Deagan Century of Progress Marimba No. ?? & No. ??

About a year ago, I impulsively purchased a Deagan Century of Progress marimba.  It’s one of the 3.5 octave models that Deagan made back in 1933 – a total of 75 were made for the 100-piece Century of Progress marimba orchestra.  For those keeping track, mine was made for Harold August Maves, and is serial number 78.

Since that time, I’ve been looking on-line pretty regularly for other CoP marimbas to show up on eBay.  In January, a 3.5 octave model popped up at an antique store in Wisconsin.  Bidding started at $0.99 and rose gradually over the week until nearly tripling in the final hour to end up at $1,799.  Little information was given about how it ended up there (estate sale?), but it looked like it was in pretty good condition.  Unfortunately, the front brass plate is missing, so no idea who the original owner was or what serial number it is. 

ImageThe brass, frame and keys look to be in great condition.  Painful to see the incidentals set up like that, though.

ImageThen just a couple of weeks ago, a 4.5 octave CoP marimba appeared on eBay.  While Deagan made 75 of the 3.5 octave models, only 25 of the 4.5 octave versions were made, so I was pretty excited to see one for sale.  The seller provided some interesting details about the instrument:

I got it and the massive original packing cases (see photos) from an original member of the orchestra back in the 1960s when I was a student of Jim Salmon at the University of Michigan. His name was Carl Bailey, an undertaker in Huntington, Indiana. He, his sister, his parents, and I believe some cousins or aunts and uncles were all in the group.

He had 2 World’s Fairs, 2 King Georges, a couple of 1920s xylorimbas all set up in the basement of the funeral home when I walked in. Truly a once-in-a-lifetime moment! I tried them all, and picked the best instrument of the 4 marimbas.

That’s a pretty great story – it would have been incredible to see those great instruments all gathered together in the basement of a funeral home.  As with the previous marimba, the front brass plate is missing – the original owner’s mother asked if she could keep it as a reminder – so again, no way of knowing which serial number it is.  Given the rarity of the instrument, the price tag was significantly higher – serious collectors only need apply.

ImageThose brass resonators must weigh a ton.


ImageThe original cases look pretty solid.

Incidentally, I searched online for Carl Bailey, and sure enough he owned the Bailey Funeral Home in Huntington, Indiana.  The mortuary was opened by Carl’s dad Frank back in 1910 (Steve Weiss’s list of CoP instruments includes a Frank Bailey, who owned serial number 44).  Carl took over the business in 1952 when his father passed away.  In an funny twist, the mortuary was purchased in 1990 – by a guy named Christopher Love. 

Century of Progress Marimba Ad

In doing a bit of research in the Deagan Century of Progress marimba, I came across this fantastic photo, which I imagine came from a brochure in 1933 or 1934.


This is the 4.5 octave model (C to F) – Deagan made 25 of these for Musser’s 1933 Century of Progress marimba orchestra.

I love everything about this ad.  The well-dressed couple ascends the red stair case, where they are greeted by a dashing young man in tails.  I wonder what he’s gong to serenade them with – a little ragtime?  A transcription of something from the classical period?

Sadly, my own Century of Progress marimba isn’t nearly so shiny these days.  The brass resonators are tarnished and dull, and the green crosspiece has yellowed with age.  Of course, I’m not dashing or young, and I don’t wear a tux when I play it, so I guess we’re even.

Music Monday – Brian Blade

One of the summer’s highlights was the Joni Mitchell tribute concert at Massey Hall.  While I’m not exactly a Joni fan, I certainly respect the profound impact she’s had on a couple of generations of great musicians.  It was definitely exciting to see her live and to witness the reaction of the 2,700 people who had come with the hope that she’d sing a song or two.

The line-up was pretty fantastic – Glen Hansard, Herbie Hancock, Esperanza Spalding, Kathleen Edwards, Rufus, Cold Specks, and a kick-ass band.  For me, though, the stand-out artist of the night was Brian Blade.

I’ve heard Brian on recordings, but this was my first opportunity to see him live.  It was a revelation – he struck me less as a drummer and more as a musician who chooses to express himself on the drums, if that makes any sense.  His playing is grounded, sensitive, and authoritative.  It also looks like he takes great joy in playing, which seems to be infectious.

I’ve picked up a couple of recordings since then, and I hope to do some more listening to his earlier stuff over the rest of the summer.  I really love this video of him and the Fellowship Band performing Stoner Hill earlier this year at the Chicago Music Exchange.  Terrific song, and I can’t think of a player who has better sounding cymbals.


Century of Progress Marimba No. 78

Back in 1933, the famous (at least in percussion circles) Clair Omar Musser created a unique orchestra for the Chicago World’s Fair (aka Century of Progress International Exposition).  Musser was an accomplished mallet player, conductor, and educator, and he joined the J.C. Deagan company in 1930 as the manager of its mallet instrument division.

The Century of Progress Marimba Orchestra Musser put together in ’33 consisted of 100 Deagan marimbas that were specially designed for the occasion.  The group consisted of 75 3.5 octave models, and 25 of the 4.5 octave versions.  Each member of the orchestra purchased his or her own instrument, which came with a plaque bearing the owner’s name and a serial number.

Century of Progress Orchestra
Century of Progress Marimba Orchestra

I was browsing on a popular online auction site not too long ago, and was surprised to see one of these rare instruments was for sale.  While I don’t play a lot these days, I was intrigued by the idea that I could own a small piece of percussion history.  The price was pretty reasonable, and while I’m not normally an impulsive person, I found myself clicking on the “Buy It Now” button.

As luck would have it, the owner was living in Toronto, and he offered to drop it off at my home the next day.  He had purchased it from the family of the original owner a few years back after seeing an ad for it on Craigslist (yes, there are hidden gems on Craigslist).

Deagan Marimba

The instrument I now own is serial number 78, and it originally belonged to Harold August Maves.  It’s one of the 3.5 octave models, and it’s in pretty good shape for an 80 year-old instrument.  The brass resonators are pretty tarnished, but I love the Art Deco design.  The bars were re-tuned a couple of years ago by the legendary Gilberto at Century Mallet Instrument Service in Chicago.  It sounds fantastic – I had heard stories about how good the old rosewood bars are, and the lower end does seem to have a fuller sound than my Marimba One instrument.


Being a percussionist means you never have to stop collecting.  There’s always something out there that catches your eye – a new cymbal, rope-tensioned snare drum, triangle beaters, Tibetan prayer stones, or a vintage marimba.  Don’t tell B, but I’m secretly hoping to come across a vintage Deagan xylophone to add to the line-up.

I know Steve Weiss has an interest in the Century of Progress marimbas and is keeping a list of known instruments and original owners.  You can visit his page here for more details.