Maccann, MacCann or McCann?

By Bob Gaskins, June, 2001

(The following is excerpted from an e-mail response to a question on the ICA list to the question of the spelling "McCann" or "MacCann")


Dear [deleted],

Your email says that you've been around the concertina world for nearly 30 years, and during all that time you've heard about the "McCann" duet system, always so spelled, but now, all of a sudden, there is a rash of correspondence about the "MacCann" system. You ask what's going on, and whether some academic ("almost certainly American?") has done a lot of detailed research, with the result being that the conventional wisdom has been overturned. I may well be a source of some of the "MacCann" references you've been seeing, and (as you well know) I'm certainly American, but the research wasn't all that detailed. I'll tell you how I happened to find out about this mix-up.

I'm pretty new around these parts--I got interested in concertinas about two years ago. When I could find very little on the internet (back then), I was forced to look at paper sources.

First, I went over to the British Library and looked up the 1884 Maccann patent in the Science Hall; the original volume shows Patent No. 4752 issued to "John Hill Maccann". I then read all the annual renewals in the Official Journal of the Patent Office (and successor titles), just to be sure that they had happened; the renewal was printed with the spelling "Maccann" in the volume for each year up to 1898.

Then I went across the way to the Rare Books and Music Hall, searched its catalogue, and looked up a microfilm of John Hill Maccann's "Concertinist's Guide" (the original had been destroyed in World War II) and printed myself a copy. The Concertinist's Guide (1888) contains a photograph of Professor Maccann, extracts of reviews of his concerts, adverts for concertinas, adverts for lessons with Maccann at his London studio, addresses of concertina dealers (including the Maccann family business in Plymouth), plus a few very general remarks on how to hold the instrument and play it. This document uses the spelling "Maccann" uniformly.

Following my day at the British Library in late 1999, during the year 2000 I spent a few days at the Horniman Museum library going through all the boxes of Neil Wayne's archives (still not sorted or catalogued at that time); they included a copy of Maccann's 1885 tutor for his new duet, with the name spelled "Maccann" in big letters on the cover. (There's also a copy at the British Library which I later checked--it is the same.)

So the old documents invariably used the "Maccann" spelling, and, being a novice, I started using it as well. As I read more, however, I noticed that most other people used the spelling "McCann".

Not too long ago I got email similar to yours from someone noted for the depth and breadth of his knowledge about concertinas and concertina history, who wondered how everyone could have got the wrong spelling, and pointed out that he had found the "McCann" usage in lots of concertina magazines, in some highly-reputable academic books, plus on the websites of all the people who know the most about concertinas (including both individuals and distinguished institutions), while the spelling "MacCann" was very rare.

He is certainly right, and in particular the web is, as he says, almost unanimous for the "McCann" spelling. But I can find this spelling only from the 1960s or 1970s onward; the "concertina revival" documents in Neil Wayne's archives are full of "McCann". And, right alongside, it appears to me that people who were reading older documents (e.g., Goran Rahm, or Bryan Hayden, or Chris Timson) have usually used the spelling "MacCann".

One of the documents that I've been consulting is an article by Kenneth V. Chidley, "The 'Duet' System, discussed by K. V. Chidley," in World Accordion Review incorporating "The Concertina", Vol 6, No 3 (December 1950), pp 31-32. The Chidley who wrote this (as we now know from some very recent detective work by Wes Williams) was Kenneth Vernon Chidley (1892-1964), the son of Edward Chidley junior (1858-1941) and the grandson of Edward Chidley senior (1830-1899); K. V. was at the time a director of Wheatstone & Co. and Technical Advisor to the magazine. He refers to "J. H. MacCann, of Plymouth". So the original spelling was alive and well, in Chidley's memory and in this magazine at least, in 1950. (I found a copy of this at the Horniman Museum Library.)

But I also have what seems to be essentially the same article (possibly from a copy of the manuscript, minus a few words) reprinted by Neil Wayne with additional notes (by Neil) as "The Duet Concertina -- Its History and the Evolution of its Keyboard," in Free Reed: The Concertina Newsletter, 17 (Jan/Feb 1974), pp 15-17. This re-publication uses the spelling "McCann". So between 1950 and 1974, the SAME article had moved from being printed with the correct spelling to being printed with the incorrect one.

