Saturday, July 23, 2011

Of marks, trademarks, mountain goats and llamas

In the old days, accordion builders riveted brass reed tongues to zinc reed plates. The oldest tongues are usually rectangular, not quite tapered and often come bolted to a single zinc plate like in the Regal Melodeon shown below. I bought this little Regal accordion on fleabay for $12. These 'straight' reeds on a single plate have a characteristic sound and it is my understanding that tongues changed to a tapered shape to correct unwanted harmonics. Many such boxes were tuned in the old just intonation, which you might call a "just so" intonation if you ever heard it. Looking at the issue historically, the move from rectangular tongues on a single shared plate to tapered tongues on their own individual plates is a major development in accordion technology. It means that someone cared to develop an accordion reed that sounds and performs better, in a time when accordion reeds were still just a few decades old. Can you imagine that? I know that I am an accordion nerd because thinking about this situation warms my heart, like when it is snowing outside and my wife makes a nice dinner. 


Whether it was an economist, an engineer, or both, the long plates were eventually broken into many smaller plates. Among other reasons, this makes the accordion lighter and saves the manufacturer from wasting zinc on unoccupied spaces between tongues, so perhaps it was also cheaper to manufacture. If you're building tons of accordions in different keys, I think building individual plates makes more sense. Below are some tapered brass reed tongues on individual zinc plates from a Hohner two-row diatonic, probably Model No. 493, that was built ca. 1905. You can see they're pinned onto a leather gasket. These suckers are loud! But boy, do they use a lot of air. The plates have an "O" mark, which is found on many different German, Swedish and other accordions. I don't know if this was just a consequence of similar machines making reed plates in different factories or if many companies bought their plates from a common supplier. 


Below are some more Hohner reeds, brass, on individual zinc plates. These plates bear the H mark which Hohner employed until some time around World War Two, when they switched to the T mark for unknown reasons. There is wide ranging debate about what the marks stand for, and whether or not the reeds and plates changed along with the mark. Generally speaking, H and T reeds do sound quite a bit different. It is worth noting that no two sets of reeds from an old Hohner, regardless of the mark on the plate, are ever really the same. Sometimes you'll find a set of H plates fitted with tongues that have different dimensions than other other sets of H-plates. Sometimes they're terrific, and sometimes a set with the same mark are a mess to work with. Realistically, the H probably stands for Hohner, and the T probably stands for Trossingen. But H could stand for "Hofbräuhaus" and the T could stand for "Trunken." Who knows? Maybe they are the esoteric symbols of some lost brotherhood. Perhaps they mean nothing at all.


If you're trying to cut weight, it makes sense to use a lightweight metal for the reed plates. Hohner and other companies switched to aluminum reed plates some time in the 1920s. Here is a set from a Hohner presswood pokerwork, waxed into their blocks. The plates have been marked with an H.


I have a green, celluloid covered two-row in G/C tuning. On the treble side, the aluminum reed plates are stamped with an H, and they are waxed, not pinned onto the blocks. Below is what they look like. In this case, Hohner also stamped the key onto the reed blocks. 


Here is another shot of the reeds from the same accordion, showing a mixture of H and T plates used in the bass side. It's interesting that the actual letters (H's and T's) look as if they have been punched by different stamps or different machines. Some have speculated that during the war and right after the war, Hohner was using up old stocks of parts. Maybe that explains why H plates and T plates get mixed up in the same accordion. Finding H and T plates mixed together is fairly common in boxes of this vintage.


Below are the reeds from the (Koch) Concertone model accordion shown in the last post. You can see their nice mountain goat trademark, which to some people might look like a cat with antennas. I like to pretend it is a llama because I really like llamas. After meeting one last week at a local fair, I can say that it is very easy to feel an intense personal kinship with the noble llama. One day, I would like to raise llamas and build accordions for a living, but my accordions will probably have Binci reeds in them, with no option for a llama trademark.


More Koch trademarks can be found on the reed plates below, which were pulled out of the Venezia Chromatic model from a previous post about rare and unusual Hohners. Note the presence of plates with an H trademark sitting alongside plates with a Koch trademark. Recall that Hohner purchased the Koch company, and for a while, instruments with the Koch name were still being built an sold even though Hohner owned the company. So this arrangement of one trademark next to the other tells you that during this period in the 1920s, before Hohner dissolved the company in 1929, they were mixing and matching parts from both factories.


Below is a weird set of reeds. Someone in the melodeon.net discussion forum posted this a while back asking if anyone had ever seen this particular mark. Personally, I've never seen the peculiar square marking on any Hohner reeds. The diagonal line on two of the plates is certainly familiar, though. I've included the photo here because it adds to the "who built what, when" mystery that surrounds so many Hohner accordions. perhaps they are early steel reeds built in one of the factories Hohner purchased before the war. The plates appear to be made from zinc, they are pinned onto leather gaskets, and the tongues are made of steel.  The second reed from the left bears a lengthwise scratch, the tell tale sign of tuning to lower the pitch.

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