Since 1975, the OHS has recognized organs of historical significance through a program of awards presented in the form of framed certificate that are displayed permanently and affixed as plaques on or near the awarded organs. Initially OHS offered only one award, called Historic Organ Citation, and by the end of 2011, 409 pipe organs had received one of those plaques.
OHS began a review of several programs in 2012, and as a result the Citations program was superseded by a new program in 2013. Primary features of the Citations program were retained in the new one, and the new Historic Organ Awards program is in operation as an enhanced version of its predecessor. For example, the new program continues to place highest value on pipe organs that remain unaltered in their original locations. Further, pipe organs must in general have been maintained in their historic state for at least fifty years before they are considered for an award, although exceptions may be allowed if circumstances warrant. Framed certificates are prepared and presented by an OHS official or designate, usually during a special recital or program or, if appropriate, during a special worship service. The certificate remains the property of OHS and is retained by the owner and displayed publicly so long as the pipe organ retains its historic characteristics.
Though these features of the Citations program have been retained, the Historic Pipe Organ Awards program is distinguished by its new content. It was designed to be in accord with the OHS Guidelines for Conservation and Preservation, and includes different types of awards, each one distinct in the way it recognizes the historic significance of a pipe organ. In addition, the new certificates also clearly identify the characteristics of the organ which merit the award as well as give a brief history of the instrument in its present location.
Awards are presented to organs of any period or style or organbuilding, so long at they are installed in a manner appropriate for their style. Instruments in storage or erected temporarily in locations for demonstration purposes are therefore not elegible to receive awards. An organ must be an example of excellence in organbuilding to receive an award. The specific way excellence is determined in an instrument is up to the collective judgment of the Historic Organ Awards Committee as is considers both mechanical and tonal properties of the organ in question. An organ must be in an unaltered state for a period of at least 50 years in order to receive an award. It is not necessary for an organ to be in its original home to be eligible, but relocated organs must retain their original mechanical and tonal properties. Similarly, neither restorative repairs nor full restorations prevent an organ from receiving an award, so long as the organ’s tonal and mechanical properties are intact and unaltered. Recent restorations should be made in accordance with the OHS Guidelines for Conservation and Preservation. On the other hand, organs that have been modified in a significant way may be considered for an award when those modifications have been in use for a period of 50 years or more.
An organ may be designated a National Heritage Pipe Organ when it meets all general requirements for OHS Historic Organ Awards and is of demonstrated and documented artistic, musical, social or historic value. An organ may be designated a Landmark of American Organbuilding when it meets all general requirements for OHS Historic Organ Awards, is of demonstrated and documented artistic, musical, social or historic value, and when it also has some distinctive or unique feature that indicates a place of importance in the historical development of organbuilding in the USA.
Anyone can nominate an organ for a Historic Pipe Organ Award: membership in the Society is not required. Application forms and gudelines are available through links to the right and on the OHS Home Page.