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Author Topic: Irish melodeon player in New York - 1885  (Read 24644 times)

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triskel

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Irish melodeon player in New York - 1885
« on: October 11, 2013, 10:30:48 PM »

I'm delighted to say that my suspicions seem to have been confirmed about a print that I bought off eBay this morning: East Side, NewYork City, Christening Party, Accordion, antique, original 1885


From the location and appearance of the apartment I concluded that I must be looking at a scene in a Lower East-Side tenement that would have been full of immigrants to New York from various countries, including Ireland, and tonight the seller took a look at the accompanying article (before putting the items in the mail to me) and confirmed my suspicion that the young man is indeed dancing an Irish jig - because it says he is! She also said that there's a lot more information in there too, like the street name and type of people.

So are we perhaps looking at the earliest known picture of a traditional Irish accordion player here;


or does anybody know of an earlier one?

Edited to try and improve image of melodeon player
« Last Edit: October 15, 2013, 04:34:42 AM by triskel »
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pgroff

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Re: Irish melodeon player in New York - 1885
« Reply #1 on: October 11, 2013, 11:24:35 PM »

Well done Stephen!

Actually this print (or another example of it) has been listed on ebay before, but it took you to recognize its significance.  The date didn't jump out at me as "early" since we know various european accordions were imported to the US  earlier.  The french romantic accordeons, and those odd tall ones with curved feet for example. 

But you make an excellent point that a specific association of such an instrument with the Irish and dancing is probably rare at this date!  I don't know of an earlier such illustration of a melodeon in an Irish cultural setting in New York -- though you could ask Hugh O'Rourke about that.

And a very good point that there may not be earlier illustrations from Ireland either . . .

I wonder though if there might not be some documentation of melodeons associated with some of the "Irish Regiments" that fought in the US civil war.

The box in your engraving looks a familiar type. I've had some really big German melodeons with brass or nickle-silver reeds (probably 1880s to 1910) that can have a wonderful sound when you get them in shape. I donated a beautiful "New Century" to the Burren Pub in Somerville, and Tommy McCarthy told me Jackie Daly played a tune on it.  But probably just one tune!  They're at their best for songs and don't handle nearly as well as the Globes and Internationals that Kimmel and the other New York players made famous.

PG



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triskel

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Re: Irish melodeon player in New York - 1885
« Reply #2 on: October 12, 2013, 12:01:41 AM »

I wonder though if there might not be some documentation of melodeons associated with some of the "Irish Regiments" that fought in the US civil war.

If there was Paul, it could only be to one of these;


1860s melodeon organ

or these:


rocking melodeon

As far as I've been able to establish so far, the name "melodeon" was first used for the German accordion on 26th May 1877 in a Dundee Courier newspaper advertisement of the Glasgow mail-order sellers and promoters of the instrument Campbell & Co. That advertisement makes it abundantly clear that this is something they were newly announcing, and I think they chose to rename the instrument thus because they wanted people to think of what they were selling more in terms of a portable domestic organ; "specially adapted for the Parlour, the Coast, Yachting, and Excursion Parties. No home should be without one."

But in any case, it wasn't until the 1870s, after the unification of Germany following the Franco-Prussian War, that cheap mass-produced musical instruments (and many other goods) were able to flow freely out of Saxony (in manufacturing terms, the equivalent of China today) onto the World market, coinciding with improved means of carriage (steam ships and railways) and increasing availability of money to spend.

Before that accordions, and other musical instruments (except the Jews harp) were beyond the reach of most Irish (or any other) country people and the preserve of the more well-to-do.

There must have been a huge flowering of Irish (and other forms of) traditional music from the mid-1870s onwards.


Edited to add image of rocking melodeon
« Last Edit: October 14, 2013, 08:08:32 PM by triskel »
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pgroff

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Re: Irish melodeon player in New York - 1885
« Reply #3 on: October 12, 2013, 12:18:52 AM »

Stephen,

Good point!

