Reed organ

BFA Number




Current Owner

Hanover Historical Society
More details



Black walnut Mason & Hamlin reed organ with pump operation. The underlying shape of the cabinet is an upright rectangular case, with the key well, pedals, and decorative elements projecting from the front.

The case top is composed of four boards arranged as three sides of a rectangle, leaving the front uncovered over the shelf space. An integral molding, with a quarter round squared into a cove, overhangs at the front and sides. The top is attached with screws, visible due to separation between the boards. Just below the top molding are applied molded dentils with a profile of a flat into a half round, ogee, and half round. There were a total of thirty dentils glued below the top molding, with several now missing.

The back of the upright case is in four sections. The top portion is a horizontal board, hinged and with wooden latches and knob, allowing access to the workings of the organ. The remaining three sections are slightly smaller framed horizontal panels. The case does not have a full bottom but has a horizontal rail on each side, supporting a wooden castor at each corner.

The sides of the main rear case are framed, with an overlapping panel or plaque. This panel is decorated with inscribed lines inset one inch from the edge, highlighted with gilding or gold paint. At the corners where the lines intersect are applied half sphere bosses painted black. The bosses may double as anchor points for nails. All bosses mentioned subsequently are of the same design and finish. There is an applied molding at the base of the case sides with a quarter round, over a three inch block.

Towards the front of the organ, the case sides extend to support the keyboard and define the area where the musician sits. The upper section of this extension, at and above the keyboard level, is composed of a cut board let into the side of the main case. This board supports the lantern rest at the top, and has applied moldings on the inside and outside. The inside moldings support five bosses each, with one missing on the right side. The outside moldings follow the shape of the lantern rest support at the top, and have arcaded details on the lower edge. The lantern rest itself is comprised of a circle with molded edges, in two halves, with carpeting covering the top. This circle rests on a rounded rectangle with molded edges, attached to the support board with small bracket moldings. There is an additional applied cylindrical column under the lantern rest. This column is missing on the right side.

The lower section of the front side extensions supports the keyboard from below with an applied coved bracket and a substantial fluted square column, accented by four bosses inside and outside. At the base of the organ is an applied cut bracket with an applied molding on the inside and outside, and two bosses on the front edge.

All applied moldings are attached with small nails and glue.

Above the key well, the organ has a recessed music stand, or music closet, flanked by small shelves. The shelves have a flat top edged with a quarter round molding, and a closed front. The front of each shelf has a rounded rectangular opening with cove molding, backed with metal mesh decorated with stylized floral designs in gold paint or gilt. The mesh on the right side is damaged. Also decorating the front of the shelves are inscribed lines inset from the edge and colored gold, forming a rectangle, with bosses where the lines intersect. The music closet has molded sides, a bottom rail with inset, inscribed lines and two bosses, and a valance at the top with inset inscribed lines and four bosses. The door for the music closet is decorated similarly with inscribed lines inset from the edge and bosses at the corners where the lines intersect. Unlike the usual half sphere bosses, the top two bosses on the door are full spheres to act as knobs. The door originally had a screw at each bottom corner attached to the sides of the recess, allowing it to swing down and possibly allowing for an adjustable incline to hold music sheets. Both screws are now missing and the left corner has broken.

Separating the top storage section from the keyboard section is a board edged with an inscribed Greek key pattern, painted gold or gilded. The organ has a roll top, not currently operable, to cover the name board and keyboard. The bottom edge of the door has a cove and half round molding; in the center of the underside is a recessed slot allowing the door to be rolled down.

The name board, the surface above and perpendicular to the keys, is painted black with representations of the face and reverse of six awards given to Mason & Hamlin organs in gold, three awards on each side of the name board (see the section on marks and detail photographs). Ten pulls, controlling the organ’s stops, are arranged in a line along the middle of the name board. The keyboard is composed of 36 white and 25 black keys. The white keys are a thin strip of white material, possibly an early plastic, glued onto a wooden key. The black keys are made of black colored wood, probably a stained or ebonized light colored wood rather than ebony, glued onto a lighter wood base. Below the keyboard is an extended waist into which the roll top locks. The lock is set in a round hole, with a triangular mechanism. The waist section, which is screwed in place, is decorated by two rounded rectangular cutouts with a coved edge, backed by metal mesh with gold geometric designs. Below these openings is an applied strip with an inscribed Greek key pattern, painted gold or gilded. The waist section ends with a roll and ogee molding.

