Hello, Hohner Hounds.
With the recent discussion of the Hohner 260 and it's variations, I thought that a discussion of determining a Hohner's approximate vintage may be interesting to other harp collectors.
This post is based on information from Alan Bates, internationally known harmonica collector; conversations with Sissi Jones, Hohner repair technician and Hohner historian; and Richard Smith, Senior Collector at Harmonica Collectors International (HCI).
This article was written for HCI in 2002, by yours truly. It is about Hohner products only.
In some cases, with this article, we may be able to date the harmonica to within 10 years. In other cases, it's not that simple, or may be impossible, if the harmonica has been repaired or customized.
Here's what we know: We can't usually get an exact date of the harmonica's manufacture. There are too many factors involved, and Hohner has never kept precise records on dating their harmonicas. Also, details given from experts may be incomplete, false, true, or somewhere in between. The experts disagree at times.
But, we can accumulate enough factors to make an educated guess, using the guides in this article.
There are at least 6 ways to estimate the production date of a Hohner harmonica, listed here in no particular order:
1. The Box or Container, Harmonica Materials:
The harmonica box or case may contain copyrights or patents that may help. The box or case illustrations
or box/case material (paper, cardboard, plastic, tin, wood, cloth-covered, vinyl, leather); the linings or no linings, box hinges or no hinges; all may help an expert identify the relative age of the harp container, but not necessarily the harmonica itself.
The harmonica's materials may also help in the estimate of it's vintage. Generally, the more primitive the harmonica looks, the older it is.The first Hohner harmonicas were made by hand, on a kitchen table, by 4 workers, in 1857 (as the story goes).
By 1880, Hohner used modern machines, ushering in mass production techniques. The first harmonicas (not Hohners) were made in 1822, and used lead reed plates or no reed plates.hand-hammered brass reeds, or other less expensive materials, and hand-carved wood combs. By 1830, harmonicas were being made in the USA and England. The English "Aeolion" had no comb, and was a reed plate and reeds only.
The experimental and unusual-looking harmonicas were made mostly between 1880 and 1940: tremolo sextets with handles for rotation, harmonicas with bells, with drums, with horns, etc., with compass, looking like a banana, a fish,
a zeppelin, looking like a piano, a harp, a boomerang, a boat, an airplane or car, etc.
Wood remained the most popular material for combs until the second half of the 20th century, when other comb materials became popular. Plastic, (1940s), acrylics and metal alloys (1970s?)then more expensive metals in the mid-1980s.
Reed covers also changed materials over the history of the harmonicas. Home-made wood covers (1830s to 1860s?); cheap metal covers (1850s?); to to nickel-plated brass, to brass, to other metals, to ivory(1880s Wm.Thie tremolos),
to plastic covers (1940s); Dupont Delrin (1960s);then stainless steel covers (1980s?); back to rare woods, bakelite, etc (1990s?).
Continued in the next post.