A History of the Skinner Company

by Jonathan Ambrosino

The late 1800s were ripe with inventors, gadgets and pioneers in all fields. In this realm organists dreamed of a reliable electric action. Hilborne Roosevelt’s “electric organ” of 1876 was an early attempt at such an instrument. While the main organ employed pneumatically-assisted action, a lone Vox Humana was suspended by cables in midair and operated by electric valves. Moving forward from this experiment, the Roosevelts created in 1887 the first commercially successful electric action, using wet-cell batteries and a ventil chest with individual valves.

When Frank Roosevelt retired in 1893, George S. Hutchings (1835-1913) emerged as the East Coast’s leading progressive builder. Hutchings had already developed pneumatic and tubular key-actions, contributing to the manageability of his larger organs. But he had yet to build an electric action. It was the inventive Ernest Skinner (1866-1960), in Hutchings’s employ since 1890, who clinched the firm’s success in this arena.

Skinner produced the first Hutchings electric action, installed in 1893 at Saint Bartholomew’s Church, New York, and refined in 1895 with a superior magnet. At first, the chests were of lever-arm design with ventil stop action, like those of Edwin Votey. In 1898 Skinner devised the pitman stop action. This arrangement enabled stops to work as fast as notes, unlike the ventil system. During Skinner’s time at Hutchings the company also produced a new type of console, known as the “bat wing,” with hinged stop jambs that folded inward when the console was shut. It was extremely compact, mobile, had a blind combination action (changing stops without moving knobs) and usually featured a “Willis”-type concave-radiating pedalboard.

At the time Skinner’s tonal ideal blended contemporary style with symphonic ambition. In his “Ideal Organ,” published in Everett Truette’s The Organ in 1894, Skinner specified a fairly conventional fourteen-stop Great, joined to an enormous 27-stop duplexed Swell-and-Choir, a four-stop Echo and a nine-stop all-flue Pedal. Among other salient proposed stops were an Oboe and Orchestral Oboe, Clarinet, Saxophone, two celestes, numerous soft stops and a French Horn — the last being listed with the Great flues. This design was ideal indeed; it was never actually built.

Skinner’s influence at Hutchings seems to have been more mechanical than musical — perhaps a source of frustration. In 1898, a wealthy Bostonian sent Skinner to Europe to study organs. Skinner was most interested in the work of Robert Hope-Jones (1859-1913), who had acquired a reputation for his use of high pressures, electric and unit actions, the valvular Diaphone and radical tonal developments. After a ten-day crossing on a cattle steamer, Skinner arrived in Liverpool, crossing the Mersey over to Birkenhead and Hope-Jones’ Birkenhead factory. Decades later Skinner reported his disgust with Hope-Jones’ organs, although time may have revised an initial fascination.

Clearly more impressive, however, was the recital Skinner heard at St. George’s Hall, Liverpool, the famous Father Willis organ of 1855, revised in 1867 and most recently in 1897, mere months prior to Skinner’s visit.

At that time, “Father” Henry Willis was a builder of international reputation. The mechanical innovations he and his son Vincent introduced included higher pressure (though initially not as high as Hope-Jones eventually used), pneumatically-assisted action, thumb pistons, and significant advances in reed voicing. The Willis family obtained from trumpets and tubas a sound of unprecedented power, sonority, regularity and stability.

When Skinner heard the Saint George’s Hall organ, it had undergone a few changes, notably the adoption of tubular-pneumatic action and revoicing of the tubas on 22-inch wind (having originally spoken on eight-inch). Albert Lister Peace, successor to the famous Liverpool City Organist and transcriber William Thomas Best, played a recital of operatic solos and other music of a popular nature. The crowd, which probably numbered about 1,500, “were wild”. When Peace drew the Solo tubas, Skinner went wild too, “...they were so superior to anything I had ever heard before.”

Skinner then met Henry Willis II, who offered him free access to the instrument. Later Skinner journeyed to the main Willis factory in London, where “Father” Willis gave him technical details of chorus reeds, and even some sample shallots to take home. Upon his return to Boston, Skinner lost no time in making good with the advice and instructions. The Hutchings organ in Boston’s Symphony Hall, installed in 1900, included reeds along Willis lines.

It is perhaps not surprising that Skinner resigned from Hutchings in 1901. Though given free reign mechanically, Skinner does not seem to have been allowed much of a voice in tonal matters. Moreover, in print Hutchings was keen to capitalize upon all that Skinner had given his company, but reluctant to mention his prodigious superintendent by name. Besides, Skinner was not without ambition. The Willis organs had profoundly changed his tonal ideal. This, along with his emerging concept of symphonic tonal design, gave him the desire to strike out on his own.

Skinner had hoped to start his company with Harry Van Wart, a Hutchings engineer and superb all-around organ man. But for some unknown reason, the investors backing Skinner disliked Van Wart, who remained at Hutchings. Instead, Skinner took English expatriate organbuilder James Cole as his partner for a time, but this arrangement soon dissolved. The last Skinner & Cole contract, for the Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Holy Trinity, New York (Op. 113), was signed on April 24, 1903, but the Ernest M. Skinner Company purchased the contract four months later for one dollar.

Despite Skinner’s later protestations about Hope-Jones, the infamous Englishman joined with Skinner for a year between 1905-1906. The association apparently provided little other than heartache, and Hope-Jones soon removed himself to Elmira and then North Tonawanda to work with the Wurlitzers.

Skinner’s early organs showed many mechanical similarities to those of Hutchings. For instance, a small organ in the First Methodist Church, Somerville, Massachusetts (Op. 136, 1906, now removed) used a terrace-jamb console with oblique-faced knobs, like Hutchings’ own smaller instruments. The “bat-wing” console design was employed at Old Cabell Hall, University of Virginia (Op. 127, 1906), and the Great Hall, College of the City of New York (CCNY, Op. 135, 1906). Windchests were essentially Skinner’s Hutchings design, except that they now featured solid tables under the topboards (the tops of the Hutchings chests were composed solely of topboards). Added to these features was the duplex chest, which Skinner developed soon after leaving Hutchings. Its duplicate key- and stop-actions allowed the same register to play independently from two divisions. Skinner was quick to exploit this feature, particularly in small organs.

Tonally, the early Skinners were only somewhat more symphonic than other organs. For example, some of the “advanced” features of the 74-rank Hutchings-Votey at Yale University (1903) were its two swell enclosures, two keen string celestes, an Orchestral Oboe, and 10-inch scale Tuba Sonora on 22-inch wind pressure. Skinner’s 61-rank CCNY organ also featured two enclosures, two keen celestes, an Orchestral Oboe and a Tuba Mirabilis; added to these were an Erzähler, Unda Maris and wood 32-foot Bombarde. Skinner claimed to have invented the Erzähler and Bombarde. The Erzähler was a sharply tapered, narrow-mouth Gemshorn cut-up high, producing an octave partial in equal strength to the unison tone. The Bombarde may have been the second full-length beating 32-foot reed in America. (19th-century American 32-foot reeds by Roosevelt and Hook & Hastings had been free reeds, a precedent established in the 1863 Boston Music Hall Walcker).

