Two New Concertinas at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York


Two New Concertinas at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Introductory note by J. KENNETH MOORE

As part of a continuous effort to augment and refine its collection, The Department of Musical Instruments at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City purchased several free-reed instruments offered at a June 2003 auction in Vichy, France.

Among the instruments purchased were two concertinas manufactured by Wheatstone & Co. One is a very early English concertina, apparently without serial number (Acq. No. 2003.380— see Fig. 1). With its three-fold bellows, hexagonal rosewood casing, and twelve visible levers on each side (with mother-of-pearl key-flaps and ivory buttons), the instrument is a rare example of what Neil Wayne has dubbed Wheatstone’s early ‘open-pallet’ design, 1 and it can probably be dated from 1833-1834 by analogy with both Wheatstone’s well-known No. XXXII, currently housed at the Horniman Museum, London, as part of the Neil Wayne Collection, and an unnumbered Wheatstone in the private collection of Mr Stephen Chambers, Dublin. 2

The second purchase, dating from the 1850s, is an early ‘Duett’ concertina (Acq. No. 2003.381— see Fig. 2), designed in a way that permitted a melody, played in the right hand, to be joined by a simple accompaniment in the left hand. This instrument has a (German-looking) rectangular, mahogany casing, four-fold bellows, and twenty-four buttons, with a range of g to c’’’ (with the only ‘accidental’ being F sharp). 3 To help introduce the instrument, Wheatstone published an instruction book titled Instructions for Performing on Wheatstone’s Patent Duett Concertina (c. 1855),4 along with twelve books of arrangements of popular music. Both instruments were purchased with funds from the Robert Alonzo Lehman Bequest, and are currently on display along with other free-reed instruments, including a Wheatstone symphonion (Acq. No. 89.4.2985).

The museum’s collection also houses two other concertinas of note: another Wheatstone English, No. 11758, probably dating from late 1861/early 1862 (Acq. No. 89.4.1124),5 and a twentieth-century Lachenal, No. 46875 (Acq. No. 63.211.5a,b), which belonged to the well-known folk-singer Burl Ives (1909-1995), who donated it to the museum in 1963. 6

Within the next year the department hopes to mount a temporary exhibition of a selection of its free-reed instruments in the Musical Instrument Galleries.

Finally, the Department of Musical Instruments welcomes serious researchers by appointment. For access, please contact the department at the following address: Department of Musical Instruments, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1000 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10028.


1. See Neil Wayne, ‘The Wheatstone English Concertina’, Galpin Society Journal, 44 (1991),Plate 2; this article is now available online:<>.
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2. Wheatstone No. XXXII is Item CMC 1278 in the Wayne Collection; for a photograph, see the article in note 1; there is a photograph of the instrument in the Chambers collection in Stephen Chambers, ‘An Annotated Catalogue of Historic Free-Reed Instruments from My Private Collection’, in Harmonium und Handharmonika: Bericht des 20. Musikinstrumentbau-Symposiums 1999. Michaelsteiner Konferenzberichte, 62, ed. Monika Lustig (Blankenburg: Stiftung Kloster Michaelstein, 2002), Plate 10; now available online: Developed by Mr Robert Gaskins, the website contains a rich collection of materials relating to the concertina, especially the Duett/Duet concertina.
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3. On the early Wheatstone Duetts, the fingering system of which eventually formed the core of John Hill Maccann’s later Maccann-system Duet, see Robert Gaskins, ‘Early Wheatstone Duett System Duets’, online: The instrument is ‘German-looking’ enough to have deceived those who compiled the auction catalogue into attributing it to Friedrich Uhlig of Chemnitz.
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4. The tutor is conveniently available online:, as is the first known advertisement for the instrument, which appeared in the Daily News (London), No. 3064 (13 March 1856), 1:
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5. Although the Wheatstone sales ledger C1052 (Horniman Museum, London, Wayne Archive), which lists sales from 21 October 1859 to 30 April 1864, does not have a notice for this particular instrument, we may note the following: (1) an instrument numbered in the 11700s (No. 11734) is sold for the first time on 3 September 1861 (p. 57); (2) the first instrument from the 11750s sequence (No. 11753) was sold on 9 January 1862 (p. 64); and (3) No. 11759 was sold on 21 February 1862 (p. 66). My thanks to Allan Atlas for this information.
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6. I should note that this concertina was actually used in performance by Allan Atlas at a concert given at the museum in December 1997.
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Fig. 1. An early Wheatstone English concertina, ‘open-pallet’ design, c. 1833-1834

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Fig. 2. Early Wheatstone “Duett” Concertina; c. 1850