I do know about the earlier use of the term "melodeon" -- I think in my leftover shop stuff I still have a Prescott (or maybe a Prince) lyre-legged melodeon and a Bartlett "rocking melodeon" or lap organ.  I sent one of the latter (an Austin I think) to Rosalie Dipper who pointed out that these early American free-reed instruments meet some definitions of the term "concertina!"

But whether called melodeons or not, I think there were imported european accordions in the US earlier than your engraving, so your question -- are there any earlier ilustrations documenting the Irish using accordions there -- is a very good one!

PG
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triskel

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Re: Irish melodeon player in New York - 1885
« Reply #4 on: October 12, 2013, 12:36:28 AM »

I forgot to mention that, as a result of the Prussian victory in the Franco-Prussian War, everything French, that had previously been fashionable, went out of favour, and that which was German/Prussian came in.

For example, both armies in the American Civil War had fought in French-style uniforms, but the US Army changed to a more Prussian look in the 1870s - so much so that the US Military Attaché got mobbed on the streets of Paris because he was taken for a Prussian.

And so it was with accordions - the delicate and relatively expensive, single-reeded, French accordions and flutinas, that had previously been dominant, were displaced by the larger, more robust-looking (with their metal corners) and cheaper, multi-reeded (with organ-like stoppers) German melodeons, with "bell accompaniment" and all!  :o

Edited to change "booed" to "mobbed" - because that's what happened!
  :(
« Last Edit: January 02, 2014, 05:14:49 AM by triskel »
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triskel

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Re: Irish melodeon player in New York - 1885
« Reply #5 on: October 12, 2013, 12:44:50 AM »

But whether called melodeons or not, I think there were imported european accordions in the US earlier than your engraving...

There were indeed Paul, and indigenous ones too - James Amireaux Bazin was making them as early as 1835 for a start, and I have an astonishing Anthony Faas of Philadelphia from the 1850s (it's the first American accordion patent).

But they weren't cheap and they weren't selling in huge quantities.
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pgroff

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Re: Irish melodeon player in New York - 1885
« Reply #6 on: October 12, 2013, 02:06:39 AM »

Hi Stephen,

Agree again about Bazin, who claimed the invention of those rocking melodeons  (paraphrasing him from memory, "Austin made some but could never get the springs to work properly") -- and other instruments and devices. I understand his small accordeons to have been somewhat like the french ones -- do you have any Bazin instruments in your collection? 

A man after my own heart, Bazin objected strongly to equal temperament in free reed instruments and held many other charming (and some curmudgeonly) views.  I understand there used to be a collection of his stuff in Canton MA, but I'm not sure if it's still there.

PG
« Last Edit: October 12, 2013, 02:08:49 AM by pgroff »
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triskel

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Re: Irish melodeon player in New York - 1885
« Reply #7 on: October 12, 2013, 02:21:48 AM »

I understand his small accordeons to have been somewhat like the french ones -- do you have any Bazin instruments in your collection? 

No, but I'd love to have a Bazin accordion (or anything else by him) - from the photos I've seen they look maybe more Viennese than French in style. There was one on eBay once, back in the dark ages and before I was even aware of "the Bay", because the guy I bought the Faas off had saved a printout of the auction and sent it to me.

By the way, I've been meaning to mention the 1850's Anthony Faas in another context but, seeing that we're on the subject, it's a 2-row German-style accordion that switches between C/F and C/B systems (1854 Patent), and it has a sliding mute in the grille (1856 Patent) - made in Philadelphia and pretty advanced for its time!

Edited to add Patent dates
« Last Edit: October 12, 2013, 09:53:14 PM by triskel »
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pgroff

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Re: Irish melodeon player in New York - 1885
« Reply #8 on: October 12, 2013, 02:36:26 AM »

Hi Stephen,

N.B. Pease in Palmer MA used to deal in those early melodeons and  lap organs, and had a few around when I lived nearby.  I don't think he had a Bazin however.

