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Arti-Facts: Melodeon
The Green County Historical Museum has among its musical instruments an antique Mason & Hamlin melodeon.

It was given to the museum in 2007 by Marian Phillips, formerly of Monroe, but now residing in Baldwin.

A melodeon is a small reed organ with a five- or six-octave keyboard, which is housed in a piano-like case. The melodeon was invented in 1846 by Jeremiah Carhart who was employed by the George Prince Music Company & store of Buffalo, N.Y.

His invention produced an instrument which had a softer, sweeter sound than the common English and early American organs and harmoniums. The softer tones of the melodeon were created by using a vacuum (suction bellows) rather than air pressure to sound the metal reeds. Beginning in the 1850s melodeons became popular and for many years their sales outpaced those of the piano. The melodeon's popularity was due in part to the fact that it was easier to play than a piano and was less expensive.

Another employee of the Prince Music Co., Emmons Hamlin, developed improvements to the melodeon, and in 1854 he became a founder of the firm of Mason & Hamlin in Boston.

Hamlin was an inventor and mechanic, while his business partner, Henry Mason, was a well-known hymn composer and musical educator. Hamlin had invented a method to voice organ reeds so that they would sound like a clarinet, violin or other musical instruments.

By the 1870s, Mason & Hamlin became the largest manufacturer of melodeons, employing close to 500 people and producing about 200 instruments a week.

The Mason & Hamlin Company has undergone numerous changes of ownership over the years, but it continues to make quality pianos. The melodeon shown here has two foot pedals and its case is made of pine with a rosewood veneer. It measures 37 inches wide, 19 inches deep and 29 inches high.