Though 20 ranks smaller than the organ for CCNY, the 1906 Skinner Organ for Trinity Cathedral, Cleveland, Ohio (Op. 140) was even more of a showcase. Much like the landmark Roosevelt organs, Op. 140 seemed to delight in exploiting the freedom of divisional placement electric action afforded. The Great, Swell and Pedal were in one chamber, speaking into both chancel and transept. Another division on a duplex chest was installed in the opposite wall, speaking into both sanctuary and chapel. It functioned as a Choir from the main console and as its own two-manual instrument from a chapel console. A unified Tuba spoke from beneath the floor at the rear of the nave, and the 32-foot Diapason operated on two pressures, “either pervasive and firm, or less pervasive and slightly flat” (according to Joseph Dzeda). The console was one of the first recognizably Skinner consoles with an adjustable combination action. With an economical 41 ranks, disposed in five divisions capable of functioning as two separate instruments, the organ represented Skinner’s most progressive design to date.

From these organs, Skinner’s tonal concept graduated to a more complete symphonic ideal. The impression of the Willis tubas had remained. Whereas Willis used tubas only as commanding solo stops, Skinner endeavored to create a class of chorus reeds emulating this tonality. With the help of ex-Willis reed voicer Frederick S. Brockbank (1883-1929), Skinner developed Cornopeans, Posaunes and Waldhorns for the Swell, and smooth, crowning Trombas for the Great.

While the organ might never be the same thing as the orchestra, Skinner aimed for a comparable, if not greater, expressive potential. His early instruments were voiced for a rich variety of orchestral color. They had not only orchestral and chorus reeds, but also several varieties of pianissimo stops evocative of muted strings (Flauto Dolce, Dulciana, Aeoline). These single stops were soon paired with celestes to enhance their effectiveness.

Concurrently, Skinner refined the mechanism to permit a high degree of orchestral nuance. For instance, he perfected the whiffletree swell engine, which possessed several advantages in sensitive playing: the swell effect lasted for the entire travel of the shoe: the foot was freed of direct connection to the weight of the shade-front; and the swell shoe could be slammed shut without the shades producing an audible bang.

By 1910, Skinner’s symphonic ideal merged refined diapason tone, the dignity of Willis tubas and specific woodwind colors of great fidelity. These component ideas were fully realized in the organ built for the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine in New York City (Op. 150, 1911). It featured three 32-foot stops — Diapason, Violone and 20-inch scale wood Bombarde — and many new specialties: flared Gamba and Celeste (developed from Hutchings models), Saxophone, Flügel Horn and French Trumpet. Skinner termed these latest stops “inventions,” as he had at CCNY in 1906. At least in the case of the strings, no one had thought of putting two large gambas together to create a broad, powerful celeste before. The Flügel Horn was a capped oboe; the French Trumpet used bevel-ended tapered Willis-type shallots, not the more customary French Bertouneche-style dome-ended parallel shallots, to develop brilliance. “Development” is perhaps a more truthful term for the individual effects; the recipe and overall result, however, indicated that a new avenue was being explored.

At Saint John the Divine, Skinner employed the latest version of the pitman chest. Beginning in 1909, Skinner had set about revising the chest design to eliminate the lever-arm. These refinements would culminate in the basic format of the Skinner and Aeolian-Skinner chest such as it was built until the late 1960s. The pouches, formerly arranged on the vertical separators, were now positioned on a removable board directly underneath the toe-holes, with the pitman action attached below. Channeling was accomplished through the table directly to the pouch boards. This brought the pitman chest, and electropneumatic action, to a peak of logic, simplicity and refinement.

After St. John the Divine, Skinner rapidly developed more tonal specialties, not so much introduced as unveiled: the Flute Celeste and English Horn in 1910, the famous French Horn and Corno di Bassetto in 1912, the Kleine Erzähler (soft two-rank Erzähler celeste) in 1913. That year, Skinner also finished the organ for Saint Thomas Church, New York City (Op. 205), which for many years he considered his masterpiece.

Some of Skinner’s original capitalization for his company came from the sale of a player piano patent known as the Themodist, a device that allowed certain notes to be accentuated through the use of a higher pressure. Skinner was fascinated with automatic instruments, and soon developed one of his own. The result exemplified just how deeply Skinner was devoted to the symphonic ideal.

The most complicated roll-playing system ever devised, the “Orchestrator” was based on Skinner’s premise that, in the orchestra, a four-note chord is often played by four different instruments. Therefore if the organ is truly to suggest orchestral texture, each instrument — French horn, oboe, flute, violin, etc. — should play as in the score. Further, each voice should be separately enclosed to approximate precise orchestral balance. Skinner designed a system that played pedal, accompaniment and four solo voices — a total of six separate parts (though for some reason, he consistently claimed seven).

In a conventional system, the Orchestrator would have required approximately 475 individual hole possibilities across a roll about forty-one inches wide (something akin to playing a small tablecloth). In a first attempt at miniaturization, Skinner reduced the width and spacing of the perforations. He then settled on 120 holes across a 10-1/4"–wide tracker bar, narrow enough to avoid problems of alignment due to humidity changes in the paper.

Alas, 120 was but a fraction of the necessary 475. Skinner’s answer came in the form of an ingenious electropneumatic multiplexing system, in which each hole performed up to four functions. Instead of seventy-six holes for a manual (sixty one notes, fifteen stops), Skinner’s system employed just thirty-nine — thirty-six for notes and three “pilots.” Selecting the first pilot made the thirty-six note holes play the lowest three octaves of the keyboard; the second pilot made the same thirty-six holes play the middle three octaves, while the third pilot controlled the upper three octaves. Engaging one pilot cancelled the other two automatically, and the whole operation worked faster than the notes played. In addition, two pilots could function simultaneously as an octave coupler.

When all three pilots were engaged, several functions happened in rapid succession: all stops were cancelled; the thirty-six note holes turned into thirty-six stop controls; the holes then selected stops, which snapped on; stop control holes turned back to note holes; the proper pilot was selected, and the playing resumed — all in approximately a quarter-second. With this ingenious apparatus, Skinner finally achieved his dream. He used a 32-note pedal, a 61-note accompaniment, and four 36-note solo sections. Remaining roll perforations controlled the multitude of swell boxes, the register crescendo and the sforzando.

What Skinner had built was a binary computer assembled from organ parts and operated by wind pressure. Justifiably, he filed a patent on May 28, 1916. The only remaining example is found in the former residence of Ernest Tiedtke, Toledo, Ohio (Op. 263), installed in the winter of 1917-18 by Charles Atkins. Skinner himself came to Toledo for the final adjustments and finishing. Tiedtke’s son John was home recuperating from infantile paralysis and witnessed the entire installation.

