I love to purchase art that is working pieces of history. Around ten years ago I purchased a pump organ from our antique mecca, Snohomish, Washington. Shortly thereafter that I purchased Robert Gellerman’s fascinating “Reed Organ Atlas” which is a listing of an instrument that was ubiquitous in a time with no electricity. Played by pumping pedals attached to bellows, this instrument, also known as a pump organ, was a prized possession in early American homes and log cabins.
What is a Reed Organ?
Wikipedia coverage of the Reed Organ sez, “A reed organ, also called a parlor (or parlour) organ, pump organ, cabinet organ, cottage organ, is an organ that generates its sounds using free metal reeds. Smaller, cheaper and more portable than pipe organs, reed organs were widely used in smaller churches and in private homes in the 19th century, but their volume and tonal range are limited, and they were generally confined to one or two manuals, with pedal-boards being extremely rare.”
How does it work?
In the generation of its tones, a reed organ is similar to an accordion or concertina, but not in its installation, as an accordion is held in both hands whereas a reed organ is usually positioned on the floor in a wooden casing (which might make it mistakable for a piano at the very first glimpse).
Reed organs are operated either with pressure or with suction bellows. Pressure bellows permit a wider range to modify the volume, depending on if the pedaling of the bellows is faster or slower. In North America and the United Kingdom, a reed organ with pressure bellows is referred to as a harmonium, whereas in Europe, any reed organ is called a harmonium regardless of whether it has pressure or suction bellows. As reed organs with pressure bellows were more difficult to produce and therefore more expensive, North American and British reed organs and melodions generally use suction bellows and operate on vacuum.
Why have a Harmonium?
The bellows on my organ are mostly shot. I have hooked up an electric pump. With a pipe that comes in from the garage, the noise of the the pump is somewhat muffled. When I pump with my feet and try to play the keys, I really quickly see how hard it is. I suppose you could get used to it but it is a bit more than annoying.
So mostly this is a piece of art in the house that generates a lot of conversation. I have less than $500 into this piece of art and the cats really like it.