Original Location: Nidd Hall, Yorkshire, England
The history of Nidd Hall begins in Elizabethan or Stuart times, when a manor house existed where the large Hall currently stands. In 1824 the manor house was purchased by Benjamin Rawson, who was a wealthy Bradford wool merchant. He demolished the manor house in order to make way for the present stone mansion. Of the original manor, only the 14th century vaulted cellars remain.
After the death of Benjamin Rawson in 1844, the Hall became the property of his daughter, Elizabeth. When she died in 1899 the estate was inherited by her great nephew, Henry Edmund, 14th Viscount Mountgarret. The Hall remained in the Mountgarret family for the next ninety years, when a Yorkshire businessman purchased it to accommodate his ever growing stable of first class race horses.
Nidd Hall itself is a 109-room mansion, with a four story high main hall, 40 bedrooms, 20 bathrooms, a double living room with an ornate, molded ceiling, a huge dining room with a beautiful copper ceiling and a 12-foot high marble fireplace, a superb paneled library and so on. Each room is equipped with beautifully made two-inch thick mahogany doors, carefully fitted with elegantly engraved brass doorplates. And as if all this were not enough, throughout the house are huge stained glass panels that add a festive sense to the interior. But there is much more to Nidd Hall than just the main house. The carriage house, a magnificent stone structure on its own merit, encloses enough area to shelter about seven cars, twenty or so stables for horses, as well as having a group of apartments in the upstairs area above.
And then there are other historic buildings on the property, too, also built in stone. Originally Nidd Hall sat upon a 4,000 acre tract of land, with extensive sculptured gardens, a lake, and eight acres of vegetable gardens and greenhouses that supplied the Hall's huge kitchens. By 1987, when the Welte Style 6 Concert Orchestrion was removed, the property included only about 250 acres of land, which had recently been sold for only $1,300,000.00
The Welte Orchestrion was situated in a small, cramped room, just barely large enough to hold the naked chassis of the immense machine. The ornate cabinetry had been removed, as no one could see the instrument, and there was not the physical space to accommodate its bulky, carved magnificence. For anyone not knowing of the great machine standing quietly behind its ornate prison walls, the Welte was essentially non-existent. Operation and the changing of music rolls was accomplished from the main entry hall, where, closeted behind two small doors that allowed access to the roll frame and controls, sat the impressive instrument. For tuning and maintenance the Welte could be rolled out of its tight compartment into a neighboring hallway, that is, until the original transport mechanism for moving the heavy orchestrion developed mechanical problems soon after its installation, thereafter leaving the giant orchestrion marooned in its cramped quarters for the remainder of its installed lifetime. But the timely mechanical failure of the transport mechanism was probably a blessing, because once the big orchestrion could not be moved out into the more spacious hallway, thereby remaining somewhat inaccessible, it was relatively safe from careless and inept hands, protecting it from being cobbled or vandalized. This entombment by default undoubtedly helped to keep the Welte in pristine condition, up to the very day it was re-discovered by modern day enthusiasts and collectors.
Today the historic Nidd Hall is a first class hotel, the "Nidd Hall Country House Hotel" (Logo shown at left), and is noted for its fine cuisine and outdoor sporting activities. The imposing Georgian-style building, considered in its day to contain some of the finest plaster and wrought iron workmanship in England, has been carefully restored to its former glory. Several photographs of the hotel interior can be viewed by clicking on the Hotel Logo image at left.
Ken Goldman had been interested in obtaining a large Welte Orchestrion for his collection for many years, when about 1986 the first chance to get one presented itself. It was a very clean and complete Style 3 that was being shipped from Europe. Originally the instrument had belonged to a man of title, so it had some interesting history behind it. Ken quickly completed a purchase arrangement for the Welte and anxiously awaited for its arrival on U.S. soil. When the anticipated day finally arrived, Ken was disappointed to discover a rather significant problem; a couple of boxes containing the small wooden pipes, along with other assorted parts, had completely vanished before the machine got to the U.S.A. Thus, Ken only owned the instrument for a couple of weeks, and his passion to own the "perfect" Welte wasn't yet to be.