Despite the Orchestrator’s sophisticated tonal and musical goals, it is a system in which the complex outweighs the sublime. At the Tiedtke residence, the switching system required twice as much space as the pipework. And while a marvel of ingenuity, it required a marvelous amount of maintenance. John Tiedtke recalls that the Orchestrator would work only if his father continued to pay for frequent service calls. Since the family received at least as much pleasure from the semiautomatic rolls (which played only notes, while stops and swells were worked by hand), the family let maintenance for the Orchestrator lapse by the mid-1920s.

In all, it appears that five other organs were fitted with Orchestrator-style players: the A.H. Lamborn residence in Montclair, New Jersey (Op. 256), the Arthur Curtiss James residence in New York (Op. 242), the Boston and New York studio organs (Opera 292 and 349), and, curiously, the Cleveland Museum of Art organ of 1922 (Op. 333) — at least, a set of shop drawings exists clearly showing individual swell boxes for solo reed stops. Skinner may have been the first to realize the system’s impracticality, for in time he began redesigning it. In the meantime, Skinner residence organs were equipped with semiautomatic players only.

While the Orchestrator was in production, a special organ studio was constructed across from the Crescent Avenue factory in Dorchester. Skinner hired organist-composer Gordon Balch Nevin (known for his Will O’ the Wisp) to supervise roll arranging and cutting. Later, Boston organist Albert W. Snow made many arrangements.

The Orchestrator is perhaps the clearest demonstration of Skinner’s symphonic ideal, yet he seems to have avoided the term “orchestral” as a general label for his organs. Although today the terms “orchestral” and “symphonic” are used to describe the Skinner organ, Skinner’s preferred phrase seems to have been “The Modern Organ.” While he often mentions “orchestral color,” he may have avoided the term “orchestral organ” in an effort to distance his efforts from the Wurlitzer organ, which was called the “Unit Orchestra.”

By 1917, Skinner had fulfilled many of his symphonic aspirations. Public regard for the organ was at a peak. Audiences at organ recitals in large cities regularly exceeded 1,000. Skinner’s specialty stops, especially the French Horn, the English Horn and his distinctive strings, were firmly established. The goal of the symphonic organ — to appeal to the music-loving masses — was being realized.

Though a fine artisan, Skinner was so bent on creating quality instruments at any expense that he seems to have been in routine financial distress. It is not difficult to imagine a situation in which the next contract’s downpayment provided cash to finish the job in hand. Realizing that he needed help in selling organs and managing the business, Skinner hired William E. Zeuch to assist him. Zeuch was a talented organist, a splendid salesman, and even helped Skinner in coordinating factory work. But more saliently, Zeuch had formerly been a sales agent for the Aeolian company, in which capacity he may have let the contract for additions to a small two-manual organ in Akron, Ohio: an instrument for one Arthur Hudson Marks, future president of the Skinner Organ Company.

Marks (1874-1939) made his mark as the chemical engineer who developed the cold vulcanization process for rubber. Vulcanization is what gives rubber its memory, and its still used today. Patenting this invention made Marks a millionaire overnight. In 1914, he purchased an Aeolian player organ (Op. 1238) for his house in Akron, Ohio. Marks met Skinner in 1916, and the two became friends. If Marks ever heard an Orchestrator, his 116-note semi-automatic Aeolian may have seemed a bit passé.

Marks served in World War I, and when he returned home, he decided to retire from the tire business. Already he and Skinner had been in correspondence about an involvement in Skinner’s company, with Skinner painting a picture of bright profit possibilities but a company beleaguered by a shortage of working capital. Writing to Marks, Skinner indicated that the Tiedtke Orchestrator would show “one hundred percent profit.” This might have been a hundred percent nonsense; more to the point, it points to Skinner’s evident desperation.

In 1919 the transaction took place. Marks offered to buy the Skinner Company and reorganize it. In 1919, the company was rechristened “Skinner Organ Company,” with Marks holding majority interest and serving as president, Skinner and Zeuch acting as vice presidents. Marks also brought in two able businessmen, George L. Catlin and George O. Kingsbury, who had been officers under Marks during the war. Catlin, the treasurer, lived in Boston and worked at the factory; Kingsbury, the secretary, operated from the New York office, where an elegant studio had been established at 677 Fifth Avenue (across the street from Saint Thomas Church). Marks lived in New York, but commuted to Boston by train. Also in 1919, Marks had a Skinner organ (Op. 300) installed in “Locke Ledge,” his residence in Yorktown Heights, New York.

Marks and his team actively ran the company, thus relieving Skinner of everyday business concerns. With the factory now well-organized, production became more systematized, and if anything, quality improved. Marks’s financial backing ensured that Skinner had a free hand to build organs as beautifully as he wished, and Skinner fulfilled this promise. Not only were materials first-rate, but the construction was rugged, beautiful, and eminently rebuildable. Skinner’s mechanisms reflected Skinner’s temperament — a combination of strength, straightforward approach and resilience.

If the mechanism resembled Skinner’s temperament, the consoles were a more complete reflection of Skinners personality. Everything felt solid, dignified, yet agile: the tracker-touch keyboards, the Willis-style pedalboard, the swell shoes, the small thumb pistons, the combination action and the substantial ivory stopknobs, with their unique hand engraving. Even the slight unevenness of the lettering seems characteristic of Skinner’s own personality, by turns the straight-man and jester.

The years 1920 and 1921 witnessed a tremendous increase in orders. Several huge organs were built, among them the 80-stop organ for the St. Paul Auditorium in Minnesota (now existing in rebuilt form in Old South Church, Boston), the 64-stop organ for Second (now United) Congregational Church in Holyoke, Massachusetts, the 78-stop organ for Kilbourn Hall at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, and the 118-stop Cleveland Auditorium organ, the last a $100,000 contract. The popularity of the two municipal organs cannot be overestimated. The Saint Paul Auditorium had four dedicatory recitals by Chandler Goldthwaite. Over 8,000 people attended the first concert; by the fourth, over 30,000 had come, with 3,000 turned away. At Cleveland, where the Auditorium seated 13,000, an amazing 20,999 attended Edwin Arthur Kraft’s dedication recital.

These three instruments contained all the usual Skinner features as well as the latest novelties: color mutations, the Musette and the Heckelphone. The new color mutations were delicate gemshorns, chimney flutes and dulcianas at 2-2/3', 1-3/5' and 1-1/7'. Their role was to create delicate color tints, with and without tremolo. The Musette was a short-length reed “for comic effects.” The Heckelphone was basically a large-scale English Horn. By this time Skinner had developed imitative reeds to the same degree that Father Willis had developed chorus reeds, and they were an expected component of any significant Skinner installation.

