Colonial Williamsburg®

What's New on History.org: The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation's Official History and Citizenship Website

Keys, Hammers, & Pipes

Bringing an organized piano back to life

July 15, 2014

The Pipe Treatment Begins

Lou Dolive inventories the pipes

By John Watson

Lou Dolive inventories the pipes

The first step: Inventory the pipes and determine what is missing. For this, we turned to veteran organ-pipe maker Louis Dolive.

Lou unfolded the pipes enough to line them up and take stock. Sixty-five metal pipes were missing entirely. At first, it appeared touch-and-go whether we would be …

Continue Reading »

June 22, 2014

A Conservation Pipeline

Mangled pipes before conservation

By John Watson

Restorative conservation of the Tucker instrument will begin with one of our more daunting challenges: to straighten the severely damaged metal pipes. While the wood pipes survived in relatively good condition, the metal ones were hardly recognizable as organ pipes. All were crushed and folded so even the longest pipe could fit in a …

Continue Reading »

June 2, 2014

Another Organized Piano?

By John Watson

The Rolfe-Sellers organized square piano. The organ occupies the space below the piano and is surrounded by panels of cloth and gilded pipes.

Our good friend and colleague in South Carolina, Tom Strange, recently sent an email with a startling offer.

An organized square piano had turned up in an …

Continue Reading »

May 6, 2014

Staring down a paradox

By John Watson

In the first installment of this blog, I claimed that restoration is a paradox. A paradox is a contradiction, both sides of which are true.

If we value an object because it is historic, but then replace parts, refinish surfaces and make other radical changes in the name of restoration, is it still the …

Continue Reading »

April 9, 2014

An organ transplant, of sorts

By John Watson

The return of the combination pipe organ and upright grand piano to Williamsburg seemed a perfect outcome from everyone’s perspective, so negotiations to purchase the 1799 organized piano for our collection were effortless.

The operation to move the instrument back to Williamsburg involved some heavy lifting paired with a delicate touch.

Continue Reading »

March 20, 2014

A series of unlikely events

By John Watson

I first heard the rumors in 1988. A large “organized piano” which purported to have been in Virginia since 1799 had resurfaced. It was offered to the Colonial Williamsburg collection shortly before my arrival at that time. Due to the instrument’s large size, its condition and its unknown past, the instrument was thought …

Continue Reading »


Switch to our mobile site