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English Concertina

The English Concertina is a free reed instrument invented by Charles Wheatstone in 1827 and patented in 1829.

Wheatstone was both an engineer and a physicist (the Wheatstone Bridge bears his name) and had an interest in acoustics and musical instruments. His first patent in this area was for improvements in the construction of wind instruments and a variety of forms of what was called then a Symphonium - a mouth-blown keyed reed instrument. One form had a 4-fold bellows with natural notes in 2 central rows on each side and other buttons for sharps and flats in rows either side and is clearly the forerunner of the concertina.  The major difference of the early concertina is that it used an acoustic Temperament with different notes for Enharmonics e.g. D# and Eb since they really were different notes on their different Scales and sounded a little different in pitch. Although technically correct, it was soon to be overtaken by the move to Equal Tempering.

This early device also only sounded on the push. The pull opened an air valve. Commercially, English Concertinas were produced by Wheatstone from 1835 and some 39,000 concertinas were made by the company up to the end of production in the late 1960s. There are many parts to a concertina and most were 'outsourced' or made by outworkers.

Following the expiry of the Wheatstone patent in 1844, many of these workers left and produced their own instruments. The most famous names are Thomas Nickolds, John Crabb, George Jones , George Case and Louis Lachenal. Of all these, Lachenal was responsible for producing more instruments through mass production techniques and many surviving vintage concertinas bear his name.

The English Concertina is identified by parallel rows of buttons, typically 48 in 4 rows of 6 on each side. The most easily distinguishing characteristics are the thumb loops and little finger plates (Anglo Concertinas have a strap that goes over the entire hand). The number of buttons can vary between 30 and 56.

They were made in different grades with a difference in the wood, buttons, reeds and bellows chiefly. The grades ran from:

Ends: Mahogany, Rosewood, Ebony, Amboyna, Metal
Buttons: Bone, Ivory, Metal
Reeds: Brass, Steel
Bellows: 4-fold, 5-fold Morocco leather

Other refinements included felt bushed keys, raised ends and even gold plating. The difference in price in 1915 for a Wheatstone English Treble Concertina is:

Mahogany, bone button, brass reed, 4-fold bellows (model 1a) - 3 Guineas
Best Nickel plated raised end metal key 5 fold bellows - 17 pounds

An Aeola - the best grade in Ebony  - 18 pounds 10 shillings. 

The average weekly wage in 1915 would have been around 4 pounds!


English Concertina Fingering