J. Malcolm and Co. (1891-1924)

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Manufacturing premises of John Malcolm and Co. were at 116-8 Bayham Street, Camden Town (1893-5) and later Erskine Road and Regent's Park Road, London NW (1896-1924), moving in 1903. Erskine Road on Primrose Hill near Regents' Park was the site of several organ and piano manufacturers. They made their own actions and also supplied them to others for assembly, e.g. Kent and Cooper. Malcolm piano actions are well known and Bill Kibby told me that their serial numbers can provide dating information.

This was a dangerous business since steam powered machinery was used and there was a great deal of wood dust, seasoned timber, varnish and animal glue which was heated for use. Fires were a regular occurance and the Erskine Road premises were destroyed on 21/3/1906 costing the firm £9,000. The company only just survived this, but the same thing happened again only five months later. Other stories like this are told in Arthur Ord-Hume's excellent book which deals with the social-economic impact of the reed organ business [140].

See also Chapter 29 for information on self playing instruments by Malcolm.

The London piano making firm of John Spencer had been established in 1884. Spencer and Co. and Malcolm and Co., were two companies controlled by Murdoch and Murdoch, becoming one of the largest retailers of musical instruments in the UK who made their own pianos, see Chapter 31. We do not believe that Spencer of London ever made free reed instruments, and there is no connection with John Spencer, organ builder of Manchester and Swansea, see Chapter 18.2.

Mike Jackets of the Reed Organ Society found a small instrument with no stops in late 2004. Unfortunately it had severe rot damage to the case and was not restorable. The name of John G. Murdoch and Co. Ltd. is seen above the keyboard. Murdoch had also marketed the Maxfield self-playing organ and Malcolm took over Maxfield's business in 1918.

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Several instruments are listed in the HVN and ROS databases.

A Note from Ian Thompson

John Malcolm reed organ actions give every impression of having a good deal of US or Canadian input. Volume is always very good: a little pipe top 2-row I sometimes play in a tiny church near us has more than enough punch to lead 60 singers, and out barks my nicely made 2-row Miller by about 30%.

Many bigger Malcolms have 16' throughout, in addition to Sub Bass 16', and a good penetrating un-enclosed 2' in the treble, which sits over the same pallets as a biting Hautboy 8'. These well equipped instruments tend not to steer clear of un-necessary stops. One 16 stop model has 6 treble rows. Oddly enough I've never seen a Malcolm with an Aeolian Harp.

I've got a couple of 21 stop models, both in un-usual cases, one of which looks just like a French harmonium. It has pipe organ style stop knobs with Roman capital lettering. The more I see of Malcolms, the more I like them.

Fortunately there are still quite a lot surviving in good condition which appear from sale from time to time.

Register of types produced

Whilst Malcolm built reed organs with up to 21 stops and they often had very elaborate cases, I do not know of any of more substantial specification. Some of the model designations are as follows. We still have a lot to learn about this.

Designation Type Date Description
1/1     small, no stops
9/3     small, 5 stops
12/30     12 stops, pipe top
28/30     11 stops
99/00     high, 10 stops
Folding   1921  
Cabinett     10 stops
Phoneon     self playing, 12 stops

Warranty and Serial numbers

Most Malcolm Organs carry a paper warranty label somewhere in the rear. This may list the number and style, but frustratingly rarely has a date. The information in the following list is therefore from circumstantial evidence and may be partially or wholly wrong. Despite this warning, we note that some 64,000 instruments appear to have been made over a period of 33 years.

We need to initially classify these instruments as follows: (i) with webbed feet; (ii) without. A few photos of small Malcolm instruments are shown separately here. More pictures.