Then, in 1987, while traveling in Switzerland, he heard about a Welte Style 4 that was offered for sale in Germany. Ken and his wife immediately went to see it. It was a Style 4 Welte Concert Orchestrion in fairly good condition, and all the pipework was intact. It was in obvious need of restoration work, but would have been a beautiful Welte once the refurbishing was complete. The only major consideration was the monetary exchange rate, which made the cost prohibitive for Ken. The owner of the Welte thought in terms of German marks, and not U.S. dollars.
Ken truly wanted the Style 4 Welte and tried in vain to find a solution to the exchange problem. He lamented, if only I had known about this instrument a year before, when the German mark was 33 cents, and not the 48 cents it is now. A deal would have been cut right there and then if it were not for the high dollar price. Ken even considered buying it with an agreement that would allow him to pay for it when the dollar was stronger, reasoning that the dollar could not keep on dropping forever. But, unfortunately, the dollar did continue its decline, with the mark valued at 55 cents. The idea of owning that particular Welte was fading rapidly.
But another Welte opportunity soon comes along. On September 14th Ken leaves for California on a two week long business trip, with an initial destination of San Francisco, and then on down the California coast to Los Angeles. The trip drags on with long, boring, and tiresome hours, until the evening of September 26. Now on his way home, the airplane leaves a few minutes before midnight, bound for Chicago, Illinois. Thinking he can get some well deserved rest, a child seated in front of Ken cries and screams for the first two hours. The plane arrives in Chicago at 5:30 A.M., whereupon Ken takes another flight on to Boston, Massachusetts. So, at 9:45 A.M. in the morning he is finally in a taxi, making the last weary segment of his long and boring trip home.
Once at home, at about 11:00 A.M., Sunday, September 27, Ken notices a catalog from London, England. Christie's South Kensington Auction House is having a sale of mechanical music on October 1 -- just four days away. Flipping though the 193 page catalogue, nothing seems too catch Ken's eye, just pages of radio equipment, gramophone records, phonographs, and one or two small automatons, until, that is, he opens up to the center page of the catalog -- lot #134. Astonished, Ken could not believe his eyes. Lot 134 was for a large Welte described as follows:
|Christie's South Kensington Auction House -- Lot 134|
A Welte 75-note pneumatic orchestrion, marketed by Geo. Baker & Co. (late Baker-Troll), with seven ranks of wood pipes and five of metal, drum, side-drum, cymbal, and triangle, powered by original 110 volt motor with modern transformer--125 in. high x 87 in. wide x 46 in. deep (318 cm. x 220 cm. x 117 cm.).
Supplied in 1899 for fitting in its present location, the organ is enclosed on three sides by walls, with access doors in front for roll changing and at one end for withdrawing the instrument for servicing. It is mounted for this purpose on two lead-screws which enable it to be wound out into an adjoining corridor, exposing the back of the entire organ. However, it appears that there is insufficient clearance for complete removal, and the instrument will therefore need some dismantling before it can be taken out. There is no casework with the organ. Fifty-seven rolls, mostly in canisters, are included.
Viewing of this and the following lot, in Yorkshire, should be arranged with the Mechanical Music Department. Removal of both will be at the purchaser's risk and expense.
It was the phrase "SEVEN RANKS OF WOOD PIPES AND FIVE OF METAL" that instantly caught Ken's eye, as he gasped, "Can they count?" This just can't be right, he thought to himself, remembering that the largest Welte known up to this time was the style 5 owned by Durward Center, and this Welte looked to be even larger. And then the seemingly low price estimate of only L5,000 to L7,000 ($8,200 to $11,000) caused him to wonder "Just what is this, and could Christie's have missed something important?" By now it was 1:00 P.M., and Ken, exhausted as he was, was moved to take immediate action.
A telephone call to Durward Center -- who is probably the most knowledgeable person on Welte orchestrions in the U.S. -- luckily finds him at home, and the conversation proceeds:
KG: Durward, tell me about the Welte coming up in the Christie's auction.
DC: What Welte is that?
KG: Well, here is the description of it (Ken reads from the catalog.).
DC: Well, l don't have the catalog, but it sure sounds like a Welte Orchestrion.
KG: How about if I send you the catalog by overnight mail?
