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michael01612

Bellows: Leather Vs. Paper

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I was looking at various new concertinas and was curious about the difference in bellows materials, primarily leather vs paper. What are the issues? Is it purely cosmetic and for appearance? Is one more expensive? Is one more reliable over time or less prone to damage? Is one more playable?

 

Mike

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All concertina bellows that I am aware of are primarily constructed of cardboard of some type. The cheaper instruments having thinner cardboard than more expensive instruments. The sturdier the cardboard the stronger the bellows and the less likely the bellows will collapse with hard playing. Most bellows have leather "gussets", that is, the flexible inner corners, although some cheaper concertinas have used man-made material for this part. Usually, vintage-type instruments are also finished with leather on the tops of the folds and the bottoms of the "valleys". The flats are often leather covered, but sometimes have papers covering the flat sides of the folds. This covering (on the flats) is not crucial to strength provided the basic cardboard is sturdy enough. What si important is the use of a good quality leather on the tops of the folds and gussets". A very important consideration with bellows is the depth of the folds. A small increase in depth makes a large difference in the amount of expansion and flexibility of the bellows. The deeper the folds, the fewer folds are necessary. Thats why you see so many folds on cheaper instruments--- the folds are so very shallow. Cheaper instruments sometimes have folds little more than half an inch or so, while better instruments have folds of up to 35mm.

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It sounds like you're questioning the apparent bellows *covering* materials? As Frank said, the "substance" is basically cardboard with leather or paper, and sometimes synthetic "fittings".

 

I want to expand a bit on the quality of leather he mentions. Just because a bellows has some part (or all) of its coverings being leather does NOT necessarily make it a good bellows. Beyond issues of design and construction, the quality of leather is very important.

 

The best bellow leathers are goat skin, appropriately tanned, cut out and skived - and from the part of the skin as is necessary. The most abrasion prone areas - the top runs (strips along the peaks of the folds) do best with strips cut from the shoulder and back areas as those are the toughest and thinnest. Very abrasion resistant and non-stretchy yet flexible. The gussets need to be very stretchy, flexible and moderately thick (too thin and they'll flap) for which the belly/chest/neck area works well. The bottom runs (valley strips) needs flexible but not stretchy, and being in protected areas, not have to be tough - for which the sides of the skin are fine.

 

There are other types of skin that work well too, but goat seems to be the standard "superior" and preferred animal. Cow is NOT very good at all. Most cheap "good" bellows (such as the best Stagi concertinas) use cow because cow is very inexpensive.

 

Also beware of inexpensive fancy-looking leathers as they are usually cow that has been treated to be extra soft AND has goat (ostrich, pig, alligator, etc.) graining impressed upon it.

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Hi Robin, I'm not too sure, but I believe that the black material covering the cardboard usually is not leather but a leather-looking material. I wonder if one of our historians can advise?

 

This raises another question. On old Lachenal anglos there are often red baffles (usually shrivelled!). Although I've always assumed they were leather, this material also often appears to be another material. Does anybody know what was actually used, if it isn't leather. I suspect the two questions could be linked.

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So o concertinas with black bellows,such as on this pic.,are the bellows paper leather ?

Virtually all the vintage bellows card-covering materials I've come across have been paper, whether it was a "feature" (rounded cornered decorative colored/pattern paper) or stuff pretending to be leather. The graining can be so realistic that sometime the only way you can tell is to tear it apart.

 

I just asked Bob (or head fixer) and checked out dead bellows bin - and of all the "leather" card covered bellows - ALL but for only some of the very earliest bellows are in reality leather-embossed paper. At least that is the Button Box's datum point! How about the rest of you repairs persons?

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I'm almost there, Richard ! What is leather-embossed paper ? Paper that has been stamped to look like leather ?

 

BTW........I hope you gave Bob a bonus for rootling round you " dead bellows bin"........it's wonderful that there are still people prepared to do it.

Robin

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So o concertinas with black bellows,such as on this pic.,are the bellows paper leather ? Robin

Robin,

 

Bellows of "normal" construction, with a seperate leather "bottom run", would virtually always have decorative paper covering the cardboard panels, though it might have an imitation leather grain that is hard to tell from the real thing, but leather was sometimes used.

 

However, the instrument in your photograph is of a different construction, with what are termed "butterfly bellows", the difference being that the "bottom run" and the "papers" are all in one piece of leather (or later, Rexine), resembling the shape of a butterfly.

 

Judging by the unusual gold-tooling, it looks like a Wheatstone bellows from around 1910. I have only seen that design on two other instruments, a "best hexagonal" "Special" #25100, with gilt fittings, that I have awaiting restoration, and this Æola extended baritone on the Concertina Connection website.

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On old Lachenal anglos there are often red baffles (usually shrivelled!).  Although I've always assumed they were leather, this material also often appears to be another material. Does anybody know what was actually used, if it isn't leather.

Paul,

 

On the better grades of Lachenal Anglos (those with the nice handcut rosewood fretwork) the baffles are made of red leather, but on the cheaper grades (with simple machine cut "frets") it is usually a grained maroon material.

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ah...my bad.....I meant 1914.....it's #26380,but as you say, a 20A. And the bellows are like no others I've seen. Much thicker walled.

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Top marks, Stephen, it's 1912 and is in fact that instrument . Robin

Then I reckon it must be #25526, the only Model 20A that year ?

ah...my bad.....I meant 1914.....it's #26380,but as you say, a 20A. And the bellows are like no others I've seen. Much thicker walled.

Ah, that looks more like it ! One of a trio of "Octo Metal Gilt" from May 14th 1914, one model 18 (56-key extended treble) #26378, one 19A (64-key extended tenor-treble) #26379, and your 20A (56-key extended baritone) #26380.

 

Somebody ordered an expensive set of concertinas there, I reckon those would have set them back about £81 at the time, when a labourer in London was earning only £1 per week ! :blink:

 

I wonder what happened to the other two ?

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According to Chris Algar,from whom I got it, he said that mine and one other were made for a clown who performed in a Paris circus .

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According to Chris Algar,from whom I got it, he said that mine and one other were made for a clown who performed in a Paris circus .

That guy wasn't just clowning around! :D

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According to Chris Algar,from whom I got it, he said that mine and one other were made for a clown who performed in a Paris circus .

Robin,

 

Did Chris know the name of the clown ? There were several musical clowns performing in Paris circuses with concertinas, including Grock (though he seems to have preferred Edeophones), Paolo Fratellini, Pinder Bros, and George Jones' pupils the Brothers Webb (Jojo and Ruté - though they played Joneses).

 

By the way, calculating today's price of the three gilt Æolas, by a formula based on wages, arrives at an equivalent price of £25,000 for the trio of instruments in 2002 !

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