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How Did They Make Metal End Pieces In 'the Day''?

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I've been looking at photos (on the www) of the metal end covers on a variety of old (19th century) concerrtinas (mostly Jeffries, Shakespeare and Crabb). Granted, there aren't that many pics posted and many of the ones that are were taken at an angle so all the details are not visable. The variations in the designs - sometimes subtle and usually not - got me to wondering how these were made back in the day (say last 1/4 19th century). It would be a simple matter (today) to machine press and cut the most intricate design. But what about in 1875? Were the old metal end covers made by machine and the design then cut by hand into them? That would imply that various people were employed by the makers to cut, finish and polish these pieces (most of which are near works of art - in my humble opinion). If that were the case - it would not be surprising to find small differences in the designs (a few slips of the file and you have a slightly different design). Using Jeffries as an example - can someone tell me if the cut design on his earliest metal end covers is the same as the one on his later (say 1890) concertinas - or is that 1890 design the result of various iterations of a pattern over a period of years? Too many questions for one topic - please forgive. Can't seem to find much info on this. Thanks for humoring me.


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  • 2 weeks later...

They were hand done back then, today the method of choice would not be a press but water jets or laser. Geoff Crabb has described the old method, he still uses it. Imagine a desk with a hole through it about 4 inches back from the edge. A jewellers saw blade goes through the hole and through a hole drilled through the section to be pierced, and is attached to a coping saw style frame. The operators right hand goes on the handle of the saw under the desk and moves the saw vertically up and down. The left hand guides the work according to a paper template glued on top. Imagine the copying process back then and you can see the potential for progressive error in the design. When that particular shape is finished the blade is unhooked and inserted through the hole drilled in the next piece to be cut out.


When the piercings are all made the edge of the end is crimped with a simple press. Geoff's does each side in turn.


When he told me about this he also told me how long it took to do a Crab/Jeffries style end. I remember being shocked how quickly they did it but can't remember how long it was. Maybe he will see this and tell us. He will know the answers to all your other questions.

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When he told me about this he also told me how long it took to do a Crab/Jeffries style end. I remember being shocked how quickly they did it but can't remember how long it was.

Not metal ends I know, but the process as outlined by Chris is the same - when i made the ends for the instrument in my avatar, it took over 50 hours of work to cut the fretwork using a powered scrollsaw.

Edited by SteveS
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It has to be said your ends were a tremendous achievement, especially as a first effort. A Crabb Jeffries has many fewer piercings, around 70 I think, yours is probably 150. The last time I cut a metal pair on a scroll saw it took me two days but I think I stopped after finishing the first one because I was knackered and started again the next day. If you watch the guy on the scroll saw in the old Wheatstone factory film you can see it would be a couple of hours work per end max. Again, a wood end.

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Not strictly relevant to this topic, but back on 7/5/2008 I posted pictures of the mild steel ends of my Anglo which had been routed with the aid of some sort of brass template before then being chrome plated. In no way comparable to the traditional old hand-cut designs but attractive none-the-less and undoubtedly faster to produce.

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Just a few rambles on this subject.



It is extremely unlikely that it was or is possible to stamp out concertina end plates with traditional fretwork patterns for a myriad of reasons.

Some of these are:

The cost of the press tools (one pair for the left side and another pair for the right), if possible to make because of the complexity, would be unimaginable. It must also be considered that a separate set of tools would be required for each type and model of instrument available.

Checking the accuracy of the tool setting between each pressing would be an onerous but necessary task to avoid irreversible damage to the tools.

A press capable of generating the force (tonnage) to stamp a top would be have to be huge and the space to accommodate such a monster let alone the cost would have been beyond the resources of most makers.


Of coarse, with current technology and the advancement in precision cutting methods it is possibly more convenient and less labour intensive to use these than the methods of the past.



By the old method using a hand frame, the best blades available and no interruptions it should be possible for an experienced piercer to fret cut the standard John Crabb pattern in a pair of nickel silver tops in about four hours, two hours per side.



