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The Wheatstone English Concertina
This document was first published in the Journal of the Galpin Society. It is reproduced here with some format changes with the kind permission of the author Neil Wayne. Photographs have not been included although references to [plates]and their descriptions remain.Contact Neil Wayne . email@example.com
At the beginning of the nineteenth century, a new group of musical instruments arose in Europe, whose origins may be traced to the arrival of examples of the Chinese free-reed mouth organ or shengin Europe in the late eighteenth century (1). The main varieties of these new instruments were the mouth organ, developed in Germany around 1825; the accordion, patented in Vienna in 1829, and the concertina, invented by Charles Wheatstone around 1829 or 1830,initially as a scientific curiosity, but marketed from 1836 asa serious musical instrument.
European free-reed instruments, such as Uhlig's diatonic konzertina,the diatonic button accordions of Buschmann and Demian, and the French accordions-diatonique of the 1850s largely remained as relatively trivial 'folk' instruments (or, in the case of Debain's free-reed harmonium, evolved into the larger reed organs and American (or Cabinet) organs).
However, the Wheatstone concertina, by virtue of its fully chromatic and eminently playable 'English' fingering system, rapidly achieved acclaim as a serious solo and ensemble instrument, not only becoming highly popular amongst musical amateurs, but attracting numerous virtuoso performers and composers.
Lord Balfour (British Prime Minister 1902-5) was in fact an ardent concertina player, and the explorers Shackleton and Livingstone both acquired Wheatstone concertinas (2).
A number of sonatas, concertos and chamber works involving the concertina appeared in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, by composers including Tschaikovsky, Macfarren, Benedict, Percy Grainger, Charles Ives, Molique, Regondi and Silas (3).
By the early years of the twentieth century, the concertina's popularity had broadened, giving rise to the working class concertina bands of England's northern mill towns, and the instrument also found a niche as a populist addition to the instrumentation of the Salvation Army band. From the 1920s, the instrument declined in popularity, once again becoming the preserve of a small but enthusiastic following of amateur 'concertinists'.
Apart from a modest and continuing revival that arose within Britain's 'folk music' revival during the 1960s and 1970s, the instrument is today seldom used for serious music.
CHARLES WHEATSTONE AND THE CONCERTINA
The history of the concertina is closely bound up with the history of the Wheatstone family, and in particular with the life of Charles Wheatstone, its inventor (4). Though in the wider world of the history of science Wheatstone's work on telegraphy, vision and power generation is of greater significance, his work on the acoustics of free reeds and their musical application in the concertina family of instruments runs as a continuing thread throughout his life, and a concertina-making company bearing his name still survives today.
Over 150 specimens of various early and later models of the Wheatstone concertina and related prototypes and patent models are now preserved in the Concertina Museum Collection at Belper, Derbyshire -- referred to below as the 'C M Collection', and which is more fully described in Appendix I.
Charles Wheatstone and Wheatstone & Co
The firm of Wheatstone commenced in London in 1750, in the old Exeter 'Change building, near to where the Lyceum Theatre now stands. This musical instrument and publishing firm was founded by Charles Wheatstone's uncle, also named Charles (hereafter referred to as 'Uncle Charles').
Charles Wheatstone was born on 6 Feb 1802, at Barnwood Manor House, Barnwood, near Gloucester. His father William was a 'cordwainer' or shoemaker, who may have also had a musical instrument business in Gloucester. The family moved to London in 1806, and after the Exeter 'Change building was demolished, uncle Charles's business moved to 436 Strand, near Charing Cross. Thereafter, Langwill records father William Wheatstone at 128 Pall Mall from 1813 to1823, at 24 Charles Street from 1823 to 1824, and at 118 Jermyn Street from 1824 to 1826 (5).
In 1818, when aged just sixteen, Charles Wheatstone produced his first known new musical instrument, the 'flute harmonique', a keyed flute of some kind. There is a novel keyed and free reeded 'flute' in the C M Collection, item C533, once the property of Wheatstone, though of French origin, which may relate to the Flute Harmonique. Charles Wheatstone's youth in general was much involved with science.
In 1822 he set up the Acoucryptophone or 'Enchanted Lyre' at father William's shop in Pall Mall. This acoustical trick featured anornate lyre suspended via a thin steel wire from the soundboards of pianos and other instruments in the room above, and which appeared to play 'of itself' by sound conduction and sympathetic resonance of its strings. Charles Wheatstone even purported to 'wind-up' the Lyre when presenting the show! He speculated publicly at this time on the future transmission of music across London and of it being 'laid on to one's house, like gas'. Later, in 1824, he published 'The Harmonic Diagram', a musical theory teaching aid.
Wheatstone had a lifelong friendship with the scientist Michael Faraday (1791-1867), and due to Wheatstone's intense shyness, Faraday usually delivered Charles's lectures for him at the Royal Institution. His lecture of 15 Feb 1828 on 'Resonance', (delivered by Faraday) was illustrated by some Javanese musical instruments, by the jew's harp, and by the khon or khone, a bamboo and free-reeded bamboo mouth organ having resonant tubes associated with metal free reeds. On 9 May 1828, Faraday delivered Charles Wheatstone's lecture on 'The Nature of Musical Sound', in which he considered pitch, the frequency limits of audibility, and the production of sound by friction, by a card striking teeth on a wheel, and by a siren. Charles Wheatstone also considered the action of the 'Mundharmonika', a recently developed German mouth organ made of an arrangement of various jew's harp tongues. Undoubtedly, this early work presaged the invention of the symphonium and the concertina, in which the steel 'tongues', 'springs' or free reeds were to be set into motion, and sustained in such motion by the breath and by bellows respectively.
By 1829, Charles and his brother William had moved their business to new premises at 20 Conduit Street, near Bond Street, Regent Street and Hanover Square. Charles Wheatstone and William appear to have maintained their father and uncle's trade in woodwind and of general musical instrument sales and manufacture (6).
Charles Wheatstone's first patent, no. 5803 on 'Construction of Wind Instruments', was granted on 19 June 1829, and describes various forms of the Symphonium, patents its keyboard layout, and suggests the addition of flexible bellows to the instrument. The word 'concertina' is not mentioned in this patent, which also illustrates an Oriental free-reed mouth organ, probably a Japanesesho, as the forerunner of these 'new' instruments.
On 21 May 1830, Faraday gave a further discourse to the Royal Institution on behalf of Charles Wheatstone, this time on 'The Application of a New Principle in the Construction of Musical Instruments'. The principle of 'Fixed Springs' (as metal free reeds were then termed) 'as in the Mundharmonika' was demonstrated, and actual examples of the symphonium and concertina were used as illustrations, showing that the concertina was in fact in production by this date -- fourteen years before the patent of 1844. The oldest known concertina, Wheatstone no 36, dates from this period, and is of an experimental form that is substantially different from the commercially produced models of the 1840s. The Chinese mouth organ was also shown during this lecture as an example of the linkage of free reeds and resonant columns of air.
During the years 1842 to 1847, the London Street Guide entries read 'Wheatstone, Charles and William, Concertina Makers, 20 Conduit St'. This is the first mention of concertina making in their Guide entries (7). Wheatstone's work on the improvement and adaption of his concertina was proceeding at Conduit Street at this time, and on February 8th 1844, Charles Wheatstone was granted Patent no. 10041, 'Improvements on the Concertina and other Musical Instruments'. This is the definitive concertina patent, covering the full 'English' fingering system and standard 6 sided, 48 key design. Also claimed and described are several prototype duet and chromatic layouts, many unique and important examples of which are in the C M Collection. Other inventions claimed in the patent include ways to make one reed sound on both press and draw, variable pitch reeds, reed plucking and starting devices, and the linkage of reeds to resonant tubes, as in the khone, sheng and sho.
By 1847, the rate of production of concertinas was increasing, and Charles Wheatstone engaged a Mr Nickolds and his two sons as tool makers in the concertina manufactory at 20 Conduit Street. During this year, Charles Wheatstone met Louis Lachenal, a Swiss engineer, who together with his compatriots Hervey and Shaller supplied screws to the firm. Lachenal was also a screw cutter and metal planer, and was soon employed by Wheatstone, rapidly rising to become manager of the concertina manufactory.
