Mason & Hamlin
While working at the George Prince melodeon factory in Buffalo, Emmons Hamlin discovered a way to voice organ reeds to imitate other instruments such as the clarinet, violin, etc. Having perfected this method, Emmons Hamlin went into partnership with Henry Mason to form the partnership of “Mason & Hamlin” in 1854 (not to be confused with the “E. Mason” brand built by Jacob Doll in the 20th Century).
Mason & Hamlin started out with very limited capital, but their determination to only build the finest instruments possible met with almost instant success. Mason & Hamlin entered the field by building their “Organ Harmonium”, a reed-operated instrument with the rich ability to mimic several instruments of the orchestra based on Emmons Hamlin’s reed-voicing method. After the success of their “Organ Harmonium”, the firm produced an instrument called the “American Cabinet Organ”, an instrument that won the firm a world-wide reputation and highest possible honors anywhere it was exhibited. Mason & Hamlin enjoyed substantial success with their endeavors, and the firm quickly grew and expanded its product line of organs and melodeons.
Mason & Hamlin began manufacturing pianos in 1881. Like their organs, the Mason & Hamlin piano was an instant success and was deemed a superior instrument. Mason & Hamlin introduced several manufacturing innovations, including the patented “Screw-Stringer” mechanism and “Tensions Resonator” system which set their pianos apart from the competition.
Screw Stringer Mechanism: Patented in July, 1883, the “Screw Stringer” mechanism allowed Mason & Hamlin pianos “the phenomenal capacity to stay in tune“. Unlike conventional tuning pins that are horozintally driven into a wooden pin-block, the “Screw Stringer” system attached the wires to vertical “hooks” that are threaded through metal collars and supported by the iron harp. Since the tension of the strings is dependent on the stability of the cast-iron harp rather than a wooden pin-block, the tuning stability of the Mason & Hamlin Screw Stringer was substantially improved over conventional pianos. The firm claimed that a piano with their “Screw Stringer” system would reduce the need for tuning by 75 percent!
Although the “Screw Stinger” was a superior design, it was not widely successful in the marketplace. Piano tuners were slow to adapt to this unconventional design because they were afraid of what they did not understand. Because of industry pushback, Mason & Hamlin reluctantly discontinued the “Screw Stringer” design before 1900.
Note: We have restored a number of these rare Mason & Hamlin “Screw Stringer” pianos in our shop over the years and they are superior instruments. While some less experienced technicians may be apprehensive to tune a Mason & Hamlin Screw Stringer, these pianos are actually easier to tune than conventional pianos and they do seem to stay in tune forever!
Tension Resonator: Invented by Richard Gertz in 1900, the “Tension Resonator” (later known as a “Crown Retention System”) was designed to permanently preserve the “crown” of the soundboard, allowing the piano to retain the the original power and tone quality throughout it’s entire lifetime. The Mason & Hamlin “Tension Resonator” made it a preferred instrument for concert halls, studios and large universities. Mason & Hamlin was one of the few instruments which could endure constant use and abuse long-term without suffering tone loss.
Mason & Hamlin built their firm from the ground up, depending on their own success to generate capital for operations. For decades, the firm was able to achieve the delicate balance of building the perfect instrument while remaining profitable and financially solvent. Unfortunately, the firm began to find themselves in financially jeopardy shortly after the turn-of-the-century. In 1904, The Conover Cable Company had the opportunity to bail The Mason & Hamlin Piano Company out of bankruptcy in the amount of $100,000. As a part of the deal, the Conover-Cable Company obtained the Mason and Hamlin dealerships, and had access to some of the designs of Richard Gertz of Mason and Hamlin.
Mason & Hamlin continued to enjoy great success during the early 20th Century. Mason & Hamlin pianos were popular in concert halls, churches and universities where they endured harsh and constant use. Mason & Hamlin was absorbed into the giant Aeolian-American Corporation in 1930 due to the Great Depression. Aeolian continued to use “Mason & Hamlin” as it’s flagship model and Mason & Hamlin continued to be a superior instrument throughout the 20th Century.
Mason & Hamlin was sold a few subsequent times during the late 20th Century, and in 1996 the firm was sold to Gary and Kirk Burgett of PianoDisc. Mason & Hamlin instruments are once again being built as a superior instrument, reflecting the vision of the original founders more than 150 years ago.
INSTRUMENT CATALOGS & EPHEMERA
Can you find your instrument listed in these antique catalogs?
Mid 19th Century Illustrated Mason & Hamlin Organ Sales Catalog, Circa 1863
Early 20th Century Illustrated Mason & Hamlin Piano Sales Catalog, Circa 1906
Early 20th Century Illustrated Mason & Hamlin Piano Company Sales Catalog, Circa 1915
Mason & Hamlin Organ Ads
19th Century advertisements featuring the famous Mason & Hamlin organ line
Mason & Hamlin Piano Ads
Mason & Hamlin advertisements showcasing their line of pianos
Early 20th Century Illustrated Mason & Hamlin Piano Company Sales Catalog, Circa 1929
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