In 1921, the company enlarged to meet the demand for its instruments. Part of the expansion was accomplished by acquiring the Steere company, which was reorganized as a branch factory in Westfield, Massachusetts. Harry Van Wart, Steere’s old superintendent and Skinner’s old friend, ran the firm until 1922, succeeded by Leslie Leet. In turn, Leet left in a hurry in 1926 to work for the Aeolian Company (an event still fresh in the minds of Skinner management when the Aeolian and Skinner merger occurred six years later). Though the Westfield branch turned out complete organs, they tended to be less prestigious contracts in second-tier cities. In 1924, George Catlin, the Skinner treasurer, wrote that Skinner’s southern agent, Harchung Tchakarian, alone sold enough organs to justify the plant’s existence. At first, Westfield organs were merely Steere organs with Skinner nameplates. Gradually, Dorchester factory construction details were assimilated into Westfield practice. By 1929, the distinguishing characteristics of a Westfield organ were few indeed.

Regardless of factory origin, all Skinner specifications were generally approved by Skinner or Zeuch, often in consultation with the client organist. While seven-rank stock models were produced, specifications of larger instruments were rarely duplicated, although they displayed similarities. In this respect, Skinner was no different from his contemporaries.

After 1921, Skinner turned his attention back to residence organs, either from envy of Aeolian’s thriving business or in determination to make a practical version of the Orchestrator. During 1922, Skinner scaled down the Orchestrator into what was called the “automatic two-manual.” This new player employed the same elaborate pneumatic multiplex unit, but in a format reduced down to one rather large panel — less space than a 16' Bourdon. The player governed two 61-note manuals and a 32-note pedal, with virtually unlimited stop-changing capabilities. It also contained several new features: a stop-coupler that combined each manual’s registration, control of a bass drum and timpani, and special tuba couplers that acted outside the normal registration scheme for fanfare effects.

The new player unit was apparently ready by the fall of 1922, by which time several new residence contracts were signed. The first, and most heavily publicized was the Robert Law residence in Port Chester, New York (Op. 357). The specification had almost every stop the player system required, and featured a three-stop Echo in an elegant, miniature case installed on the main staircase landing.

By they early 1920s the Skinner organ had become an institution. Skinner was regarded as the benchmark organbuilder of his time, having created a vision of modern organbuilding eclipsing that of other nations. His ingenuity had touched all fields of organbuilding, and he took a salty delight and pride in the magnitude of his achievement. While other builders’ specifications usually received fair criticism in “Organs Under the Microscope” in The American Organist, Skinner installations were typically printed with little comment other than the stoplist itself. While the magazines printed endless discussions and argument on total enclosure, straight-versus-unit, unit-versus-duplex, theatre-versus-classic and knob-versus-tab-versus-stop-key, Skinner remained aloof and continued to build his style of organ. When he asserted his opinions, it was in the form of a convention speech, an article in his new company magazine Stop, Open and Reed, or by way of example in a recent instrument.

Public faultfinding with Skinner’s designs may have been considered journalistically unwise. And besides, what organbuilder has ever reached a point at which his ideas go unquestioned? By the mid-1920s increasing pressure for tonal advances along “classical” lines may have led Skinner to sail once more for Europe in 1924. In France he met Vierne and Dupré and received a thorough introduction to French organs. But as with his previous visit, England was to have the most significant impact.

Henry Willis III (1889-1966), the grandson of “Father” Henry Willis, was now head of the Willis firm. He had taken control of the company in 1910, at age 21, and now, at age 35, was in the process of creating his masterpiece, the organ in Liverpool Anglican Cathedral. Willis welcomed Skinner in London, and the two of them and Willis’s assistant, G. Donald Harrison, inspected new organs. Skinner wrote that he got “a real thrill” out of the mixtures, although he thought the diapasons too small to support chorus reeds. However, two London organs — Westminster Cathedral and Christ Church, Westminster Bridge Road — convinced Skinner that his own organs were lacking in brilliance. Upon his return to America, Skinner began using bold mixture work in his organs, patterned after models supplied by Willis.

Or so the story goes. Both Skinner and Willis were quick to seize the inherent publicity from their alliance. But from Skinner’s end, it is important to note that the two mixtures that so engaged Skinner’s ears were in no way typical Father Willis stops, nor even typical of Willis III’s own work. Westminster Cathedral had begun life as a large Lewis design prior to the 1919 merger of Lewis and Willis. The crowning five-rank Great Grand Chorus mixture follows in the manner of Schulze and his disciple Lewis. The Westminster Bridge Road organ was in fact a Lewis organ rebuilt and only barely changed by Willis III. If Skinner was inspired by Lewis elements, Willis saw no harm in taking the credit.

Upon his return to America, Skinner began to introduce mixtures, and, while they resemble neither Father Willis’s nor most of Willis III’s mixtures, they really don’t resemble Lewis upperwork either. Despite the public alliance with Willis, it would seem that Skinner was heading his organs in neither a Willis nor a Lewis direction. Reading between the lines, a third possibility emerges. In Stop Open and Reed, Skinner writes quite favorably of the Harrison & Harrison organ at Saint Mary Redcliffe in Bristol—an organ that even Henry Willis III admitted admiring. Even more curiously, in the home movies Skinner took in England, there is no footage of Liverpool Cathedral, nothing of Westminster Cathedral, or indeed, hardly anything of Willis, the Willis London works, or Willis organs. But interestingly, there is footage at Redcliffe. This 1911 Arthur Harrison organ was a landmark in every way, from its unusual stop disposition and physical layout, to the widely contrasting tone: Swell with bright trumpets and a big quint Mixture pitted against a Great with leathered Diapasons, a Mixture with Quints, Tierces, and Septièmes; Trombas so dark and smooth they might as well have been large flue stops, and a Solo Tuba of extremely dark, even oily character. The overall effect is not without brilliance, but the overriding impression is one of inexorable, ocean-liner grandeur.

The manner in which Skinner organs develop from 1925 to 1930 resembles the Harrison & Harrison model more than anything else. Swell reeds grew brighter, but the Great reeds remained invincibly Trombas. Up until the time of G. Donald Harrison’s arrival at Skinner, chorus mixtures were exclusively of the unison and quint variety, but afterward, the Great mixture was often a harmonics-type stop, with thirds, fifths and sevenths. The tingly Swell quint mixture, though prominent, never became quite so strong as a Lewis mixture, and certainly unlike any real sort of Willis mixture. They were uncannily close, however, to the usual Harrison & Harrison model.

