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MMD > Archives > April 2015 > 2015.04.10 > 01Prev  Next

Pictures On the Front Of Molinari Barrel Organs
By Craig Smith

Hello MMDers,  As you may know, most hand- or crank-organs (built for
organ grinders on the streets) had a removable front panel with three
or four inserts.

The inserts were cloth covered, wooden frames but there was usually one
opening that had a small picture, a graphic, or a mirror mounted in it.
In order to work on the insert, I have to remove the cloth panels and
the picture/mirror.  Sometimes the picture is missing but usually it's
a photograph or a picture cut out of a book or even a postcard.

The last organ I restored belongs to Claudia Molinari (yes, from the
same Molinari family as made the organ) and it had a postcard.  After
I restored the insert and went to put it back in, I noticed that
someone had used a black crayon to cross out the writing on the back
of the postcard so it couldn't be read.  Curiosity got the better of
me, so I scraped off most of the crayon so I could see the writing.

The postcard had been cut down to fit, so almost an inch on each side
was missing.  Then I noticed what was left of the address:

  Miss Victoria *****
  114 32nd *****

Surely that's the address of the Molinari Hand Organ Factory that was
in Brooklyn, New York, from the late 1800s to the 1930s.

The card was posted in New Jersey and featured a large boarding
house on Lake Hopatcong, across the river from New York City.  It was
addressed to an un-married person named Victoria and it was signed by

I checked this with Claudia Molinari and it turns out that the
Molinari family was involved with a resort area and an amusement park
on Lake Hopatcong in New Jersey -- the same lake that the postcard
was mailed from.  "Joe" was Joseph Molinari.  He and his wife, Carrie,
had a total of ten kids: Jennie, Rose, William, Edward, Carrie,
Kathleen, Victoria, Alfred, Eleanor, and Joseph.  So, Victoria turned
out to be one of Joe Molinari's daughters.

In any case, Joe was one of the men who worked in the Molinari
factory and he probably helped make this organ.  So did Victoria's
older brother, Edward, who signed his name inside the reservoir.
Cool, right?  But it gets better!

Then I remembered that I also own a Molinari organ that has
a postcard in it.  So I went upstairs to the music room and removed
the front panel and looked at my postcard.  There was a different
(but similar) building in the picture and the writing on the back was
crossed off with black crayon, just like the first one.  So I scraped
off the crayon from that one, too.

Would you believe that this postcard also was from Joe?  And it
was addressed to someone named Carrie on 32nd Street.  Carrie was
Victoria's older sister, one of Joe's other daughters.  Score: two for
two -- not bad!

So next I went down to the basement shop where I was restoring a third
Molinari organ which a friend of mine recently purchased off e-Bay.
I checked the picture in that organ.  It also had a postcard with the
message crossed out, but this one wasn't from Joe.  It was from someone
staying at The Seaside Hotel in Maryland.  Nonetheless, it was also
addressed to the Molinari factory building, just like the other two.

The writer was inquiring about a new barrel for his organ.  I checked
the census records for Maryland around the time of the postcard and
found where he lived and I was even able to find a picture of his
house.  His occupation on the census sheet: organ grinder!

There are another two or three Molinari organs in my area.  I called
the owner and asked him to look at the back of the insert pictures.
Unfortunately, none of them has a postcard.  However, there must be
other Molinari organs scattered around the country in various
collections which do still have the original postcards.  So, I'd like
to check --

  ** Here are my questions to all the folks reading MMD. **

- If you have a Molinari barrel organ, please take a look at the front
panel and see if you might have a postcard where the picture insert is.
If you do, look at the back of the card and see if it is addressed to
114-116 32nd Street in Brooklyn, New York.  If it is, please let me
know so I can make a list of them and perhaps write an article about
how we found them.

- Also, if you know of any other Molinari organ owners whom I could
contact to ask about the picture in the front panel, please let me know
that too.

- Whatever help you can provide would be greatly appreciated -- by both
me and Claudia!

Craig Smith - Grinding away in western New York State

 [ Molinari postcard front (906 kb)

 [ Molinari postcard reverse (813 kb)

 [ Claudia's Molinari (514 kb)

 [ Jerry Pell has a music book label "page" for book music produced
 [ by G. Molinari & Sons, No. 112 - 32nd St., Brooklyn, N.Y.  The
 [ newest song of the 5-tune program is "Moonlight and Roses" of 1925.
 [ -- Robbie

(Message sent Fri 10 Apr 2015, 21:15:26 GMT, from time zone GMT-0700.)

Key Words in Subject:  Barrel, Front, Molinari, Organs, Pictures

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