Concertina Cases: New is Often Better
Randy Merris (email@example.com), March, 2000
Praise abounds for vintage concertinase.g., Wheatstones, Jeffries, Crabbs, and the best-grade Lachenals and Jones--but does not extend to their cases. At best, the vintage case may be impractical. At worst, it may have negative value, because improper use may damage the concertina inside.
Cases for English, anglo, and duet concertinas can be divided into the following categories:1
(1) vertical wood cases, (2) vertical leather cases, (3) horizontal leather cases, (4) hardshell fitted cases, (5) hardshell unfitted cases, and (6) softshell cases (gigbags). Vertical refers to the design for storing a concertina in an upright positioni.e., standing on end (see Exhibits 1-2 below). Horizontal refers to the design for storing a concertina in a sideways positioni.e., resting on the sides of its ends (see Exhibits 3-6).
Vertical Wood Cases
vertical wood case shown in Exhibit 1 is a fairly typical example of the thousands
of standard cases provided with Lachenal and Jones concertinas. Similar cases
were provided with 19th century Wheatstone and inexpensive German-made
concertinas.2 Third-party suppliers made many of the cases, following
specifications provided by the concertina makers. The case maker usually was
not identified, but specialty leatherette-covered cases, advertised by Lachenal,
were sold under the company name of Blackwood.
Design flaws of the vertical wood case can lead to several problems:
- The gravity problem. Gravity is an arch enemy of the valves in a stored concertina. By standing a concertina on end in a vertical case, leather valves on each end are subjected to the effects of gravity, which can cause the valves to sag and curl.
- The key-and-handle problem. Because the handle is on the top, a vertical wood case must be closed and locked to use the handle. But the key is often missing, making the handle unusable for concertina toting. The handle itself--a leather strap embedded in the wood top--is missing on many old cases.
- The push-through problem. If the key is available and the lock works properly, the case can be closed and locked, and the handle on top can be used for toting. However, for many of the vertical wood cases, closing the top causes the concertina to be tightly pushed into the bottom of the case, leading to enough pressure to push the bottom out of the case and/or to produce a break across the bottom of the case. In addition, squeezing the concertina into the case is rather hard on the hand straps.
- The strap-screw problem. On most vintage anglo and duet concertinas, a thumb screw holds the adjustable end of the hand strap to the side of the concertina end. The vertical wood cases have relatively close tolerances for the fit of the instrument in the case. A slight indentation is usually provided on the inside of one hexagonal side, to accommodate the thumb screw and hand strap. In slipping the concertina into the case, the loose end of the hand strap may catch on the side of the case, thereby providing wear on the threads of the hand-strap thumb screw. In time, this wear can contribute to stripping of the threads of the thumb screw. This problem is most likely if the thumb screw is threaded directly into the wood end, rather than into a threaded metal insert recessed in the side of the wood end.
- The over-tight-fit problem. "Do not to push or pull on the bellows without depressing a button" is a caution for all new concertina players. However, pulling a concertina by the hand strap from a too-snug vertical case can have just that resulti.e., pulling on the bellows without a button being depressed. The advisable method is to invert the case using one hand and "pour" the concertina into the other hand.
Vertical Leather Cases
vertical leather cases for Jeffries concertinas are shown in Exhibit 2. The
hexagonal Jeffries case was much more prevalent than the rectangular Jeffries
case. The Jeffries cases are made of heavy leathertop, sides, and bottomand
do not suffer from the "push-through problem." The case latchesoften
without locksmay or may not be in working order. Their side-mounted handles
overcome the "key-and-handle problem."
Being vertical, they have the "gravity problem" described above,
and often have the "over-tight-fit problem" in the extreme. The leather
bodies of many cases have shrunk to such an extent that the concertina will
stay fixed in place when the case is inverted, rather than sliding out. It can
be a virtual "tug-of-war" to extract the concertina. Unless great
care is exercised, the tugging will lead to bellow pulling without a button
The leather-hinge problem is a design flaw of the vertical leather cases. The vertical wood cases have metal hinges which often are in working order. In contrast, the leather case uses its back leather side as a hinge between the case top and body. For many cases, the leather hinge has split resulting in complete separation of the case top and bottom. Even if the hinge is still intact, continued use will eventually (maybe quickly) split the hinge leather.