The organ has two wooden knee stops, attached centrally below the keyboard section by metal brackets screwed to the body of the organ. The knee stops are L-shaped, with curved and molded edges. On the outside of each knee stop is a painted black circle with gold writing (see the section on marks). Below the knee stops is a horizontal rectangular panel, with inscribed lines inset one inch from the edge, highlighted with gilding or gold paint and bosses where the lines intersect. In the middle of this panel is an inscribed geometric and stylized floral design, colored gold. The organ’s two foot pedals are set into a large opening below the panel at an angle. A strap of webbing attached to the back of each pedal leads upwards to the workings of the organ. The pedals are covered in carpet panels, which are very worn. The panel and pedal opening are framed by cut moldings applied to the front of the case. To each side are three vertical boards, covered by vertical rectangular panels with inscribed lines inset one inch from the edge, highlighted with gilding or gold paint and bosses where the lines intersect.

The overall condition of the organ is fair, with missing dentils and bosses as noted, as well as loose joins in several areas. The varnish has visible drips, particularly on the top interior of the case sides. The circular portion of the lantern rests may not be original; contemporary drawings of this model of organ do not show the circular piece.

Object use

Household accessories

Object type

Musical instrument


Mason & Hamlin, melodeon, organ, and piano makers, 1854-present; Hamlin, Emmons, instrument manufacturer, 1822-1885; Mason, Henry, instrument manufacturer, 1831-1890

Basis of maker

The piece is marked with the manufacturer's name.

Place of origin

Boston, Massachusetts; Cambridge, Massachusetts

Basis of origin

The Mason & Hamlin company had a showroom in Boston and factory in Cambridge during the period this instrument was made.



Basis of date

The piece is marked with 1878 patent and award dates. Mason & Hamlin organs received their next major award in 1881, which was marked on later models.


Gothic Revival; Eastlake


Unidentified textile; Brass; Iron; Black walnut; American tulip poplar; Paint; Gilding; Celluloid; Hinge

Basis of materials

Textile accents and metal mesh are visible on the piece. The primary wood is a semi-ring porous hardwood, most likely black walnut as Mason & Hamlin advertised that their organs were made with black walnut. The secondary wood is a diffuse porous hardwood with small pores and greenish coloring consistent with American tulip poplar. Mason & Hamlin advertised their organs as being made using brass and iron for the interior workings. The gold markings and accents may be either gold paint or gilding. The white keys do not appear to be ivory and may be celluloid or another early plastic.

Attributes & techniques

Straight-front; Castors; Moldings; Turning; Gilding; Painting; Stenciling; Varnishing; Brackets; Escutcheons; Keyhole surrounds; Latches; Locks; Pulls; Knobs

Marks, signatures, inscriptions

Stamped on back panel of music sheet cubby near top: [9402] (see DAPC_2017-5003-011).

Stenciled in gold paint or gilding on bottom of music sheet cubby: [Style. 346. / No. 133346.] (see DAPC_2017-5003-010).

Chalk mark on inside of roll top: [2] (see DAPC_2017-5003-012).

Stenciled in gold paint or gilding above stops: [Mason & Hamlin.] (see DAPC_2017-5003-005).

Stenciled in gold paint or gilding to left of stops, below representations of medals: [PARIS 1878. SWEDEN 1878 PHILA. 1876] (see DAPC_2017-5003-006).

Stenciled in gold paint or gilding to right of stops, below representations of medals: [SANTIAGO. 1875 VIENNA 1873 PARIS 1867.] (see DAPC_2017-5003-007).

On stops left to right: [Forte / Dia.Mel.] [Viola / Dolce] [1 / Diapason] [2 / Viol] [Vox / Humana] [Seraphone] [2 / Flute] [1 / Melodia] [Voix / Celeste] [Forte / Vio.Fl.Ser] (see DAPC_2017-5003-005).

Graphite marks: straight lines angled inward towards center, to outside of each knee swell (see DAPC_2017-5003-013).

Stenciled in gold paint or gilding on outside of left knee stop: [PATENTED / Full Organ / JUNE 25, 1878.] (see DAPC_2017-5003-008).

Stenciled in gold paint or gilding on outside of right knee stop: [Knee Swell] (see DAPC_2017-5003-009).

Graphite mark on edge of secondary wood board, visible in gap to right of right knee swell: [484].


Height 55 in. (139.7 cm), Width of case 47.25 in. (120 cm), Width at candle rests 50.5 in. (128.3 cm), Depth 22.25 in. (56.5 cm)

Exhibition history

Displayed at the Steston House Museum and Research Room of the Hanover Historical Society.


Reed organ

Current owner

Hanover Historical Society

Owner's accession number



For reproduction requests or more information, contact the Hanover Historical Society through its website,


Photographed by the staff of the Boston Furniture Archive, July 2017.

Date digitized


Date modified


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