The London Street Guide entry changes in 1847 to 'William Wheatstone, Concertina Maker, 20 Conduit Street': Charles Wheatstone withdrew from active involvement with the firm, as his academic research career at King's College London became his prime activity. However, the London Street Guide entry changes back to 'Wheatstone &Co, Concertina Makers, 20 Conduit Street, Regent Street' during 1866 to 1868, perhaps indicating Charles Wheatstone's return to a more active involvement in the concertina firm after the death of William in 1862. Charles Wheatstone appears to have returned to concertina making and to research on 'new' free-reed instruments in later life, and on 18 August 1871, he and J M A Stroh jointly patented a 'New Musical Instrument', a sort of gliding-reed symphonium, in which a single reed tongue is changed in length to produce changes in pitch via a complex mechanism contained within a highly modified symphonium. The 'gliding reed' principle is also used in the Wheatstone prototype gliding reed concertina in the C MCollection, item C509, in which the single reed's vibrating length is adjusted by a pair of variable pinch-rollers (8).
On October 19th 1875, Professor Sir Charles Wheatstone died in Paris of bronchitis, aged 73, whilst on a visit to further encourage the French telegraph authorities to test and adopt his latest inventions. Later that year, Professor Wm Grylls Adams addressed the Musical Association, declaring 'The whole theory of harmonics, when applied to musical instruments, might be said to be made out by Sir Charles Wheatstone' (9). Using a bequest from Wheatstone's will, King's College University Council erected a special gallery at King's to display his inventions in the Old George III Museum,a room still called the 'Wheatstone Laboratory', and from where many of the surviving Wheatstone prototypes now conserved in the O M Collection were dispersed during the last forty years. The concertina-making business continued in the hands of the Chidley brothers, possibly nephews of Wheatstone, and by 1878-80 the London Street Guide now includes a separate classification for 'Concertina Makers', with the firm's entry now reading 'Wheatstone and Co.,Manufacturers of the Concert Instruments used by R. Blagrove and Sig. Regondi, 20 Conduit Street, Regent Street'. Blagrove and Regondi were leading concert performers on Wheatstone's English concertinas, bringing many of their pupils and customers to Conduit Street to purchase instruments, but the Wheatstone family played no further part in the concertina-making business.
Wheatstone's Musical Researches
Charles Wheatstone was interested in musical instruments and their acoustics throughout his life: By 1824, he had produced his 'Harmonic Diagram', and his interests began to expand beyond simple musical devices and 'tricks', initially to the acoustical principles behind their function, and then into the use of new methods of sound production in his 'new' musical instruments, such as the concertina. He pushed the applications of the free reed in musical instruments to the limit, creating 'foot-powered concertinas', 'gliding reed' instruments, and free-reeded pitch devices. He turned to the use of strings kept in vibration by currents of air for a potential 'new' family of musical instruments, designing and patenting peculiar 'wind-pianos' and the astonishing 'bellows-fiddle' described in his 1844 Patent (10).
Parallel to these musical researches, Wheatstone was working variously on typewriters, electromagnetic clocks, pitch measuring devices, and of course, the concertina and its prototypes and improvements, as well as the electric telegraph which became his major life's work. There was no period in his life when he concentrated on just one particular subject, and throughout his life he constantly returned to work on various improvements to the concertina and related free-reed devices. Though the C M Collection includes many of these non-musical devices, the scope of this present paper is restricted to examining the many musical instruments and free-reed devices invented by Charles Wheatstone.
Charles Wheatstone's earliest interests were musical: in his days spent at his father's music shop at Pall Mall, London, he would have been exposed to musical instrument manufacture and since the Wheatstone family business was substantially concerned with both woodwind and stringed instrument manufacture, it is likely that young Charles would have access to both tools and materials, and would have been encouraged to take an interest in his father's profession (11).
Young Charles's keyed flute may possibly have been a novel free reeded device: by 1818, metal reeds were beginning to be used in a variety of musical novelties, keyboard organs, and even talking dolls, and Wheatstone would probably have seen some of these. He was later to produce his own artificial voice device in 1835.
The skilled craftsmen and tool makers involved in making these high quality woodwind instruments at Conduit St were undoubtedly later called on by Charles Wheatstone during his subsequent scientific career to produce his experimental apparatus and patent prototypes, and nearly all the experimental devices from the Wheatstone Collection are indeed finely engineered from brass, ebony, mahogany and ivory to the same high standards as the Wheatstone firm's concertinas. The Wheatstone workshop ledgers from the 1850s record the manufacture of parts for such experimental devices.
Charles and his brother William took over their uncle Charles's musical instrument business on his death in autumn 1823, when Charles was 21 and William about 18 years of age. Charles was clearly well versed in musical theory, having he published his 'Harmonic Diagram' in January 1824.
As far as his interest in resonance goes, the only surviving instrument based on this work appears to be the 'Wheatstone Nail Fiddle' which was Item C1274 in the C M Collection, and is now in the King's College Collection (12).
In his lecture to the Royal Institution of 21 May 1830, Wheatstone used the sheng or Chinese mouth organ to illustrate the linkage of free reeds with a resonant column of air. The reeds of such far-eastern mouth-organs work on both 'blow' and 'suck', a property which Wheatstone never successfully reproduced in any of his concertinas. He later employed acoustically linked chambers in certain concertinas, especially in baritone and bass instruments, and three such instruments are in the C M Collection as Items C1272, C105, and C1506. These un-numbered prototypes have their reeds mounted on internal woodenchambers, whose volumes are accurately adjusted to resonate withand enhance the sound of the reed. These 'tuned cavities' appearin all the early Wheatstone concertinas, which usually have theirreed chambers stopped up at various points to provide a measure of this acoustic linkage.
The Symphonium and the first concertinas
The Wheatstone symphonium was the first English free reed instrument. It combined the continental idea of a wind or bellows-powered, key-operated free-reed instrument, with a compact size and a logical, easily mastered fingering arrangement. Total production of the instrument was probably not more than 200, and the twelve or so now known to survive exhibit a wide range of shape and size. If any can be said to be the 'standard model', it is the 24-key design shown in his patent of 19 June, 1829 (13). [PLATE 1]
The years between 1830 and his marriage in 1847 represent the time of Wheatstone's greatest involvement both with the family's musical instrument business and with the development of the concertina, and it is from this period that most of the prototype concertinas in the C M Collection date.
The 1829 symphonium patent does not mention the word 'concertina' and only hints at the instrument with a drawing of a simple key, pallet and lever arrangement mounted on a simple bellows. However, Wheatstone obviously had developed a concertina by late 1829 or early 1830, and a single sheet of figures surviving from the Wheatstone production records, prepared in the 1940s from the original sales ledgers, suggests the year 1830 as the start of commercial production of the instrument (14).
It is evident from the two extremely early concertinas in the C M Collection with serial numbers in Roman numerals that Wheatstone was producing a type of concertina closely related to both the symphonium and the Demian accordion by about 1830. One in particular, the 'open pearl pallet' model, numbered XXXII or '32' (Item C1517)exhibits the formative 24-key 'English' layout of the symphonium, together with the exposed pearl pallets and ebony levers in common with the earliest European accordions being produced in Vienna by Demian from about 1829. The Wheatstone factory began to produce conventionally, non-Roman numbered English concertinas only from about 1836, according to the earliest dates of sale in the Workshop Ledgers, and these differ considerably in many respects from the early 'Roman numeral' models. The evolution of the design of the Wheatstone concertina, 1830 to 1850 is considered more fully below.
Wheatstone was granted two musical patents during this period of active involvement with the concertina: that of 1836, in collaboration with the seraphine-maker John Green, claims a wide range of 'new and improved' free reed instruments including the wind piano and the Table-top concertina (15).
Charles and William Wheatstone claim in their 1839 trade directoryen try to be 'piano makers', shortly after this patent, but by1842 are styling themselves 'Concertina Makers'. Charles's third musical patent, no. 10041 of 8 February 1844, embodies all of his work during the previous fourteen years on the design of the English concertina (16). In it, the standard 48-key, 6-sided instrument, with its double-action reed pan, lever and pallet action, fret pattern and of course, the so-called 'English' fingering system is described and claimed as patented, and this elegant design henceforth becomes the one copied by almost all of the twenty or so other makers who were later to make English system concertinas, of varying quality, throughout the rest of the nineteenth century. Though these copyist manufacturers invariably labelled their instruments as 'improved' or 'newly improved', their claims have little substance since the original Wheatstone design was nearly always followed exactly.
