Music—and musical instruments—have played a significant role in human history and will likely continue to do so in the foreseeable future.
The oldest known musical instrument, a flute made from a hollow bone, was discovered in a cave in Germany and is estimated to be around 40,000 years old. This suggests that music has been a part of human culture for a very long time.
Throughout history, music has been used in various ways. In ancient civilizations, music was often used in religious ceremonies and rituals. It was also used as a form of entertainment, with musicians performing at events such as banquets and festivals. In some cultures, music was even used as a form of communication, with different songs and melodies being used to convey different meanings or messages.
This ethereal phenomenon features in everything from entertainment to relaxation, mood setting, therapy, exercise, work, spiritual rituals, and even as a form of communication. It is safe to say that music—and the instruments that create them, like pump organs—have always been part of us.
The musical instruments that create these sounds in our lives have been equally important to us.
For thousands of years, a wide range of musical instrument types have been featured in all kinds of settings, with each new instrument appearing in a specific period in history and being selected for use or tailored to match musical needs in particular scenarios.
For pump organs, that heyday was in the 19th and early 20th centuries, when it was often used in churches and other religious settings. It was also used in homes as a cheaper alternative to a traditional pipe organ.
Today, with the pump organ being replaced by newer instruments, they have become significantly less popular. However, the finest specimens from their prime—especially those items fully restored by experts—have evolved into collectibles and are now sought after by interested collectors.
Are you looking to add one of these bad boys to your collection of antiques? Whether you are after them for their unique musical sound or simply want one for the aesthetics, you are sure to have a wealth of options.
Similar to what you get with the most easily accessible antiques, you would also have access to a wide range of possible price points for your new antique pump organ.
However, for antique pump organs, the bulk of the items available on offer today, sit at the tail end of the price chart. With the deficient demand that exists for low-ticket pieces, these specimens typically retail for next to nothing.
What, then is the value of an antique pump organ?
The consensus by antique musical instrument experts is that you shouldn’t get your hopes up if you have an antique pump organ for sale. Most of the units that still exist today are worthless, and you would have difficulty finding someone or an organization who would pay for it or even accept it as a free gift.
If you find individuals who would take pieces in this category from you, you shouldn’t expect anything more than a few bucks in payment.
Due to the added decorative element, antique pump organs that sport superior aesthetic builds can often score much higher prices. Specimens in this category will typically retail anywhere from twenty bucks to a couple of hundred dollars.
The only pieces that can break this price mold are either pump organs with considerable historical significance or specimens that have been restored with superior craftsmanship. Here, you can expect notable price bumps.
Short History of Pump Organs
The pump organ, also known as a reed organ or harmonium, is a type of keyboard instrument that uses a system of reeds to produce sound. The pump organ has a long and exciting history stretching over 200 years.
The first known prototype of a pump organ was developed in the early 19th century by an organ builder named Christian Gottlieb Kratzenstein. Kratzenstein’s instrument used a system of reeds and bellows to produce sound, similar to how a harmonica works.
Editor’s Note: What is a Pump Organ
A pump organ, also known as a reed organ or harmonium, is a type of keyboard instrument that produces sound by using metal reeds to vibrate the air. These reeds are located in a series of tubes or reservoirs and are activated by the player pressing down on the keys of the keyboard.
The pump organ is similar to a pipe organ because it uses a series of pipes to produce sound, but it is smaller and less expensive to build and maintain. It is also portable, making it a popular choice for use in churches and other small venues.
One of the distinctive features of the pump organ is the use of bellows to blow air through the reeds and produce sound. The player pumps a set of pedals or a hand crank to operate the bellows, which provides a continuous flow of air. This allows the player to sustain notes and create a legato effect, similar to the action of a pipe organ.
The sound of the pump organ is produced by the vibration of the reeds, which are made of metal or wood. The reeds are tuned to specific pitches and are arranged in groups called “stops,” which the player can select using a series of knobs or buttons. This allows the player to create a variety of timbres and tonal colors by choosing different combinations of stops.
In the 1830s, an American inventor named Alexander Reid developed a more advanced pump organ that used a keyboard and pedals to operate the bellows. Reid’s instrument became known as the “harmonium,” and it quickly gained popularity in the United States and Europe.
The pump organ became especially popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries when it was often used in churches and other religious settings. It was also used in homes as a cheaper alternative to a traditional pipe organ.
In the 20th century, the pump organ began to decline in popularity as other keyboard instruments, such as the electronic organ and synthesizer, became more widely available.