If there is truth to this theory, Skinner could never have declared the truth publicly. He had visited Willis III out of a sense of duty for all he had gained from Willis’s father and grandfather in 1898—the 1924 trip resulted in a very public alliance, wherein Willis sent pipes and tonal tips in exchange for Skinner’s pitman chest, console mechanisms and fancy color stops. Willis had completely pulled the wool over Skinner’s eyes as far as his own popularity was concerned: it was Harrison & Harrison, not Willis, who were clearly the builders of the day. But Willis’s writing and public relations gave the appearance that it was his firm that still ruled English organbuilding, and most of the traveling American artists came to adopt this stance as well. And let us not forget also that we are dealing with an organbuilder who lacked no confidence in his own abilities and in the results of his labor. As Skinner wrote to a client on May 22, 1928, “We have just finished an organ for Ann Arbor costing $75,000. It is from every angle the most magnificent thing I ever heard on either side of the water.” English influence was nice, but rest assured, Skinner was still happily building Skinner organs.

Later in 1924, Willis came to America to investigate electric actions and to act as a consultant to Skinner on tonal matters. He was impressed with Skinner’s pitman chest (which he ultimately adopted in a modified form), but was disappointed with Skinner’s tonal ideal, chiding him about the lack of “true” ensemble. Willis may also have found Skinner organs too mild. In his writing, Skinner gives the impression that Willis’s mixtures were of spectacular brilliance and power. In fact, Willis III organs had not only robust mixtures but robust everything, for Willis conceived of organ tone on a heroic scale, even in tiny buildings.

As a result of this visit, Skinner and Willis formed an arrangement: Skinner sent blueprints, sample mechanism and orchestral stops to Willis; in turn, Willis supplied Skinner with voicing information and mixtures. Both men were too stubborn to accept the other’s advice entirely. Willis did not see the advantage of the double-primary key-action, which Skinner considered essential to the speed and efficiency of his style of magnet and his windchests. So when Skinner’s sample chest arrived in London, Willis made several modifications before first assembling it. Not surprisingly, it didn’t work.

Meanwhile, Skinner’s current instruments had diapasons voiced as before, but with brighter octaves, fifteenths and the new type of mixture. Skinner wrote thought that he considered mixtures merely another color, “as independent as a Gamba or a Tuba,” and ignored Willis’s pleas to discard the leather-lipped First Diapason. The tonal result was just what Skinner wanted, but since the boldest and brightest rank of a Willis III chorus was the First Diapason, Willis was not pleased. In subsequent trips to the United States in 1925 and ’26, Willis complained that Skinner wasn’t listening to his suggestions. In May of 1926, Willis wrote to George Catlin, the treasurer at Skinner, “Skinner is hopeless and, I am afraid, will not progress. It is the same old trouble. ‘You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.’ What you need is somebody to take Skinner’s place when he is away and be in charge of the artistic side of production in Boston. I wrote to Bill [Zeuch] and said that my chap Harrison would ‘fill the bill’ — what about it? You must have someone to take Skinner’s place when the inevitable happens.”

By 1927, “English Ensemble” had become fashionable. This was the first significant new tonal trend in 20 years, and while Skinner had introduced it, other builders were quick to follow. In 1925, for instance, Welte entered the church organ market, with ex-Willis man Richard Oliver Whitelegg (1890-1944) as head voicer. This new tonal idea was increasingly the topic of discussion and argument in The American Organist (threatening the omnipresence of knob-versus-tab-versus-stop-key). The editor, T. Scott Buhrman, supported the trend as long as it did not lead to pedantic organ recitals, which he abhorred. When an organ enthusiast from Chicago names William H. Barnes became editor of the organ department, the “ensemble” proposition became even more central. At this time, Buhrman also began the suggestive practice of running one photo of an English Cathedral in each issue.

William Zeuch, Skinner’s trusted aide since 1917, felt a change was in order. He later wrote to Henry Willis, “I derive a measure of self-satisfaction that it was I who convinced Arthur Marks that organ building in America greatly needed a renaissance or housecleaning or whatever word expresses the thought best.” It must have been difficult for Marks to ignore Willis’s increasingly strident yet articulate criticisms, and the magazine articles always referred to the “Willis” (not “Skinner”) ensemble as being the model for emulation.

While the company benefited greatly from Marks’s management, the Skinner-Marks partnership did not make an ideal marriage. Though only eight years older, Skinner was very much the 19th-century industrial artisan: excitable, intuitive and headstrong, whereas Marks was unruffled, calm and organized — the rational 20th-century businessman.

Skinner turned 60 in 1926. He probably never considered retirement and had no successor. Furthermore, the Skinner organ and Ernest Skinner were regarded as one. Being a shrewd businessman and planner, Marks probably realized that for long-term success, the idea of the Skinner organ would have to be divorced from Ernest Skinner in the public’s mind. Only then could leadership be transferred to another man. Skinner’s only possible successor would have been Zeuch, who, though an invaluable salesman and talented organist, was not a builder and was essentially a man of Skinner’s generation.

In 1927, Skinner began what he termed “twelve months’ hard work at running down every possibility of improvement in the ensemble.” Skinner may have felt a need for improvement, but the English Ensemble enthusiasts were probably pressing him for more brilliance. Marks may also have been thinking along those lines, for he ultimately followed Willis’s suggestion. In the spring of 1927, Marks sailed for England and offered G. Donald Harrison the position of Assistant General Manager of the Skinner Company.

George Donald Harrison was born 21 April 1889 in Huddersfield. From age six, he knew he wanted to be an organbuilder. His early influences were Father Willis and T.C. Lewis. Harrison knew Henry Willis III, and before the war they had spent Saturdays visiting organs together, both by Willis and others.

Where Willis had excelled in reeds, Lewis had concentrated on flues and the diapason chorus. Lewis considered himself a disciple of Edmund Schulze, a German builder whose most important work was exported to England. Schulze’s diapason choruses were of particular brilliance and beauty, and Lewis aimed for instruments along these lines. The Lewis chorus was bold and, while voiced on the slow and bright side, had a tremendous degree of melodic and polyphonic clarity. The role of manual chorus reeds was minor in all save the most heroic organs. Strong reeds were reserved for the pedal, and melodic emphasis in the tutti was shared between the right finger and the left foot — a sound and effect in whose principles, if not precise practices, Harrison would place eternal stock.

Harrison and his family attended a church that housed a Lewis organ. When Harrison went to Dulwich College near London, he found in the chapel another organ that contained Lewis work: a 1790s George England organ Lewis had conservatively rebuilt. Harrison later asserted that his interest in mixture stops began at Dulwich.

Not surprisingly, Harrison pursued a job with Lewis after college, but Lewis dissuaded him. By this time Lewis was no longer associated with the large firm that bore his name and, for all intents and purposes, ceased active organbuilding. Instead, Harrison first worked for his father as a chartered patent attorney, and later served in the Royal Air Force for three years during World War I. Although he was a flyer, he did a great deal of mechanical work and technical repair.

In 1919, Harrison again heeded the call to organbuilding. At this point, joining Lewis & Co. was no longer a possibility, as that firm had merged with Henry Willis & Sons. Harrison’s instant entry, without apprenticeship, was due to money his father put into the company. His appointment as a company director of the company in 1921 suggests that the amount of investment may have been more than Willis records indicate.