However, although this highly significant patent is mainly concerned with the 'English' fingering system concertina, Wheatstone also claims patent protection on a variety of other fingering systems and construction methods for concertina-related instruments, exemplifying his diligence in the pursuance and exploitation of every possible nuance of an original idea, even to a seemingly preposterous extent. For example, though the jewel of the 1844 patent is the brilliant, logical and splendidly designed 48-key 'English' concertina, Wheatstone also created ungainly 'foot-powered' concertinas, several alternate fingering systems, and a proposed design for variable-pitch reeds, all of which are described in this lengthy patent.
Wheatstone's Prototype Concertinas
The group of prototype and patent-model concertinas in the C M Collection show the many lines of research Wheatstone was following during the earliest days of the instrument; variations found in these instruments include:
Item no. C510: A prototype concertina with a central bellows baffle and '1844 Patent' fingering system, and is a 'Double' concertina which may have been later produced for commercial sale. This instrument has a wide 'extra' bellows fold with a complete central baffle; this modification was meant to enable the left and right hand ends of the instrument to be played at different volumes, using separate halves of the bellows. There is also a circular wooden baffle screwed to the pan over the inner set of reeds to concentrate the air flow from the pallets directly onto the reeds, a modification later used by George Case on certain of his concertinas. This prototype also has one of several unusual fingering systems that feature in Wheatstone's 1844 patent, in this instance, four columns of buttons in a non-English, duet type of arrangement (17). This fingering layout also occurs on one of the prototype 'Table-top/foot-powered' concertinas produced for the 1844 patent, (Item C1279), described below, and on the two 'double' concertinas surviving from the Boosey and Hawkes Collection, and now in the C M Collection.
Item no C288: A prototype concertina with its reeds just beneath fretwork, and its action deep within the ends. [PLATE 10] This prototype is not mentioned in any Wheatstone patent, and may be a unique and un- patented design. In an attempt to bring the sound-producing reeds as near to the outer surface of the concertina as possible, Wheatstone designed this instrument with the levers and pallets of the action located deep inside the instrument, and with the reed pan and reeds sited just beneath the fretwork. The buttons are consequently extremely long, and penetrate through the reed pan, and then through the action board to act on levers and pallets right inside the bellows. This astonishing arrangement was never put into production, and indeed the extra inch nearer that the reeds are placed to the outside of the instrument would have had little or no effect on the loudness or quickness of action of the concertina's reeds. However, the model does illustrate how Wheatstone would explore each and every possible way of improving any invention, however impractical the outcome.
Item no C509: The 'Gliding Reed Concertina'. This peculiar instrument highlights the way Wheatstone's ideas for improvement are fine on paper but sometimes prove extremely difficult in practical execution. In this instrument, instead of each button controlling a single tuned reed or pair of reeds, only one reed is used in each complete end of the instrument, its tongue shortened and lengthened by steel pinch rollers. By an extremely complex system of levers and fulcrums, the downward pressure on any button transmits its motion to a pair of steel pinch rollers which then shorten or lengthen the tongue of the single reed. Each button is mounted on a brass rod of a length accurately adjusted so as to transmit just the correct amount of displacement to the pinch rollers, and the depressing of any one particular button causes all of the others to move up or down as the mechanism readjusts itself to the new button's setting. The effect produced is of the gliding transition of the reed from one note to another, since the pinch rollers do not move instantaneously. Only one end of this instrument has survived from the remnants of the Wheatstone Collection, but the presence of the remains of a thumb-strap, end bolts and even an oval paper Wheatstone label 'By His Majesty's letters patent.....'would indicate that it was originally a completed instrument, though probably the sole prototype. Each of the twenty-five working ivory keys has a transverse hole drilled through it, probably to enable the keys to be pulled upwards when testing the mechanism. Wheatstone claimed patent protection on variable-pitch reeds such as this in his 1844 patent, and also produced 'pitchpipe'-like devices also based on a variable-pitch 'gliding-reed' for sale from the Conduit Street premises.
Furthermore, quite late in his life, he collaborated on a joint patent with Matthias Stroh on a variant of the symphonium which also featured a single 'gliding-reed' (8). This patent, of 18August 1871, described an extremely complex highly modified symphonium packed with a complex mechanism similar to the 'gliding reed’ concertina. Wheatstone had met Stroh in 1851 but their collaboration on patents appears to have been limited to a single telegraphy patent in November 1870, and to this 'New Musical Instrument’ patent. Since this single-reed symphonium was patented over forty years after Charles Wheatstone's original work on the first symphoniums, it may have been an old idea of Wheatstone's that was finally made and tested due to the watch-making skills of Herr Stroh: unfortunately, the instrument does not survive.
Item no: C1272 - A double-reeded concertina, with acoustically linked reed chambers. In this prototype, another instrument surviving from the Wheatstone Collection, resonating chambers associated with the reeds enhance their fundamental frequency by sympathetic resonance. This principle was expounded in Wheatstone's 1828 lectures on 'Resonance' and 'The Nature of Musical Sounds'. In addition, the instrument features reed beds or reed plates with two reed tongues each, probably an early experiment in enhancing the volume of the instrument. The Wheatstone factory was producing simple ‘accordions' during the 1830s and early 1840s which also had multi-tongued reed plates. These instruments, based on the first accordions patented by Demian of Vienna in the late 1820s, are described in the C M Collection checklist and catalogue (18).
Items C25 and C26: The Wheatstone 'Duette' concertina. The primary concertina fingering system described in Wheatstone's 1844 patent is the 'English' system, a logical arrangement of the notes of the scale on two rows alternately between left and right hand ends of the concertina. This aids quick playing of runs and scales, since successive notes are on alternate ends of the instrument. Sharps and flats are simply placed adjacent to their respective natural note, giving two rows of accidentals, one each side of the two rows of natural notes. In virtually all known ivory-buttoned Wheatstone concertinas, the naturals are left white, the accidentals are stained black, as in the piano, and the C note buttons are stained red. This colour-coding convention is maintained in the other 4 row fingering system of the 1844 patent, which is present on instrument C510 (the 'Bellows Baffle' prototype described above),and C1279 (the 'Table Top' treadle-powered prototype, described below), and others.
The third fingering system claimed in this patent features an arrangement of buttons roughly in five rows across the instrument, with all the notes of the scale on each hand: the left hand plays a lower octave, and the right plays the next higher octave, with a few notes of 'overlap' common to each hand. This system is clearly a forerunner of the larger Duet systems popular in the late nineteenth-century, which enabled players to add a bass accompaniment toa treble melody - in effect, to 'duet' with themselves.
The 'Duet' model described by Wheatstone in his 1844 patent and produced commercially in small quantities by Wheatstone &Co, was only a 24-key instrument and did not appear to have been a success. The factory records of the time describe the instrument as a 'Duette' and sales were poor. The design of the Wheatstone ‘Duette' was probably based on the German concertina first patented by Uhlig in the late 1820s. Wheatstone used a similar rectangular body and simple brass levers with integral brass-capped buttons, stamped with their note-names, in common with the design of the earliest German 'press-draw' diatonic 10 and 20 key concertinas, and fitted his version with leather hand-straps on raised metal hand-bars. Internally, there is a simple rectilinear reed pan occupying the lower half of the bellows frame only, a design feature which is also similar to the early German concertinas.
Wheatstone may even have produced examples of his version of the German diatonic concertina, for the fourth fingering system described in his 1844 patent is a modified two-row diatonic German style layout on a larger than usual six-sided body, but no such instrument now survives.
This 'Duette' system of Wheatstone's was resurrected and enlarged by 'Professor' Maccann of Plymouth in the 1880s: he designed and patented an enlarged keyboard, and persuaded both the Wheatstone and Lachenal companies to produce the instrument as the 'MacCann Duet'. These were made with up to eighty-one keys, and many examples can be seen in the Wheatstone and Lachenal sections of the C M Collection.
