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W. Bell 1895 Reed Organ

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  • W. Bell 1895 Reed Organ

    I was blessed to have come across this organ advertised on Kijiji. The ad said that the organ was free, and had been put outside, literally on the curb! I messaged the seller, and went to take a look at it. It appeared to be in very good shape, so I called the local piano/organ movers that I use, and they were gracious enough to help me pick it up the same day! It got snowed on the one night it was outside, but otherwise was in pretty good condition.

    When I was looking at it in the snow, I took the back off, and saw that the action inside looked pretty clean. The woodworking on it is exceptional, the finish, attention to detail, and even the really tight fit of the back cover really surprised me. The whole instrument has very interesting flat head and domed screws of which I have not seen any of their like before. It wasn’t functional, but examining the mechanism, everything still appeared to be in pretty good shape. The plan is to completely restore it.

    The keyboard is celluloid with what appears to be maple, or another relatively light coloured wood. A few of the stop knobs have come off, and any assistance with what they might be would be appreciated! I think the middle one is the Vox Humana. The wood of the knobs appears to be ebony or another related very dark wood, and likely hand carved. To replace them, I plan to hand carve suitable replacements from small blocks of ebony or similar wood, with the labels carved into bone. The plan is to eventually replace all of the celluloid key tops with bone as well.

    The fabric on the pedals is very worn down to the adhesive used to attach them, so any recommendations on how to get something similar as a replacement would be appreciated!

    The fabric used for the grille screens is red, but clearly very faded with light and time. It appeared to be more of a crimson colour initially. I have discussed with my wife whether we should replace it with more crimson red, but she also suggested gold, which I like the idea of.

    Recently I had the chance to disassemble it to do some cleaning. I took the back cover off, which was hinged. The fit is so tight, it was necessary to use a chisel to get the back wood off. I plan to put an antique handle on it to ease future installations and removals. The top of the action was dusty, but otherwise quite clean. All of the hardware for the stops appeared to work, and the leather coverings inside the action appeared intact. I didn’t fully disassemble the action, but I will definitely do that soon. Even the paper of the Vox Humana appears to be in pretty good condition. The serial number on the case appears to be different than the serial number on the action, suggesting a transplant at some point in time (14869 for the case, 13076 for the action).

    I mostly just wanted to clean the internals and assess the state of the bellows, so I removed the 4 screws that attach the whole action at the sides, and slid the whole action out. Since there was no bottom on the unit, there was a fair amount of dirt in the bottom, not to mention some evidence of rodent inhabitation, and more than a few insects (especially spiders and moths). I cleaned all the dirty surfaces with some water with detergent, and it was looking and smelling much better! I think once everything is cleaned, sanded and refinished, I will put a solid wood bottom on, to prevent dirt from entering the bottom in the future.

    The bellows were actually still able to generate some vacuum, so I believe the inability of the organ to play is likely more related to the valves. The bellows seem to have been recovered at some point, because the fabric covering looks a lot newer than other parts of the organ. The leather valves on the front and back of the bellows still look pretty good, and still hold air quite well.

    There were also some modifications done to accommodate the attachment of a vacuum cleaner hose (see attached pictures), that I suspect also leak quite a bit of air. I will have to find a way to seal those up so that they are not leaky. Given that the modifications were done with particle board, I suspect they are not original!

    All together very pleased with the instrument! First I will disassemble again and clean more thoroughly inside and out, then I plan to heat/scrape off the old bellows cloth and leather valves and replace the bellows cloth with Haartz Twillfast JX, or something comparable (If I can find it locally), and replace the leather with leather ordered from Columbia leathers. I also plan to sand the finish off and refinish, any recommendations on what product to use to refinish would be appreciated. Thanks for reading through this long post!
    Last edited by myorgan; 06-10-2021, 03:07 PM. Reason: Correct Title at OP Request

    -Current Instruments: Allen Mos-2 225 RTC,1870's W. Bell Reed organ, 1890's Singer Chicago upright grand piano Former Instruments: Yamaha Electone E3R
    -Website: https://www.exercisesincatholicmythology.com

  • #2
    Here are a few more photos from the first disassembly.

    -Current Instruments: Allen Mos-2 225 RTC,1870's W. Bell Reed organ, 1890's Singer Chicago upright grand piano Former Instruments: Yamaha Electone E3R
    -Website: https://www.exercisesincatholicmythology.com

    Comment


    • #3
      Congratulations on a great save! I really like these styles, and they are voiced distinctively to what Bell is know for. Does this one have the side finials intact yet? I was looking for a reference for the one that I have, same style. https://www.rodneyjantzi.com/index.p...an-restoration

      The two serial numbers are common, it is very helpful to see that there is another one here that have that. I am starting to think that they serialized the actions separately from the cases.

