The Design and Evolution of the Wheatstone Aeola

Though a more austere-looking, all black concertina was occasionally produced after the death of Prince Albert in 1861, it was not until the introduction of the 'Aeola' in 1898 that Wheatstones' treble and tenor-sized English concertina began to be regularly produced in an 'all-black' format, with black morocco bellows having black bellows papers, and with solid ebony, ebony veneered, or 'ebonized' ends and fretwork. Some of their large and special models had been produced 'all black' from about 1875, and instruments in the C M Collection with such ebony ends and black bellows include: :

C150 no. 19207 A 'bass extra deep'- sold 1875

C151 no. 21551 A 'Clarionet'------- sold 1892/3

C264 no. 21676 A 'Clarionet'------- sold 1893/4

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-capped buttons with velvet bushings into the fretwork (Ref 29). The first Aeolas were not eight-sided, as is generally believed, but were fine quality six-sided instruments, with flat ebony ends that had 'AEOLA' stamped into their woodwork. The well-known octagonal, raised-ended Aeola did not appear until 1901, and was undoubtedly a response to the all-black professional concertina produced by the rival firm of Lachenal & Co under their trade name 'The Edeophone', which was first produced around 1890.

[PLATE 7] These early octagonal Wheatstone Aeolas still had the unusual 'comma' or 'dot and tail' fretwork as used on the earliest six-sided models. The muffling effect of this unusual fretwork pattern produces a strange but sweet tone in these early instruments, which is lost when the more conventional open fretwork re-appears on the later Aeolas.

The Design of the First Aeolas

Item No. Date of Sale Description

C103 22423 1898 6 sided 56 key flat ebony ends, 'Comma' frets stamped 'Aeola'.

C101 22669 1898 6 sided 68 key single action, flat ebony ends, 'Comma' frets, stamped 'Aeola'.

C102 23090 1901 8 sided, 56 key, raised ebony ends, 'Comma frets'.

C273 24670 1909 8 sided (stretched), 64 keys, raised ebony ends, conventional frets.

C117 25425 1911 8 sided, miniature, 14 keys, flat chrome ends, conventional frets.

The evolution of the modern, 8-sided Aeola spans the period of Wheatstones' move from 20 Conduit St to 15 West St, off Charing Cross Road, London: instrument no. 22669 of 1898 has the 'By Her Majesty's.......' label of 20 Conduit St; instrument no. 23090 has both '20 Conduit St' and '15 West St' labels; and by the time that instrument no. 24670 is produced in 1909, the standard West St label is in regular use.

The Aeola became the flagship of Wheatstones' growing fleet of concertina models, and opulent examples were produced throughout the 1920s, some having solid silver or gold plated fittings, raised amboyna-wood ends, and florid green or red morocco leather bellows. There are in existence a few Aeolas whose ends are clad in a veneer of tortoiseshell, and the Wheatstone catalogues of the period offer a most varied menu of compasses and decorative style to prospective 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 manager Edward Chidley, the Wheatstone business was bought by Besson and Co, (now a Boosey and Hawkes subsidiary), and the firm then subsequently moved to premises at Ives Street, Chelsea, which they shared with the flute makers Lafleur.

The business had been declining throughout the nineteen-thirties, and the firm was forced to suspend concertina manufacture in favour of war work during the war years. Shortly after resumption of concertina manufacture in 1959, Wheatstone & Co. were again moved, to Lafleur's flute factory in Duncan Terrace, Islington.

Wheatstones' final production, developed by their manager Harry Minting upon the resumption of concertina making at the firm after the second world war was the 'May Fair' concertina, a budget range of English and Anglo concertinas aimed at the growing market for concertinas in the British folk dance fraternity. It was a most inferior production, and used imported piano accordeon reeds, thin aluminium end plates and plastic buttons. Having none of the quality of Wheatstone's pre-war output, it was not a success (Ref 30). [Plate 8]

From Duncan Terrace, the firm was moved to a small corner of the large 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, machinery and stocks and trading name were finally sold off by Boosey's in the mid 1970s to a small folk instrument company, and the remaining historic concertinas, some dating from the earliest days of the firm, were acquired by the Concertina Museum.

(29) 'The Aeola - a new Octagonal Instrument' in Musical Trades Review (London, April 1905), in The Concertina Museum Archives (Items C799 and C800).

(30) Neil Wayne, 'The May Fair Concertina and its Catalogues', in The Concertina Museum Archives, Items C775-777 (unpublished).

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