by Kristine Schmucker, HCHM Curator
What is your favorite object at HCHM?
We asked this question of HCHM’s volunteers, board members and staff. The result is a fun exhibit, Stuff We Love, that includes a wide variety of objects.
Board member Jane Hershberger, enjoys music, so she chose the Gem Concert Roller Organ.
“Music is important to me. It is interesting to me to see how the way we listen to music has changed over the years —from listening to instruments like the roller organ to CDs.”
The roller organ illustrates a unique history. In the late 1800s, as the way people worked changed, so did their leisure time. The new middle class had more free time, more income, and a desire for the finer things.
The Autophone Co., Ithaca, New York began producing hand-cranked roller reed organs in 1885. While the early models had exposed bellows, vacuum-operated models were soon developed and became quite popular.
The most popular was the Gem Roller Organ and beginning in 1902 it was available through the Sears Roebuck & Co. Catalog for $3.25 and included 3 rollers. Additional mass-produced 20-note rollers were also sold for as little as 18 cents. Over 1200 titles were available. The Gem Roller Organs remained popular through the 1920s.
Our Gem Roller Organ was used in the home of Carl P. and Emma Theander and donated to the museum in the early 1980s. The organ can still produce beautiful music.