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Paul Read

Nickel Silver And Brass Reeds

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Having recently sold an anglo with nickel silver reeds that sounded very sweet, I was wondering if anyone knew what the history of reed material development was. As I understand it, the nickel silver reeds died out because of their lack of durability, as did the brass ones later but it would be nice to know the full story.

 

Any takers? (My money is on Stephen)

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Any takers?  (My money is on Stephen)

Thanks Paul ! :o

 

The Austrian/German makers of the earliest free reeds seem to have invariably used nickel silver (aka "German silver", "white nickel" or "argentum") which was then a new alloy, but French makers seem to have preferred brass.

 

Charles Wheatstone used nickel silver reeds in his Aeolina and first used silver, then changed to gold reeds in his Symphonion, but the biggest surprise may be that he used steel reeds in his very first concertinas, very quickly changing to nickel silver for them. These steel reeds were quite crude, of uniform thickness (blued both sides) and I suspect that they were probably reeds for a Seraphine (an early reed organ criticised for the harsh sound of its steel reeds).

 

The big problem, at the time, was probably a technical one, as a strip of nickel silver, or brass, reeds could be profiled on a milling machine, but the grinding technology to work steel similarly had yet to be invented.

 

You will sometimes see old German concertinas with a plate of nickel silver reeds in the treble and brass ones in the bass.

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The Austrian/German makers of the earliest free reeds seem to have invariably used nickel silver (aka "German silver", "white nickel" or "argentum")...

Stephen, you say "nickel silver", but I've elsewhere seen reference to instruments with "nickel" reeds, without the "-silver". Were they all really the alloy, or was plain nickel also used?

 

The only instrument I've played that had "nickel" reeds was the quietest instrument I've ever played. It had baffles, but was much quieter than other baffled instruments, even those with brass reeds. And equally interesting, if I tried to force the reeds with excessive pressure, they didn't "choke", but they didn't get any louder, either. So I wonder if this behavior is characteristic of nickel (or nickel silver) reeds, or if it's just specific to this particular instrument.

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I recently sold an anglo with nickel silver (or nickel?) reeds. It was a Nickolds and it was surprisingly responsive. It wasn't loud but not exceptionally quiet either.

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Stephen, you say "nickel silver", but I've elsewhere seen reference to instruments with "nickel" reeds, without the "-silver".  Were they all really the alloy, or was plain nickel also used?

I'm no metallurgist, but my understanding is that nickel needs to be alloyed to make springs (which is what reeds are), so reeds are never made of "pure" nickel, indeed most references to "nickel" are actually to nickel silver. Even the US 5 cent coin, known as the "nickel" (introduced in 1866) is minted from an alloy of 75 per cent copper and only 25 per cent nickel.

 

Nickel Silver is the generic name for any of a range of non-precious bright silvery-grey metal alloys, all of which contain copper, nickel and zinc, while some formulations may additionally include antimony, tin, lead or cadmium. A representative formulation (Alloy No.752) is 65% copper, 18% nickel, 17% zinc. Despite its name it contains no real silver. It is also commonly called German Silver, or in Germany Neusilber.

 

The family of Nickel Silver alloys has been known since the early 18th century and were initially developed in the far east. European traders brought back metalware goods which were described using the Indian word Tutenag or the Chinese word Paktong. This new alloy with its properties of strength, relatively easy working and silvery colour began to be used for a range of consumer goods.

 

An 1829 article about Wheatstone's Aeolina descrbes it as being made of "a new alloy" Argentum, which is an old name for nickel silver.

 

The alloy gets its name because its colour is a reasonable match for that of silver (when polished), and because it was used as a low status substitute for silver in the 19th century. (There was then no effective trades description legislation to prevent confusion of this alloy with sterling silver).

 

Indeed, it appears to have sometimes been described as "Silver" by concertina makers (and others), as opposed to Sterling Silver, when used for inlays, concertina buttons and reeds. Lachenal's were certainly guilty of this practice in their Price Lists.

 

Edited for typo.

Edited by Stephen Chambers

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I thought it might prove interesting to quote Lachenal's own description of the four different reed materials they then used, taken from the firm's 1862 Exhibition Price List, the prices quoted (for comparison) are for an ebony instrument, "Ornamented throughout", with glass studs :

 

Ordinary Metal Vibrators, but of the very best quality made. 10 Guineas

 

Silver Vibrators, which give a beautiful, mellow, and subdued tone, suitable for Drawing-Rooms. 12 Guineas

 

Tempered Steel Vibrators, which give a very sonorous, full-bodied tone, suitable for Concert-Rooms. 14 Guineas

 

Gold Vibrators, which give the most distinct and justly proportioned quality of tone of any Metal. 15 Guineas

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Gold Vibrators, which give the most distinct and justly proportioned quality of tone of any Metal. 15 Guineas[/i]

I've yet to meet anyone who has had or has played a concertina with gold reeds. How do they sound when compared with the more familiar steel or brass counterparts?

 

Pete

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Gold Vibrators, which give the most distinct and justly proportioned quality of tone of any Metal. 15 Guineas

I'd have thought gold very unsuitable for reeds - soft, no spring or resilience. Only good characteristic would be corrosion resistance. I'd guess it would be have to be an alloy - interesting to know what of. (or plate maybe - on nickel - which I wouldn't have thought would give much change to the characteristics)

 

Chris J.

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Gold IS used for springs (as a high noble alloy) so one could assume it would be suitable for reed tongues. I'm curious to know just what "justly proportioned quality of tone" means . Robin

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I've yet to meet anyone who has had or has played a concertina with gold reeds. How do they sound when compared with the more familiar steel or brass counterparts?
I'm curious to know just what "justly proportioned quality of tone"  means .  Robin

We may all have to wait until somebody finds a concertina with gold reeds to find out ! (Though being aware that it was an option at the time may help alert someone to the possibility that they might have one.) In the early 1830's Charles Wheatstone employed reeds of a dark-reddish gold in his later Symphonions, similar to the gold springs on the early flutes of his contemporary Ludwig Boehm.

 

But I think the description of the "Silver Vibrators" fits in with what Paul and Jim have commented about nickel silver reeds.

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I wonder if it's possible that some of the nicer old Lachenals with 'brass' reeds actually have gold ones?

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Hi,

 

I seem to vaguely remember reading somewhere that nickel silver reeds were offered as an option for instruments being used in tropical or humid climates - presumably they wouldn't rust as readily as steel ones.

 

Cheers,

 

Bill

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