|Great Canadian Heritage Treasure||
What a fabulous surprise to come across a vintage George Case English concertina at a local auction, and one in fine condition at that.
George Case was a famous professor of music in the UK, an accomplished concertina player, and tutor, in the 1840s and 50s. In May 1851 he gave a concert which featured Rossini's William Tell Overture for 12 concertinas, which he had arranged specially for the occasion, and which included a solo on the bass concertina.
George apparently worked for Wheatstone for a time but set up his own factory and made concertinas from c 1851 to 1856.
Around 1856 Boosey took over Case and the labeling changed, Boosey adding Case's name to its own.
The earliest Case/Boosey instrument at the Horniman Concertina Museum in the UK is #1571. The closest (latest) Case before that number is #960. Somewhere in between is Case's last concertina.
Other serial numbers, to link to label names and business locations, to help date Case concertinas are:
- 1571 - Boosey and Sons - 1854
|George Case Concertina - Boosey & Sons, Holles St., London - c 1857|
|Orig. mahogany - Size - 18 cm across, 14 cm deep
Found - Toronto, ON
Company names and addresses are extremely important, in helping to date instruments, because manufacturers frequently changed business locations and noted that on their labels. You then match that to dates on company histories, which tell what years they were located at which address.
From 1816 to 1854 Boosey was known at Thos Boosey & Co. and was a bookseller specializing in musical scores and music books.
Boosey started making musical instruments in 1851.
From 1854 to c 1864 the company was known as Boosey & Sons, then becoming Boosey & Co for the rest of the 19th century.
Our instrument #1713 appears to date from c 1857.
What is remarkable about this instrument - which is over 150 years old - is that the fretwork, the mother-of-pearl inlay, and the mahogany ends are in mint condition, as is the 5 fold bellows.
Clearly it was carefully preserved, by generations of loving musicians, or mercifully abandoned in a very favourable environment, protected from extremes of heat and cold, which often dries out, or cracks, wooden instruments over time.
Left is the right side reed pan which shows the compartments for each set of reeds. A section contains two sets of identical reeds, to permit the same note to be sounded with the bellows going in or out - the defining characteristic of an English concertina.
The reeds are placed back to back, but side by side, with a flap of leather covering the hole over the twin to prevent it sounding when the bellows is pushing air in the opposite direction.
The R identifies the right side. At the top is the serial number - 1713 for this instrument.
The reeds are brass which is usual for early 19th century concertinas.
Later in the century steel reeds were used because they held the tone longer before going out of tune. But the sound from steel reeds is more piercing and louder.
A duplicate brass reed similar to each one shown is to be found under the white leather flap, on the other side of each compartment, to sound when air comes from that side lifting the flap. The pins are there to keep the flap from blowing back - or off - completely from the pressure.
When air comes into the compartment from the near side, only the exposed reed will sound, the pressure this time pressing the flap closed to prevent air from reaching the reed behind it.
To tune reeds you file the ends; some have been left alone, others worked on.
The aim is to make each compartment as airtight as possible when the lid below (from Wheatstone Aeola) is screwed down over top. Air gets into each compartment through the holes, which are covered by pads attached to the metal keys on the outside. Press one, the pad comes up, and air rushes in, swirls over the exposed reed, and makes the sound.
People playing in groups favour steel reeds as the concertina can be more easily heard amid the racket of other instruments.
Brass reeds sound more mellow and softer, which many concertina players prefer, for singing solo.
The right side of the instrument shows the paper label (close-up top) - amazing to survive intact for 150 years - which is an important dating aid (see above).
The style of fretwork cut-outs is also distinctive for a manufacturer, so people with concertinas where the label is missing can compare their fretwork with known instruments like this one.
This is also useful for people whose instruments have no serial numbers.
The side panels are mahogany veneer, which also helps in mellowing the tones that bounce around inside - compared to metal sided instruments that produce louder and sharper notes.
The style of mother-of-pearl inlay is also distinctive for different manufacturers, which again is an aid in identification
You can compare the fretwork, the mother-of-pearl inlay, etc. with Pete Loud's (UK) 1860 George Case concertina right that came out of the factory only a couple of years after our instrument.
After 100 years, or more, fretwork often breaks off, mahogany veneer cracks, or mother-of-pearl falls out, on many unfortunate instruments.
Right the end panel of Pete Loud's 150 year old Case concertina, which has suffered the usual problems when one takes an instrument to wildly varying climates, like from the mild and damp weather of England to extremes in cold and dryness in Canada.
Says Pete: "I took it to Indonesia where the humidity effected it and made it unplayable. The leather went green with mould, the wood warped, the screws stripped their thread, and the veneer flaked off etc. etc. So it lay untouched until April 2003 when I restored it. The left end was tricky. It was made up of an ebony veneer on two layers of ebony. These three layers were separating badly. I had to replace one of those structural ebony layers with aluminum. It was like doing a three dimensional jig-saw puzzle."
A section of bad mother-of-pearl, far right, has been replaced with a piece of plain veneer.
The sides of our concertina show how fortunate we are with our instrument. All surfaces are in extremely good, almost original, condition. The imperfections and scratches in the wood have been greatly magnified by photography; in fact they are hardly apparent to the naked eye.
The 48 buttons here are flat-top metal showing this is an upscale instrument aimed at the discerning player who intended to put it to more heavy use. Cheaper instruments from this period had ivory buttons.
The leather thumb straps are still the original.
If only they could talk about the many players who have held this instrument in their hands and played at dances or sung at group sessions with or without a piano.
Probably this instrument was brought over from England by an immigrant family in the years before Confederation and immigrants came for keeps, knowing they could never return to the Ould Sod.
No doubt many a tear fell on this instrument as songs were sung that reminded them of people and times that were left behind, forever...
Left Paul Hardy's (UK) baritone George Case concertina from the Boosey & Ching (probably mid 1860s) period, in mahogany. Google for him and his concertina to see more pics. Note the similarity in fretwork in the Case models.
Below another George Case without the fancy mother-of-pearl inlay of ours, but which has been reconditioned.
It sells at a UK music store for $5,000 US.
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