All known concertina fingering systems have been reviewed and analysed by Hayden (19).
Item no C1278: The Foot-powered Tripod Concertina-Organ. [PLATE3] A further example of Wheatstone's desire to exploit any possible configuration of the basic concertina idea, this time with the premise of using the feet to provide the wind power, and playing the instrument whilst seated, like a small organ. It is unlikely that any further models of this instrument were ever made, other than this surviving 1844 patent prototype from the Wheatstone collection, but it serves as a fine example of the lengths to which Charles Wheatstone went to find more and more potential applications for his basic design of bellows-powered, free-reeded invention. This device consists of a 43-key English system concertina, the left and right hand ends of which are split and mounted flat and side by side on separate three-fold bellows. These bellows in turn are mounted on a larger wind chest which is supported on a wooden column and is free-standing upon a tripod stand. A simple foot treadle inflates the wind chest, and the bellows are free to rise up on internal brass rods and guides. The player, seated before the instrument, can press the buttons on the left and right halves of the 'concertina', presumably increasing the volume by pressing down harder on the buttons. The 'concertina’ parts of this device, though rectangular, are of the usual method of construction, but with single action reed pans, since the air flows only one way. Each fretworked end can be made to swing open on hinges when brass catches are released. The buttons have unusual coiled springs set beneath them in the holes into which they seat, which was probably an idea used on Continental instruments being tried out by Wheatstone.
Once again, the theory behind this instrument is a logical, scientific extension to the principle of the concertina. In practice, however, the instrument would have been virtually unplayable, because though the keyboards of the conventional concertina fall perfectly beneath the fingers in an ergonomically ideal position for fast, accurate playing of the buttons with the fingertips, these two flat and 'side-by-side' keyboards are presented to the player's hands in an awkward and uncomfortable manner. It seems unlikely that Wheatstone actually played the concertina, otherwise he might have foreseen this difficulty, and designed this instrument somewhat differently. However, determined to rival the French harmonium and to produce an English version of the French foot-powered 'reed organ' but based on his concertina, Wheatstone included yet another version of this instrument in his 1844 patent, the patent model of which also survives from the Wheatstone Collection, viz:
Item no C1270: The Foot-powered, Table Top Concertina-Organ. This is an even larger prototype model of the previously described foot-powered concertina organ, and was also made for submission with the 1844 patent. This device has a larger pair of 'concertina ends' fitted via a single fold of flexible bellows to a large, four legged framework which contains a pair of treadle-operated bellows and a separate wind chest. This instrument has thirty-two left-hand and thirty-seven right hand keys arranged in the prototype4-row layout or '1844 patent' system, with the keys coloured white, black or red in the usual manner. The ends are secured to their bellows frames with eight end-bolts, in a similar manner to normal concertinas. This ungainly instrument suffers from the same drawbacks as the 'Tripod' version, and was never put into production.
Item no C511: A single action concertina with integral spring-loaded wind chest. The previous two 'Table Top' concertina organs, since they were single-action and only had reeds playing one way, needed a 'wind-chest' in order to smooth out the air-flow, otherwise the reeds would have played in a staccato and jerky manner as the player pumped the treadles and pressurized the bellows. This problem of providing a constant pressure head and a smooth supply of air to the reeds was not important in early accordions and concertinas where hand-controlled bellows and simple reverses in their direction were all that was required. However, with early keyboard instruments like Debain's harmonium and the Wheatstone concertina-organs, the supply of air from the primary foot- or hand-operated bellows had to be pumped via non-return valves toa secondary chamber, usually fitted with spring-loaded bellows, where it formed a reservoir of air held at a constant pressure to be drawn on at will via the pallets when the keys were played. This secondary chamber is the wind-chest, and in this most fascinating prototype, Wheatstone designed a single-action concertina with a central sprung bellows section feeding two such wind-chests, one for each end of the instrument. In this way the reeds of the instrument can be kept supplied with constant air pressure, enabling legato playing, uninterrupted by the pauses required to refill the bellows of normal single-action concertinas. Once again, however, the idea was of little practical use because the player needed to be constantly inflating the spring-loaded bellows section using pressure from thumb and little finger, whilst trying to play legato passages with his other three fingers! The instrument was only made in this prototype form, and it appears in none of Wheatstone’s patents. It may have been an afterthought to his main concertina research, since it was made about 1849 from a modified commercially produced concertina, bears the Wheatstone serial number 2019 and has an oval paper 'By Her Majesty's Letters patent.....' label of the form applied to Wheatstone's commercial stock.
Items C1506, C105: Two prototype single-action bass concertinas. These un-numbered instruments are amongst the earliest known in the 8-sided 'stretched octagon' format. They have fifty-three and fifty-one keys respectively and are single action, playing only on the 'press' of the bellows. There are no separate reedpans or chambers and the reeds are screwed directly to the underside of the action board, a design which seems to pre-date Wheatstone’s use of resonant reed chambers to enhance the tone of the reeds.
The Wheatstone workshops in the 1840s and 1850s
Thanks to the foresight of Mr Harry Minting, the last manager of Wheatstone & Co in the 1950s, a fascinating group of wages books and production records was saved from destruction when the company was finally absorbed into Boosey and Hawkes. Several sets of copies of these books are in the C M Collection's archives: The first eight books are a complete list of all Wheatstone Concertinas from no. 1-18,000, with details of date of sale, purchase, amount and quality of each instrument, and the last two are lists of wages and other costs paid out between 1845 and 1849 (20). (See appendix II).
The Output of the Wheatstone Workshops
The rate of production of concertinas in the early years of the Wheatstone factory was extremely low. The surviving single typed sheet of Wheatstone production figures in the C M Archive indicates1830 as the starting date of concertina production, but the production ledgers of the period seem to indicate that 1835 is more likely as the start of regular concertina manufacture. The production records for instruments numbered 1 to 1500 are in two manuscript notebooks, one in number order, the other in date-of-sale order, and it is immediately apparent that concertinas were not only made and sold in a very random order, but that many of the first420 numbers do not appear to have been allocated to any instrument. There is much to be learned from a forthcoming detailed computer analysis of these production books, since the name and title of every purchaser is entered, and they include many titled and noble persons, famous concert performers, like Blagrove, Regondi, and important instrument dealers such as Case, Keith, Prowse, Cramer, Chappell, Wm Wheatstone et al.
From about instrument no. 340 onwards, more and more 48-key concertinas are made, though a wealth of other compasses: 32-, 38-, 40-, 44-,46-, 45- and 50-key models, are all common amongst the first 1000instruments. Only instrument no. 32, the earliest known concertina, has the 24-key layout in common with the symphonium. A page from the latter part of the earliest sales ledger shows the greater preponderance of the 48-key English concertina, and the growing rate of sale of the instrument, and we can abstract a rough estimate of sales of new, serially numbered instruments over this period, and ignoring probable second-hand concertinas being resold, the sales per year are as follows, showing the brisk growth in sales during the early 1840s.
1839 - 23
1840 - 46
1841 - 58
1842 - 78
1843 - 99
1844 - 109
1845 - 145
1846 - 173
1847 - 163
1848(3 months) - 48
The Wheatstone sales records sales records clearly indicate the random way in which the concertinas were sold, and how large number off earlier instruments reappear and are re-sold. There is a continuing trade in these second-hand instruments throughout the period covered by these books.
THE MUSICAL ROLE OF THE CONCERTINA
The new instrument, which by 1850 was being produced in tenor, baritone, and bass versions as well as the standard 48-key treble, rapidly assumed a small but significant role in the amateur musical life of London in the 1840s and 1850s. The young melophone virtuoso Giulio Regondi (1822 - 1872), though achieving somewhat greater fame as a guitarist, took up the concertina and toured Germany performing on the instrument in 1846, and wrote a large body of works for it, including concertos and many arrangements. It was also composed for by Molique, Silas, Macfarren, et al, and Berlioz devoted some space to the concertina in his work on instrumentation, though criticised its tuning in mean-tone temperament.
