Mortuary pipe organs

The heyday of the mortuary pipe organ was the 1920s and 1930s; only a few have been built since World War II. A uniquely American product, the instrument’s characteristics departed significantly from those of the conventional church organ, despite its quasi-liturgical setting and function.

U.S. organ builders, long known for their innovations, met the stringent tonal, space, and cost requirements of funeral homes, cemetery chapels, and mausoleums so successfully that their instruments displaced the reed organ and piano. Over 600 mortuary organs were sold during this period, contributing significantly to the industry’s survival during the Great Depression.

This according to “The mortuary pipe organ: A neglected chapter in the history of organbuilding in America” by Robert E. Coleberd (The diapason XCV/7:1136, pp. 16–19). Above, the Estey Upright Minuette, front and back; containing 231 pipes, including a 16-foot open stop, the organ measures only 7’0″ x 4’8″ x 5’7½”.

Below, a recently restored mortuary pipe organ.

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