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Mark Rosenthal

What Stories Might The 1950S Wheatstone Serial Numbers Tell?

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I recently came across the listing at http://www.ebay.com/itm/Vintage-Wheatstone-48-key-Concertina-with-Case-/321871557168?hash=item4af10a3230. It's for a 6 sided, metal-ended, Wheatstone EC, 1963 vintage. It caught my attention because one of my own concertinas is Wheatstone #36074, and the one being advertised on Ebay is serial number is #36144. Since I know mine's listed in the Wheatstone ledgers as having been manufactured in 1954, I was shocked to see one whose serial number is only 70 later than mine being advertised as having been manufactured 9 years later! But I checked the Horniman website and http://www.horniman.info/DKNSARC/SD03/PAGES/D3P0740L.HTM confirms that the manufacturing date for #36144 was April 5, 1963. Was business really so bad that Wheatstone averaged only 8 concertinas per year from 1954 to 1963? If so, it's no wonder they shut down!

Also, the rows in the ledger page seem to be in order of serial number and the dates in the right-hand column are not all in ascending order. Does anyone know what the date in that column was? Was it the date of completion of manufacturing? The date the concertina was delivered to the buyer? The date the concertina was ordered? Something else?

--

Mark Rosenthal

P.S. - I noticed in the 1950s price lists (e.g. http://www.concertina.com/pricelists/wheatstone-duet/Wh-Pricelist-All-c1956.pdf),a model 3E like mine is described as "Ebony finish". The word "finish" is critical here. The ends of mine are not ebony. They're some light-colored wood painted black to look like ebony. Additionally, instead of using chamois to line the tops of the chamber dividers and the area of the bellows ends that the reed pans fit into, they used some sort of leather with the smooth side facing outward. This doesn't seal anywhere near as well as the chamois that was traditionally used. These are just a few of the many ways that Boosey and Hawkes cheapened the Wheatstone product after they acquired Wheatstone in the late 1940s.

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What demand for concertinas there was in those years came largely from South Africa, and it was mainly for Anglos. Wheatstone still produced a considerable number of these every year: their serial numbers are in the 50,000 range. There's quite a bit of information about them online, on this site and elsewhere.

 

There were indeed plenty of shortcuts taken in the Boosey and Hawkes period, but the quality of individual instruments varies across a pretty wide spectrum. I've handled one or two that were pretty dreadful, probably not worth the trouble and expense of restoring. But my own Wheatstone is a keeper. It's a model 6A (the highest grade of hexagonal box in the catalogue) from 1953, very much in the preferred South African style, with 40 buttons and an enormous eight-fold bellows (the latter is a replacement, but I'm pretty sure it's true to the original design). I had a riveted action installed (by The Button Box) some years ago, and in its improved condition I honestly don't think it's too far off the mark of a top-notch Linota from the golden years.

 

My one complaint is that I really do prefer the sound of reeds in brass shoes (or think I do; I know that many people far more knowledgeable than I am deny that there's any tonal difference), and mine has the alumin(i)um ones typical of the period. But these make for a lighter instrument, which is a significant consideration when you're talking about a lot of extra buttons. So all in all I'm happy with the trade-off.

 

Bob Michel

Near Philly

Edited by Bob Michel

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That was also the period of the "Mayfair" concertinas, which I believe are un-numbered, I remember Wheatstone "Mayfair" English concertinas were heavily promoted in "English Dance & Song" during that period. So far as I remember these cost £3 - 10 shillings.

I met a number of ladies who played them at EFDSS music courses, but was not impressed with the sound that they produced.

It was around 1963 that the Folk Song Scene took off, and everybody was wanting to play concertinas.

 

Inventor.

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That was also the period of the "Mayfair" concertinas, which I believe are un-numbered, I remember Wheatstone "Mayfair" English concertinas were heavily promoted in "English Dance & Song" during that period. So far as I remember these cost £3 - 10 shillings.

I met a number of ladies who played them at EFDSS music courses, but was not impressed with the sound that they produced.

It was around 1963 that the Folk Song Scene took off, and everybody was wanting to play concertinas.