      Once you have it fixed up, you will love it. I see it has a sub bass which is awesome for any reed organ.

      Rodney
      To play a reed organ or harmonium, it helps to disconnect your feet from your brain and connect them to your emotions.
      Most of all, be creative, make music and have fun...


      Website: http://www.rodneyjantzi.com/

      Comment


      • #4
        Thanks Rodney!

        Yes, it was a good save, and very happy with it! Thanks for your detailed documentation of your restoration, I will definitely refer to your website as I progress along. I believe the side finials are intact (not sure exactly what that means, but I’m guessing it is the decorative work on the side of the case). I’ll take some detailed photos of them for your reference next time I am there. Could you take some closer photos of the stops of your instrument so I can work out my missing stops, and use the graphics to reproduce the labels? If you wouldn’t mind letting me know what you used for bellows cloth, leather, and felt, that would be helpful too. Thanks! Looking forward to hearing how it sounds once I finish restoring it!

        -Current Instruments: Allen Mos-2 225 RTC,1870's W. Bell Reed organ, 1890's Singer Chicago upright grand piano Former Instruments: Yamaha Electone E3R
        -Website: https://www.exercisesincatholicmythology.com

        Comment


        • #5
          What a great find! And thanks for saving it. I just cannot imagine why some folk would want to throw something like that away... Anyhow as Rodney commented, you will love the sound of that old one. The work should be fairly straight forward if you can find the right materials - the will and enthusiasm certainly seems to be there so go for it!
          Nico
          "Don't make war, make music!" Hammonds, Lowreys, Yamaha's, Gulbransens, Baldwin, Technics, Johannus. Reed organs. Details on request...

          Comment


          • #6
            Thanks for the reply! Yes I’m very excited about it. I will go with my gut on the materials. Thinking about Rodney’s post, I’m guessing the finial is probably the piece of furniture that goes on top of the organ, which unfortunately was not included with my organ. Once I get the organ working, I will see about making a custom finial for it, based on the other decorations on the instrument. I’ll post back here on my progress.

            -Current Instruments: Allen Mos-2 225 RTC,1870's W. Bell Reed organ, 1890's Singer Chicago upright grand piano Former Instruments: Yamaha Electone E3R
            -Website: https://www.exercisesincatholicmythology.com

            Comment


            • #7
              The larger Bell organs are majestic instruments. I have a plain and simple one without a top. 17 stops which is ample. The sound of course is what makes any reed organ. If you like the music Rodney plays you will discover the riches that you have in your hands. If you have the organ apart you might as well redo the bellows and feeders. That is the heart (lungs) of the organ and ironically the part that seems to need attention first.
              Good luck and thanks again for sharing your experience.
              Nico
              "Don't make war, make music!" Hammonds, Lowreys, Yamaha's, Gulbransens, Baldwin, Technics, Johannus. Reed organs. Details on request...

              Comment


              • #8
                Congratulations on this exciting organ discovery! Thanks for sharing your story with us. I certainly share the feeling of anticipation about the possibilities for restoring your instrument. I look forward to updates on your progress.

                Let me know if you find you need some parts for your restoration. I live somewhat nearby in Calgary. I am slowly acquiring parts salvaged from reed organs that I am able to intercept on their way to the landfill. I don't have much in stock currently, and nothing from Bell organs. But I may acquire more over time. My understanding is Canadian organs typically sourced some parts like reeds, and possibly other action components, from American suppliers, sometimes from the same factory for different organ brands (e.g. Hammond Reed Company was a common supplier). I currently have a reed set from a 1890s? Uxbridge and an entire action from a 1910s Dominion piano case that I salvaged.

                You can read about my organs here:

                https://dohertyreedorgan.blogspot.co...tents.html?m=1

                Cheers,
                Dan
                Organ info can be found at this website.

                Comment


                • #9
                  Thanks for your post! I’m excited about this organ, but currently my digital organ is absorbing my spare time! Once it is up and running, then I will turn my attention to the pump organ. I’ll let you know if I’m in need of any parts! I’ll post my restoration progress here as I go.

                  -Current Instruments: Allen Mos-2 225 RTC,1870's W. Bell Reed organ, 1890's Singer Chicago upright grand piano Former Instruments: Yamaha Electone E3R
                  -Website: https://www.exercisesincatholicmythology.com

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Well, I've been hard at work on this organ, and I have a few things to report!

                    A friend of mine lent me the book "The American Reed Organ" by Robert F. Gellerman. A very useful book! Aside from the fascinating history, it has a lot of tips and tricks when it comes to restoring a reed organ.

                    I was trying to find a way to mount the action so I could work on it without it being in the case, and I thought I would try using 2 Allen HC12 speaker cabinets that I have. They are quite heavy, and just tall enough, so I thought I would try it. They worked very well! Saves me having to make or buy something!