In addition to being Willis’s aide-de-camp, Harrison studied voicing methods, mixtures, and ensemble design. He was involved with two landmark Willis III installations, in Liverpool Cathedral and Westminster Cathedral. In early 1927, Harrison was 37, exactly the same age as Willis III. When Henry Willis IV was born on January 19, 1927, Harrison knew he could never rise above his current position at the Willis Company. Thus, when G. Donald Harrison came to this country in 1927, it was to the aid both of the Skinner firm and his own career.

Harrison sailed for America on 5 July 1927, and the organ trade soon knew of his arrival. The public announcement was in January 1928, when Skinner introduced his new co-worker to the periodicals, saying “Mr. Harrison is destined to be a great figure in the art of organ building in America.” Harrison’s title was that of Assistant General Manager and it was noted that he “was working in close cooperation with Mr. Skinner of artistic development work.”

Harrison could not have arrived in America at a better time. By the late 1920’s, Gordon Balch Nevin (who, incidentally, no longer worked for the Skinner roll-cutting department) wrote that the English Ensemble organ threatened “to become the fetish of the decade; it is the most discussed point in organ design of the day, taking preference even over console matters” [!]. Young American organists were rediscovering the works of Bach, and they wished to hear them with a sparkle and clarity they felt the purely symphonic organ would not provide. The brilliant English Ensemble was certainly a step toward their new idea of clarity, and Harrison was welcomed as the exponent of English tradition.

Three 1928 Skinner contracts constituted Harrison’s debut: Hill Auditorium, University of Michigan at Ann Arbor (Op. 664, finished April); the Chapel at Princeton University (Op. 656, finished September); and Rockefeller Chapel at the University of Chicago (Op. 634, finished October). Each instrument was large enough to incorporate both Skinner’s and Harrison’s ideas virtually without compromise. All three featured many chorus ranks on the Choir and a powerful Solo. All of the Skinner orchestral color was included, along with new types of diapason and reed choruses.

These university installations were eminently successful, and Skinner was enormously proud of them. The greatest spectacle occurred at Princeton. The company invited the Philadelphia and New York organ communities to hear the instrument, chartering special train cars to transport them (likely Harrison’s idea, as Willis had done the same in 1926 to transport Londoners to Liverpool to hear the newly completed Cathedral organ). Three hundred and fifty influential organists and enthusiasts attended a so-called “informal demonstration,” which was anything but: Chandler Goldthwaite, Charles Courboin, Lynnwood Farnam, Rollo Maitland, Fernando Germani and Ralph Downes played for almost two hours. Gordon Balch Nevin wrote that the Princeton organ was “a monument to artistic taste, knowledge and skill,” continuing, “There is a complete change in the diapason quality…the quality is so pungent, so incisive, so downright clean, that contrapuntal passages take on a new meaning.”

Harrison and Skinner had infused the organ with a new brilliance: not really Willis or Lewis, but a compromise of standard Skinner practice by way of re-introducing pipe construction details that had been present in the earliest Skinner work, coupled with typical English upperwork of the period. In addition to the new choruses, Harrison introduced the bearded wood Contrebasse, metal harmonic flutes and Willis-Lewis–style metal chimney flutes with wood stoppers. Over the next year, other modifications appeared, including alterations to the famous Skinner Flute Celeste, more brilliant “English” Swell chorus reeds and French Trumpet, and the transition from vertical swell shades to horizontal. Harrison was utterly diplomatic in his approach: he praised American progress, and he respected tradition, all while sounding a clarion call for higher standards in tone and taste. Best of all, he was a genuine English product at a time when pro-Anglo sentiment was at a peak.

Skinner, on the other hand, welcomed the ensemble improvement, saying of the Ann Arbor instrument, “It is from every angle the most magnificent thing I ever heard on either side of the water.” (So much for English influence!) At the same time, he persevered in developing new solo voices. The most distinctive of these were the revised English Horn and Heckelphone. The pipes now terminated in a double-bell instead of single, considerably enhancing the plaintive tone. The Flauto Mirabilis made its debut at the University of Michigan (Op. 664) along with a revised, more sharply-tapered Erzähler; the Princeton organ (Op. 656) had the company’s first 32' Fagotto. The 1928-’29 Skinner rebuild of the Woolsey Hall organ at Yale University (Op. 722) contained an Orchestral Trombone of blazing intensity, plus a 20-rank “String Ensemble” (Skinner’s largest), consisting of four orchestral pairs, four muted pairs and a four-rank Cornet. This division is unique among Skinner organs in that it draws as nine separate stops. Other Skinner String organs contained six ranks (a pair each of Gambas, Salicionals and Dulcets) drawing as one stop.

By late 1928 the company had a new head reed voicer, Oscar Pearson, who had trained at Estey under William Haskell. He had also worked in the Westfield plant. Pearson turned out a crisper-sounding type of reed than did Fred Bolton, and Skinner preferred it. Pearson recalled that he enjoyed working for Skinner: “there was never any trouble.”

Other changes were contemplated at the factory. In 1928, Marks engaged Charles Bedaux (1887-1944), an efficiency expert, to streamline factory procedure. French-born, Bedaux was naturalized as an American citizen in 1906. He developed the “Bedaux” or “point” system of “payment for efficiency.”

Bedaux and his methods were quietly ridiculed at the factory. During one visit, Bedaux inspected the voicing rooms, and after a moment, asked why two men couldn’t voice two pipes simultaneously at one machine. Jason McKown, a factory apprentice in 1924 (and dean of Boston organ technicians until his death in 1989), recalled that Bedaux’s plan threatened to wreck the morale of the factory men.

However, one suggestion of Bedaux’s may have been taken seriously: magnet redesign. The Skinner maple-cap magnet was speedy, reliable and restorable but costly to make and install. For a primary action, the large magnets had to be placed in a separate box and tubed to the chest. Furthermore, magnets could be repaired only by taking the box apart. In late 1928 or early 1929, the Skinner Company switched to a small bakelite magnet made by the Globe Technolian Company of Melrose, Massachusetts. The Technolian magnets fit directly into the chest with two screws, using two dags to hold the cap in place, and at three for a dollar, they were cheap.

Unfortunately, dag magnets developed a fatal flaw. The edges of the armatures tended to corrode, and the armatures wedged in the on position, causing ciphers. The organ in the Second Church of Christ, Scientist, Hartford (op. 793) developed myriad ciphers during its installation in the fall of 1930, and Jason McKown was dispatched to Hartford to remedy the situation. After replacing many armatures, the ciphers were eliminated and the dedication occurred as planned. (Wyllys D. Waterman, the organist, was so pleased that he took McKown to a restaurant for a fancy duck dinner.)

