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Triple Ĉolina by Charles W. Wheatstone, London, ca. 1830

NMM 10434.  Triple Ĉolina by Charles W. Wheatstone, London, ca. 1830

NMM 10434. Triple Ĉolina by Charles W. Wheatstone, London, ca. 1830. Original case. An article in The Harmonicon (London, 1829) describes Wheatstone's triple Ĉolina and documents the maker's use of argentum (nickel silver), a "new metallic alloy" of nickel, copper, and zinc, several years before the first commercial production of nickel silver in England in 1833. Length: 98 mm; width: 48 mm; height: 4 mm. Purchase funds gift of Alan G. Bates, 2003.

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Sir Charles W. Wheatstone (1802-1875), the nineteenth-century British acoustician and electrical engineer who is best remembered in scientific circles for his life-long research concerning the electric telegraph, also contributed substantively to the development of electro-magnetic clocks, typewriters, Morse code transmitters, stereoscopes, and an artificial voice device. However, it was his experimentation with freely vibrating "springs" (thin strips of metal)—first seen on the continent with Friederich Ludwig Buschmann's introduction of the Mundaeoline, a free-reed, chromatic tuning device developed in Germany in 1821—that forever linked Wheatstone's name with the history and development of free-reed instruments in Great Britain.

Charles W. Wheatstone

Man and woman playing Ĉolinas

In 1828, while preparing his patent for the nascent concertina, Wheatstone introduced his own version of the German Mundaeoline—the Ĉolina—a thin, pocket-sized predecessor of the harmonica that measured less than 4" x 2" x 1/4". Fittingly named in honor of Aiolos, the divine Greek administrator of the four winds, the Ĉolina consisted of a series of thin strips of the new metal alloy argentum (nickel silver), fitted into parallel rows of rectangular openings in an argentum plate, set into vibration "by a gentle breath alone."

Left: How to play the Ĉolina, from Instructions for The Ĉolina: with a Selection of Popular Melodies Arranged Expressly for this Instrument, Second Revised American Edition (New York: Bourne: 1830), frontispiece.

The earlier, German-style Ĉolians, characterized by the English in 1829 as "universally popular on the Continent," were available in a variety of sizes, according to The German Ĉolian Tutor (London: 1830). These included a tiny, 4-note version; a curved "trumpet Ĉolian"; a two-octave chromatic model; a three-chord "Pandean Ĉolian," reminiscent of the NMM's rare Ĉolina by Lewis Zwahlen, New York, ca. 1831; and a large, "eight-chord Pandean Ĉolian" mounted on a handle.

Charles W. Wheatstone

Wheatstone's Signature Stamp

Wheatstone stamp

Stamped sideways on the left and center reed plates: C. WHEATSTONE; stamped sideways on the right reed plate:  C. WHEATSTONE 20 CONDUIT ST.

Wheatstone stamped his name on each reed plate in the NMM's triple Ĉolina. Wheatstone & Co., a business association among Wheatstone, his father, and his younger brother, was located at 20 Conduit Street (between New Bond Street and Regent Street) by 1829 and remained there until 1897.

Wheatstone produced only two- and three-chord Ĉolinas, of which fewer than a half-dozen are known to survive. The NMM's rare, three-chord model features nickel-silver reed plates, each with eight exposed reeds of equal length, tuned to the chords of A, E, and D (tonic, dominant, and subdominant). This Æolina is pitched slightly flatter than A=440. The reed plates are held together by a frame consisting of four strips of ivory fastened with delicate nickel-silver rivets. The instrument's original case, lined with cream-colored silk, survives almost as it looked when new, sporting a bright red, leather, flip-top cover with a delicate acorn and oak-leaf design stamped in gold around the outside edge.

Triple Ĉolina in its case

Lit.:  Margaret Downie Banks, "From the Four Winds . . . A Rare Triple Ĉolina and a Typotone Both Added to the Alan G. Bates Collection," National Music Museum Newsletter 30, No. 3 (August 2003), pp. 4-5. Reprinted in The Trumpet Call (A Publication of Harmonica Collectors International) 5, Issue 3 (September 2003): 4-5.

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