                    I finally took the action apart, and started assessing what is needed. The reed pan had several large cracks, for which I took the book's advice, and have been adding successive coats of carpenter's glue. There are still some small holes, but it is coming along nicely. The reservoir fabric also has a few large holes, and the exhausters have holes where the leather is glued to the frame.

                    I examined the action, and looked at the reed organ society's database for W. Bell organs, and I think I have arrived at the correct stop list:

                    Viola
                    Diapason
                    Dulcet
                    Violetta
                    Sub Bass
                    Bass Coupler
                    Vox Humana
                    Forte
                    Echo
                    Celeste
                    Dulciana
                    Melodia

                    The plan is to order the missing stops from Steve's Piano Service, along with some other essential supplies.

                    One thing that is confusing me is what springs to order for the exhausters and reservoir. They definitely need to be replaced (one is broken in half!). The Gellerman book suggests a 6lb spring for each exhauster, and one 18 lb spring for each side of the reservoir. I'm pretty sure the reservoir springs are outward pressure, and I think the exhauster springs should be inward pressure (since they are flat when at rest). Steve's has a 20 lb outward spring, and 8 lb inward spring, would those be suitable? Thanks for any insight for those who have replaced theirs!

                    -Current Instruments: Allen Mos-2 225 RTC,1870's W. Bell Reed organ, 1890's Singer Chicago upright grand piano Former Instruments: Yamaha Electone E3R
                    -Website: https://www.exercisesincatholicmythology.com

                    Comment


                    • Larason2
                      Larason2 commented
                      Editing a comment
                      I will have to check it again. It is possible it is a treble coupler, if when the levers are pushed down, it activates a note an octave up when the pitman rod is pushed. I'll check it again next time I'm there! Thanks for the tip!

                    • Larason2
                      Larason2 commented
                      Editing a comment
                      It turns out you were right Michael, thanks for the save! When you push the coupler lever an octave down, it also pushes down the Pittman rod an octave up, so it is in fact a treble coupler! I was confused by the pitman rod also pushing it down an octave down. I think I'm ready to place the order for the replacement parts. I'll let you know how it turns out!

                    • myorgan
                      myorgan commented
                      Editing a comment
                      Glad you worked that out, Larason2. I've never seen a Bass Coupler without a companion Octave Coupler (usually two separate drawknobs).

                      Michael

                  • #11
                    Hello Larason,
                    I'm creating a timeline of Bell reed organ design changes over time. Your organ is one of the very few that I've encountered so far from the 1870s era. I'm wondering if you could add some photos here showing the Bell logo above the keyboard (with good lighting and detail), as well as the close-up of the pedals. This would be very valuable for this timeline.

                    You are welcome to view my progress so far at this link:

                    https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets...it?usp=sharing

                    Cheers,
                    Dan

                    Organ info can be found at this website.

                    Comment


                    • Larason2
                      Larason2 commented
                      Editing a comment
                      Another comment. I tried to upload my organ to the Reed Organ Database but it didn't work. Do you know what the trick is to getting them to accept it? Thanks!

                    • Larason2
                      Larason2 commented
                      Editing a comment
                      It may be that the manufacture date was misremembered as 1895 instead of 1875.

                    • DiapasonDan
                      DiapasonDan commented
                      Editing a comment
                      The ROS database entries are reviewed before being posted to public viewing to help ensure accuracy. The review process has been backlogged for several months. However, to my understanding the database is being modified to accommodate more volunteers to help process the backlog. Your entry is saved there, it will be processed at some point, though it may take a few weeks or months until the backlog is cleared.

                  • #12
                    Hi Dan,

                    I would be happy to, thanks for sharing. Please find the photos attached. That's interesting. Based on your sequence, you're right - my instrument appears to be from the 1870's, not the 1890's. I've been working on it without posting any updates, so I should probably post some!

                    The organ had work done on it at least once in the past, and unfortunately, much of the original felt was replaced with more modern stuff, and glued with synthetic glue, so it has been a challenge to get it off! I'll post a few more pictures after this post.

                    -Current Instruments: Allen Mos-2 225 RTC,1870's W. Bell Reed organ, 1890's Singer Chicago upright grand piano Former Instruments: Yamaha Electone E3R
                    -Website: https://www.exercisesincatholicmythology.com

                    Comment


                    • DiapasonDan
                      DiapasonDan commented
                      Editing a comment
                      Thanks so much, that is exactly what I needed!

                      I'm looking forward to reading your update below. That's unfortunate to hear that you have to deal with synthetic glue, I hope it's not too onerous of a job.

                    • Larason2
                      Larason2 commented
                      Editing a comment
                      Thanks! I’m leaving the bedding felt for now, but I’ll have to pull it apart if I’m getting ciphers from it! Thanks for letting me know about the ROS database. I’ll just have to wait! Now that I know that the rug is probably from the 1870’s, I’ll try to make a needlepoint replica of the pedal carpet instead of the rubber coverings I had planned. So a lot of work there too!

