I’ve been slightly obsessing over the early 20th century lately. Last year it was the late 19th century that sung my song and I found myself light hearted and enthusiastic as I read up on the industrial-revolution agriculture boom, but as of late I cannot stop reading up on anything I can find about America and Britain from 1900 to roughly 1940. In fact, I’ve even gone so far as to begin sewing garments from 30′s and 40′s vintage patterns – high waisted pants, pleated-sleeved blouses and even a day dress complete with jabot! I’ve been reading about the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl, and the lifestyle changes that folk had to make during such trying times.
Part of this is because I truly love the simple aesthetic of that time, but I admit I also have a pit-of-my-stomach feeling about the times ahead as a small farmer, as I watch my state wither and die under the most oppressive drought we’ve seen since the 1930′s. Hay is crispy and bleached, corn is wilting, soybeans aren’t pollenating… in addition to this spring’s disastrous thaw-freeze-thaw that literally wiped out the fruit industry, I can only see struggle ahead. LOTS of struggle. We will be culling very, very, intensely this fall. Our freezers will be full, but our barnyard will be considerably less populated. While this is sad, it’s also a fact of life when you farm. When grain prices go up, livestock numbers drop.
On a lighter note, however, the other day I heard the singing of the siren that is our local antique shop, Treasure Mart. This store is a cluttered, three story consignment shop that is renowned for its quality. I’m not sure how they manage to have such amazing and unique finds mixed in with the gypsy-caravan-like madness that is the rest of the place, but I’ve never found so many amazing finds as I have in this place.
It was on this particular trip that I found my most exciting antique purchase yet.
Meet Lavinia. She is the latest addition to my miss-matched family of antique musical instruments.
She is a near-functioning early 20th century Melodeon Concertina. She has all of her reeds intact except one (which is rattling about inside the bellows and just asking to be returned to it’s rightful place) and apart from three bellows leaks she is ready to sing once more. In fact, she is so solid that I can play her without much concern! I’ve ordered some replacement bellows tape to fix the bellows, and I plan to open her up and fiddle about with the reeds to see if I can get that last key to play.
Her straps are original, and have been torn and worn and some places have been mended by hand. I’ll be re-stitching the weak spots by hand with an antique cotton thread that I have around to keep it period-canon.
The most impressive thing is that the felts on the keys are still completely air tight! These are one of the first things to go on an instrument like this.
The details are beautiful, though obviously factory made. I can’t quite date her myself; the brass and wood is obviously factory-made, but the screws and construction are very primitive which makes me think maybe 1910-1925 for construction dates… but again, I have no idea really.
The best thing about my dear Lavinia is that she is tuned to a typical harmonica tuning. Since I’ve already got a pretty decent grasp of the mouth harmonica, I’m able to play some of the songs I know without any trouble at all. This, you can imagine, is intensely satisfying. Her drone keys play such deep and throaty notes that it makes me think of carnivals and circuses, of sleepy summer evenings around campfires.
Have you ever had a “find” so perfectly suited for you that you felt it was meant for you?