 

Inventor.

 

Interesting you should bring up the "Mayfair" concertinas, since last night I also happened upon http://www.ebay.com/itm/WHEATSTONE-MAY-FAIR-36E-ENGLISH-CONCERTINA-PAPER-WORK-INCLUDED-CASE-/381414557056?hash=item58ce144580. It's described as a 36 key EC with serial number 1174. When I saw the serial number I was sure he must have it wrong, but he provides photos of both ends, and the usual location for a serial number just has "The Mayfair English Concertina" stamped into the metal. But in one photo of the edge of one end, the number 1174 is stamped into the wood.

 

$_57.JPG

 

If "everybody was wanting to play concertinas" by 1963, it must have taken a while for the word to get out to the owners of old instruments. I remember reading an article by Fred Oster (owner of Vintage Instruments in Philly) in which he talked about traveling to England in the early 1970s and being able to pick up high quality Wheatstones and Lachenals for next to nothing because nobody wanted them. Later in the 1970s that was no longer possible. Unfortunately I saw the article on the web a few years ago, and I neglected to archive it, so I have no idea where I read it.

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If the one Mayfair I've handled was typical of the breed, they were truly horrible. It takes a lot of work to produce that unimpressive sound. Whatever the shortcomings of postwar Wheatstones generally, the Mayfairs were several orders of magnitude worse.

 

Bob Michel

Near Philly

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I have a mini anglo 2 row 17 button in D with the number 54XXX. would love to know more about it but no ledgers exist for those numbers!

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Up above I wrote:

I remember reading an article by Fred Oster (owner of Vintage Instruments in Philly) in which he talked about traveling to England in the early 1970s and being able to pick up high quality Wheatstones and Lachenals for next to nothing because nobody wanted them. Later in the 1970s that was no longer possible. Unfortunately I saw the article on the web a few years ago, and I neglected to archive it, so I have no idea where I read it.

 

I just found where I saw that. In a 1998 episode of PBS' Antiques Roadshow, Oster appraised an ebony-ended Tenor-Treble Aeola. (See http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/roadshow/archive/199805A34.html) Near the end of the segment, he says:

This instrument, according to the catalogue price list, was $320 in the mid-'50s. But in 1970s, the value had gone down to a couple of hundred dollars. Instead of more, it had gone down. When I first started looking for the concertinas in England in the 1970s, I could go down Portobello Road in London, buy a concertina like this for $15, $20. But since then, there's been a bit of a panic in concertina use. And this model in this condition, almost flawless condition, now I'd say this is worth about $1,500, or $1,600, or $1,700.

 

Anybody got a time machine? I'd love to go back to 1970 and pick up a bunch of Aeolas for $20 apiece! I wonder if Jeffries Anglos were also that out of fashion back then.

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I just found where I saw that. In a 1998 episode of PBS' Antiques Roadshow, Oster appraised an ebony-ended Tenor-Treble Aeola.

 

I remember that episode, and I've heard a similar story about Dublin at around the same time--not $15 or $20 in that case, but maybe $100 or so. Yes, one wants to weep.

 

I console myself that, realistically speaking, the prices that seem so laughable now would have been nearly as prohibitive to me then as the price of a top-notch Jeffries is today. I'd really want to have a cache of today's dollars in that time machine with me.

 

Bob Michel

Near Philly

Edited by Bob Michel

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If the one Mayfair I've handled was typical of the breed, they were truly horrible. It takes a lot of work to produce that unimpressive sound. Whatever the shortcomings of postwar Wheatstones generally, the Mayfairs were several orders of magnitude worse.

It depends on your reference point. If you compare them with modern starter concertinas like Stagi they seem to me to be a good lot better.

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It depends on your reference point. If you compare them with modern starter concertinas like Stagi they seem to me to be a good lot better.

I don't doubt you're right, Theo. I only ever tried to play the one; it wasn't in the best of shape and may have been a clunker to begin with. Anyway, my point of reference was Wheatstone's main line of Anglos from that period, not contemporary Stagis and the like. And of course even those (and worse) can make great music, when properly set up, in the hands of a good player.

