The Concertina Museum: 1.2.10-001

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Item Type: Wheatstone Patent


Full Description: Charles Wheatstone's Patent no 5803. A photocopy of Wheatstone Patent No 5803, dated December 1829. "Wind Musical Instruments" - mainly The Symphonium. Here is an excerpt from the paper upon "The Invention and Evolution of the English Concertina" in the Galpin Society Journal Vol 61, May 2009.
The progression to Wheatstone's symphonium - and beyond
By 1825, the 23-year-old Charles Wheatstone had accumulated some experience in the design, manufacture and promotion of 'new' musical devices. He had worked for his uncle Charles' music selling business at 436 Strand; had set up automata in the family's Gloucester shop; had devised the keyed Flute Harmonique; had demonstrated the "Enchanted Lyre"; had demonstrated the "Diaphonicon"; and had showed "The Apparatus of the Invisible Girl" - for which no written details survive! He was clearly an idiosyncratic inventor, with a marked bent towards matters acoustic, even at this young age. (Bowers, Sir Charles Wheatstone, pp6-11))
In 1826, the musical business of Charles and his brother William was amalgamated with that of their father William, who was trading at 436, Strand, London, their Trade card) and from 1829 traded at 20 Conduit Street, which also became Charles' home until his marriage in 1847. Their business activities included the marketing of imported Demian accordions, music publishing, a 'musical library', and the manufacturing of their own Wheatstone Æolinas
By 1829, he had completed work on his patent for the Symphonium , and therein acknowledges the influence on his invention of the "instrument known in China by the name of tsching or ching... one of the pipes having at its end... inserted into the wind chest a tongue or spring [reed] resembling that of the Æolina.." An ancient sheng, closely similar to that illustrated in the 1829 patent, was recovered from the remains of the Wheatstone Museum in 1963, and is now in the Concertina Museum Collection. The Wheatstone Laboratory Sheng is in the Collection in Section C18 .
In addition to the free-reeded tsching or sheng, Charles Wheatstone was familiar with the German Mund-harmonicas and the Bouveret and Cordier reeded flutes. However, his logical mind was dismissive of the method of clumsy tonguing needed to play the various Æolinas and Mund-harmonicas, and of the limited facility for melodic playing permitted by the first Demian accordion. It is not known if he was aware of the Psallmelodikon, (though he had the Bouveret and Cordier keyed free-reeded flutes in his collection) but in the patent claims that describe his own free reeded instrument the symphonium, he dismissed the somewhat random array of reeds and 'keys' used within other keyed free-reeded "flute-like" instruments, and made pertinent claims for the improved disposition of the reeds or 'springs' of his proposed new instrument, and for the compact and eminently-playable arrangement of its buttons or 'keys' which control the air supply to each reed. In his patent specification No 5803, he provided the following claims:
On existing free reeded instruments: "Several of these [reeds] being placed in apertures arranged parallel to each other side by side in a plate, and tuned to the notes of a common chord, constitute one of the simplest forms of a wind musical instrument, known in Germany under the name of the Mund-harmonica, and in England by that of the Æolina. Finger keys have also been added to such instruments, somewhat similar to those of flutes, but always placed at such distances apart as to allow space for the fingers to apply themselves to each key when the instruments are held in... the manner of fingering the flute or flageolet"
On his principal patent claims for the new instrument: "...I do claim the employment of two parallel rows of finger studs on each end or side of the instruments fitted with keys to terminate the ends of the levers of the keys, and the so placing them with respect to their distances and positions as that they may, singly, be progressively and alternately touched or pressed down by the first and second fingers of each hand, without the fingers interfering with the adjacent studs, and yet be placed so near together as that any two adjacent studs may be simultaneously pressed down, when required, by the same finger.... In the ordinary keyed wind instruments, fingering is effected by the motion sideways of the hands and fingers... In this new arrangement, that mode of fingering is rendered entirely inapplicable and a motion not hitherto employed is rendered available, namely, the ascending and descending motions of the fingers... This mode of arranging the studs enables me to bring the keys much nearer together.”
On the addition of extra rows of accidental notes or semitones to the two-row layout, to create the four-row 24- and 32-key Symphoniums, with the so-called "English" fingering system, used on subsequent Wheatstone concertinas:

"I likewise claim the introduction of two additional rows of finger studs on each end or side of the instruments, parallel to those of the preceding arrangement for the purpose of introducing semitones, when required..."

A group of illustrations in this Galpin Journal paper show the reed plates of the Wheatstone Double Æolina, those of the ex-Wheatstone Museum 5-key Demian accordion, those of the early 17-key Wheatstone symphonium, and those of the 'standard' 24-Key symphonium serial no 171; when all shown side by side, this clearly indicates how these multi-tongued reed plates show a direct lineage, from the Æolina, via those in the Demian accordion, to the symphonium's reeds, housed in their compact and logical enclosure and each reed simply and individually operable by the fingertips for both single note and chord performance.
An early symphonium in the Chambers Collection, numbered 18, has 15 keys, with the two accidental note keys being contemporary additions to the original 13-key layout. The Patent itself shows drawings of 16-key and 32-key variants, and a 24-key symphonium , numbered 171 is of the later, more common, and possibly 'standard' design. Its key layout was used in the next stage of Wheatstone's research on free reed instruments - the development of the concertina."
There is a Portfolio of Historic Concertina Patents at
There are nine historic concertina patents, including all the early Wheatstone English system patents, Maccann's Duet patent, Jones's Anglo patent, the Crane Duet patent, and Kaspar Wicki's patent.

Source Catalogue No: The Concertina Museum: 1.2.10-001

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The Concertina Museum Collection

Created August 2009 by Neil Wayne
Last Modified 07 February 2012 by Neil Wayne, Chris Flint, Wes Williams

This page created Tuesday 14 February 2012.