Harrison, Bedaux or Marks may have initiated the magnet changeover, but Skinner doubtless deplored it. He had personally developed the maple-cap magnet, and must have been unhappy with its replacement. The dag magnets were first experimented with in the remote combination action at Princeton, built in mid-1928; the earliest wholesale inclusion of them is Op. 712 (early 1929); they appear as late as Op. 858 (late 1931). The company returned to the original maple-cap style in late 1931, as early as Op. 851, and one curious exception: Op. 820 in Toledo (mentioned below), an organ over whose construction Skinner had complete control. If Skinner felt vindicated with the return of the maple-cap magnet, it was a small victory in a worsening war.

By 1930, business had slackened, despite several large contracts (Severance Hall, Cleveland, Op. 816; University of California at Los Angeles, Op. 818; Holy Rosary Cathedral, Toledo, Ohio, Op. 820). As Skinner saw Harrison develop personal ideas beyond the Skinner framework, he may have felt that Marks was trying to cheapen the product by diluting the Skinner aesthetic, thus hurting sales. Skinner saw what was coming and laid plans for the future.

In late 1929 he sold his stock in the Skinner company and used the proceeds to purchase the Serlo Organ Hall in Methuen, Massachusetts, which housed the famous Boston Music Hall Walcker organ of 1863 and featured an adjoining organ factory. After installing his son Richmond in the organ shop, Skinner hoped to move up to Methuen and start a new business in competition with the one he had founded in 1901.

Upon learning of the stock sale, Marks was furious. He set about quietly arranging re-purchase of the stock. But at the end of 1930, when Skinner announced he was leaving the Skinner Organ Company, Marks found himself in a most unusual position. After all, Skinner was a terrible businessman and was unlikely to get very far given the financial climate. However, even in a prosperous economy, the public relations fallout from Skinner leaving his own company would have posed a wild card on which Marks was unwilling to gamble. The bad economy dictated that Skinner stayed. Marks offered Skinner $5,000 a year for &Mac222;ve years to do nothing other than keep his name allied to the Skinner Organ Company. With pride bubbling up to the surface, Skinner almost declined the offer. But in the end he bowed to family pressure, signing the &Mac222;ve-year binder in January 1931.

Even before these dramatic events, Skinner and Harrison had begun a quiet struggle over the company’s artistic direction. Harrison had been slow to introduce reforms, probably in the hopes of gradually easing Skinner into new ways. By 1930, however, this collection of details had coalesced into a style with which Skinner was no longer comfortable. On jobs where he was in supervisory control, Skinner began to rebel, and in so doing established a distinctive style for his last creative period. Skinner’s concerns had always been with artistic expression, and it irked him that Harrison was emerging the victor in tonal matters.

In 1930, Harold Gleason requested that Harrison personally design and supervise the new organ for UCLA (Op. 818). In 1931, the Church of Ascension rebuild in New York City (Op. 860) was to take place “under the personal supervision of G. Donald Harrison.” Also that year, Clarence Watters asked for Harrison to superintend the construction of the Trinity College (Hartford) organ (Op. 851, 68 ranks); St. Mary the Virgin in New York City (Op. 891, 69 ranks); and Northrop Auditorium, University of Minnesota (Op. 892, 108 ranks upon completion in 1936).

G. Donald Harrison could have produced English-style organs indefinitely, maintaining the company’s prosperity in a safe course. But he was not satisfied with the English Ensemble style, choosing instead to pursue his new ideal of transparency and clarity. Harrison remained unconvinced that modern English methods were ideal, and thought that the earlier English practices of Lewis and Schulze perhaps had more to offer. Harrison held that the ensemble should be provided first, polyphony should be as clear as possible, and the organ should contain the requisite sounds to play organ literature.

In contrast, Skinner’s style was based on the creation of majestic tone and grandeur in every size of instrument, by the inclusion of beautiful, blending voices. Skinner wanted Harrison to help him create a new and measured brilliance in Skinner organs. The powerful Swell mixture of a small three-manual would have created all the brilliance Skinner’s idea required, for example; only a larger instrument would call for more. But brilliance was no novelty to Harrison. He also wanted polyphonic clarity. To Skinner, beauty was anything that moved people. To Harrison, what was beautiful was a demonstration of logic, purity, efficiency and restraint in the service of music. If either Marks or Harrison hoped that Skinner might relinquish control graciously, they were mistaken. Skinner began to fight, his temper now inflamed by Harrison’s latest development at Trinity College, Hartford.

The Hartford organ (Op. 851, 1931) contained several significant departures from typical Skinner practice, mostly in the Choir organ. This division had a moderately scaled Trumpet on only five-inch pressure with French-type parallel shallots. This diminutive, intense stop was accompanied by a tapered principal family called “Spitzflöte” at 16', 8' and 4' plus a Sesquialtera of four ranks. The new type of Choir division represented a step forward for the “classical” set (Emerson Richards, William King Covell, Edward Flint, Edward Gammons). Even conservative William Barnes (still advocating “judicious” unification in the pages of The American Organist) called the Choir the most interesting feature of the organ and the Trumpet “a triumph of low-pressure reed voicing.”

In the midst of Harrison’s and Skinner’s differences, the Skinner Company merged with the pipe organ division of the Aeolian Company. Although the decision was confirmed on 14 December 1931 and the transaction effective 2 January 1932, Harrison was measuring jobs for Aeolian contracts as early as October 1931. The Skinner Company controlled 60 percent of the stock while Aeolian controlled 40 percent. On paper, the two companies merged. In reality, Skinner absorbed Aeolian, along with the Duo-Art roll player and inventory, one officer, three employees and some cash.

One consequence of the merger was the discontinuation of the Skinner player. The last one was installed in the Montgomery residence, Bronxville, New York (Op. 865). In all, about 75 perfected automatic Skinner players were built. After the merger, a prototype called the “Model A” was developed, using the smallest Skinner residence stoplist coupled to the Aeolian Duo-Art player. The first one was built for Dorchester studio (Op. 887).

From a business point of view, the elimination of the Skinner player system made sense. Aeolian’s inventory included several pre-manufactured players, Concertolas and consoles; the Aeolian roll library was much larger than Skinner’s, and there were many more Aeolian roll customers; and the Duo-Art was simpler to construct, install and maintain.

The merger can only have served to aggravate Skinner’s sense of displacement; after all, the Skinner name had now dropped to second place. Harrison was striking out along individual lines in tonal work, as Skinner’s personality was being slowly drained from the Skinner organ.

While he may have fumed quietly over the Trinity College organ and the merger, Skinner complained openly to Marks about Harrison’s latest design for the Church of St. Mary the Virgin in New York City (Op. 891, 1932). Although the specification called for many prepared-for stops, the initial installation was to possess a Great with only one 8' stop and no reeds, a Swell whose chorus reeds were all of the new French type, and a Choir along Hartford lines but termed “Positif.” Skinner deplored not only the French-type reeds, but the more brilliant type of English-shallot reed which Harrison favored. Marks answered the charges:

"My dear Ernest:

"I have received your long letters re: remote control and re: the [Raymond] Nold matter [St. Mary the Virgin]. I regret your attitude and cannot agree with you.

