These 2 newspaper articles are from 1969, and recently discussed at one of the mailinglists featuring the reed organ.
"The Melodeon, an heirloom"
Rebuttal by Jim Tyler, restorer. 2010
THE MELODEON, AN HEIRLOOM
By CARL CLOSS
1969 (name of newspaper unknown) / Supplied by courtesy of Tommy Covington
The melodeon, in my estimation, is one of the most desirable as well as practical of all antiques. This fine old musical instrument is closely associated with the cultural and social life of our 19th century ancestors and deserves a prominent place in the records of that era and in the collections of the present and future.
Synonymous with the name, melodeon, I think of happy family gatherings, parties, singing bees and Christmas carols of the past. The melodeon is representative of a certain period of affluence and is associated with the better cultural progress of the family circle of the early and middle 19th century.
Considering the age of this instrument, I believe it to be a remarkably well engineered piece and the craftsmanship in the design of the cabinet and legs of most good melodeons is incomparable. The size and design of the average melodeon is such that its use in the average modern home is very practical from the standpoint of taste, appearance and actual use.
My interest in melodeons came about this manner. Having once seen a melodeon, I could not rest until I owned one. About five years ago I saw my first one and having an extra supply of imagination I could visualize the fine instrument it once had been, in spite of years of abuse and neglect.
Scars, scratches and grime covered its fine rosewood cabinet, its cameo carved legs and ivory keys. Restoration seemed hopeless. The bellows were useless and the valves worthless.
On examination I discovered it be a genuine B. Schonninger (sic!). This firm made fine pianos in later years.
I decided to buy the instrument if possible and restore it at any expense. After considerable correspondence and bargaining I purchased it, meanwhile deciding to attempt the restoration, myself. Without any previous experience and aided and abetted by my wife I began the job. Two months later, working in my spare time the job was done. New finish, new bellows and valves and we now have an antique from which we derive more enjoyment and pleasure than anything we have ever experienced.
Everyone who has seen this melodeon, has been thrilled by it. People, invariable mistake it for a type of spinet piano. My wife derives endless enjoyment playing it, and I in listening.
As a result of my experience and wanting to provide future entertainment for my spare time, I began to search for another melodeon. After several months I located another in about the same condition as the first, except that the pedals and lyre were missing,
He now possesses an enviable and practical musical instrument that is a source of constant pride to him. I do not believe this type of restoration and modernizations is sacrilege, but I belie it is sacrilege to disembowel an honorable old melodeon in the process of making a spinet desk as so many people do.
These two melodeons spurred me onward until I have since had several of them and in addition have progressively collected and am now a small dealer in antiques of all kinds, realizing a satisfaction I have never known before.
My principal aim now is to compile all data possible on the melodeon and, write a history of this instrument for posterity. I will need a lot of help as there is no existing record covering it to my knowledge. Outside of the collector, it is surprising how few people know what a melodeon is.
Picture: Melodian (sic!) Rosewood, ca. ? refinished, 32 keys ( sic!), New bellows. Price $ 850.00
Organ reeds differ from melodeon reeds in that the tongue of the organ reeds leads underneath the reed frame (sic!), whereas the melodeon reeds extend lightly above the frame. The organ is a pressure instrument and the melodeon a vacuum instrument. This is not common knowledge as most people think of the melodeon as a type of organ.
First, remove the screws around the sounding board inside the case after which the entire keyboard and bellows box will be removable from the case. The unit as a whole should then be inverted on a large table and blocked up to take weight off the keys.
The next step is the careful removal of the old bellows material in such a manner that it can be used for an exact pattern. This is important. It is also necessary that in each step of the operation, care be taken to remember the manner in which original material was mounted in corners and on outside turns.
When new material has been cut and ready to mount, use glue, heated in the can set in a pan of hot water for the adhesive. I use Franklin Hide Glue made by Franklin Glue Co., Columbus Ohio. This is obtainable in any hardware store, I believe.
Spread hot glue on both surfaces and start applying fabric, using No. 3 carpet lacks spaced closely together. The only problem will be the fitting in the corners, unless the pattern has been cut properly. This will complete part one. In the event the bottom board of bellows chamber has cracked as often happens, fill with hot glue and sawdust and glue a piece of the bellows fabric as wide as necessary, allowing one-half inch on each side, and an inch longer than crack.
Turning unit upright, you can lift volume control boards on rear of keyboard and you will see, snugly arranged the reeds. If there is no reed remover attached to organ, a spike will do. One-eighth inch from end, after cutting tip off, file a notch that will fit over projecting pins on reed. Simply hook this gadget over reed and exert pull and reed will slide out. Be careful that you do not bend reed vibrator. This is delicate and will break of. Luckily, however, it is possible to have them refitted with new vibrators or you can get new reeds by writing your wants to Estey Organ Co., Brattleboro, Vermont, and sending old reed or advising the octave and note you need.
Mr. Closs is right to say Melodeons are important links with the past and that they deserve preservation. However, this did not lead him to lodge the necessary inquiry into how to do the repairs correctly. Typically of a novice, he forged ahead in ignorance.
His notion that one prepares a cover for a reservoir by making a pattern is nonsense: this is NOT how it's done!
He does not even mention the hinge, which is the most important part of a wedge reservoir. These were almost always plain cow-hide, and are almost always found rotten: one CANNOT do a proper re-covering job without first replacing this hinge.
Then he applies his material with heated Franklin's glue, and admits the need for closely-placed tacks. He ignores the fact there were no tacks there before, so tacks should not be necessary, and they aren't. With hot hide glue (not Franklin) the glue "takes" quickly and tacks are not required.
The wrapper is always cut oversize, and excess is trimmed away after the glue has set. [Indeed, a wrapper is just a strip of rubber-cloth about an inch wider than necessary and of the correct length: it takes its final form after all the trimming is done]. This obviates the nonsense of cutting a pattern, which he admits often does not work well at the apexes. The place-and-trim technique automatically corrects for minor imperfections in the timbers, slight warpage and so forth and results in a neat and tidy job. There are usually tacks at the corners only: any job that requires more than 8 tacks is a bad one, and pity the next guy down the line who may have to recover the organ again -- all those bloody tacks have to be pulled out!
There is also no mention of the final seal, a long strip of material (leather is best) which covers the joint along the hinge.
Many melodeon builders used battens along the edges of the bellows-board: these were probably put in place simply to hold the cloth tight until the glue set up, but they left them in place: they give as nice neat "finish" to the product.
Here are some better examples of melodeon reservoirs correctly re-covered.