Monday, July 18, 2011

Pokerworks and Hohner-nots

In the previous post about Pokerworks, I described new and more recent examples as having a plastic keyboard cover, and I described 'classic' examples as those having a "horned" wooden keyboard cover. Below is an example of a vintage model with a wooden keyboard cover that is not horned. It has the streamlined shape of the modern plastic cover, while being made out of wood and its rounded rectangular shape hints at being the link between plastic keyboards of today and the wooden keyboards of yesterday. Examine how the curved edge on the left side transitions into the playing edge (where a thumb groove should be!) and compare this with a modern cover. The modern plastic cover forms a smooth single rounded edge whereas on this example, there is a distinct boundary where the shaping was done and the edges meet. If this is your photo, please let me know so I can give you credit (or remove it, because I can't remember where I found it. It's the perfect shot and much better than the photos of my boxes).
Below is a Hohner Model No. 1140 (previously the Hohner Model No. 1040), which was painted in goldbrand style. It has two sets of reeds waxed to the face plate. Think of a cross section that resembles || instead of |= and you've got the idea of how the reeds are mounted inside. Laying the reeds against the board instead of perpendicular to it makes the resulting sound brighter and more strident. These boxes are lightweight because they lack heavy wooden reed blocks, and only have reeds for that one row of buttons. Being so lightweight means they are easily portable, as well as comfortable. You can really throw them around, even dance with them, and they're great fun to play. There is no minor in the bass configuration, unless you add one. Two left-hand buttons produce the bass and chord for the tonic and the 5th, while the other two buttons correspond to the bass and chord of the 4th in both directions. You can visit the Keyboard Layouts section at melodeon.net to view keyboard diagrams for this model. The make an excellent addition to any accordion collection, and can usually be found in C, G, and D tuning, and rarely in other tunings.

Below is Model No. 1040. Its construction is the same as the No. 1140 but is distinguished by a pressed wood finish instead of paint. This example has a wooden keyboard cover in the horned shape indicating an earlier date of manufacture. Its bellows tape is a rich sienna color that brings out the deep tones of the stain. Like many other Hohner diatonic accordions, the No. 1040 did not come from factory equipped with brackets for a shoulder strap, but they did get a thumb loop. Found most frequently in C and G, they are occasionally spotted in other keys, too.
The next accordion is a curious example. It has a combination of features that raise my eyebrows. The bass buttons are staggered, which you know gets my goat. It was badged 'Venezia' with the Hohner anchor trademark and its cabinet bears my favorite vine motif (see previous Pokerwork post for another example). There are metal corners protecting the wood and the bellows are flanked with buckram. On the edges of those are decorative metal corners like you'd find on many Hohner, Koch, Kalbe, and other German melodeons. The keyboard is horned, wooden, and painted black. It has a thumb loop, and it is in very nice condition! Judging from the wear on the gold paint of the bass end, I'd say this was a well loved accordion, played often enough but well looked after. On the other hand, it may have lived in a closet for 70 years before finding a home more recently but the finger wear to the paint does tell of being played by someone.
Below is another interesting example with a few notable features. First of all, it has no long metal corners, perhaps built before those were standard equipment. It has an old style wooden keyboard with wooden levers, like models from the early 20th century. It has a single row of treble and bass buttons, like the 1140. Its buttons are the old style MOP fixed by a nail at the center. And its bellows are fitted with buckram and decorative metal corner brackets. Most interesting to me is the goldbrand pattern, which is the oak leaf motif used on today's HA-114 (and yesterday's 113, 112 etc.). I want this accordion to leap out of its photograph and talk to me. Perhaps it might tell of the factory where it was built. From whence, sir, dost thou comest?
Just to illustrate the point about the design painted on the accordion above, below is a photo of a modern HA-114 that was being sold by the Button Box store (visit the Button Box website by clicking here). Obviously, the logo is vertical instead of horizontal but you'll see that pattern is essentially the same. Some people describe the oak leaves as sea shells, and maybe they are. I'll take this opportunity to wish, publicly, for Hohner to bring back the 3-stop HA-113 and 2-stop HA-112. How wonderful and lightweight are those boxes, and you get to choose voicings with the stop.
The next accordion is a Hohner by name only. It was probably built in one of the East German or Czech factories owned by the Harmona coop. The Hohner company nearly went under but it was purchased by a group that moved most of its production to China. In the meantime, some of their accordions and other instruments were being subcontracted to different factories. I've always thought this was ironic, considering Hohner's 20th century strategy of using failing companies to do their contract work before buying them out. Such accordions as the one below are on par with other DDR (Deutsche Democratische Republik) products from the late 1970s or early 1980s, and in my opinion are best avoided.
Look out, it's a pokerwork piano accordion! When you find something that works, make one color in every model. This is a 24 bass model, there were other models with different numbers of bass buttons. On the Umps and Dumps album The Moon's in a Fit, one of these instruments can be seen among the wonderful heaps of old instruments. They're not too popular on Ebay and if you're interested, you can usually find one for under $50.

I'll close this post with a recommendation and a photo as a reference. Go out and buy The Moon's in a Fit today! Check out that pokerwork PA on the left. You also get John Kirkpatrick and Tufty Swift in one economical package. If you're a Hohner nut or you just want some lively, colorful music to listen or dance to, maybe you're looking for tunes to learn or just want to brighten your rainy day with some music... no matter the ill, this album is a regular panacea. Buy two, and give one to a friend. Buy three and make a new friend.

