Next Talk


Date: Wednesday, July 11, 2018, 11:30 AM

Location: Southwestern Yacht Club
2702 Qualtrough Street
San Diego, CA 92106 (Point Loma)

John Whiteman
Harmonica Collector

The Harmonica: It’s Evolution, Variety, and Beauty – For Players, Collectors, and the Curious

The “harmonica” is a free reed instrument that is played by blowing/drawing with the mouth.  It is said to have been invented in Germany in 1821. Hohner wasn’t the first producer of harmonicas but was the best-known and largest producer for most of the 20thcentury, producing 25 million a year at its peak in the early 1930s. Harmonicas have been immensely popular due to their small size, low cost, and the ability for anyone to learn to play simple tunes by ear and with little or no instruction, especially important before music was recorded, amplified, or broadcast.

The earliest harmonicas with 20 single notes of the diatonic scale evolved in several dimensions with tremolo and octave tunings, chromatic scales, and orchestral configurations for bass and chord accompaniment.  To increase sales, various novelties were developed that were adorned with horns and bells, with functioning paper rolls like player pianos, and with keys to select which reeds would sound.  Perhaps the most effective approach used for selling the same harmonicas year after year was to style the harmonicas’ stamped metal plates and boxes with current slogans, names of famous people, and special graphics to make them interesting for conversation.

In this Powerpoint presentation, Dr. Whiteman will describe and demonstrate all of these features that have made the harmonica so collectible.