Year Warrant-Case No. Action-Bellows No. Class Comments Source
  2928     9 stops, mirror, white label  
  3642       ros-1392
  4603   9/3 small, 5 stops eb8825
  6142   9/3 small, 5 stops Bill Moore
  11139     12 stops, small mirror  
  13632-16016     1/1 small, no stops  
  16016   1/1 small, no stops eb6141
  17905   12/30 12 stops, pipe top, white label eb8153
  18699   T small, no stops eb3795
Aug'1890 20337        
  21641   99/6   label
  22412       ros-0666
c.1894 23924       ros-0154
1897 27105        
1914 32315       Bill Kibby
1915 32600       Charles Begg's stock books via Bill Kibby
  32661-33674       J.Vallings
  33124 310/80        
  33364   1/1 small, no stops, white label eb5729
1915 33517-33533 33/32       ros-3755
  34001 21942     J.Vallings; NZ
  34190       ros-2816
  34403       ros-1476
  34620-35142       J.Vallings
1902? 37416       ros-4406 *
  38456   44/80    
c.1928? 39618       MMD, player piano
1921 41082   99/00 10 stops, high top, white label Farley
x 1899 42291       ros-3188
  43215   28/30   M.Wild
  46727-46489   28/30 11 stops eb6168
  64432 ?   9/3 small, 5 stops B.Moore
x 1906 47210        

After information from Bill Kibby, we believe that the Malcolm piano actions have a different number series, for instance number 107468 is from 1924.

The Phoneon

Malcolm also produced a self playing instrument named the Phoneon. This is described separately in Chapter 29.11.

HVN DB entry 261

This is from the database of the Harmonium Vereniging Netherlands, entry 261. It is listed with the following stops: Bass Coupler, Sub Bass 16', name missing, Principal 4', Diapason 8', Bourdon 16', Forte, Vox Humana, ?? 8'. ?? 2', Clarinet 16', Melodia 8', Vox Celeste 8', Treble Coupler.


HVN DB entry 301

This one is also from the HVN database, and has the following stops: Bass Coupler, Sub Bass 16', Bass Coupler, Principal 4', Viola 4', Diapason 8', Vox Angelica 2', Forte, Vox Humana, Clarionet 16', Flute 4', Melodia 8', Vox Celeste 8', Dulcet 8', Treble Coupler.


HVN DB entry 317

This one is also from the HVN database, it is said to be from around 1895 and has serial number 24105. It has the following stops: Sub Bass 16', Bass Coupler, Principal 4', Diapason 8', ?? 16', Forte, Vox Humana, ?? 16', Flute 4', Melodia 8', Vox Celeste 8', Dulcet 8', Treble Coupler, Hautboy 8'.


ROS DB entry 154

This is a large parlour organ with 61 keys FFF-f'', treadles, hand pump and knee swells. Stops are: Bass Coupler, Sub Bass 16', Principal 4', Piano 4', Violina 2', Diapason 8', Echo 8', Bassoon 16', Forte, Vox Humana, Hautboy 8', Magic Flute 2', Ophicleide 16'+2', Clarionet 16', Cremona 8', Dulciana 8', Melodia 8', Vox Celeste 8', Dulcet 8', Flute 4' and Treble Coupler. It has serial number 23923 built in 1894.


ROS DB entry 420

This is a folding organ built in 1920 and finished in plywood. It has 49 keys CC-c''' with treadles and knwee swells.

ROS DB entry 579

This is a parlour organ with 61 keys FFF-f'', treadles and knee swells. Stops are: Bass Coupler, Diapason, Echo, Forte, Vox Humana, Dulcet, Vox Celeste, Dulciana, Melodia and Treble Coupler.

ROS DB entry 666

This is a parlour organ with 61 keys FFF-f'', treadles and knee swells. Stops are: Bass Coupler, Diapason, Echo 8', Principal 4', Forte, Vox Humana, Dulcet 8', Vox Celeste 8', Dulciana, Melodia and Treble Coupler. It has serial number 22412.

ROS DB entry 1392

This is a parlour organ with 61 keys FFF-f'', treadles and knee swells. Stops are: Bass Coupler, Melodia, Echo, Vox Celeste, Piano, Forte, Vox Humana, Dulcet, Principal, Dulciana, Diapason and Treble Coupler. It has serial number 3642.