Horizontal Leather Cases
leather cases for two Wheatstonesa 1921 Linota anglo (left) and a 1937
Aeola Englishare shown in Exhibit 3. These cases allow the concertinas
to fit snugly, without the "over-tight-fit problem," and overcome
the "gravity problem" of the vertical cases. Most of the other problems
with the vertical wood cases are avoided as well. The horizontal leather cases,
as well as the vertical leather cases, make use of the back side of the case
as a hinge between the top and the body. These cases are practical for concertina
storage and toting if the hinge is in excellent shape or if the owner is amenable
to repairing the hinge if it breaks.3
Hardshell fitted cases
4 shows a hardshell fitted case for a Wheatstone concertina from circa 1970shortly
before Stephen Dickinson acquired Wheatstone. Even though the Mayfair and other
Wheatstone concertinas from the 1950s through early 1970s do not generally match
the quality of the pre-war Wheatstones, their fitted hardshell cases (even for
Mayfairs) were among the best made. These cases usually have good hinges, latches,
and handles. They hold the concertinas snugly without the "over-tight-fit
5 shows hardshell fitted cases of types supplied with new custom-built concertinas
or purchased separately for vintage concertinas. Such cases are usually black
lacquered wood but otherwise vary in stylei.e., with one or two latches,
with or without a lock, with the handle on the top or side, with or without
metal corner protectors, and with various types of cloth lining.4
They hold the concertinas snugly and are practical for day-to-day use. Someone
may object to (1) the price, which is currently about US$100-140, (2) no storage
space around the concertina, or (3) no shoulder strap for toting. Rebuttals
are: (1) a fine concertina deserves a fine case, (2) your sheet music (or whatever)
can be toted in a backpack or whatever, and (3) a homemade shoulder strap, if
really needed, can be fit through the handle.
Hardshell unfitted cases
most common type of hardshell unfitted case, shown in Exhibit 6, is the vinyl-covered
plush-lined wood case that is sold as an separate accessory or is included in
the purchase price of a new non-custom-made concertina. The current stand-alone
price of such cases is about US$70-90. A less common type is the fiberglass
unfitted case which is cloth lined or unlined and sells for about half the price
of the plush-lined case.
Some of these cases are a little bigger than others, but most are of sufficient size to allow a little storage space (e.g., for a few sheets of music or a small tune book). Because it is unfitted, the case will allow the concertina to move around a bit while being toted. In the absence of rough use, the plush lining is usually sufficient to absorb the jostling of the concertina. If desired, a small block of foam or sponge can be wedged between the concertina and the case wall, thereby eliminating jostling but relinquishing storage space.
Softshell cases (gigbags)
gigbags are available in various colors, shapes (usually, cylindrical or hexagonal),
and styles with prices ranging from about US$12 to US$75 or more. Exhibit 7
shows an example of a heavily padded gigbag (left) and an unpadded gigbag. Gigbags
have zippered, drawstring, or buckle closures. The unpadded or fleece-lined
nylon gigbags are usually of sufficient diameter to avoid the "over-tight-fit
problem." Some more expensive foam-padded gigbags, however, are small enough
in diameter to result in serious "over-tight-fit problems." Most cylindrical
foam-padded gigbags (not shown) have sufficient diameter to avoid the "over-tight-fit
problem" and even allow for a little storage space around the concertina.
Although usually of vertical design, gigbags are adequate for storage purposes
if laid on their sides so that the concertinas are not subjected to the "gravity
problem." Even the unpadded gigbag is adequate for concertina toting if
the utmost care is taken to ensure that the concertina is not knocked around,
not subjected to temperature extremes, and not in a vertical position for long
1 Chemnitzer concertina cases are not described herein.
2 Many German-made concertinas sold by Sears Roebuck and Montgomery Ward in the 1890s and early 1900s had vertical wood cases.
3 Repair is fairly simple, but may be esthetically unpleasing. Obtain a piece of flexible leather (somewhat color matched to the case) about 2 inches wide and the length of the split hinge. Obtain a good leather adhesive (maybe at a shoe repair shop). Glue the leather piece on top of the hinge split with about an inch of overlap on each side (i.e., the top and body).
4 In additional category is the double concertina case (fitted or unfitted) that holds two concertinas in a horizontal position. These cases are practical for the player who frequently travels with two concertinas. Double cases can be ordered from case makers who supply major builders and dealers.