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Concertinas In A North Texas Ghost Town

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On the road to a recent camping trip in the west trip Big Bend country, my wife and I stopped in the little near-ghost town of Electra, Texas. Tipped off by Stephen Mills, who has been helping to piece together an emailing list for our Palestine concertina workshop next month (see more below), we stopped to meet Carolyn Gilbert, who was the subject of an article in the magazine Antique Week's January edition. Electra is almost a ghost town...almost all the once-proud turn of the century buildings in this once-oil boom town's downtown are empty, and remaining townspeople are struggling to save a beautiful old movie theatre/opera house that was once the town's pride and joy. If you have ever read the book or seen the movie to Larry McMurtry's 'The Last Picture Show', you'll have the idea...that book was set not too far from here, in another but smaller town. A few of Electra's buildings are still in use, however, and one houses a small antique store called Pandora's Box, owned by Carolyn. It turns out that she has been collecting concertinas and small button accordions for well over 40 years. They line the walls and shelves of her shop.




Carolyn is a delightful person, and I think (hope) that Stephen and I have convinced her to come to Palestine next month...she has not known any concertina players lately! She plays a two row button accordion very well, indeed. The nice attached article from Antiques Week describes her much better than I can. One thing to note however is that the newswriter has mistakenly called all her collection as 'concertinas', when actually a good part of it also consists of small button accordions as well as several ancient flutinas. She doesn't seem to sell them...just collects them. The sales items in her shop are more normal antiques. Here is a picture of her with a few of her little free reed treasures. In the forground is a tiny two row AngloGerman (less then 5" across, with a stag on its fretwork); a two row Lachenal, an interesting German made metal-ended two row anglo with the inscription "Made in Germany: USSR Occupied", a Wheatstone duet, a black flutina (probably the oldest instrument on the table). In the center of the table are some common german-made concertinas, and a few small button accordions (note the tiny "Tom Thumb" model, about the size of a concertina). These will give you an idea of the variety of things in her shop....and a good idea of what instruments were once played in this region. Most are not in particularly great working order, as she has admittedly never paid more than $100 for any of them...just picks them up when she sees them. Next time you are in north Texas, near Wichita Falls, check out her shop and meet Carolyn. By the way, Larry McMurtry bought nearly the entire near-ghost town of nearby Archer City, which he has turned into one ginormous used book store...bibliophiles make pilgrimages to that place.


Plans for Palestine continue to develop. Confirmed attendees have by now received MP3s of Jody's workshop tunes, and my transcriptions of them. If you'd like to join in, you'll be most welcome; here is a link with all the info: http://www.concertina.net/forums/index.php?showtopic=7037






Here is the article on Carolyn, from the www.antiqueweek.com site:


Concertina collector plays a pretty tune


By Sharon Verbeten


If you ever find yourself in the company of Carolyn Gilbert of Electra, Texas, you’ll never find the conversation lagging. Gilbert has a plethora of interests—ranging from antiques to obituaries. And she’s happy to chat about them all.


Gilbert, 66, is owner of Pandora’s Box Antiques — a 25-by-20ft shop packed with rare and hard-to-find books. First editions and the works of Texas author Larry McMurtry are a particular specialty. By day, she also serves as executive director of the International Association of Obituarists (yep, that’s right; she writes about the dead).


But when she’s not donning her obit hat, one of Gilbert’s true loves is her vast collection of concertinas. She has 40 to 50 of the musical instruments, which are in the same family as accordions. The accordion, however, has a piano keyboard on one side; the concertina has only buttons.


“The concertina is diatonic like the harmonica,” Gilbert said. “It gets air from pushing and pulling.” The pushing creates one note; the pulling creates another.

“It’s a little tricky to play,” Gilbert admitted. “You have to have a feel for it. It’s got its own peculiarities.”


Gilbert’s concertinas date from the late 1800s to the present, most are relatively small — the size of a several shoeboxes grouped together. “I don’t have any two that are alike,” she said. “Each one has its own personality.” Gilbert’s interest in the unique instrument came when she was in high school. “I first was introduced to the instrument from a friend who is Palestinian. In his church work, they used this small instrument. “He came to visit our church, and I got to thinking ’That is an interesting small instrument.’

“I started learning how to play it, and I just started looking for them.”


Gilbert was raised in a musical family, so it seemed only natural for her to gravitate toward the concertinas. “As we were growing up, we would do programs with the whole family.” But playing an instrument and collecting them are two different things. “I have that compulsive nature,” she admitted. “If you see two of them, you have a collection.”


Her collection really started around the mid-1960s, when Gilbert’s family lived on a goat ranch. Migrant workers sheared their goats, and “They were around their campfire playing this concertina. I already had one [a modern Hohner her father had bought her],” she said. She purchased their vintage concertina, which dates to the early 1900s; it was the first vintage piece she acquired. Since then, Gilbert has kept an eagle eye out for concertinas — which has been challenging since many antiques dealers don’t know the difference between a concertina and an accordion.


On one trip to Maine, Gilbert recalled, she had been searching through shops of all kinds for concertinas. “Not finding any, I took the phone book home with me and proceeded to call one shop after another. I finally connected with one shop whose owner said she thought she had a concertina but it was in a beat-up old box and she didn’t know if I would want it,” she said. “I told her that if there were a concertina in that box, I would want it.


“She was very reluctant to sell it over the phone, afraid that I would not want it and return it. I finally convinced her to mail it to me, and within a few days, it was at my door. The box was beat-up, torn, a faded light green. But inside a treasure awaited — the concertina appeared as if it had never been out of that box. Its chrome trim was in perfect condition, the bellows were still stiff, and there was no evidence that it had been played.” Pleased with her find, Gilbert was later elated to learn that the concertina bore some interesting markings — “Germany: USSR Occupied.”


“In terms of my collection, this is certainly one-of-a-kind,” she said, adding that she has not been able to determine much else about the instrument.

That lucky find is one of Gilbert’s favorites, but as an antiques dealer herself (her concertinas are on display in her shop), she’s always on the lookout for more. “I love antiques, so I’m always looking for something old.” Most of her finds have cost her less than $100, but values tend to increase as knowledge and interest increases. For example, Gilbert said, “I would invariably find them in shops and nobody else seemed to be trying to find them.” However, “they became really popular a few years ago” when decorators sought them to incorporate into home décor.


So the thrill of Gilbert’s hunt remains on. “It’s interesting when you’re hunting them, you meet a lot of interesting people. That’s part of the thrill.” And every time she finds another concertina, she treasures it just as much as her first one.


“If you find one, then you get the story behind it. That makes it even better.


“They’re more for reminiscing on their own history. They’re comforting to look at…like old friends.”


For more information about Pandora’s or Carolyn Gilbert’s collection, call (940) 495-3166.



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Guest Peter Laban
note the tiny "Tom Thumb" model, about the size of a concertina


As a side note, I picked up one of those more than twenty years ago and it is pristine, well it was until Breandan Begley tore the leather strap in two five minutes after he entered the house :angry:



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That defi warrants a road-trip for me. I'm, what, 2-3 hours away? Take my tax return and invest into a box. Hit McMurtry's bookstore on the way.


He graduated from the same English department as I did at the University of North Texas, though years apart from each other.


Don Henley also took classes and majored in English there, but he dropped out of school when The Eagles took off.

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