ROS DB entry 1476

This is a parlour organ with 61 keys FFF-f'', treadles and knee swells. Stops are: Bass Coupler, Principal 4', Vox Humana, Dulciana 8', Diapason 8', Piano 4', Dulcet 8', Melodia 8', Echo 8', Forte, Vox Celeste 8' and Treble Coupler. It has serial number 34403.

ROS DB entry 2816

Another parlour-style instrument with serial number 34190 FFF-f'' scale and a mahogany case. Stops are: Sub Bass 16', Bass Coupler, Principal 4', Piano 4', Diapason 8', Forte. Vox Humana, Fluet 4', Melodia 8', Vox Celeste 8', Dulcet 8', Treble Coupler.

ROS DB entry 3188

Serial number 42291 is a Cabinett model with FFF-f'' compass and a walnut cabinet. Stops are: Bass coupler, Diapason 8', Echo 8', Forte, Vox Humana, Dulcet 8', Vox Celeste 8', Dulciana 8', Melodia 8', Treble Coupler.


Albert Farley's Organ, number 41082

The full history of Albert Farley's Malcolm Organ, now inherited by his grandson Jonathan Farley, is told on Jon's Web site at This is one of the rare instruments where we have the complete provenance and it is still with the original family.

Albert Farley was a Strict and Particular Baptist from Kent, and he played the reed organ at his local chapel in Paddock Wood. Jonathan knows that he composed at least six hymns that were published, though he has never found any of the publications that contain them. In order that he could practice at home, sometime in 1912 [?] he purchased a parlour model reed organ made by John Malcolm and Co. which was built exactly to the specifications of the model he played in the chapel.

Originally it also had a high top but, when after his death in 1931 his wife, Mercy, moved into a cottage with very low ceilings, the top was removed and, as is usual in such situations, was lost. This instrument has the warranty and serial number 41082 and was sold by Murdoch and Murdoch of 461-3 Oxford Street, London in around 1921.


One on e-Bay

This appeared on e-Bay Feb'2005. There is possibly an interesting story developing as, although it has a high top with mirror, one should pay attention to the base. This has the same ``webbed feet'' as the much later one shown in the ROS database number ROS-3188. Even though they are years apart there is a recognisable similarity. Now look at the 1M organs sold by Crane and Sons. The later of the two sold on e-Bay recently is remarkably similar to this one by Malcolm, even the spacing of the stops. The slightly earlier one is quite similar but the webbed feet are missing, perhaps it is earlier in date? Actually we now suspect this is from an earlier series manufactured by Doherty and imported to the UK by Crane and sons, see Chapter 18.1.

e-Bay item *1528

This one was for sale in Illinois, USA in January 2009. The stops listed were Sub Bass 16', Bass Coupler, Principal 4', Piano 4', Diapason 8', Bassoon 16', Forte, Vox Humana, Clarionet 16', Flute 4', Melodia 8', Vox Celeste 8', Dulcet 8', Treble Coupler, Hautboy 8'.

Malcolm no.46489

Advertised on e-Bay in December 2006, this one is serial number 46489 (or 46727 as it says on the warrant). It is a medium-sized instrument with 11 stops, although many of the faces have fallen off.

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e-Bay item *2679

This very nice organ with pipe top appeared on e-Bay in July 2009. It was originally sold by Murdoch and Murdoch and measures 6'7'' high, x4' wide, x2' deep. An accompanying invoice notes ``H.Siebert, Pianoforte and Organ Dealer, 21 Outram Road, Southseal. American organ by Malcolm £15 4/3/1936.''

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Fr. Darragh Connolly's 1M/5:4?

Darragh's Web site notes: This is a Malcolm Organ by Murdoch, Murdoch & Co. of London. It is oak cased and designed in a harmonium like case with a louvered swell mechanism behind the music desk.

