Mason & Hamlin Pianos

Mason & Hamlin Pianos

By James Grebe

The fine name of Mason & Hamlin as a company began in 1854.  Since that time the name has perked up the ears and eyes of craftsmen of piano and organ construction. 

          Lowell Mason was called the “Father of music in America”.  He believed that music should be an integral part of the public school curriculum.  He was also a composer and is credited with the hymns like “Nearer My God To Thee” and My Faith Looks Up to Thee” and “From Greenland’s Icy Mountains”.  His son, Henry had the fate to meet Emmons Hamlin.  Emmons Hamlin is credited with the perfecting of voicing organ reeds to imitate their orchestral counter parts.  Together in 1854, they formed the Mason & Hamlin Company which began building organ harmoniums which developed into the “American Cabinet Organ” The author, in the late 1970’s owned a Mason & Hamlin reed organ which had been modernized with the addition of an electric blower.  In St. Louis I know of the location of a full 2 manual and 32 note pedal board Mason & Hamlin Reed Organ with a decorative display of organ pipes on top.  Sadly, it too, has been electrified.          In 1881, they began production of pianos along with the continued success of their reed organs.  The organs produced were so grand that Torakuso Yamaha, in Japan, copied the design and began a company of producing his own there.  That was the beginning of the Yamaha Company.  In the 1890, Lowell’s son, Henry Lowell Mason, joined the company and his chief task was to be the publicist for the company.  The next step was to hire Richard Gertz and Mason & Hamlin was about the soar.          Richard Gertz was born in Hanover Germany in 1865, the son of a concertmaster of the Hanover Orchestra.  At a young age, Richard became friends with Richard Wagner, Brahms, and Liszt who took a liking to the boy.  Richard’s father began selling pianos in 1873.  and introduced the American Steinway to Germany.  He also became the Bechstein and Bluthner dealer.          After a short time they also sold Mason & Hamlin Reed Organs.  The Gertz showrooms became the meeting place for all the leading musicians around the area.  The first imported Steinway sold went straight into Liszt’s teaching studio.  This instrument is still in possession of the Gertz family (1913).  While in school, Richard would take every opportunity to work in his gather’s workshop taking the larger grands, cutting them down in size and designing new scales for them and making sellable instruments.          During a visit from William Steinway to his fathers’ home, Richard was encouraged to come to America to visit the Steinway factory.  Richard did come in 1881 and, not only visited, but went to work at the Steinway factory for 2 years. He then left in 1893 and traveled to St. Louis and went to work for Bollman Brothers as head of their piano Department.  He traveled some for them thru the southern states and decided to go to work for Mason & Hamlin until 1886 when he returned to Hanover to his father for more education.          In 1888 he designed his own pianos to sell and in 1892, after taking over the business from his deceased father he began to experiment with adding iron rods across the inner frame to force the contraction of the frame and compressing and arching the soundboard.          In the spring of 1895 Richard was invited by Mason & Hamlin to draw up new scales for their pianos and were so impressed by his work that they placed him in charge of piano manufacturing.  Between 1900 –1905 he received patents for his “Centripetal Tension Resonator”.  In 1903 he was made secretary of Mason & Hamlin.  At the St. Louis World’s Fair, in 1904 he was the principal judge as the technical expert for the piano manufacturing competition where the Baldwin Piano Company won First Prize. In 1906 he was made president of Masson & Hamlin.          After these years Mason & Hamlin catered their advertising to the very well-to-do and became their status symbols for the “Yuppies” of their day.  Many of the Mason & Hamlin pianos are still found in fashionable homes in the Central West End of St. Louis and well –to- do homes in St. Louis County.  To those owners they referred not to their pianos but to their “Mason & Hamlin’s”.          As world conditions heated up, in preparations for World War I, Richard returned to Germany and after the war moved his family to South Africa and began the building of harpsichords.  His grandson, Wilhelm came to live in New Haven, CT and the name of the company is Wilhelm Gertz, Piano Makers.  Wilhelm died on March 7, 2007.          In 1924 Mason & Hamlin was taken over by the growing Aeolian Company who were in the process of buying up old, well-established piano companies when the heirs would let them go.  In the late 1920’s many of the Mason & Hamlins were fitted with Ampico Reproducing Mechanisms.  Around 1930 Aeolian combined with the American Piano Company and became Aeolian-American,.  Business continued until the 1980s and hard times bankrupted them  After a year, money was raised and they went back into limited operation and then failed again.  Today there is a New Mason & Hamlin Company, which seems to be flourishing with a return to the earlier scale design and most of the previous models

I hope while you are on this site you will visit the other portions of the sie where my hand crafted wares are described.  Aeverything on my site is crafted in Arnold, MO by James Grebe and not mass produced like you will find on most other sites advertising similar products.

Copyright,2016/Yesterday Once More Publications, James Grebe

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