Charles Wheatstone and the Concertina

  • Charles Wheatstone and Wheatstone & Co
  • Wheatstone's Musical Researches
  • The Symphonium and the First Concertinas
  • Wheatstone's Prototype Concertinas
  • The Wheatstone Workshops in the 1840s and 1850s
  • The Output of the Wheatstone Workshops
  • 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 (Ref 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 to 1823, at 24 Charles Street from 1823 to 1824, and at 118 Jermyn Street from 1824 to 1826 (Ref 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 an ornate 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 (Ref 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 Japanese sho, 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 (Ref 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 toolmakers 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 M Collection, item C509, in which the single reed's vibrating length is adjusted by a pair of variable pinch-rollers (Ref 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' (Ref 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 C 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 (Ref 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 (Ref 5).

    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 (Ref 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 wooden chambers, whose volumes are accurately adjusted to resonate with and enhance the sound of the reed. These 'tuned cavities' appear in all the early Wheatstone concertinas, which usually have their reed 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 (Ref 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 (Ref 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 (Ref 15). [PLATE 3]

    Charles and William Wheatstone claim in their 1839 trade directory entry to be 'piano makers', shortly after this patent, but by 1842 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 (Ref 10). 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 (Ref 10). 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 unpatented 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' (Ref 8). This patent, of 18 August 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 (Ref 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 to a 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' McCann 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 'McCann 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 (Ref 19).

    Item no C1278: The Foot-powered Tripod Concertina-Organ. [PLATE 3] 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 prototype 4-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 to a 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 reed pans 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 (Ref 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 indicates 1830 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 first 420 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 1000 instruments. 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 numbers of earlier instruments reappear and are re-sold. There is a continuing trade in these second-hand instruments throughout the period covered by these books.

    (4) For a biography, see Brian Bowers: Sir Charles Wheatstone, 1st edn (London, 1975).

    (5) Langwill records 'Wheatstone, William: London. c.1813-26, Teacher and maker of flutes; c.1813-23 at 128 Pall Mall; c.1823-4 at 24 Charles Street, St James's; c.1824-6 at 118 Jermyn Street'. (Lyndesay G Langwill, An Index of Musical Wind-Instrument Makers, 5th ed, (Edinburgh 1972), p.168).

    (6) There is a boxwood and ivory clarinet in the C M Collection, item C502, labelled 'Wheatstone & Co, 20 Conduit St, Regent St, London', as well as a large quantity of half finished woodwind parts, flute bodies etc, which were amongst the Wheatstone apparatus left at King's College after Sir Charles's death. William Wheatstone invented the 'Wheatstone Embouchure', a metal clip-on fipple mouthpiece for flutes, from the Conduit Street premises, and the sales records for the 1840s show that several of these were made and sold during this period.

    (7) The London Street Guide and The London Postal Directory, Guildhall Library, London.

    (8) Charles Wheatstone and J M A Stroh, British Patent no. 39, 'Improvements in Musical Instruments in which Vibrating Tongues are acted upon by air are Employed' (London, 4 January 1872).

    (9) William Grylls Adams, 'On the Musical Inventions and Discoveries of the late Sir Charles Wheatstone FRS', Proceedings of the Musical Association, (II 1875-6), p.85. Concertinas' (London, 1836).

    (10) Charles Wheatstone, British Patent no. 10041 'Improvements in Concertinas' (London, 8 February 1844).

    (12) This well-made instrument may even have been sold commercially from the family's shops; the surviving example has two rows of steel 'nails' or rods, secured firmly into a curved block on a hollow soundboard. The 'nails' are of various lengths and thicknesses, and were further 'tuned' by having their tips filed, so that when the nails are set into resonant vibration by a violin bow, each produces a different musical note and transmits its vibration loudly via the sound-box. It is generally accepted that the Nagelharmonika or Nagelgeige (nail violin) was invented about 1740 by a German violinist in St Petersburg named Johann Wilde, and was introduced into Britain as the 'Semi-luna' due to its semicircular soundbox, which had tuned pins inset into the edge in a gamut of two or three octaves. A little chamber music was composed for the instrument.

    (13) Charles Wheatstone, British Patent no. 5803, 'Wheatstone's Specification - Wind Musical Instruments' (London, 19 December 1829).

    (14) Neil Wayne, 'An Analysis of the Wheatstone Workshops' Production Data, 1829 - 1957', in Concertina Museum Archives (unpublished).

    (15) Charles Wheatstone and John Green, British Patent, 'Improvements in Concertinas' (London, 1836).

    (18) Neil Wayne, 'The Concertina Museum: An Illustrated Catalogue, Checklist, and Historical Introduction', The Free Reed Press (Belper, Derbyshire, 1986).

    (19) Brian Hayden, 'Concertina Fingering Systems', Concertina Magazine, nos 18-24 (Bell, NSW, Australia, 1986).

    (20) Neil Wayne, 'The Wheatstone Factory Records', in The Concertina useum Archives, Items C1045-56 and c1083, (unpublished).

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