The stop list is as follows: Bass coupler, P Sub Bass 16, No.2 Principal 4, A Piano 4, S Violina 2, No.1 Diapason 8, A Echo 8, No.3 Bassoon 16, Forte, Vox Humana, S Hautboy 8, S Magic Flute 2, S Ophicleide 16+2, No.3 Clarinet 16, S Cremona 8, S Vox Celeste 8, A Dulciana 8, No.1 Melodia 8, A Dulcet 8, No.2 Flute 4, Treble Coupler. The designation preceeding the stop names is not fully understood.

This seems to be a very unusual and well built instrument with a style unlike others we have seen. It has at least 4 full ranks of reeds plus a separate sub-bass. It has hand blowing equipment as well as treadles which is very rare in a 1M instrument.


Darragh bought this organ from Ian Thompson in May 2016, see

e-Bay 761

Here is a picture of another small instrument with a similar very elegant case. It has C-c compass and 13 stops.


The Crane and Sons Connection no.4640

Also on e-Bay in November 2006 in Grantham. This one carries the label which reads Crane and Sons, Scotland Road, Liverpool. A label on the rear of the chest has a warrant similar to the one shown above and notes the instrument's serial number as 4640.


We note that this one has no stops, but has ``webbed feet'' and side panels of a similar style to the others.


There are three Malcolm instruments in the Woodville Organ Museum, New Zealand. One was originally in a Presbyterian church and then bought by the Seventh Day Adventists in Taihape. It had a blower installed but was later replaced by an electronic instrument. This one is now owned by Jared Thornton in New Zealand. Jared is a student in Wellington, and plays the organ regularly.

A second larger instrument was bought from Malcolm Weir in Christchurch. History of the third instrument is not known.

We have photographs of a large number of other instruments of differing size and shape, but have yet to understand all the Malcolm model designations shown on the warranty labels as ``class''. A few other photos of small Malcolm instruments are shown separately here. More pictures.

John Malcolm - John Who?

I published the following in the ROS Quarterly in 2013.

I never thought I would be writing this short article, but recent events have prompted some deep thinking.

There are "Malcolm Organs" all over the world, they appear for sale pretty regularly for instance on e-Bay and all have the same characteristic style usually with "webbed feet", decorative embossing and often either a pipe top or mirrors. Only 1M variants are known.

These reed organs are very well made. The action is good and the sound is large enough to penetrate to the back of a small English church.

But who made them? I formerly believed that John Malcolm and Co. of Erskine Road, Chalk Farm, London had a steam factory and manufacturing works from 1889-c.1924. And so they did! John Spencer and Co. of London were piano manufacturers from 1885. And so they were!

But it turns out through correspondence with descendants and experts that both these companies were wholly owned by John G. Murdoch and Co., his associates and offspring.

Colin Smythe, great grand-son of JGM, published the latter's obituary on his Web site at My subsequent correspondence with him raised more questions.

Some instruments carry the label "John Malcolm and Co. London" and some "Malcolm Organ specially manufactured for John G. Murdoch & Co. Ltd." or "Murdoch, Murdoch and Co. Malcolm Organ". I have even seen one which says "Made by Malcolm & Co. London". The paper 6-year warrants which are often pasted on the rear of the instruments also carry the name of "John Malcolm & Co. London".

However, according to Colin's grand-mother neither Spencer nor Malcolm were real people. The companies were set up in 1885 and 1888 respectively by Murdoch. My correspondence with Bill Kibby, the UK's leading piano historian, suggests a different conclusion. Do you have more information about these companies?

More recently Ian Thompson suggested as follows: As the firm was tied up with Murdoch and Murdoch, I wonder whether the brothers were John Murdoch and Malcolm Murdoch, putting together their Christian names. Just a thought...

John Malcolms always seem to give more volume than one might expect, and always plenty of weight down below and brightness up top ... I've always felt sure that at least the cavity boards and reeds came from the USA, because they're of un-failingly good quality. Or from Canada? - again for the high quality and also because of the G-sharp/A break and provision of 2' stops bass and treble on [larger models].

Rob Allan