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Anglo Concertina Buyer's Guide

Lachenal

In a competitive concertina-manufacturing and selling environment, the Lachenal company produced a range of very fine instruments, including many "student" models. Anglo Lachenals are, as far as I know, all considered "student" grade. They're good instruments with "real" steel or brass concertina reeds and construction, but the action and sound won't be as nice or as consistent as some other makes mentioned below. These instruments were all made in the UK, so "vintage English" usually refers to a Lachenal, Wheatstone, Jeffries or Crabb, and implies superior (compared to the Italian Stagis) quality of construction, sound, and playability (action). Lachenal was apparently a good businessman (he used to work for Wheatstone before going into business for himself) and so was especially successful at producing low-cost (relative to Wheatstones) models, and these are what you're likely to find today priced between $1600 and $2000.

Concertina bellowsIf you can afford it, one of these vintage concertinas will be a fine instrument on which to learn, and frankly, you might never need to purchase another instrument as long as you live. I bought my first anglo concertina -- a 32-button Lachenal rosewood-end C/G model -- in May 1996 from The Button Box in Amherst Massachusetts, USA. They had a metal-ended model available for a little more, but since I was already a bit over my budget, I got the wooden-end model. Some people say the wooden-ended models have a mellower sound and so are better for accompaniment if you plan on singing at the same time, but I think this is a very general rule, and probably varies a lot from instrument to instrument. The type of reeds and layout of the reedpan also affects sound quality considerably (see the note below by Rich Morse of The Button Box for more details).

Concertina reed panToday (March 1999), you'll find good 30-button (or often 31 or 32-button) C/G Lachenal anglos going for between $1600 and $2000 (US). If you only want to dabble but still want a decent instrument, a 20-key vintage Lachenal or Jones (rarer, but roughly equivalent to a Lachenal) should run you between $600 and $900. Try to get a 30-button though, as a 20-button would be very limiting musically, as you would have only the C and G rows, and no accidentals besides the F# of the G scale.

 

Lachenal duet and accompanying brochure, photos courtesy of Kevin Gow (kgandll@juno.com)



 


David Aumann (aumann@netspace.net.au) is interested in dating Lachenal anglos and brought the following information to my attention. His comments about the decline of the concertina industry are also very interesting. If you have any other dates or info to offer, please let him know!

LACHENAL CONCERTINA PRODUCTION

(Dating of Lachenal Concertinas)
By David Aumann

The story goes that Louis Lachenal, who had been employed by the Wheatstone company, left to set up his own business (possibly taking some of Wheatstone's tools, and even some employees) around 1848-1850. He is thought to have started up manufacture around 1850. With his Swiss toolmaking background, he was able to machine up to out-produce Wheatstones. For example, whereas each of the Wheatstone fulcrums for the button levers was painstakingly hammered in by hand, Lachenal devised a machine to push an entire set into the action board in one press. It is thought that concertinas numbered up to about 20000 are labelled Louis Lachenal, but after that they are labelled Lachenal and Co.

Records of Lachenal serial numbers are reputed to have been lost during World War II bombing raids. In their absence, a 'rule of thumb' has been devised (by Geoff Wooff, Concertina Magazine, #6, Spring 1983), based on the following premises:

(i) Lachenal began production in 1850, and ceased in 1936 (i.e. he was in business for 86 years),

(ii) in that time he made 350000 anglo concertinas,

(iii) his output was constant.

Mathematically, 350000 concertinas in 86 years represents 4070 p.a. Therefore you should be able to estimate an age from the formula

Date of Manufacture = 1850 + (serial number)/4070

How reliable is this? We could start by asking how reliable the starting premises are. The 1850 commencing date seems reasonable, based on the reminiscences of George Jones, which have been published in Free Reed and Concertina and Squeezebox, and are available on the WWW. The 1936 finishing date is documented in an interview which Neil Wayne did in the 1970s with Lachenal employee Tommy Williams, so they are not limiting factors in our formula. The production total of 350000 was unjustified in the original article, and is probably something of a guestimate. Does anyone out there own a Lachenal with a serial number of over 300000 ? Over 250000 ? I would be interested to hear from you. The constant output assumption is obviously rather dicey.

To test the formula, I have been trying to collect known date of manufacture/serial number combinations. I have written dozens of letters with precious little information coming to light. My idea was that concertinas were sometimes sold with a retailer's stamp and a date inside them. All of us who own concertinas get to see the insides of our instruments more than we would sometimes like, so if yours has any such markings, please let me know. If your instrument has a repairer's label and date inside, please tell me ... this would put an upper limit on the date of manufacture. After all my research, I have come up with a few combinations, from Chris Algar (Barleycorn Concertinas) and Richard Evans (Australian maker/repairer). These combinations are:
Serial Number
Date of Manufacture
1
1850 (likely starting date)
11653
1860
18197
1868
51480
1895
140375
1908
350000 (possible total production)
1936 (known finishing date)

These combinations can be graphed against the dates predicted from the formula (using Excel spreadsheet) with the following results:

A few observations are readily made:

1. Lachenal's production began slowly but seems to have really accelerated in the 1890s,

2. There is clearly a need for more data, but I'd be guessing that the curve of Lachenal production would be S-shaped, and would NOT reach 350000. (To reach 350000 after our last known point would necessitate an annual production of almost 11000 concertinas, at a higher rate than any time in the company's history. The environment of post-war re-establishment of industry and the depression of the 1930s would not have been conducive to this. Additionally, the gradient of the production graph would probably be tending to zero near 1936 ... after all, if your company is in full swing, you probably wouldn't be shutting down! The invention of the gramophone around 1930 must have had its effect on instrument makers, too.

3. The length of a horizontal line between the two graphs would represent the error in the formula's prediction. Note that, for serial numbers of about 50000, the formula says ca. 1865 but known dates indicate ca. 1895.

4. A slight rearrangement of data gives the following graph, which will allow you to find your serial number on the horizontal axis and read your date from the vertical axis.

The trendline which has been fitted to this data may be a little misleading, since it implies extremely high production between about 1905 and 1915, but with present data, it may be the best way of estimating your Lachenal's age.

The only other dating info on Lachenals that I can think of is the actual specifications of the instruments, which seem to have changed from time to time. For example, my earliest 20-key has medium diameter buttons (it's a Louis Lachenal, as opposed to Lachenal and Co., #12113). My next, #25219 has larger diameter buttons, and later models, e.g #124339, have buttons of smaller diameter than either. The two early ones have numbers on the keys. Looking at rosewood ended models, the fretting is identical on #74681 and #57778, and these differ only minorly from #12113 (only around the fretting around the serial no. in the left hand end.) By #165981 the fretting is a totally different design. There are other differences I could document if others are interested. If dates of specification changes could be pinpointed or narrowed down, then you could perhaps date a concertina by it's combination of features. Anyway, that's just a thought, and I doubt if enough info would ever surface to allow dating a concertina by its specifications.

This sort of investigation is limited by the availability of data. In particular, if your Lachenal has a high serial number (say, around 250000 or higher) could you let me know, even if you don't have a date for it. And if you DO have a serial number/date combination, please email me so we can include it in our analysis. It's all a bit academic, but lots of us would like to know how old our box really is!



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