you find "just the right person" who "cannot live without it". Finding such folks is very difficult.

  5. Dating an instrument can be a problem, so some that really *are* antiques cannot be proved to be so. These will not fetch the same prices as those whose provenance can be documented.

  6. Insurance valuations are equally problematical: there is no such thing as "replacement value" for an item which cannot be bought at the nearest Furniture Mart or Music Store. Your insurance carrier will have to accept whatever value YOU place on the instrument, taking into account its age, its sentimental value, and so forth; and you will have to live with the premium that results.

  7. But, there *are* really RARE musical instruments of the reed organ variety which become available occasionally, and these are *eagerly* sought by collectors who will pay top dollar. Further communication is needed to determine if your organ is one of them.

     
    James B. Tyler
    959 S. Van Ness Avenue
    San Francisco, CA 94110

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Copyright by Jim Tyler. Last update to this page on Friday March 01, 2013