Throughout the 1850s, there were many London concerts by The Concertina Quartet, which performed throughout that decade. The Quartet was made up of Regondi, his friend Richard Blagrove, a professor of the viola who adopted the concertina as an extra instrument, AB Sedgwick, a teacher who produced tutor books and many arrangements for the concertina, and lastly George Case, another 'Professor’ of the instrument who produced many tutors and arrangements, and who from 1851 to around 1856 had his own concertina manufactory at 32 New Bond Street. Blagrove performed in the Hanover Square Rooms in 1846, at age 16, and from 1853 produced the Concertina Journal. Macfarren wrote his Concertina Quintet and his two Romances for Concertina and Pianoforte for Blagrove, who performed with his wife at Windsor before royalty.
George and J Case gave a concert in May 1851, reported by the Musical Times as being 'principally remarkable for Rossini's Overture to William Tell, arranged for 12 concertinas specially for the occasion - the violoncello solo on the bass concertina' (21).
In April 1849 Sedgwick and one Joseph Scates (one of Wheatstone’s reed tuners in 1844, and by this date in business as a rival concertina maker and teacher), gave a 'Concertina Soiree' at the Hanover Square Rooms, the programme 'composed principally of music executed by Professors of the concertina, as many as seventeen taking part in it' (22).
In August 1876, the Musical Times reports: 'Mr Richard Blagrove’s ten concertina concerts......have proved in the highest degree interesting, not only as demonstrating of how much these instruments are capable in the hands of experienced performers, but as really good specimens of artistic and well-considered entertainments of chamber music. Concertos, Septetts, Quartetts, Trios and Duets by the best composers have been constantly included in the programmes, and these, executed by thoroughly competent players upon the treble, tenor, bass and double bass concertinas, have been received by most appreciative audiences....should there be any surplus, a Concertina Fund will be formed for the purpose of getting works written expressly for these instruments' (23).
THE WHEATSTONE CONCERTINA BETWEEN 1830 AND 1846
The earliest concertinas
Evidence from the instruments in the C M Collection indicates that an initial series of 'Roman numeral' labelled concertinas was produced as early as 1829 or 1830, which differs substantially from the series of conventionally numbered instruments produced and sold from about 1836 onwards. Concertinas were used in Wheatstone’s lecture of 21 May 1830, so some prototype form of the instrument was in production at that date. At least seventy-two of these ‘Roman numeral' instruments were made, and the very earliest of them were of the 'open pearl pallet' style, combining the 24-key fingering system of the symphonium with the exposed pearl pallets and wooden levers of Demian's first accordion. The conventionally-numbered instruments made in the ten years from 1836 exhibit a series of design changes, resulting by 1846 in a more or less 'standard'48-key English concertina design which was to change little over the next century. A third Wheatstone numbering system was used briefly between 1845 and 1848 on the few 'double concertinas ‘produced for sale, which feature one of the prototype 'duet' fingeringsystems patented in Wheatstone's 1844 specification.
Although the internal construction of the 'standard' 48-key Englishconcertina changed little from 1846 onwards, the firm produceda growing range of basses, tenors, miniatures, duet systems and'new' designs like the Aeola in the late nineteenth century whichare reviewed towards the end of this paper.
The evolution of the Wheatstone Concertina
A study of the very earliest concertinas which still survive fromthe 1830s reveals much about the gradual evolution of the instrumentduring this period, and it is clear that Wheatstone's first concertinaswere made as early as 1829 or 1830, probably as an adjunct tohis work on the symphonium. These early concertinas were probablynot made for commercial sale, but mainly as scientific curioswhich Wheatstone used in his lectures on musical acoustics. Thetwo earliest concertinas in the collection have Roman serial numbers,XXXII and LXXII respectively, and are possibly the oldest knownWheatstone concertinas. No special number punches were needed,since a simple screwdriver or small chisel could be used to markthese Roman numerals into the woodwork.
Wheatstone concertina no. XXXII is a 24-key instrument havingan 'English' fingering system virtually identical to Wheatstone'ssymphonium, the subject of his patent of June 1829. [PLATE 2]
In addition, this concertina has the levers and pallets of the'action' exposed, and mounted onto the flat surface of the endsof the instrument, in a similar manner to the Demian Akkordionof 1829, and to the early accordions made by Wheatstone at ConduitSt around this period (24). The pallets are pearl, the leversare of ebony, and the whole instrument has numerous features notfound on any other concertina. The other 'Roman' numbered instrumentretains a large number of these early features, but has its palletsconcealed within the conventional pierced fretworked ends usedon all subsequent Wheatstone instruments, and in addition hasseveral more 'conventional' features.
The earliest conventionally numbered Wheatstones in the C M Collectionhave serial numbers 103, 123, 165, 224, 244, 254, 546, 563, 578,581, 584, 586, and 967, and a detailed analysis of their variousfeatures shows the gradual evolution during the 1830s of the 'standard'Wheatstone 48-key English model that was to be in production forwell over a century from the mid 1840s. In considering this evolution,the proportion of 'early' to 'late' features in each instrumentare compared, and one can consequently chart the rate of changein the concertina's design and pinpoint the key dates in the gradualappearance of the 'standard' or 'modern' concertina.
In each section of a concertina, the following parts of the instrumentmay be considered as having either early, prototype features,which appear for a short period on the oldest instruments, orlate features, being design elements which remain constant onall subsequent instruments, after their initial appearance.
These 'early' and 'late' features are listed and discussed inAppendix 3.
Diagnostic Analysis of the features of the earliest concertinas
An analysis of thirty or so of these diagnostic features, as foundin twelve of the earliest Wheatstone concertinas in the C M Collection,is presented in the table below, and the simple ratio of 'early'and 'late' features found in these instruments shows the transitionto the 'standard' instrument of the late 1840s most clearly. These'early' to 'late' ratios are as follows:
Instrument Date of 'Early' 'Late' Unique Appearances Serial No. Sale Features Features of New Features XXXII 1829-30? 26 to 1 10 LXXII 1830? 23 to 8 8 103 1836? 22 to 9 2 123 Jun 1840 22 to 10 165 Nov 1837 18 to 13 3 224 Jun 1838 18 to 12 1 244 Nov 1838 16 to 16 254 1838-40? 18 to 14 1 546 Oct1842 4 to 26 1 563 Dec 1843 4 to 26 1 586 Oct 1846 5 to 26 967 Jul 1845 3 to 27 2
It is evident that instrument XXXII is an extremely early production,with predominantly 'early' features, and furthermore with tenfeatures that are found only in this one instrument, such as openpearl pallets, no strap metals, simple woodscrew end bolts, ebonylevers, a solid wood action with carved pivots, just twenty-fourbuttons, stapled reed beds and stamped accidental buttons, allunique details.
Changes were soon made to this design, with appreciable numbersof 'new' features appearing by instrument LXXII, and also betweenconcertinas numbered 123 and 165. The major period of transitiontowards an instrument of substantially 'later' features appearsto have occurred between instruments 254 and 546: by the time546 was manufactured, only three 'early' features remain in thedesign: These are: the 'By His Majesty's....' label wording, (whichchanges to the 'By Her Majesty's.....' variant some time betweenthe sale of instruments 1320 and 1386, both sold in September1847); the use of square ended reed beds (which also ceases withinstrument 1320); and the lack of the circular paper reed panlabel, (which appears on all instruments from no. 967, sold inJuly 1845). After about 1847, then, all of the other 'early' featureshave finally been superseded, and indeed even these last threeare simply small variations in labelling style rather than real'improvements' to the basic design.
The standard design from 1847 onwards was the rosewood-ended,gilt embossed 48 key 'English' system concertina, usually withscrolled brass inlays and coloured hand tinted bellows papers,retailing at around eight guineas.[PLATE 5]
The only other variation to appear in the pre-1846 concertinais the so-called 'circular fret' pattern, where instead of theconventional ring of pierced fretwork around the keyboards ofthe instrument, there is an annular ring or opening revealingthe pine backing boards beneath the end-plate. This early featurewas once thought to pre-date conventionally fretted instruments,and was described as such in later Wheatstone catalogues but issimply a mid-priced style marketed for a period between around1843 to 1845 (25). It appears that Joseph Scates copied this 'circularfret' design after he had left Wheatstones' employ in 1845, andthe Scates English no. 106 (Item C12) in the C M Collection isalso of this design. [PLATE 9]
The Order of Sale of Early Concertinas
It is unwise to rely too heavily on the Sales Ledger dates-of-saleas also indicating dates of manufacture: evidence from Wheatstones'ledgers indicate not only that their concertinas were sold inan extremely random order, but that instruments were constantlybeing returned, part-exchanged, lent out, hired, and re-sold fromConduit Street. Preliminary results of the computer analysis ofthe Wheatstone production archives indicate some instruments passingthrough the shop from six to eight times over a two year period(26).