However, the pump organ has continued to have a dedicated following among musicians and collectors. It remains a beloved and enduring instrument, with many enthusiasts around the world who appreciate its warm, rich sound and unique mechanism.
Are all Pump Organs Antique?
While pump organs have already had their heyday in the sun—and have been mostly phased out of use, there are still some active manufacturers left in one or two odd locations around the globe.
CBS News reports that manufacturers still produce and sell brand new pump organs/harmonium in India. However, with pump organs in India, the craze has never been about the elaborate, pedal-operated grand music machines that we are all so familiar with.
Even during the peak of the pump organ craze, the favored variants on the Indian subcontinent were smaller, hand-pumped harmoniums that were extremely portable and could be carried by players from place to place.
These unique pieces—which featured added microtone—are developed by local manufacturers to match their specific local need, a role which they still play to this day.
However, here in the United States, the days of new pump organ manufacture are certainly far gone, and most of the still-existing original producers have evolved into doing restoration jobs or have pivoted into another line of business.
Consequently, almost every pump organ you will find on the market today is pieces that are at least a hundred years old.
Hence, it is valid to assume that any pump organ you can find for sale today is an antique piece produced during the 19th or early 20th century.
Nevertheless, similar to what you would get in other categories of products, not all antiques are created equal. The value of each piece on the collector’s market today can vary significantly, depending on its precise age, design style, and the quality of its material construction.
Factors Affecting the Price of an Antique Pump Organ
While there is no hard and fast rule for determining the value of an antique pump organ, the following general guidelines can help assess any specimen and estimate a ballpark price range for it on the open market.
The price of an antique pump organ can be influenced by a variety of factors, including its age and rarity, condition, brand and manufacturer, style and design, size and functionality, and location and market demand.
Collectors and musicians should consider these factors when evaluating the value of an antique pump organ and be prepared to pay a higher price premium for instruments in the best condition, that have desirable features, and that are made by respected brands and manufacturers.
Let’s explore some of these main factors that can influence the price of an antique pump organ.
Age and Rarity
The most important ranking factors for most forms of antique items are their age and rarity, which is true too with antique organs.
Older instruments are generally more valuable, as they are more challenging to come by and tend to be in higher demand. The key here is to find pieces that were produced in the late 19th century, during the beginnings of the pump organ’s heyday.
Pump organs from this era can carry additional historical significance that can make them more sought after by collectors. A big plus if the machine you found still works.
Look at the date on the serial number plate or stamp: Some pump organs will have a serial number plate or stamp somewhere on the instrument that includes the date it was made.
If the manufacturer did not make it this easy, finding the production date of your antique pump organ can be significantly more problematic. A consequence of this situation is that some pieces that should be worth reasonable prices will never reach their full price potential due to the absence of a well-documented provenance.
One of the best tools we found for researching the history—and potential finding its production date—of an antique pump organ is this database created by the Reed Organ Society.
With this database, you can search up a particular organ type using its name, serial number, or other alphanumeric detail. However, the range of this database is considerably limited; hence, this tool will only be helpful with a small number of pump organ types.
Alternatively, you can request a free estimate from your local auction house, seek the advice of an experienced appraiser, or use an online appraiser tool like this one by Fountaine’s.
Similarly, instruments that are rare or unusual are often more valuable, as they may be harder to find and may have special features or characteristics that make them more desirable to collectors.
The condition of an antique pump organ is also a key factor in determining its price.
Generally, the demand—and consequently, the price—for antique pump organs is considerably low, and, in some spheres, it is non-existent. However, where this demand does exist, fully functional units will naturally rise to the top of the pile.
Well-preserved instruments that are in good working order are generally more valuable than those that are damaged or in need of repair. This is because collectors and musicians are often willing to pay a premium for instruments that are in good condition and can be played immediately.
Brand and Manufacturer
The brand and manufacturer of an antique pump organ can also affect its price. Some brands and manufacturers are more highly regarded than others, and their instruments tend to command higher prices. This is especially true for instruments that were made by well-known and respected manufacturers, such as Mason & Hamlin or Estey.
Style and Design
The style and design of an antique pump organ can also influence its price.
Antique organs with superior craftsmanship, elaborate, ornate decorations, complex metal detailing, and intricately hand-carved wood—especially those produced in Victorian style—can command a price premium due to their aesthetic superiority compared with pump organs that sport simpler, contemporary designs.
This distinct, old-fashioned look, when perfectly executed, can make the unit more adaptable for use as home or office decor.
Other factors in the design, such as the type and number of stops or pedals included in the frame may also help sway intending buyers.
