My old Beckwith pump organ belonged to my late Great-Aunt Lydia Rhoda of Milo, Maine. Born in 1883 and never married, she taught school and was active in the Baptist Church and the Grange. The Beckwith Organ & Piano Co. was set up by the mail-order giant Sears & Roebuck, from whose catalog Auntie bought it. She never played it, though, and it spent decades in the dusty shed chamber of the barn, where I played it in my youth. She gave it to me because I took interest in it. Two foot pedals (obscured in this photo by the stool – sorry!) pump air to sound the reeds.
Free reed pump organs were first developed in Europe in the late 1700s/early 1800s, but the concept goes back thousands of years to East Asian mouth organs including the Chinese sheng. The development of the keyboard itself is much older, with the earliest known precursor, the hydraulis pipe organ, dating to the 3rd century B.C.E.
I am indebted to Auntie and to those who helped restore this pump organ!
A few links:
- Here is the listing for this instrument from the 1904 Beckwith catalog. $32.50 when new!
- The History of the Reed Pump Organ by Kimbrell & Sons Antique Player Piano and Pump Organ Restorations, with an emphasis on American organs
- History of the Reed Organ by Louis Huivenaar, with a larger European view and great links for further info
- The Reed Organ Society