"I am particularly sorry that you persist in the patently erroneous idea that no one but yourself ever has contributed or ever can contribute to the success of the Company. The postscript on your last letter clearly indicates the existence in your mind of this idea. It is not shared by your associates or by the Board of Directors. Everyone is willing to give you generous credit for your achievements. You should be equally generous with numerous others in the organization who have contributed largely to our success.

"I have earnestly endeavored to arrange your status so as to make you as comfortable as possible, consistent with the interests of the Company. I am afraid some points remain to be cleared up in order to avoid confusion.

"I wish to remind you of the existence of the Technical Control Committee, of which you are Chairman, also of your contract with the Company. Please leave the [Northrop Auditorium, University of] Minnesota and the [Church of] St. Mary the Virgin organs entirely to Harrison. If, in their design, there is anything which appears to be wrong, you may lay it before the Technical Control Committee.

"In future you are to specify scaling and voicing on jobs which you sell. Harrison shall do the same on his. Others will be decided by myself in case of any disagreement.

"The Technical Control Committee is to be made an active and useful body.

Skinner wrote back four days later.

"There is much in yours of May 27th that I anticipated. Generally speaking, I never expected you to take my side of any question, so I will go into details a little bit more.

"…Why can’t Harrison sell Skinner organs? The public thinks they are going to get Skinner organs when they come to us, and the Skinner quality. What do you want to knock it down for?

"I utterly refuse to accept your fifth paragraph. It is agreed that I am head of the technical end of the organization and until the directors meet to vote that I am not, I intend to be the head of it, for the simple reason that that is where the business comes from… I think it is an outrage that another man is invited into this organization after all the years I have worked somewhere and put on a par with me and allowed to thrust his ideas into the thing in spite of my wishes, when my wishes are based wholly on preserving the name for the quality I produced. I took Harrison in this organization with open arms and gave him 50-50 in the factory and with my friends, and gave him the best show I know how to do, and there was no trouble until he started in on the idea that he didn’t need me any more, so that the last two or three years I might as well not have existed as far as having any connection with jobs that he was particularly interested in."

On June 6, Skinner continued:

"You can do as you like A.H. but I suggest that if you will [not] let the man who made the quality stay in command of the quality, I will resign as Vice President and Technical director — the title is nothing I want to substance.

"You won’t believe in a thousand years that there is no small motive in my composition. I want to build the finest organs in the world and you elect to stop me if you can. You don't like me, I am 65 and I have no time to waste in wrangling and foolish opposition or in a stew about something of which you are generally the cause… You don’t want harmony — you promote discord. You are responsible for all the trouble I ever had with Harrison. We got along perfectly before you put him up to going over my head."

The correspondence was to no avail. Skinner began taking steps to ensure that Harrison could not interfere with organs he sold. At least two contracts stipulated Skinner’s complete supervision: St. James Episcopal Church, Danbury, Connecticut (Op. 869), and the Harvard Congregational Church (Now United Parish), Brookline, Massachusetts (Op. 885). To prevent any misunderstanding, the Danbury contract stated that the “design, layout, scaling, voicing of the pipes and the final finishing of the organ in the church is to be under the personal supervision of Ernest M. Skinner.”

Mid-1931 to mid-1933 emerges as a curious period in Skinner and Aeolian-Skinner output. While Skinner’s and Harrison’s stoplists appeared similar on paper, especially to readers of The Diapason and The American Organist, the two men waged a fascinating battle of scaling and voicing on the pages of the factory orders.

Skinner’s contracts re-established the general feeling of the 1926-’28 period. Diapasons and mixtures were most often specified with narrow mouths; chorus reeds were of Skinner’s original style; strings and flutes continued as before, except that by 1933, Skinner had rejected the Willis-Lewis–style chimney flutes, and returned to the wood gedeckts that turned to open metal pipes at G44. Among these last authentic Skinners were Holy Rosary Cathedral, Toledo (Op. 820); Old St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, Philadelphia (Op. 862); St. James Episcopal Church, Danbury, Connecticut (Op. 869)&Mac226; Girard College Chapel, Philadelphia (Op. 872); Hershey Community Center, Hershey, Pennsylvania (Op. 876, originally an Aeolian contract); Harvard Congregational Church (now United Parish), Brookline, Massachusetts (Op. 885); and the Kellogg High School Auditorium, Battle Creek, Michigan (Op. 904).

While in San Francisco in July 1933, Skinner attempted to remove the clause in the contract for Grace Cathedral (Op. 910), which called for Harrison to supervise construction of the instrument. Marks summoned Skinner back to Boston, and when Skinner returned five days late, Marks wrote the following letter on 14 July 1933:

“Unless otherwise directed, in writing, from time to time by George Catlin or myself, you are to remain in Boston or at your summer camp in New Hampshire or, if desired by you and agreed to by Mr. Catlin or myself, elsewhere.

“You are to come to the factory or elsewhere, for consultation or other service when — but only when — directed by Mr. Catlin or myself. You are to travel in the service of the Company when directed by Mr. Catlin and myself and not otherwise.

“You are to incur no expenses chargeable to the Company except in connection with such approved services.

“You are to write no letters to clients or prospective clients except as directed and with correct copies in the usual files. All letters received by you pertaining to the business of the Company are to be handed to Mr. Catlin.

“The directors feel that your frequent association with competitors leads to disclosures and remarks of such nature as to aid and abet competitors. You are directed to cease contact and communication with competitors.

“It is reported that you are writing a book. The Company feels entitled to see that anything you write for publication in books or otherwise is in furtherance of the best interests and good will of the Company and that such writings are not injurious to such interests; therefore you are directed not to allow any of your writings to be published without my approval in writing so long as your service contract is in force…

“You are advised that a violation of these directives may result in serious damage to the interests of your employer and that you will be held responsible for such damages.

“You are also reminded that the obligation of the Company to pay your salary ceases upon commission by you of any material breach of your contract with it…

“In case this is not clear to you, you may make an appointment with me and come to New York for a discussion. Kindly do not write any letters on the subject and please regard these instructions as effective now.”

At age 66, Skinner was stripped of all power in the company. Skinner’s last two jobs with the company were for Bristol Chapel at the Westminster Choir School (now College) in 1934, where,most ironically, he had to work with Carl Weinrich, a “Baroque”-minded student of Lynnwood Farnam; and the 1935 rebuild of the Cyrus Curtis Aeolian organ for reinstallation at Old Christ Church, Philadelphia.

Meanwhile, Skinner’s son Richmond was already established at the organ factory on the Methuen property. When the five-year contract expired in January of 1936, Ernest Skinner joined his son, leaving forever the company he had founded 35 years previously.