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Some History on Limonaire Freres And Its Famous Band Organs Print E-mail
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Sunday, 20 April 2008

By Tim Trager
Special to The Carousel News & Trader

The firm, Limonaire Freres of Paris, was a successful and famous builder of fair organs and amusement rides during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. 

In Europe, the Limonaire organs were known for their elegant Art Nouveau facades and their unique orchestral sound.  In the heyday of La Belle Époque, only the Parisian firm of Gavioli was larger.  Limonaire even build organs in the Black Forest town of Waldkirch, which was the center of the German fair organ building industry.  In Germany, they were successors to the Gavioli factory, which had been set up by Richard Bruder.  This operation was confiscated in 1917 during World War I, but was returned to Limonaire in 1921. In 1926, Limonaire sold the property to Richard Bruder’s son, Alfred Bruder, who continued building organs using Limonaire-influenced designs, like its outstanding 45-keyless organs.                                                                                          

Limonaire Freres facade in the 1909 catalogue.

Limonaire also had a profound influence on American band organ design.  A high tariff affecting band organ imports was put in place by the United States Government in 1892.   In response, carousel builder William Herschell traveled to England and met in London with Limonaire employee Eugene DeKleist.  Herschell convinced DeKeist to come to the United States to set up band organ production in North Tonawanda, New York.  In 1893 Eugene DeKleist came over and founded the North Tonawanda Barrel Organ Factory. 

Since the importation of components eluded the tariff, the first DeKleist organs had Limonaire interiors and mechanisms in American-made cabinets.  It is interesting to note that in the early catalog DeKleist went on and on describing the superior quality of his organ cabinets!  The DeKleist organs incorporated Limonaire designs and scales, which continued right into the Wurlitzer era after Wurlitzer bought out DeKleist.  The deviation from French design came later with the introduction of the Wurlitzer 165 band organ, which was copied from the deluxe Gebrueder Bruder Elite Orchester Apollo.

Outside of DeKleist’s involvement, Limonaire did not have an American office.  Limonaire did capture scholarly interest when the Scientific American magazine did an in-depth story, including a factory tour, on Limonaire circa 1906.  The only French firm with an American office was Gavioli.  The Gavioli office on Bond Street in New York City was run by Louis Berni.  Berni came to be known as the “Band Organ King”.  Following the demise of Gavioli, Berni continued under the name of the Berni Organ Company.  His trips to Europe during these years resulted in many used Gavioli, and to a lesser extent Limonaire Organs and organs of German manufacture, being imported by him to America. 

The greater Gavioli supply came via Mortier.  Theofiel Mortier established a relationship with Berni to supply him with used Parisian organs from the dance halls, most of which were Gavioli.  The used organs with smaller values may not have been heavily impacted by the tariff at the time.  They were cleaned up, regulated, and supplied with the latest American songs, as well as Continental standards.  Did Louis Berni sell these organs as new?  I will leave that to your imagination. 

Berni in the early years was a principal of the Philadelphia Toboggan Company, which would answer the question of why so many Gavioli organs and other Berni imported organs were supplied with the PTC carousels.  It is my opinion that Louis Berni arranged the sale of the 67-key Australian Limonaire directly from Europe to Australia.  This would have saved shipping costs and tariff duties by bypassing the United States.
About 25 years ago American band organs enthusiast started to focus on the quality of sound of the European fair organs.  Initially band organs of German manufacture captured the attention of collectors.  A number of Bruder and Ruth organs were imported.  At this time, I remember being offered the Limonaire 1900 organ. 

This organ was a 67-key Limonaire.  It was not imported to the United States.  It went instead to Joji Funaki’s Hall of Halls Collection in Japan.   Collector Bob Gilson was then offered another 67-key Limonaire from a Salon Carousel that had a fantastic Art Nouveau arched façade.  Captivated by this façade, he purchased the organ.  A group of collectors, including me and Jasper Sanfilippo, went to visit the Gilson Collection and were treated to a concert on this organ.  It was OUTSTANDING both in sight and sound!  The brass trumpets in the melody section with their back up pipes gave the organ a distinct rich sound.  Jasper Sanfilippo was captivated and instructed me to find one for him.  At the time I was deeply involved in building his stunning collection.  

During my next trip to Europe, I went to France to look for an elusive 67-key Limonaire.  I had success when I visited the home of collector and restorer Marc Fournier.  Fournier has an extensive archive which included the shipping records of Limonaire.  But as to a 67-key Limonaire,  he had one.  But would he sell it?  After a day of discussion he was convinced to sell it.  Sanfillippo immediately decided to purchase it.  But then came export, which is difficult from France.  To my knowledge this was the last 67 key Limonaire remaining in France.  After six months of nail biting, the export license was granted and the Limonaire crossed the Atlantic for a new home in Barrington Hills.  To this day this organ is a gem in the collection.

A few years later I was excited to learn from Rick Alabaster of Australia of the existence of the Melbourne 67-Key Limonaire.  I must admit that I did attempt to try to figure a way to acquire it, but Rick assured me that the Limonaire was to stay in Australia.  It is wonderful to see that it is being returned to its former glory.  In this fair organ, Australia has a fantastic treasure indeed!

For over 30 years Tim Trager has been a historian, consultant, broker, and collector of mechanical musical instruments, especially band organs.  His band organ collection includes the famous Euclid Beach Park 110-Key Gavioli, the Bakken Park 85-Key Elite Apollo Orchestra, and the 87-Key Art Nouveau North Tonawanda Musical Instrument Works Concert Band Organ, American largest carousel band organ.  Tim can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it

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