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The Cecilium: Lute-Shaped Squeezebox from 1836

March 31, 2019

Following up on the marvelous cello-shaped Mélophone. A related free-reed (accordion cousin) is the equally, if not more charming Cecilium. A French pump-organ harmonium shaped like a giant lute. It had a handle-bar across the front that you pumped like bowing a cello. And this one has video! Infinite bonus-points when you pick up an instrument from 1836 and play “Smoke on the Water.”

There’s a French wikipedia page with some photos showing the insides of a Cecilium, and they are spectacular. The little bellows at the bottom combined with the compact and beautifully laid out reed chambers at the top are exquisite. And all triggered by the fingerboard of little buttons on the neck. Feed my obsession, why don’t you?

There are a number of both Cecilium and Melophones in the Paris Philharmonic’s Museum of Music. Many fantastic photos there too.

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Looking around I found a few more photos of Melophones. One from Stephen Chambers of shows American melophonist John B Donniker holding one in playing position. Donniker was a blackface performer and composer of popular songs, who belonged to several minstrel companies in the 1850s and ’60s. I shall have to learn more about of man in 1860s suit, bowtie, mustache, holding a small cello-shaped melophone on his knees as if playing a guitar. With his left hand on the buttons on the neck, and his right hand pumping the bellows using a handle at the bottom of the instrument near his right knee.

Another great image, of a melophone being played in Istanbul in the 1860s-70s comes from the site.  (More on their pages.)Instrument
If anybody has one of these lying around, I’m sure I could find a spot for it.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. March 31, 2019 9:44 pm

    Don’t miss my earlier post about the marvelous melophone, perhaps my favorite bizarre early free-reed.

  2. January 10, 2023 7:51 am

    I have a cecilium, in playable condition, although the back piece has been replaced. I’d like to find it a home.

    • January 10, 2023 3:51 pm

      What does a cecilium go for these days? Do they get auctioned off at high prices? I can’t imagine I’d be able to afford one, or fit it in my little apartment, but I’d love to try it out if I could!

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