DC: That's fine, but time is running out. Furthermore, this thing isn't in London but rather in Leeds, which is over 200 miles north, all by small, country roads.
About 4:00 P.M. Ken's wife, Sandra, is on her their way to the airport (from which Ken had just come a few hours earlier) to put the catalog on a plane to Baltimore, Maryland, so that Durward could see it and hopefully determine just what kind of Welte was being offered.
In the meantime, Ken called a longtime collector and friend, Bob Gilson, in Wisconsin, thinking that Bob ought to know something about this instrument:
KG: Bob, do you know about the upcoming Christie's sale this week?
BG: Well, l have the catalog, but l didn't see anything of interest.
KG: How about the Welte Orchestrion?
BG: What Welte?
Again, Ken reads the description, for maybe the 10th time.
BG: Ken, this Welte. Tell me about the brass pipes. Are they in one row or in more than one row?
KG: From the catalog, they are in two different rows.
BG: This is a real big one. You should look into this.
Soon after the telephone conversation with Bob Gilson ended, Ken realized that he knew someone in England -- Graham Whitehead, whom he had visited a year or so earlier, and whom he had recently seen at the annual Musical Box Society International meeting in St. Paul, Minnesota. Ken wasted no time in telephoning Graham, who knew about the sale at Christie's, but had no real interest in the Welte. Graham said he would be happy to go and inspect the Welte and then report back as to exactly what it was and its condition.
At 9:30 P.M. on Sunday, September 27, Ken called Durward Center again, knowing that he would have gotten the catalog by then.
KG: Well, Durward, what do you think?
DC: It sure must be a Style 4 or larger, perhaps even a Style 5, like mine.
For Ken, the idea of actually getting an instrument a big as Durward's Style 5 was almost beyond belief. Travel arrangements were quickly made for Durward Center to be on an airplane bound for London by evening of the next day -- Monday, September 28. Ken hoped that this would not be a wasted trip, and made preparations during the day on Monday for Durward to get into the grand old country estate where the Welte was located. It was about 7:00 P.M. Monday evening, with Durward Center well over the Atlantic Ocean at jet speed on his way to London, when the phone rang. It was Graham Whitehead, who immediately began telling Ken about the Welte:
"It is a very large Welte, at least a Style 5 and possibly a Style 6(!!). The pipes are laid out in the typical Welte Sunburst style and the machine is still in playing condition. The leather is all original and of good quality, the pumps are fine, the reservoir is holding quite well and generally in very good condition. The pipes are all very nice with no dents in the brass at all. It seems the instrument has never been hacked up and received quite good care. This is located in a very ornate country estate which belonged to a prominent person and he has sold off the property and the organ must be removed."
What was Graham saying, Ken mused, thinking to himself, "there is only one known Welte Style 5 Concert Orchestrion and no others, and certainly nothing known that is any larger. This sounds just too good to be true." Graham continued talking ...
"it is in a large stone house, no, a mansion is a better word, and the machine was built into a cupboard-type of arrangement. However, it has no case! There have been four or five people to look at it so far and possibly more to come in the next few days. The piece is in as nice a condition as can be possible for a machine that is close to 90 years old. Further, the 57 original rolls that go with it are really nice tunes with marches, waltzes, violin concerti and on and on."
Ken hung up the phone, considering the possibilities: "Maybe no one would know about this. With the low estimate, this may be able to be bought for $20,000. Perhaps I finally would have a Welte after all." Any hope of a good night's sleep went out the window, as Ken couldn't stop thinking about the Welte and his desire to own it. And, Ken reminded himself, Durward Center, an expert on Welte Orchestrions, would be in England tomorrow, at which time I will find out what the Welte really is and its condition.
It was Tuesday afternoon in Boston (and Tuesday evening in London) when Durward finally telephoned Ken, after what had seemed like an endless forever.
KG: So what is it after all, Ken asks?
DC: Well, Ken, I guess 1 don't have the only Style 5 Welte anymore. The machine is all original and quite good. The pipes are in mint condition. This is a very large Style 5 or possibly a Style 6. It has 294 pipes, 50 more than my Style 5. There are six more trumpet pipes, which go further into the bass section than mine, the complete 52-note Gedeckt flute, etc.
