Psst, buddy -- wanna buy a concertina?
Concertinas and internet auctions and sales.
My "Tale of Two Jeffries" apparently inspired Randy Merris to send in the "Beware the wood worm!" story below. If I had to boil down my experiences and those of many others, I'd say that expecting to purchase your first concertina used from an individual (by auction or otherwise) in an effort to save money or get a "good deal" is a really bad idea.
My father asked me a while ago what I thought of eBay. I told him that it was great because you could sell just about anything, no matter how esoteric, for exactly what it was worth. I also told him eBay was terrible because you always paid exactly what something was worth. The chances of finding a "good deal" in the Age of the Internet are VERY slim indeed. I'd have to say that web auctions have killed the Good Deal. It used to be that you had a chance of finding a Jeffries in an antique store for $100. Now, most antique dealers have wised up to eBay and now have iMacs sitting in the back room which provide access to a global market, research, and pricing data. Has my site made things worse in this regard? Probably, but I hope it has also helped more than it has hurt, in that I originally started posting prices in an effort to show beginners that they did NOT have to pay the very high prices listed for Suttners and Dippers on the sites of music retailers on the web (something which almost made me give up the search for a good concertina until I found out that you can go direct -- as most people do actually).
To come back to the subject at hand, I would have to say that online auctions or classifieds are a great place to look for the special concertina you've always wanted, or that "fixer-upper" which you've been looking for which you plan on restoring as a hobby. But I would say that if you want a good concertina to play and learn on, just stick to the shops listed on my Links page and to the makers listed in the Buyer's Guide. While you'll have to wait years to get a high end concertina or a few months to a few years to get a beginner/midrange model, you'll have a good instrument which will hold its value (if you take very good care of it) and which will keep you from getting frustrated.
This isn't to say that you won't be able to find a good Lachenal for sale for around $1500, but you really don't know what you'll be getting, and I've seen many cases of mis-informed sellers posting misleading comments or suggestions regarding the quality and value of the instrument they're trying to sell. If you really want to purchase a concertina from eBay or another auction or from an individual, I would strongly suggest that you get a inspection/return/full-refund period so you can check out the instrument. Both the used concertinas I bought sight-unseen were in worse shape than I imagined they would be, and both needed work to make them really playable -- quite a bit of work. The "charming vintage concertina in excellent condition made in London" you see on eBay might have reeds rusted right through and bellows with huge cracks and holes and cracked reed pan... okay as a $100 wall-ornament -- worthless as an instrument. And here is another big problem -- as a beginner looking for your first instrument, are you really qualified to take apart and inspect the instrument?
If you can, I'd suggest trying to use someone who really knows concertinas and offering to pay them to inspect the instrument. Forget using those online escrow services -- are they going to be able to inspect and evaluate a 100-year-old concertina?!? No, I don't know anyone who offers such services, but you can certainly try the shops and individuals listed on these pages. If you'd pay a mechanic $100 to inspect a used car you're thinking of buying, do spend $100 (probably less) to inspect that old $1000-2000 concertina!
Now, about those cheap german concertinas you see for sale on eBay and about which people email me quite often: No matter what the description says -- "vintage", "fine", "cute", "adorable", "excellent german quality", "charming", "antique" -- it's almost surely junk. I'm sorry, but unless it's a Suttner, those German concertinas (often Scholer-brand) are just terrible, and yes, they use accordion reeds. They're more like cheap accordions, shaped like concertinas. They only thing "concertina" about them is the fingering. They might be okay for fooling around with or to see if you can make sense of the fingering, but buying one of those because you want to "play concertina" is a mistake if you ask me. Sure, maybe to get started for year or so, but don't plan on using it for long, as it'll get frustrating, and the instrument will fall apart. And by all means don't judge your interest in concertinas by an experience with one of these things! By the way, the same goes for those "Vienna" concertinas you'll see on eBay, as well as the "Vintage Italian". There's no such thing really -- "vintage" implies "good old", while I'm not aware of any good used Italian concertinas. If it's Italian, it's probably a Stagi or Bastari, which generally do not hold up well over time and which do not hold their value like a real concertina. If you want a cheap concertina, just get a new Stagi (yes, Italian) from any good free-reed shop, or one of Bob Tedrow's (Homewood Musical in Alabama, USA) Turbo-Stagis (my term, not his!).
Beware the wood worm!
by Randy Merris
Your "Tale of Two Jeffries" has inspired me to send you the following horror story:
Sight-unseen concertina purchases are on the rise with the advent of the Ebay auction and internet auctions by others, including some of the old established English auction houses. Therefore, more than ever before, buyers should beware of the insidious wood worm.
About a year ago, I bought a concertina in an internet auction by one of the big London auction houses. When I unpacked it, I immediately saw the worm holes in the wood ends. I emphasize that I did not need to look inside the concertina. The problem was instantly apparent from the outside. Once inside, I found that every piece of wood was totally ravaged by wood worms. It looked like it had been the site of an international termite convention.
I contacted the auction house, which attempted to give me the buyer-beware, this was an auction, blah, blah, blah. I countered by pointing out that (1) the merchandise was rubbish, (2) even casual inspection revealed that it was rubbish, and (3) that selling rubbish could not be justified for an auction sale or otherwise. If they are going to sell by long distance, without the buyer having any chance for prior inspection, they must maintain at least a semblance of quality control. The bidder should not expect less -- especially for a supposedly highly regarded auction house that had been in business for over two centuries! I pointed out that the concertina was worth less than zero to me, because of the potential for infecting the other musical instruments and other wood in my home.
They less than cheerfully refunded the purchase amount of the concertina, but I still incurred the shipping costs (by FedEx) in both directions. In addition, I lost on the pound/dollar currency conversion associated with the purchase debit and refund credit on my credit card, since the US dollar had depreciated in the interim. All together, it cost me about $250, which I viewed as "tuition" well spent for a valuable lesson.
The experience led me to make some inquiries of dealers and builders. Sure enough, they had seen plenty of wood worm damage in concertinas. I seem to remember that Neil Wayne told me that his whole collection was "gassed" before it was sent to the Horniman Museum. I did not ask Neil about how many wormy concertinas he had encountered, but my guess is that he has some in his concertina travelling days.
Dealers and builders offered some interesting suggestions for dealing with the problem: (1) "gassing" of the concertina by a standard pest control company, (2) putting wood parts (but not metal parts or meltables like bellows) in the microwave oven, (3) putting the whole concertina in the freezer overnight, and (4) taking out the usable parts (reeds, levers, springs, etc) and scrapping the rest. Obviously, the last approach is the only way to go when the wood parts have really been totally ravaged. Even with this approach, the salvaged parts should be gassed, frozen, or otherwise decontaminated. I would take no chances with worm larvae! My preferred approach has been to try to avoid ever getting another wormy concertina.
Then, a few months ago, I bought a real nice Lachenal Anglo (serial # 148299, circa 1896). When I received it, I inspected it carefully, and there was one small round hole in the side of one end -- just the size of a worm hole. I was horrified! Fortunately, closer inspection revealed that it was actually a tiny drilled hole that had used to attach a neck strap or for some other purpose. For example, the hole could have been used for mounting a tiny music stand/clamp. I read somewhere that such little music holders were sometimes used by players in concertina bands. However, I would have expected such an accessory to have been appropriate for an English concertina, but not for sheet music for an Anglo concertina.
Now, one of my first questions in discussing a trade or purchase is the following: 'Has it been inspected carefully, inside or outside, for any signs of wood worm?'"