 

Bob Michel

Near Philly

Edited by Bob Michel

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In 1964 I bought a C Jeffries 38 button Anglo from an antique shop in Portobello Road London, for just £6. I was offered a choice of 2 ! I didn't know anything about haggling in antique shops at that time and could probably bought both for £10 or less.

Around that time John Kirkpatric, Peter Bellamy, Toni Arthur and Tony Rose also started playing concertinas. These together with Louis Killen (who had started playing English Concertina 2 or 3 years earlier) were leading lights in the Folk Song scene, and sparked an interest in using a concertina rather than a guitar for English folk song accompaniment.

 

Inventor.

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"It depends on your reference point" Theo.

Stagi or their predecessor Bastari and all other hybrids were not around in those days. My reference point was Father Kenneth Loveless and his Jeffries Anglo !

 

Inventor.

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That was also the period of the "Mayfair" concertinas, which I believe are un-numbered, I remember Wheatstone "Mayfair" English concertinas were heavily promoted in "English Dance & Song" during that period. So far as I remember these cost £3 - 10 shillings.

I met a number of ladies who played them at EFDSS music courses, but was not impressed with the sound that they produced.

It was around 1963 that the Folk Song Scene took off, and everybody was wanting to play concertinas.

 

Inventor.

 

Interesting you should bring up the "Mayfair" concertinas, since last night I also happened upon http://www.ebay.com/itm/WHEATSTONE-MAY-FAIR-36E-ENGLISH-CONCERTINA-PAPER-WORK-INCLUDED-CASE-/381414557056?hash=item58ce144580. It's described as a 36 key EC with serial number 1174. When I saw the serial number I was sure he must have it wrong, but he provides photos of both ends, and the usual location for a serial number just has "The Mayfair English Concertina" stamped into the metal. But in one photo of the edge of one end, the number 1174 is stamped into the wood.

 

$_57.JPG

 

If "everybody was wanting to play concertinas" by 1963, it must have taken a while for the word to get out to the owners of old instruments. I remember reading an article by Fred Oster (owner of Vintage Instruments in Philly) in which he talked about traveling to England in the early 1970s and being able to pick up high quality Wheatstones and Lachenals for next to nothing because nobody wanted them. Later in the 1970s that was no longer possible. Unfortunately I saw the article on the web a few years ago, and I neglected to archive it, so I have no idea where I read it.

I have one of these and the serial number (1084) is marked in the same place.

 

As for quality, I bought it (for a lot less than the asking price for the one on eBay, but more than a Jeffries in the early 1970s) to use for playing outdoors in inclement weather. I can't say I like it, but it is very light, quite loud and meets its intended purpose. My main dislike of it is the finger rests, which seem to have been designed for maximum discomfort.

 

Steve

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The serial numbers on Wheatstone concertinas can be deceiving -- sometimes new numbers were assigned to older instruments after they were repaired by Wheatstone; sometimes older numbers were put on used instruments sold by Wheatstone (even back in the day, people thought older instruments were better than new ones). Sometimes there is a gap in the numbering that is later filled in -- creating numbers out of chronological order. Instruments sometimes have different numbers stamped on their insides than on the outside -- and sometimes the inner numbers are incomplete (just the last 3 digits) so it really makes dating them difficult.

In short, we're lucky the ledgers survived. In fact we have to thank Harry Minting, manager of Wheatstones in the '50s, who saved them from the dumpster.

 

Speaking of Harry, the Mayfair concertina was his brainchild. It was designed to be an inexpensive alternative for beginners. As such, it's not a bad deal -- certainly better than the Stagis of the '80s with their clumsy bellows. I agree the finger rests are killers and the action is not the greatest, but they serve a purpose for beginning players. Harry wrote a small instruction book for the instrument, too.

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Hi,

 

Hope someone can assist, i have a Wheatstone Concertina, serial 55829, 31 button in reasonable good condition, which i would like to sell, does anyone know any buyers( apart from e-bay etc), ?

 

thanks Marc

 

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