Location and Market Demand
Localized demand is a critical factor when valuing big and bulky antiques like pump organs that are a pain to ship over long distances.
With the average prices of antique pump organs being so low, in many cases, even if you get a willing buyer in another state, the shipping cost may be several multiples of the potential finalized price, a situation that will deter many prospective buyers.
If you strangely have an aggregation of antique pump organ enthusiasts in your community, then you are lucky and should have an easier time selling your unit compared with other sellers across the country.
For Residents of Wabasha County, Minnesota, apparently, all you need is one man to make your region an antique pump organ hotspot.
One resident of Plainview, Ron Manzow, who taught third grade for decades before retiring, has collected 75 pipe organs, growing his collection to the point where he has to buy the house next door for extra storage.
Unfortunately, the other regions where antique pump organs are in relatively high demand are overseas. In New Zealand, there is a budding community of enthusiastic antique pump organ collectors, while in India, small pump organs are still being produced today.
Antique Pump Organ Market Value
If you are looking to get rich off that pump organ that was passed down to you from your great-grandfather and has been in the family for generations, the odds are stacked heavily against you.
The hard facts are that antique pump organs do not have a large enough demand to attract substantial prices.
In many places, the demand for these pieces are simply non-existent, and you would have a tough time finding a buyer willing to pay a considerable ransom for one—in some cases, you may even have a hard time finding someone willing to take one off you for free.
The experts agree.
On their page about valuing antique pump organs, the Reed Organ Society—one of the foremost bodies in the space—states:
“There just is not a large market for reed organs… They have not yet achieved the status of the British “Penny-black” postage stamp—and are not likely to (in the near future.) (Most) Reed organs take up too much room, are often found out of order, sometimes harbor vermin and/or moths, are difficult to move about, and are considered hopelessly ‘passe’ by most.”
The open market for pump organs agrees as well.
Scouring the price history for sold items on online bidding sites, we rarely found an antique pump organ that sold for north of a hundred bucks. The bulk of the items on display sold for only a few dollars, while most of the other listings we found were for unsold items that have remained unsold for extended periods.
Hence, it is safe to assume that the value for most antique pump organs on the open market today ranges between $100 and $0, with the bulk of items falling near the lower end of that scale. So, if you eventually sell your piece, you should not expect a maximum of a few bucks in payment.
In many cases, you may even have difficulty giving antique pump organs away for free.
However, exceptions exist to this rule.
In rare cases where your antique pump organ meets specific stringent requirements, it could be valued higher by collectors and warrant more sizable ransoms on the open market.
Particular rare specimens that fit this bill can typically retail for much higher prices, $200 – $500 range—or even higher with uncommonly exceptional offerings (This one for $5,000).
Two properties to look out for on your piece include:
- An incredibly ornate case: a piece with a cabinet that shows a rare level of superior craftsmanship may attract higher prices for the aesthetic of its wood.
- A detailed provenance record: instruments with a well-documented past tend to be more valuable than those without this addon. This property is especially noteworthy if the instrument’s provenance record shows that the specimen is particularly older than most on offer today.
If you believe your instrument scores highly on both counts, it might be worth having it valued by professionals.
Due to the dirt-low prices that antique pump organs typically retail for, the costs for valuing a unit may exceed its eventually finalized price, resulting in a loss. Hence, you want only to proceed if you are confident the specimen is worth this low risk-to-reward ratio.
Some of the best valuers you should consider for your antique pump organ include:
You can expect an appraisal of an antique pump organ to cost you between $10 and $50.
Samples of Antique Pump Organs and their Sold Prices
To give you a feel for how much antique pump organs can cost on the open market, here is a selection of finalized antique pump organ listings we found online.
- This rare piece was sold by an owner who has owned it for the past 40 years. Its major highlight is that the owner had proof of provenance, dating the specimen back to 1850. This robust history helped the piece sell for a massive $485, even though it wasn’t in perfect working condition and needed some restoration.
- This eye-catching specimen has one of the most striking cabinets you will find anywhere, complete with intricately carved and detailed rosewood. Its finalized price reflects its superior aesthetic quality, coming in at an impressive $272.
- While this piece isn’t the most aesthetically impressive you will find on the market, its decent good looks, and full functionality earned it a respectable $100 finalized price on the open market.
- Not all antique pump organs can attract demand on the open market, though. Even somewhat aesthetic specimens like this one can often only be given away for free. Here, the piece’s owner sold the unit for $1, basically giving it away to whoever wanted it.