Ken, writing notes as fast as he can, replies:
KG: This is the one -- let's try to buy it! Again, there haven't been many people there to see it. Maybe everyone missed it.
The possibilities of how everything could go wrong then flooded into Ken's mind, as he debated his chances of successfully acquiring the large Welte. But there was not much time to dwell on it, because on Wednesday, one day before the auction, Ken was off to New York for business. He had given detailed instructions to Durward regarding bidding on the machine, so all was thought to be set for the action. But there were an additional 60 rolls to be sold as a separate lot after the Welte sold. Ken reasoned, "Why not get those, too. I already have 200 rolls from a recut project, plus 57 more with the machine (if I buy it), and another 60 rolls would give me over 300 rolls." The rest of day passed uneventfully without any news, so there seemed to be little else to be done in regards to the Welte. The sale was to take place in about 24 hours.
On the day of the sale, 7:00 A.M. in New York, and 12:00 Noon in London, the phone rang. It was Durward Center calling. The sale would start at 2:00 P.M., London time, which was only two hours away.
DC: Ken, there have been some developments regarding the Welte. It seems that two people approached the owner of the Welte and tried to get him to withdraw it from the auction. It seems that one offered to pay "anything" for the machine. The other offered a briefcase full of money (many times the catalog estimate) if he would sell it immediately. This fine man told the owner to either take my offer now or I will not bid in the auction. So what do we do now?
KG: I can't believe this. l realize that it was estimated much too low and 1 was prepared to bid many times the estimate for it. After this, l really don't know. Call me back in one hour.
Ken is frustrated, to put it mildly, having no idea whether the Welte was going to be put up for sale, or not. Nor did he know what kind of reserve might be put on the machine. In the meantime, Christie's revises their estimate on the machine and the decision is made to let it sell -- with a reserve by the owner. In a final telephone conversation before the auction, Ken instructs Durward:
KG: Just bid on it at the level we previously decided and that will be that. We really can't do anything more at this point. The auction will start in about 30 minutes with lot number 139 going off about an hour after the sale starts.
Ken had about an hour to be alone with his thoughts, wondering who the mystery bidders were, and if they would actually bid at the sale. About all Ken really knew for certain was that Durward had his bid and it had also been arranged for Ken to be on the telephone while the Welte was being auctioned. Thus, Ken decides, if my bid is topped I'll bid a couple of times more, and if I don't get the machine it is going to cost someone a lot of money!
The telephone rings. It is Christie's, announcing to Ken that "we have 10 lots to go before the Welte comes up." Then, the moment finally arrives, and the bidding starts off at L20,000 and takes off like a rocket. Ken knows that Durward is bidding for him and that the auctioneer is trying to quickly exhaust the reserve bid from the owner, so that the machine will actually sell. The bidding continues with no end in sight -- L27,000, 30,000, 32,000, and so on. All during this time the Christie's representative is telling Ken when it is his bid, and when the bid is against him. "Your bid, against you, your bid," it is announced. Then the telephone falls dead silent. Did the phone go dead, Ken wonders? For some very long seconds nothing is heard -- just a deafening silence. Then, Ken hears the auctioneer's hammer fall. "Sold, you have just bought it," and the Welte belonged to Ken Goldman
Ken Goldman now owned the largest Welte Orchestrion then known by collectors to be in existence. Moreover, when the lot of 60 additional music rolls came up for auction Ken was the successful bidder on them, too. With the Welte now his, Ken began to plan how he might have the missing casework re-created, hoping that Durward Center would allow his Welte 5 orchestrion case to be copied. But before this actually became necessary, as luck would have it, Ken decided to write to the former owner of the Welte, a Mr. Reed, and ask him to try to find out some past history of the machine, contacting the pervious owner of the castle, if he was still alive. About ten days later Ken received a telephone call from Mr. Reed, who went on to tell Ken that he had owned the property for about twenty years. The past owner was still living, he said, and had a house nearby. It seems he was a man of title who had married into a wealthy family.