It is most unlikely that Charles and William Wheatstone wouldhave manufactured their instruments in such a random numericalorder: Not only would this sloppy system have been out of characterfor the scientifically-minded Charles Wheatstone, but evidencefrom the 'late/early' ratios of the earliest concertinas indicatesthat the changes and improvements to the concertina design occurin a strictly numerical sequence. The Conduit Street workshopproduced only a very few instruments each week between 1836 and1845, which were steadily added to the shop's large stocks, andcustomers could thus at any one visit be offered a wide choiceof instrument, ranging from those newly-made to ones made perhapsten years or more previously, that had been long been 'on theshelf', or had been recently returned by other players. Certainly,the workshop ledgers show that many early instruments, even thosenumbered in the low 100s, constantly reappear in the sales recordsfor up to twenty years after their first recorded sale. The fullcomputer analysis of the 22,000 concertina sales made between1830 and 1897 will provide more details of both the rate of saleand the likely dates of manufacture of all Wheatstone concertinas,but this brief initial study does indicate the relatively slowsales of the concertina in its first ten years of retail production.
Wheatstone's 'Double Concertinas'
The principal instrument patented in Wheatstone's seminal concertinaspecification of 8 February 1844 is the standard 48 key 'English'instrument: all the details of fretwork, lever and pallet construction,reed pan layout and bellows design that had been evolving overthe previous eight years were summarized in this patent. In addition,however, a number of other improvements and 'new' instrumentsare claimed as inventions, amongst them an alternate concertinafingering system that was briefly put into production from about1845. This system has four rows of buttons in common with the'English', but each side of the instrument has the notes of thescale arranged in ascending order upwards and across the fourrows. The buttons offer a chromatic system which appears to bea forerunner of the Continental Chromatic layout used on laterbutton accordeons, and is also similar to the left hand of Kusserow'sBandoneon. The system reappeared, probably by chance, as a basslayout in Merrett's accordion patent no. 856926 of 1957 (27).
Since the buttons of Wheatstone concertinas of this period wereby now all coloured in the 'Red C, stamped natural, black accidental'format, still mistakenly termed the 'learner' or 'student' model,these '1844 patent' fingering system instruments have a seeminglyrandom distribution of button colours, and have all of their lownotes on the left hand and the high notes on the right. This awkwardchromatic 'duet' system is thus robbed of the principal assetof the 'English' system, that of having the notes of the scalearranged on alternate ends of the instrument to facilitate rapidplaying of scales and arpeggios. Furthermore, it has no fingerrests fitted, thus removing a crucial support feature which steadiesand positions the hands during playing. Nevertheless, the systemappears to have had a small sale to the serious concertina enthusiastsof the 1840s (28).
None of the 'double concertinas' mentioned in the Wheatstone salesledgers seem to have been allocated a number. The earliest ofthe three, numbered '5' only in ink, is from the remnants of theWheatstone Collection of instruments once housed in the old WheatstoneLaboratory in King's College London, whilst numbers '10' and 58were in the Wheatstone Factory Collection until the company'sabsorption by Boosey and Hawkes. All three instruments thus havestrong links with Charles Wheatstone and with his concertina-makingfirm.
The first of these 'doubles' was probably a prototype instrumentdeveloped by Wheatstone, and has a partially completed bafflesystem in a deep central division in the bellows. He had triedto perfect a method of splitting the bellows into two separatecompartments so that the larger, deeper left hand reeds wouldreceive less air from a lower pressure head, and thus would notoverpower the smaller treble reeds. This instrument also has acircular wooden baffle screwed over the inner face of the bassreed-pan, presumably to further reduce the sound output of thedeeper reeds. The second 'double', no. 10, may have been a productionmodel, since it has a conventional 'By His Majesty's....' Wheatstonelabel. It is a 67-key instrument, the highest number of buttonsfound on any 'His Majesty's....' period, pre-1847 concertina,and may be similar to the 'double concertina' sold on 30 Sept1846 which had according to the sales ledgers 'two and a halfoctaves on the left' and 'three octaves on the right', or about30 and 36-37 keys on left and right hands respectively. It toohas a centrally-placed bellows baffle, but with the refinementof a pair of trap-door air valves, one each side of the innerwooden baffle, which are operated by a brass switch mounted onthe outside edge of the central bellows fold that contains thebaffle. In spite of this sophisticated arrangement, the use ofthese baffles would only have had an effect on the relative pressurehead in each end of the instrument if the centre of the bellowswas held rigidly relative to the ends, otherwise the pressurewould be identical in each half. There is evidence in 'double'no. 10 that the central bellows section could be secured to arigid mount to enable the separate ends of the concertina to beplayed at independent volumes. By the time that the third doubleconcertina, no. 58, was produced, these experimental bellows baffleshad been dropped, and this 'By Her Majesty's...' labelled instrumentis of conventional construction, with a conventionally stampedserial number on the pine backing, action, pans, end frames andbellows frames. There is also a scratched number '58' on the innerside of the right hand pine backing, in a script closely similarto the inked numbers on instruments '5' and '10'.
Applying the diagnostic aid of the 'Early/late' feature ratioto these three concertinas gives the ratios 4:26, 4:25, and 2:28for these instruments and places them squarely in the late 1840s,well in the mainstream of the conventionally constructed concertinasmade after the basic design of the instrument was finalized followingthe 1844 patent. This strange chromatic 'duet' fingering systemwas also used on some Wheatstone prototype instruments mentionedin the 1844 patent and surviving from the old Wheatstone collection,amongst them the 'Foot-powered, Table-Top concertina organ' (ItemC1270), and the unique 'Gliding Reed' concertina (Item C509),which may indicate that Charles Wheatstone had some particularfondness for this unpopular and impractical fingering system.
THE WHEATSTONE CONCERTINA FROM 1850 ONWARDS
These studies on the very earliest Wheatstone concertinas indicatethat the evolution of the basic design of his 48-key 'English'system model had been completed by around 1842 to 1843, when itwas finally fully described and patented in Wheatstone's 1844specification. The layout of buttons, the arrangement of reedsand reed pans, levers and pallets, and the method of constructionof the ends, action boards, pans and bellows henceforth changedlittle over the next century. The Wheatstone factory productionledgers record instruments with solid gold buttons and fittingsbeing produced to special order at seventy guineas, and in 1848,the only known ivory-ended instrument was produced, again to specialorder. [PLATE 6]
However, the Wheatstone firm and their many imitators and competitorssoon began to produce variants and 'improvements' to the basic'English' design, to say nothing of dozens of new systems andcompasses of anglo and duet concertinas, examples of most of whichare now in the Concertina Museum Collection.
The survey below lists the many changes to Wheatstone's initialdesign and indicates how the combined influences of both fashionand genuine technological improvement led to the many changesin the original design of the concertina.
Changes in the reeds
One of the last 'early' design features to be finally supersededin the development of the basic English concertina was the useof square-ended reed beds, which ceased to be used from instrumentno 1775, sold in February 1848. These early, hand filed reed bedsresembled those of the first Demian style of akkordion and wereeach individually fitted into hand routed slots in the reed pans.By the late 1840s, a measure of mass production was already beingintroduced at Wheatstones under the management and direction ofthe Swiss master machinist Louis Lachenal, whose mass-productionmethods eventually reached a great degree of sophistication inhis own factory from the late 1850s.
The round-ended reed beds in use after 1848 were stamped out usingspecially made fly press dies, and moreover were produced in justa few standardized sizes. From about 1845, the reed pans of allWheatstone concertinas had a circular paper pan-label affixedto their inner face which has all of the note names and 'noteframe' or reed bed sizes printed upon it to guide the outworkersas to which size of bed was to be used for each note.
