Too much of a good thing
A happy “rehoming” recipient of a free Estey Organ drives away from the Estey Organ Museum. This year’s re-homing event takes place on Oct. 8.

Too much of a good thing

A surplus of donated organs inspired the Estey Organ Museum to create its annual Organ Rehoming Day

BRATTLEBORO — From the time the two nonprofits were formed in the early 1980s, the Brattleboro Historical Society and the Estey Organ Museum received gifts of historic musical instruments crafted in town during the Estey Organ Company's heyday.

Donations over the years to both organizations have included a tidal wave of organs. About 525,000 were manufactured in town between 1846 and 1955 and sold to customers on six continents.

Since 2015, the two historical nonprofits have been doing something that some might find counterintuitive: finding new homes for some of these instruments.

“There is a current concept in the museum world. It's called 'deaccessioning,' which means giving away carefully chosen pieces of a museum's collection,” says Barbara George, office manager and bookkeeper for the Estey Organ Museum and owner of several of the buildings on the Estey complex on Birge Street.

This Saturday, Oct. 8, from 2 to 4 p.m., the museum, at 108 Birge St., will continue its Organ Rehoming program, which finds new homes for organs in storage that meet certain criteria.

George says the idea of deaccessioning is a thoughtful use of a museum's resources.

“The thought process is that museums are supposed to be for the benefit of the public, but when a museum has collected too much, what should be done with the items that don't receive a lot of viewing from the public?” she says.

And like homes filled with too many belongings, museums around the world are exploring ways to give back - literally.

Over the years, people have donated parlor organs, children's organs, organs that folded up so that chaplains could carry them during World War II. Churches sent their pipe organs. So did theaters that closed.

In 2001, local reed organ expert Ned Phoenix, one of the museum's founders, called a meeting to discuss what to do with the growing collection, which by then included more than 70 reed organs.

By 2002, the museum was officially founded, and the flow of organs continued to find their way back to their birthplace, gifted both to the Estey Organ Museum and the Brattleboro Historical Society - so many, in fact, that they began to overflow into George's other buildings.

Collecting a gigantic number of organs wasn't a part of either organization's intention.

The Estey Museum and the Brattleboro Historical Society began a lengthy conversation concerning the worthiest way to accomplish three goals: to keep control of a collection, to give back to the kind donors who contributed these organs, and to make the best use of these historic musical instruments.

“We want these instruments to be played, and while we are careful about keeping working samples of each kind of organ that Estey created, we'd also like to be sure that people can have the opportunity to own one and enjoy playing it in their own home,” George says.

'Continued use and enjoyment'

According to a press release from the museum, the Organ Rehoming program provides “a way for the Estey Organ Museum and the Brattleboro Historical Society to get their duplicate and non-museum quality organs into the hands of those who will use and enjoy them.”

“This is consistent with part two of the Estey Museum's mission - 'to promote the continued use and enjoyment of Estey organs,'” the organization says.

“Many of the instruments could be rehabilitated by cleaning and bellows repair but others are musically unusable. Although purists may decry the idea of turning a musical instrument into a desk or liquor cabinet, that is still a way to respect and enjoy the fine woodworking and craftsmanship of Estey workers of long ago.”

George also reminds the public that “the museum is only open for one more weekend as the building is not heated.” Saturday, Oct. 8 marks the final opportunity to view the museum until spring.

However, George added with a wide grin and characteristic good humor, knowing the numbers of organs the organization is wishing to re-home, special arrangements can be made in the off-season.

“If you'd like to take a bunch of organs home, please let me know,” she says. “You can come anytime!”

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