I have a copy of Peter Honri's "Working the Halls" (1973) on my shelf, and in the index it says "MacCann, J. H. - concertinist 37f". So Honri (or his publisher's reader) knew the spelling in 1973. (Chris Timson has told me that it was Peter Honri's book that he relied upon when he decided long ago to use "MacCann" in his Concertina FAQ, contrary to all the other web spellings.)

Phil Inglis wrote a series in the Australian Concertina Magazine, in its numbers 12, 13, and 14 (1985). He refers to "J. H. Maccann of Plymouth" and talks about "the original Maccann system", so he knew the spelling in 1985.

Brian Hayden's series of articles on "Fingering Systems for Duet Concertina", again in Concertina Magazine, numbers 16-19 (1986-87), talks about "the time that Maccann filed his Provisional Patent" and the like. It would be no surprise that Hayden knew the right spelling, since he'd collected all the patent documents in reviewing prior art prior to patenting his own system.

Hayden's very interesting articles on playing chords (Concertina Magazine, numbers 12-14, 1985), however, use both "McCann" and "MacCann"--in the same physical magazines in which Inglis is consistently writing "Maccann"! Perhaps this manuscript was inconsistently corrected for publication--especially easy to do when the author was in England and the publisher was in Australia.

One of the most striking cases has to do with Neil Wayne's important article "The Wheatstone English Concertina," in The Galpin Society Journal 44 (1991): 117-49--the article mentioned in the email I quoted above. In the PAPER journal (which is not easy to find), there is a paragraph reading:

"This 'Duette' system of Wheatstone's was resurrected and enlarged by 'Professor' MacCann of Plymouth in the 1880s: he designed and patented an enlarged keyboard, and persuaded both the Wheatstone and Lachenal companies to produce the instrument as the 'McCann Duet'. These were made with up to eighty-one keys, and many examples can be seen in the Wheatstone and Lachenal sections of the C[oncertina] M[useum] Collection."

The same article is available online at Neil Wayne's website (, but in the ONLINE version the paragraph says:

"This 'Duette' system of Wheatstone's was resurrected and enlarged by 'Professor' McCann of Plymouth in the 1880s: he designed and patented an enlarged keyboard, and persuaded both the Wheatstone and Lachenal companies to produce the instrument as the 'McCann Duet'. These were made with up to eighty-one keys, and many examples can be seen in the Wheatstone and Lachenal sections of the C M Collection."

Those with acute vision will notice that in the PAPER Galpin Society publication the name of the inventor (but not that of the system) has been corrected to "MacCann". Based on some correspondence about this article in the Wayne Archives at the Horniman, I believe it is possible that the Galpin Society editor did fact-checking and corrected Professor MacCann's name, but left the reference to the concertina unchanged, possibly believing that it was a trade-name variant. (And actually, I suspect, the rest of the sentence is incorrect as well: Lachenal certainly called the instrument the MacCann Duet, as in the tutor published by Lachenal; and I don't know that Wheatstone ever used the MacCann or McCann name when they began production after the patent exclusivity of Lachenal expired in 1898.)

You will soon have at least one more web and non-web reference using "MacCann". I've co-authored an article with Neil Wayne and with Margaret Birley, the Keeper of Musical Instruments at the Horniman, about that unusual 12-sided 1938 Wheatstone with the 1861-vintage fingering that we discovered on eBay in late 1999; the article is entitled "A Wheatstone Twelve-Sided 'Edeophone' Concertina with Pre-MacCann Chromatic Duet Fingering", and Allan Atlas has accepted it to appear in the next number (vol 3, Fall 2001) of his Free-Reed Journal from CUNY. So this is confirmation that Neil Wayne, the Horniman Museum, and Allan Atlas are all in the "MacCann" camp, which is a pretty good recommendation.

For what it's worth, I think it is reasonable to use "Maccann" when referring to the Professor himself, since he invariably spelled his own name that way (as far as I know), and to use "MacCann" as a sort of normalized orthography for the name of the fingering system. This also minimizes the apparent weirdness, since "McCann" and "MacCann" are read by most people as being very similar--which is probably the cause of our problem in the first place.

Best regards,


Robert Gaskins