Brass reed tongues became standard from about 1848, supplantingthe use of nickel-silver, though various formulations of brassand bronze had been used in earlier concertinas, with even goldand silver reeds used in Wheatstone's symphoniums. Steel 'vibrators',as reed tongues were called, were first introduced by Wheatstonesat the request of concert virtuosi such as Blagrove and Regondi:such reeds kept their pitch well and produced much more volume,and were to become generally available as an option on all Wheatstoneinstruments from the early 1860s onwards.
Upon the introduction of their 'Aeola' in 1898, Wheatstones deviseda new 'long scale' format of reed bed, of slimmer, narrower formand with a proportionately longer reed tongue, which was consideredto offer improved voicing, tone and attack.
It was for their baritone, bass and contrabass concertinas thatWheatstones produced their largest reeds, with thick rectangularbrass reed beds usually screwed directly to the flat surface ofthe reed pans or to the underside of the action board. In manycases, these large reeds were affixed to specially constructedorgan pipe-like chambers, to enhance or modify the tone produced.Some of these large reeds were produced for Wheatstones by Frenchreed makers, who also supplied the English harmonium and reedorgan trade.
For their 'clarionet' concertinas, whose tone was intended toresemble that of the clarinet or oboe, Wheatstone's used steelreed tongues of a markedly fish-tail shape, which when combinedwith harmonically tuned reed chambers, did indeed have a markedeffect in the tone of these instruments.
During the early 1920s, Wheatstones briefly experimented withaluminium as a material for both the reeds beds and for the frettedend plates of their larger concertinas. This innovation undoubtedlylightened the instrument, but this very lightness in turn affectedthe tone produced by reducing the mass and solidity of the reedpan. Furthermore, the aluminium used was rather too pure, andwas quickly subject to spots of oxidation which impeded the criticalgap between reed tongue and bed. Lachenal & Co also had abrief flirtation with aluminium reed beds and experienced similarproblems.
A final innovation in reed manufacture, originally developed byLachenal, was still in use when the Wheatstone division of Booseyand Hawkes was finally closed in the 1970s. This was the automatedfiling and profiling or reed tongue steel using specially profiledgrinding wheels applied when the reed steel was still in longstrip form. This saved many hours of filing, handwork and voicing,and produced reed tongues almost ready to fit into their frameswith a minimum of fine tuning.
The reed pan
On the very earliest Wheatstone concertinas, this complex pieceof chambered woodwork that holds all the reeds has no central'pan-hole', and its wooden reed chamber dividers are screwed directlyon to the pan-board. On the early 'Roman numeral' Wheatstone no.XXXII, the reeds themselves are stapled directly onto the pan-boards,but this appears to be a unique feature, and all subsequent Wheatstoneconcertinas have their reed beds slotted into routed grooves withinthe pan-board itself.
From about 1842, the reed pan was made with a central hole, toassist in its easy removal from the bellows frame, and the circularpaper reed pan label was introduced from July 1845. Initially,this applied paper label used Roman numerals to indicate the sizeof reed frames to be used for each note, in an arrangement reminiscentof the numbering used on the earliest 'Roman numeral' concertinas.The use of these pan labels indicates the growing use of outworkersto fit, tune and insert the reeds, since the craftsmen would beable to work faster given this fitting guide to note sizes andpitches. Initially, only Wheatstones used these circular pan labels,though their use was later adopted by Lachenal & Co. and alsoby Joseph Scates. When Scates began to import concertinas fromLouis Lachenal into his Dublin premises, he applied his own circularpan labels over the top of Lachenal's labels so as to concealthe origin of the instrument!
During the 1850s the reed pan began to increase in sophistication:the chambers of the small reeds were made shallower, whilst thoseof the bass reeds were made deeper, giving the pan a wedge shapedprofile. Also, the pan-hole was placed off-centre towards thesmall reeds so as to accommodate the longer bass reed beds.
It was Charles Wheatstone's research on the acoustical linkageof tuned pipes and chambers with metal free reeds in 1828 and1830 that led to the introduction of tuned reed chambers intohis firm's concertinas, and as early as 1838, most of his concertinashad at least three or four of their smallest reed chambers fittedwith a cork cross-piece to adjust the volume of the chamber andto 'tune' it to the resonant frequency of the reed within thechamber. By the 1850s this practice had spread to over half ofthe reed chambers in each pan, and by the 1880s reed pans werebeing produced with every chamber fitted with a wooden cross pieceto tune it to the reed. A surprising confirmation of this acousticalenhancement can be heard if all the reeds are removed from suchan acoustically tuned concertina: when such a reedless instrumentsis 'played', the hissing and rushing of the air through the emptyreed chambers can be heard to produce a fair approximation ofthe notes or scale being played! The practice of using these cross-piecesto tune the reed chambers appears to have continued both at theWheatstone factory and at Lachenals and other rival makers rightup to the 1930s.
The earliest Wheatstone concertinas were individually hand-made,with no standard model apparent before about 1848, and consequentlywere produced in a wide range of keyboard compasses, from 24-keyin the earliest 'Roman numeral' models, and including 32-, 33-,36-, 38-, 40-, 44-, 46-, 48- and 50-key models amongst the first900 instruments made. A similar diversity is exhibited in bellowsconstruction, with instruments made prior to 1842 having a continuousinner 'cradle' or supporting shelf inside the bellows frame tosupport the reed-pan, similar to the reed-pan supports of earlyFrench accordeons. From late 1842, the more usual triangular woodblocks in the angles of the bellows frames were adopted as pansupports.
The bellows on these very first Wheatstone concertinas were ofthe finest glazed green morocco leather, of a similar qualityto that used by bookbinders. The Wheatstone workshop ledgers showregular purchases of morocco leather and payments of bookbinders'bills for the production of these fine bellows. Indeed, similartechniques of neatly skiving, lapping and folding the leatherwere used as in fine bindery practice, producing the neat joinsand thin bellows folds found on all concertinas up to the endof 1842. Thenceforth, the leather used was slightly thicker andless fine, and the folds of these later bellows are consequentlyless slim and dainty. So as to counter any problems with wearon the lower folds of the concertina bellows, the lower boutsof the bellows frames of all concertinas made from between early1842 and late 1848 were reinforced with a layer of silk fabrictightly glued over the leather.
Bellows Papers on Wheatstone Concertinas
Specially printed coloured bellows papers are invariably usedon all Wheatstone concertinas made before the introduction ofthe first all-black 'Aeola' models in the 1890s, probably to economiseon the amount of fine leather needed to cover the cardboard skeletonof the bellows, and to provide a measure of decorative trim forthe instruments. About ten different patterns of bellows papersappear to have been used on nineteenth century Wheatstone concertinas,and they prove a useful diagnostic aid when dating the variousstyles of concertina.
THE DESIGN AND EVOLUTION OF THE WHEATSTONE AEOLA
Though a more austere-looking, all black concertina was occasionallyproduced after the death of Prince Albert in 1861, it was notuntil the introduction of the 'Aeola' in 1898 that Wheatstones'treble and tenor-sized English concertina began to be regularlyproduced in an 'all-black' format, with black morocco bellowshaving black bellows papers, and with solid ebony, ebony veneered,or 'ebonized' ends and fretwork. Some of their large and specialmodels had been produced 'all black' from about 1875, and instrumentsin the C M Collection with such ebony ends and black bellows include:
C150 no. 19207 A 'bass extra deep'- sold 1875
The Wheatstone 'Aeola', named after the Greek God of Wind, Aeolus,was introduced in about 1898 as a high quality 'professional'instrument, with 'long scale' reeds having double-riveted tongues,fine black leather bellows, ebony ends and with its chrome-cappedbuttons with velvet bushings into the fretwork (29). The firstAeolas were not eight-sided, as is generally believed, but werefine quality six-sided instruments, with flat ebony ends thathad 'AEOLA' stamped into their woodwork. The well-known octagonal,raised-ended Aeola did not appear until 1901, and was undoubtedlya response to the all-black professional concertina produced bythe rival firm of Lachenal & Co under their trade name 'TheEdeophone', which was first produced around 1890.
