Melodeon Organ

Melodeon organ

Portable-style four-octave melodeon organ with lyre-shaped legs. The rosewood case attaches to the legs with four bolts. Circa 1855-1858. MCHS object 1974-039-0001.

James Messick’s father bought him this melodeon organ in 1857 or 1858, when James was about fourteen years old. The Messick family lived in Macoupin County, but they probably purchased the melodeon in Alton. Emil Trenchery, a blind French musician, owned a music store in Alton for several decades beginning in the early 1850s. Trenchery stocked his store with melodeon organs for sale or rent.

A melodeon organ is a type of reed organ that produces sound by drawing air in (versus expelling it out) via pedal-operated bellows. The melodeon shown above features the “divided swell” improvement patented by Prince & Co. in 1855. The divided swell gave the performer the option to open the swell only halfway and thus vary the tone.

After serving with the 133rd Illinois Infantry in the Civil War, James Messick married Susan Kelly and became a music dealer. James continued to sell pianos and organs in Macoupin County until his death in 1922. The melodeon ended up in Alton with his only child, Nellie, who donated it to the Madison County Historical Society in 1974.

Listen to Rodney Jantzi play the hymn “‘Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus” on a similar portable melodeon.


Alton Telegraph. Various articles.

Alton Weekly Courier. Various articles.

Musical World: A Literary and Fine-Art Paper. Various articles.

Pump Organ Restorations. Accessed February 5, 2020.

Illinois State Archives. Illinois Civil War Muster and Descriptive Rolls (database). Accessed January 31, 2020.

United States census records and other public records.