Design differences.

95% of Crabb fretwork was pierced in-house, but like some of the other makers, during the late 1800s, at periods of heavy demand, this work was put out to others who professionally specialized in this type of work. If this was done, Crabb tops were nearly always sent out with the paper patterns attached.

It has been noted that some fretwork designs that appear on instruments of various make are similar but have noticeable differences.

Like today, it was very difficult to control the use of a design once it left the workshop. In a bid to avoid designing and drawing patterns, it is probable that some makers borrowed the existing designs of others and it is almost certain that some of the aforementioned outside parties, if approached, would pierce concertina tops to a known design. Unfortunately, copies of the designs in this case, were generally obtained by taking rubbings of the last tops pierced. Depending on the accuracy of these rubbings, the skill of the piercer and the quality of the saw blades used, the reproduced fretwork was rarely a true copy of the original. It is easy to imagine that as this process was continued, any deviation in successive rubbings and piecing could eventually result in tops being considerably different from an original design.

Of course, some makers may have requested minor changes or additions to known designs to personalise them and it is known that professional piercers would even design a pattern from scratch if requested but that was usually not cost effective for the smaller makers.


I have written a draft paper describing the Crabb method of making metal concertina tops. Due to the size constraint of attachments I have split it into four parts. Parts 1 & 2 are attached below. Hopefully parts 3 & 4 will follow in a subsequent posting.






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Thanks all for the comments. I do try. (My wife says I am very trying sometimes).




Geoff, yes 'the book' is a daunting, possibly a never ending, task. The myriad of queries that arise both through these pages or directly, prompt an ever growing number of items to be written etc. for inclusion. The answers to many of these queries are already well known and, although noted, I tend to leave response to others. Unfortunately, in some cases, what may seem a simple question can demand an answer that is not so simple, therefore, I do try to respond eventually with the fullest information I can, when compiled, in the belief that it may be of help or interest to others now or in the future. It must be accepted that any views or information on practices that I do offer are based on those known and experienced by me or my forefathers and may not necessarily be those currently held or practised by others.

Although all my writings etc. are saved privately, it is advisable to download and save any of interest immediately. I have to delete items after a while due to the limited allowance of storage space on this site.


Mike, yes, sawing by hand allowed complete control and I think also that this may have been the best and cheapest way of cutting the intricate patterns especially when piercing metal tops. Apart from labour, the only other outlay would be a saw frame and the blades.

(Todays prices: Saw frame = £20? Blades = £25 - £30 per gross?)

I really cannot comment about hand versus power sawing as I have tried most types of powered fret saw (treadle and electric), vibrating saw and scroll saw fitted with piecing saw blades and not found one type suitable for piercing metal tops. It would be interesting to hear from any one who has accomplished this.

Metal not Wood.


Rod, you should see the number of envelopes discarded before attempting the computer drawings.


CJ, waste not want not.



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Your pieces are always very thorough and carefully 'drawn' Geoff and I appreciate them. I don't save them normally but if I could have the lot as an accessible collation I'd want a copy.


Could you assemble them into a cd for sale? Would that be simpler?

Edited by Dirge
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As low tech as this process was (Note, that's low tech, and NOT low skill-- the skill and patience required is amazing), I'm surprised that you don't see all sorts of custom layouts.


I know the Salvation Army sometimes had SA worked into their design, and H Boyd is well known, but you would think that every major music dealer and professional musician would have been interested in a custom concertina design.


Were there others?

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Putting initials into an existiing design is not a very time consuming job, but creating a whole new end design is. Obviously this depends on the level of detail involved and the skill of the draughtsperson. A new design with Crabb/Jefffries level of detail, around 70 piercings, would be a week of work for me, with edeophone level detail I hate to think. The quickest way to do this would be to adopt art deco design shapes as in some of the Stagis.

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