[PLATE 7] These early octagonal Wheatstone Aeolas still had theunusual 'comma' or 'dot and tail' fretwork as used on the earliestsix-sided models. The muffling effect of this unusual fretworkpattern produces a strange but sweet tone in these early instruments,which is lost when the more conventional open fretwork re-appearson the later Aeolas.
The Design of the first Aeolas
Item No. Date of Sale Description
The evolution of the modern, 8-sided Aeola spans the period ofWheatstones' move from 20 Conduit St to 15 West St, off CharingCross Road, London: instrument no. 22669 of 1898 has the 'By HerMajesty's.......' label of 20 Conduit St; instrument no. 23090has both '20 Conduit St' and '15 West St' labels; and by the timethat instrument no. 24670 is produced in 1909, the standard WestSt label is in regular use.
The Aeola became the flagship of Wheatstones' growing fleet ofconcertina models, and opulent examples were produced throughoutthe 1920s, some having solid silver or gold plated fittings, raisedamboyna-wood ends, and florid green or red morocco leather bellows.There are in existence a few Aeolas whose ends are clad in a veneerof tortoiseshell, and the Wheatstone catalogues of the periodoffer a most varied menu of compasses and decorative style toprospective buyers of their Aeolas.
Amalgamation, decline and closure
In 1897, the Wheatstone concertina business moved to 15 West Street,off Charing Cross Road, and upon the death of the then managerEdward Chidley, the Wheatstone business was bought by Besson andCo, (now a Boosey and Hawkes subsidiary), and the firm then subsequentlymoved to premises at Ives Street, Chelsea, which they shared withthe flute makers Lafleur.
The business had been declining throughout the nineteen-thirties,and the firm was forced to suspend concertina manufacture in favourof war work during the war years. Shortly after resumption ofconcertina manufacture in 1959, Wheatstone & Co. were againmoved, to Lafleur's flute factory in Duncan Terrace, Islington.
Wheatstones' final production, developed by their manager HarryMinting upon the resumption of concertina making at the firm afterthe second world war was the 'May Fair' concertina, a budget rangeof English and Anglo concertinas aimed at the growing market forconcertinas in the British folk dance fraternity. It was a mostinferior production, and used imported piano accordeon reeds,thin aluminium end plates and plastic buttons. Having none ofthe quality of Wheatstone's pre-war output, it was not a success(30).
From Duncan Terrace, the firm was moved to a small corner of thelarge Boosey and Hawkes instrument factory at 'Sonorous Works',Edgware, where a limited production of new instruments was maintained.However, due to falling demand, the remaining plant, machineryand stocks and trading name were finally sold off by Boosey'sin the mid 1970s to a small folk instrument company, and the remaininghistoric concertinas, some dating from the earliest days of thefirm, were acquired by the Concertina Museum.
(1) See inter alia J Howarth: 'Free-reed Instruments', in A.
Baines(ed., for the Galpin Society): The Penguin Book of Musical
Instruments(Harmondsworth, 1961), p.318ff. Howarth mentions another claim,however
(p.321), that besides the sheng, plucked idiophones suchas the jew's harp may also have had
1. The Wheatstone Symphonium:
c.1829, 24 keys, serial no. 188,gold reeds. (CMC Item C500)
Appendix I - The Concertina Museum Collection
This collection of over 1600 instruments, patent prototypes, manuscripts,and archives was formed during the past twenty five years andincludes almost 700 different rare Concertinas by every knownmaker, accordions, flutinas, harmoniums, and virtually every knownvariant of free-reed instrument from 1800 onwards.
The Collection boasts an extensive archive of original manuscripts,catalogues, Patents, photographs, models, interviews and researchdata about the history of the concertina, including much sourcematerial on Sir Charles Wheatstone and the concertina-making firmhe founded.
Central to the Collection is an extensive group of unique patentmodels, inventions and prototypes from the laboratory of Wheatstone,one of the most important British scientists and philosophersof the nineteenth century, who invented and developed the electrictelegraph, the stereoscope, the electric clock, the morse codetransmitter, and of course the 'English' concertina.
Many of Sir Charles Wheatstone's own examples of his inventionsare now in the Collection, including early prototypes of his electrictelegraph, typewriters, electric clocks, code transmitters, acousticaldevices and prototype concertinas, and the Collection representsone of the most important groups of early Wheatstone equipmentto be found in an independent Museum.
The Collection includes most of the patent prototypes of Wheatstone'searliest Concertinas, including the world's earliest known commerciallyproduced instrument, and many rare instruments designed and modifiedby Sir Charles during the 1830s and 1840s.
Instruments by over twenty-five rival concertina makers are representedin the Collection, with examples from Dove, Lachenal, Case, Nickoldsand Dowsett, all of whom started work in Wheatstone's workshops,and by the dozen or more independent London-based makers who workedin the latter part of the nineteenth century.
Early European instruments, such as Demian's akkordion, Debain'sharmonium, Uhlig's konzertina, and Busson's accordeon-diatoniqueare represented, together with concertinas, bandoneons, melodeons,button accordions, 'lap-organs', 'flutinas' and piano accordionsfrom Germany, Holland, France, Austria and Italy.
The Concertina Museum has produced an extensive five-volume illustratedchecklist, with every exhibit fully described and photographed,and accompanied with extracts from the definitive thesis on thehistory of the concertina. Copies of these volumes are availablefrom the Concertina Museum, Belper, Derbyshire DE5 1AZ, UK.
Appendix II - The Wheatstone Factory Archives
The Wheatstone Factory Archives are in nine notebooks, and thecontents of each book is as follows :
C1046 Instrument nos 1 - 1500 1835 - 1848
The final two books (Item nos C1055/56), are simple ledgers ofweekly payments to employees, suppliers and other tradesmen whoperformed works and services for the Wheatstone workshops. A wealthof detail about costs of brass, rosewood, ebony, ivory, leather,french polishing, and of the wages paid to Messrs Lachenal, Dove,the Chidley brothers, the Nickolds brothers, (all of whom laterleft to set up their own concertina workshops) and other employees.Entries were made each week from 28 January 1845 to 1 August 1846,and from 1 January 1848 to 30 June 1849
These 'Wages Books' give much information on the personnel atConduit Street in the 1840s, their wages and the many other outgoingsand services paid for by the shop managers: The rise of Lachenalas a highly paid employee, the regular payments to 'Mr C.W.',and the wages of the many staff who later become independent makersare all in these books. Much information on the trade of concertina-makingand how it was organised is contained in the ledgers, and belowis a small selection of entries to show the range of the craftsmenand raw materials accounted for in these small ledgers :
Appendix III - Diagnostic Features of early and later Wheatstoneconcertinas.
On the ends of the concertina
Labelling of the instrument
The buttons of the instrument may have:
The action and action board:
The reeds and reed pan
There is a boxwood and ivory clarinet in the C M Collection, itemC502, labelled 'Wheatstone & Co, 20 Conduit St, Regent St,London', as well as a large quantity of half finished woodwindparts, flute bodies etc, which were amongst the Wheatstone apparatusleft at King's College after Sir Charles's death. William Wheatstoneinvented the 'Wheatstone Embouchure', a metal clip-o fipple mouthpiecefor flutes, from the Conduit Street premises, and the sales recordsfor the 1840s show that several of these were made and sold duringthis period.
This well-made instrument may even have been sold commerciallyfrom the family's shops; the surviving example has two rows ofsteel 'nails' or rods, secured firmly into a curved block on ahollow soundboard. The 'nails' are of various lengths and thicknesses,and were further 'tuned' by having their tips filed, so that whenthe nails are set into resonant vibration by a violin bow, eachproduces a different musical note and transmits its vibrationloudly via the sound-box. It is generally accepted that the Nagelharmonikaor Nagelgeige (nail violin) was invented about 1740 by a Germanviolinist in St Petersburg named Johann Wilde, and was introducedinto Britain as the 'Semi-luna' due to its semicircular soundbox,which had tuned pins inset into the edge in a gamut of two orthree octaves. A little chamber music was composed for the instrument(8).
the Ledgers show instruments numbered 305 and 308as sold in August 1839 and August 1846
respectively, over sevenyears apart, yet on the other hand, instruments 289, 290, 291and 292
are sold on the 20th 23rd, 22nd and 9th July 1840, inalmost numerical order.