11 comments:

  1. Hello Christopher, I have one correction to suggest. The accordion you mention as being made in East Germany or Czech Republic was actually built in Brazil!

    A German immigrant called Alfred Hering founded an accordion and harmonicas factory in the south of Brazil, Santa Catarina state, at the city of Blumenau and called it Alfred Hering Harmonicas Factory. The year was 1923. There's no much information left on this company, although the brand is still in use by another Brazilian company that bought both the brand and the machinery and still makes harmonicas.

    Alfred Hering was himself a Hohner sales representative and founded his company to build and sell harmonicas and accordions to the big German immigrant comunity that colonized that area and were not able to import their beloved instruments anymore due to the deep economic crisis that hit Germany after WWI,

    Hering exported accordions to many South American countries and even to other parts of the world. The company was bought by Hohner in 1966.

    This model, called Hering Beija Flor (Hering Hummingbird) was kept in production by Hohner and renamed Hohner Beija Flor (you can see the little bird painted in the treble side of the box). Hohner left Brazil in 1979.

    Many of the greatest Brazilian accordion musicians learned to play in a Hering Beija Flor. World known Renato Borghetti was one of them. I own two of these. You can check one here:
    http://www.collectorsweekly.com/stories/119515-hering-diatonic-accordion

    Apparently, Hering was the first maker to use this black/gold painting scheme, as we have records of Hering Beija Flor accordions dated 1928. You can see a picture of Januario, considered the musician that popularized the Brazilian northeastern music called Forro, holding his 1928 Beija Flor:
    http://sanfonade8baixos.blogspot.com.br/2012/02/januario-e-algumas-de-suas-sanfonas-de.html

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  2. I almost forgot to mention that the Beija Flor model is STILL being produced by one of the only two Brazilian accordion makers that still exist (we had about 30 accordion factories here). The company is called Acordeons Minuano and they bought the accordion production machinery from Hohner/Hering (the harmonicas production line was bought by another group that still builds harmonicas by the brand Hering Harmonicas). The new "Beija Flor" was named Minuano Floral Preta (Minuano Floral Black...awful name by the way and it sounds terrible too as they replaced the bandoneon voice of the original Beija Flor model with a violin tone). Check it here:

    http://www.acordeoesminuano.com.br/?pg=desc_produto&id=37&nome=minuano%208/21%20floral%20preta

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    1. Greetings Gaita Ponto and thank you for the wonderful information and links. In the time since I made this post (3 years ago), I have learned of the Brazilian origins of that particular accordion, as well as the Hohner presence in the Hering facility of Brazil, but was not able to update the blog to reflect this. I will certainly do so now as you've brought it to my attention! I have seen Beija Flor accordions also marked "Hering" instead of "Hohner" -- same number of letters in their names, so it can be easy to miss. I am happy to see that accordions are still produced on the Hering site, although the ownership has changed. Best regards, Chris

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  3. Thanks for writing this! I recently inherited an old Hohner 1040 (in the key of A) and this page was one of the few resources I could find about it! Very educational!

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    1. Hi Pat - glad you found the info helpful. Sounds like you got a good box, I love that model. A is a fun key - very lively, and also useful if you know any Scottish musicians. If you like, have a stop by melodeon.net and dive in. Scads of knowledgeable people hanging around there.
      Chris

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  4. I have both a 1040 and a 1140. Also an old (from my childhood; about 50 yrs old) Ligna (a single row one made in Czechoslovakia). But I do not know music theory, nor notes and play all by ear (not bad either!). Tuning: 1040 and 1140 sound the same but Ligna is different. How can I find what they are tuned to (C, G, or???) I would like get a new one like Ligna but I do not know what to look for. Thanks for any help. (I have a chromatic pitch instrument with 13 keys if that could help)

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    1. The third lowest note on each row in the right hand should be the tonic for that row. Find where the scale starts and compare it with a known reference, like the white keys on a piano, or maybe one of your other accordions. The Hohners usually have the key stamped on the side of the keyboard and also have a 3rd button start to the scale so you could start there. I had a Ligna once, too. Thanks for writing.

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  5. Hi, we have a Hohner very similar to the first picture. It belonged to my late Father in Law. We are trying to value it in the UK. Can you help?
    Thanks in advance.
    Russ

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    1. Pokerworks of all stripes (quite literally!) are popular in the UK. I would suggest having a look at recent eBay auctions to get an idea what the market is paying for accordions like yours. bear in mind its condition, and the way the auction is photographed and listed/described mean everything to the sale. Best of luck,
      Chris

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  6. Hi, it's late at night here in Egypt, and I've just found this page. I'm newly "into" melodeons, buying several old things in the past 9 months. My son bought me a Hohner 1-row for my birthday, I thought it was a 1040, but see the same thing advertised as an 1140 on eBay and elsewhere. You've now got me even more confused!
    Although mine looks the same as the second picture in this blog, and I had imagined that the pattern was just painted on, when I actually got my hands on it, I found that the pattern was also pressed into the wood. So, what is it? (Very interesting post, by the way.)

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