Collector's Corner: Harmonicas
By Michele Alice
French harp. Moothie. Tin sandwich. Any of these terms strike a chord? How about gob iron, mouth organ, or Mississippi saxophone? If you guessed that they all refer to the harmonica, then you probably already own at least one.
Considered the most successful musical instruments of all time, the harmonica has had a relatively short existence. Antecedents date back to ancient China, but the modern harmonica is generally accepted to have emerged sometime in the early 1820's. Christian Buschmann, a German, is often credited with its invention, but the historical record is somewhat spotty. (For a detailed history of the harmonica, check out Pat Missin's website in the resource section below.)
Small, portable, and usually inexpensive, the harmonica became a world-wide phenomenon. Billions have been sold around the globe. Hohner, founded in Germany in 1847, and the world's foremost manufacturer of harmonicas, alone produces 1 million each year!
Of course, with that many harmonicas in existence, it is inevitable that some people would want to begin collecting them. And the same factors - cost and size - that made harmonicas popular, have abetted the creation of many thousands of collections.
Many "vintage" (pre-1980) harmonicas are still so common that they are worth just a few dollars each, even with original packaging. Collectors are quite willing, however, to pay a premium for models that had limited production runs, feature special logos, or have unusual colors, shapes, or designs. For example, The Beatles edition by Hohner often sells for up to $250, while one collector on the Internet is at present offering up to $400 for a German, WWI-era, Koch Company harmonica shaped like a ship.
And don't forget ancillary items like company catalogs and magazine ads. Wooden store-display cases are especially popular, attracting bids up to several hundred dollars, depending upon size, age, graphics and condition.
Interested in learning more about this popular collectible? Or would you prefer just to play the ruines babines (that's French for "ruins the lips")? Check out the resources listed below:
"Harmonica Makers of Germany and Austria: History and Trademarks of Hohner and Their Many Competitors," by Martin Haffner and Lars Lindenmuller
The following link is to a PDF file
"Harmonicas, Harps, and Heavy Breathers: The Evolution of the People's Instrument," by Kim Fields
Harmonica Collectors International
Organization produces newsletter "The Trumpet Call" an important resource for collectors.
Collector Rick Nielsen's site. Check out the sections on history, construction, library, links, "Most Wanted," more.
John Whiteman's Harmonica Collection
San Diego Channel 8 news video on YouTube of an 1800+ collection
National Music Museum
Founded in 1973 at The University of South Dakota. Houses over 13,500 instruments from around the world including the Alan G. Bates Collection of over 2500 harmonicas
Wonderful site offers a wealth of information from a detailed history of the instrument to reviews of new harmonicas, FAQ's, links, more! Lots of nice pics.
The Society for the Preservation and Advancement of the Harmonica. "An international non-profit organization incorporated in the State of Michigan in 1963, with a database of over 3000 harmonica aficionados from around the world."
About the author:
Michele Alice is EcommerceBytes Update Contributing Editor. Michele is a freelance writer in the Berkshire mountains of Massachusetts. She collects books, science fiction memorabilia and more! Email her at makalice @ adelphia.net eBay ID: Malice9
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