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Horniman Museum


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I believe that only some of the vast collection is on display. Certainly when I enquired about taking a look at a particular Rock Chidley a few years ago, it was in a conservation warehouse a little way south of the O2 arena (and I don't think it had been touched since Neil donated it)

 

Alex West

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I was in there a couple of years ago and ,yes , as Chris says, it is not over illuminated but certainly sufficient to study the limited number of instruments on display. However, it is a little macabre, like seeing ones friends nailed to the fence. One instrument that I had a hand in finding , the Ivory ended Wheatstone made (and played) by Rock Chidley, was in a sorry state.... I'm sure it was worse than I remembered when it was in my possession back,in 1975.

 

If my memory serves me well the displays in the museum are permanent... some exhibits have not changed since the first time I was in there during the 1950's !

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Like, Geoff, I went there to see the collection, about 2 years ago, for the fifth time. Of the approx. 300 instruments from the Wayne collection in the museum's possession, only about 15 instruments are on display. the rest are in storage, due to limited display space and they appear to keep the same few instruments on permanent display. They are displayed in glass cases and the lighting is not very good, perhaps for conservation reasons. However, the museum is well worth visiting for its general collections and especially its collections of other musical instruments. The link below gives access to many more of the concertinas, in the Wayne collection, that are not on display.

 

http://web.archive.org/web/20110701084605/http://www.horniman.ac.uk/music/music/free_reed_index_6.html

 

Chris

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One instrument that I had a hand in finding , the Ivory ended Wheatstone made (and played) by Rock Chidley, was in a sorry state.... I'm sure it was worse than I remembered when it was in my possession back,in 1975.

 

If my memory serves me well the displays in the museum are permanent... some exhibits have not changed since the first time I was in there during the 1950's !

 

Well the that ivory-ended one didn't use to be on display Geoff, so that's something that has changed - in fact I had to make an appointment to examine it at their store some years ago (when I was writing my Louis Lachenal articles) seeing that I was especially interested in what the scratched inscription inside the end said, but couldn't make it out...

 

Rock Chidley or William Dove put their pencilled initials, as "finishers", on the backs of the action boards in all the Wheatstones of that era.

Edited by Stephen Chambers
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Well, here I am in the Horniman cafe having peered through the gloom at about 40-50 concertinas and been unexpectedly greeted by the worlds most overstuffed walrus, which I had completely forgotten was at the Horniman! There is a little mini aeola which is labelled as an English system but looks more like an Anglo layout - am I just not looking at it from the right angle?

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Well, here I am in the Horniman cafe having peered through the gloom at about 40-50 concertinas and been unexpectedly greeted by the worlds most overstuffed walrus, which I had completely forgotten was at the Horniman! There is a little mini aeola which is labelled as an English system but looks more like an Anglo layout - am I just not looking at it from the right angle?

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I had been considering leaving a couple of the prototypes of my duets to the Horniman, but now I shall have to reconsider that.

 

A few years ago they wrote to me asking how I thought the whole collection of concertinas should be displayed to best advantage; suffice it to say that they took none of my suggestions. One of my suggestions was that they remove the Walrus, possibly use it as a garden ornament, then use the space created to display a lot more concertinas !

 

Inventor.

 

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I would be interested to know what your other suggestions were - I was trying to think what a more satisfactory solution would be. The sound file that comes up on their 'interactive desk' is a rather faint Rigondi recording which wouldn't inspire me to learn, I don't think. I couldn't see an Anglo sound file, though one desk was out of action so it may have been on that one.

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When I went (2009) the exhibition was centred around Charles Wheatstone and his work, starting with telegraphs and stereoscopes. There were single instruments from two other makers almost as an afterthought. It was very EC centric also, few duets and a couple of Anglos. There was little signage and nothing which might have guided you to an understanding of the exhibition or to the place of concertinas in general. I borrowed a torch from a security guard, without it all I could get was the impression of many black concertinas on shelves. Old eyes...

 

I spoke briefly to the curator. She seemed uninformed or disinterested in concertinas outside the collection and surprised to hear of a maker I had just met still using equipment built in the 1860s. I detected no attached scholarship or desire to enlarge or improve the collection. Perhaps there is no money for it, there was no entry fee and it must be expensive to run. I'm glad it is there.

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There was a reasonably detailed history as far as it went - the progression from Wheatstone through those who worked for him and then set up on their own, with a significant part of the display focused on Lachenal. And it covered both English and Anglo, though I think that little mini was misplaced. I think what I would have liked to see was a) historically some more reflection on how it developed from a posh drawing room instrument to something that everybody's grandad seems to have got their hands on and B) some hint that unlike so many of the instruments on display, these are still played and still made - I know no-one is going to be daft enough to donate a good modern instrument, but they could at least finish the story they are telling with a board about modern Wheatstone production and the other craft makers, as well as something about how the original instruments are still going strong.

 

I don't know what it is about concertinas. As soon as I saw one I wanted to play one. It's something about having that much sound in such a small package, and for anyone with a mechanical bent the construction is just entrancing. And the fact that I can play something that was made in 1855 not long after the actual invention, or I can buy a modern one with exactly the same fingering and layout because it has stood the test of time so well, is amazing in itself. I don't think the exhibit got any of that over, but perhaps that is asking too much.

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... and B) some hint that unlike so many of the instruments on display, these are still played and still made - I know no-one is going to be daft enough to donate a good modern instrument, but they could at least finish the story they are telling with a board about modern Wheatstone production and the other craft makers, as well as something about how the original instruments are still going strong.

 

I can tell you that they do have a modern Wheatstone, a Hayden duet that was specially made for them by Steve Dickinson, though they sent it for "conservation" as soon as they got it.

Edited by Stephen Chambers
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This is quite a time back now, not long after the Museum had acquired the Neil Wayne collection.

My other suggestions were:-

1) That they had recordings of the different types of concertina that they had on display. I strongly emphasized the need to hear the sort of sound that the instruments made. At that time the V & A (Victoria and Albert Museum, South Kensington, London) had a small display of Musical Instruments together with a Juke-box type of device which played samples of the instruments displayed; and suggested that might do similar.

2) That they display an instrument taken apart and laid out so that it was possible to see what was going on inside the instrument. Or had made an instrument with perspex casework to show exactly what was happening inside. Since I wrote that, believe it or not I have seen pictures of a Melodeon with perspex casework so you could see the mechanical action and the reeds vibrating inside.

3) With regard to the Walrus: the lady at the Museum who wrote to me said in reply that they had recently had a substantial grant from the National Lottery and were going to build a massive extension to the Horniman, with plenty of extra space to display many more concertinas; so there would be no need to remove the Walrus.

 

Inventor. .

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There is a large modern extension to the original museum - is that what she was referring to? How far back are we talking? They did have an 'exploded' concertina in the display, so maybe they did listen to what you said - and they do have sound files available on 'interactive desks' but as far as I could see, just one for concertina-kind, though one desk was out of action. The walrus is now world famous, I think, and has become a symbol of the museum, so it's unlikely to disappear!

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