                  • #13

                    As promised, here is a bit of an update!

                    It survived the move well to Manitoba, and I have gotten to disassemble it. I found a few surprises along the way! One was that the lower speaker grilles had both been broken at some point, and have been repaired (but they did a pretty good job!). The cloth covering them was different from the cloth covering the upper grille. Also, they seemed to have some trouble gluing the fabric back on, as they used some fine finishing nails to help! The organ must have been refelted at some point, however there was no consistency with the felt used, and unfortunately, also the glue! Most of the red felt so far was glued on with hide glue, but I also found some more recent black and green felt (including all of the bedding felt!) glued on with something synthetic. The bedding felt is still in pretty good shape, so as long as there's no ciphers I just may leave it! The reeds are all in surprisingly good condition and quite clean, they must have been cleaned not too long ago. The cracks in the reed pan have now been thoroughly fixed with wood glue. I have the leather from Columbia organ leathers, but the rest of the parts from Steve’s haven’t yet arrived. They made it to Canada after 3 months, but they arrived to my old address! My brother is going to ship them out to me though, so they are not lost.

                    For felt, I went to out local fabric store and bought the red felt they had in two thicknesses. I know I should only use wool felt, but I have found it is quite tricky to find! I am waiting on some felt from Steve's, so before I go replacing with polyester felt, I'll compare the two and try to use only the wool felt if it will work! I have heard hide glue has trouble sticking to polyester, but it may still work with felt, as it has so much surface area. I'll do some tests before I use it, in any case.

                    On a whim, I called a local auto upholstery shop, and they said they had some upholstery cloth from a convertible they recovered some years ago. It wasn’t enough to recover the whole organ, but I’m glad I got my hands on some, and it was free! I looked for another source, but it is quite tricky to find around here. So I will wait until my rubber cloth from Steve's arrives.

                    Right now, the reed pan has all the felt cleaned off it except the bedding felt, and I have removed all the reeds (see picture attached). Since the reeds are so clean, i'm just going to clean them with mineral oil using a soft toothbrush and call it a day. I found an online source for music wire so I can repair/replace the pallet and mute springs as well (some of the pallet springs are quite loose, and two of the mute springs have broken). I found the wire used in my organ was 14 and 19 gauge. I ordered some shellac, (extra blonde and an amber one), and I have the mineral spirits and sandpaper needed for refinishing the cabinet. For the black paint on the grilles and other details, I had the local home depot mix up some black interior paint in eggshell. I'm going to sand off the rest of the black paint that is stuck on with very fine sandpaper (most of it has flaked off), then paint a single layer of this, to try to get it as close to original as possible. I'll start with refinishing the cabinet once I get it all disassembled. Lots of work to do there!

                    -Current Instruments: Allen Mos-2 225 RTC,1870's W. Bell Reed organ, 1890's Singer Chicago upright grand piano Former Instruments: Yamaha Electone E3R
                    -Website: https://www.exercisesincatholicmythology.com

                    Comment


                    • myorgan
                      myorgan commented
                      Editing a comment
                      Sounds like it is a good bit of work for you, but at least you have the skills well in hand to complete the job. Please keep us posted (with photos), as I know you will!

                      Thank you for the update.

                      Michael

                    • DiapasonDan
                      DiapasonDan commented
                      Editing a comment
                      Thanks for that update, please do send more as your work progresses.

                  • #14
                    I have another question related to my reed organ research and documentation work. I've been collecting measurements and photos of reeds from different Canadian organ makers over time. The idea is to better understand which reeds are compatible to be interchanged between different organ makers, with the goal to help supply missing reeds for restoration projects from my spare supply -- and to attempt to piece together some history about which reed makers supplied which organ makers over time.

                    Here is my progress so far on this work. It's perhaps a bit ambitious, given how many different types of reeds were made for the many different organ makers, but at least for now I'm having fun with it, lol.

                    https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets...it?usp=sharing

                    If you happen to have a micrometer handy, let me know the dimensions of your reeds so that I can add them to the spreadsheet. Also send a close-up photo showing the rivet design, which I'm using to help identify them. I only need width and thickness, since length varies. Measure both the tip and tail of the reeds, as shown in the diagram in the spreadsheet, as there can be some variance.




                    Organ info can be found at this website.

                    Comment


                    • #15
                      I do have a vernier caliper, and I’m currently cleaning all the reeds, so maybe I’ll be able to contribute!

                      -Current Instruments: Allen Mos-2 225 RTC,1870's W. Bell Reed organ, 1890's Singer Chicago upright grand piano Former Instruments: Yamaha Electone E3R
                      -Website: https://www.exercisesincatholicmythology.com

                      Comment

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