After a few more comments, Mr. Reed asked Ken a startling question: "Would you be interested in purchasing the original case that the Welte came in?" Ken was taken aback, hardly able to believe what he was being asked. It seems that when the Welte was installed in the Nidd Hall mansion, it did indeed have a case, but the case had been removed and stored in the event that it might ever be needed again. Thus, for the last 80 years or so, the case lay undisturbed in an undisclosed location, quite unknown to Mr. Reed, Christie's or anyone else involved in the sale.
The gentlemen who owned Nidd Hall prior to Mr. Reed had become very upset when he learned that the Welte orchestrion had been sold, since he considered it to be an integral part of Nidd Hall and something that should have stayed there forever. Moreover, Ken Goldman had paid handsomely for the Welte, while Mr. Reed had paid very little for it when he bought the property. So, the past owner politely informed Mr. Reed that he knew the whereabouts of the Welte's case, but for this information he wanted to be paid. A deal was struck and the location disclosed, which was, surprisingly, in the basement of Nidd Hall! But why had not Mr. Reed, or anyone else scouring Nidd Hall before the sale, ever noticed the Welte case? The answer, it seems, is because the cellars of Nidd Hall are huge, and Mr. Reed actually needed to be given directions by the previous owner in order to find it!
It was at the end of January, 1988, when the Nidd Hall Welte arrived in the U.S.A, and at Durward Center's workshop, where the immense instrument would be restored. Remarkably, since it was still in playing condition, with the original pump leather intact, given a little machine work and a special coating to preserve the original pump leather, along with some other minor details, and the original feeder pumps would be ready to carry on with their original purpose. By October of 1988 the Welte was being reassembled. The ornate roll frame, which did not require much in the way of restoration, was back in place, along with all the interconnecting brass tubing, which had been meticulously cleaned, polished, and lacquered.
By the beginning of 1989 most of the wood and brass trombone pipes were in place again, making the Welte over 10 feet tall, and without the casework! By March, the clarinet pipes were happily back in their original expression chamber, which is mounted at the front of the instrument. To bring this part back to its original state required extending the ripe rack, since it had been cut down in order to fit the Welte into the snug-fitting "cupboard" room in Nidd Hall. Now, the clarinets and their supporting rack were all exactly as when the Welte was shipped from the factory.
Within a few more months the remaining pipework had been cleaned and refurbished, with not one original pipe missing. No doubt, installing the large Welte behind a wall and in a cramped for space "cupboard" had much to do with instrument being completely intact. It was very difficult to get to the machine. There were two long lead-screws that were supposed to used for wheeling the heavy Welte into a small corridor for tuning. Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, this screw mechanism never worked, so the instrument remained protected from prying hands for all of its Nidd Hall residency.
During the early summer months the casework restoration is nearly completed and the finished structure carefully reassembled. In late summer, during the Musical Box Society International meeting in New Jersey, several members join Ken Goldman and automobile down to Baltimore, to visit Durward Center and see Ken's Style 6 Welte. The Welte, by this time, was very near completion, so Ken asked to hear it. At the first musical notes Ken is awe struck by the magnificent and sonorous tones, and he could not begin to conceal his excitement about having it finished and delivered to his home. This was the first time Ken had heard the huge Welte, since it was in Nidd Hall two years earlier, when it played very feebly.
Then, finally, on November 5, 1989, Durward Center arrived in Massachusetts, driving a rented 16-foot truck, loaded with the Style 6 Welte. The work of unloading and assembly started the next morning at 8:00 a.m., and after a full day's work, Durward announced to Ken: "It's time." The Welte -- now united with its original casework and polished to like new condition -- played as it did 90 years ago when it was new. The first impression of anyone who hears it perform today is probably about the same as for someone at the end of the last century -- Wow!. It is visually dazzling to the eye and a delight to the ear, possessing a magnificent, mellow sound, that is wonderfully typical of the large Welte Orchestrions.
Dave Bowers, a noted and prolific author on the subject of automatic musical instruments, visited Ken Goldman shortly after the Welte had been erected and was playing again. When he heard the instrument he grabbed Ken's hand and said: "I want to shake your hand upon seeing this -- I never thought I ever would see one [a Welte Style 6 Concert Orchestrion] like this."
Historic information provided by Ken Goldman, Durward Center, and Terry Hathaway. Technical information provided by Durward Center.