Margaret Reaney Memorial Library board of trustees, using set aside “museum” funds, recently approved the purchase of, and received, a St. Johnsville made Meloharp.
Trustee Sharon Fuller, in her extensive research of local businesses, discovered that the stringed instruments were briefly made in the village. Fuller turned that information over to Trustee Mat Rapacz, who had been researching the piano makers Roth & Engelhardt and discovered the Meloharp connection to the piano company. While browsing the Internet Rapacz located an instrument in Philadelphia and completed the purchase on behalf of the library.
The Meloharp was invented by George B. Shearer of Oneonta in 1895. St. Johnsville piano action makers Roth & Engelhardt soon enticed Scherer to locate his company in their “old cheese factory” building at the end of South Division Street along the railroad tracks.
By March, 1896, seven styles of Meloharps, ranging in price from $6 to $30 retail, were made in St. Johnsville. Meloharp contracted with Roth and Engelhardt to make 30,000 of the instruments for them. About 9,000 were produced before a dispute over payment and quality turned into a lawsuit which resulted in the Meloharp Company leaving St. Johnsville. Scherer attempted to revive his company in New Jersey, but was not successful.
The Music Trade Review of October 26, 1895 described the Meloharp as a “remarkable instrument particularly in its quality and volume of its tone; no stringed instrument of its size has hardly any limit to its possibilities in automatic chord production.”
Library trustees hope to have the instrument, in fairly good condition, restored enough to make it playable. Library board President, Rebecca Sokol, commented that the board is absolutely delighted to be able to bring this very special piece of St. Johnsville history “back home”.