PUMP ORGANS "Mini-FAQs"
By James B. Tyler (Reed Organ Society Inc.)
Several million were built in the USA and Canada, commencing around 1850 and on into the middle of this century. Greatest production occurred 1885-1900; advent of the talking machine and player piano quickly put the Reed Organ builders out of business after 1920 or so. The last true suction reed organs were produced (by Estey) in the 1950s.
Reed organs came in a bewildering variety of styles and qualities. Although the preponderance of those built were single keyboard with 2 or 2-1/2 "sets" of reeds, many larger instruments were built, up to 3 manuals plus pedals. Some had elaborate fake-pipe "tops" to make them look sorta like pipe organs.
Q. Can they be restored to make decent music?
Usually. Instruments which have not been wet or attacked by mice or insects are easiest. The simpler instruments are good projects for the home restorer. Guidance *is* available - read on. For more details, see our Repair section on this website.
Q. Are they worth saving?
Definitely yes. They will never be built again, so the existing "stock" is all there is. Here is an article with some hints to get some idea about the value of the reed organ.
Q. Are parts available?
New parts in general are not; items needed for restoration, such as felt, rubber-cloth, leather and so forth are. Missing bits and pieces generally have to be fabricated. Reeds can be had, if one looks long enough.
Q. What should I look for when considering a purchase?
Condition, condition, condition! An instrument that plays, that has been cared-for and is not obviously damaged is usually a better buy than a wreck that was stored in a leaky barn. If you plan to use the instrument to make music (as opposed to just a bit of period decor) you may want to look for a an instrument with more resources than the usual "garden variety" one.
Q. Is there a right way or a wrong way to approach repair or restoration?
Of course! As with anything else, it helps to know what you are doing. The higher the quality of the instrument, the higher the level of workmanship required in bringing it back to life. A willingness to use hot glue is a must!
Q. Should I refinish it?
Not unless the original is beyond hope. The most common finish (varnish) can usually be cleaned and made presentable. Some evidence of age is acceptable on any old instrument. (Or old collector, for that matter)!
Q. Does anyone collect these things?
Yes, Reed Organs are "collectible". They take up a good deal of space, and a *lot* of time. As with other antiques, they tend to "grow on you".
Q. What is the one I have worth?
Whatever you can get for it! There is *not* a large market. Simple "ordinary" instruments in decent condition usually go for 50-200 bucks; better, larger, or fancier ones command higher prices. Instruments that are rare can fetch unusually high prices, but (being rare) there aren't many of these around.
Q. What will it be worth after I restore it?
Less than you would like, and almost surely not even "what you have in it" in time, if you value your time at "going rates". Overhauling reed organs is, for the most part, a labor of love. No price can be put on "sentiment": the organ that's "been in the family for generations" should stay there!
Q. Where can I learn more?
The Reed Organ Society, an international organization, is happy to have new members and publishes the Reed Organ Society Quarterly four times a year. Membership information available here or upon request.
There are a few museums around the world that have viewable collections. The ROS maintains a database of "extant" Reed Organs, which can be useful in helping to date some instruments. Registration of your organ is free and can be done by e-mail or by post.
© Copyright by Jim Tyler.