PG
« Last Edit: October 12, 2013, 12:48:41 PM by pgroff »
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nfldbox

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Re: Irish melodeon player in New York - 1885
« Reply #9 on: October 14, 2013, 01:33:37 AM »

I know there are really only two of you playing this hand but thanks for keeping it on melnet: fascinating.
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Re: Irish melodeon player in New York - 1885
« Reply #10 on: October 14, 2013, 02:03:42 AM »

guesses please.... as to what the lady of the house is saying to officer O'Rourke as she restrains his truncheon arm?!
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triskel

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Re: Irish melodeon player in New York - 1885
« Reply #11 on: October 14, 2013, 05:21:13 PM »

guesses please.... as to what the lady of the house is saying to officer O'Rourke as she restrains his truncheon arm?!

"Ah sure now Officer O'Rourke, I hear you're a great dancer, would you ever give us a few steps yourself? And you've brought your shillelagh too..."  ;)

(I'm thinking here of a lady in London years ago who had a great way of dealing with such situations, when the cops appeared at the door of an Irish party - she'd start in a wheedling tone to get the officer's attention, charm then imperceptibly disarm them (asking them to dance or whatever) and take away their authority (in this case turning their truncheon into a shillelagh for dancing) leaving them helpless and looking ridiculous, and wanting to leave - brilliant! She should have been a psychologist - maybe she was?)

A shillelagh/blackthorn stick seems to have been almost de rigeur in 19th/early 20th century illustrations depicting men performing the Irish jig - his pose and the "shillelagh under his arm" were why I guessed the youth in this picture might be intended to be seen as dancing it. Here are two of the images I was thinking of:


Detail from Snap Apple Night, or All Hallows Eve,
by Daniel Maclise - painted in 1832


Irish post card
c.1905

Whilst there are those who still like to dance the jig “Paddy's Leather Britches” with a shillelagh, and even hold competitions for it: Male Irish Jig  ::)  But they're Scottish!

And it's not exactly sean nós, though maybe a reflection of an old style...   ???


Edited to add explanatory note, pictures and link
« Last Edit: February 22, 2018, 09:19:24 PM by triskel »
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KLR

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Re: Irish melodeon player in New York - 1885
« Reply #12 on: October 14, 2013, 06:46:30 PM »

Oh, I took that for a concert flute at first.  You wonder what all the consternation and hullabaloo is about as those gathered look to be of higher station than your typical Donnybrook attendees.   ;D  These aren't typical specimens of the Irish peasantry, in other words.  Interesting that such well heeled types are listening to the music of the accordion, and those dancing to the typical piper in other old bits of artwork are almost always quite ragged looking. 

Here's a website concerning the periodical this print was originally published in:  Frank Leslie’s Weekly 1852-1922.  Archive.org has a good few issues available for viewing. 
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Stiamh

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Re: Irish melodeon player in New York - 1885
« Reply #13 on: October 14, 2013, 07:47:19 PM »

I've posted this a couple of times already, but in case any of you missed it here's a closer look at one of those rocking jobs. It's in a museum just down the road from me in Knowlton, Quebec. (It took me a while to twig that the buttons were arranged like piano keys!) Click pics for larger versions.


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pgroff

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Re: Irish melodeon player in New York - 1885
« Reply #14 on: October 14, 2013, 08:25:54 PM »

Hi Steve,

And for someone interested in purchasing one, there may still be a nice looking example by Prescott for sale, including the box with printed label. The brass plate surrounding the swell lever may also be stamped with the maker's name as was customary with these. It's been listed for quite a while at Vintage Instruments in Philadelphia. Scroll down to "Free Reeds" and see the listing for

44. Rocking Melodian, ABRAHAM PRESCOTT, Concord, c.1845, also known as a Lap Organ, reddish-painted pine box, maple body 22-1/2" x10-1/2", two figured maple covers with 4 vent holes each (decorative rings at their borders chipped on 2 holes), 29 natural buttons, 20 buttons for accidentals, baffle lever marked with Prescott's name; bellows need restoration, (Our #27354),    $1,200.

http://www.vintage-instruments.com/navigate/catidx6.htm

http://www.vintage-instruments.com/photos/27354z.jpg

More are described and illustrated in the various books that cover the history and evolution of American reed organs and in Lawrence Libin's wonderful book:

http://www.amazon.com/American-Musical-Instruments-Metropolitan-Museum/dp/0393022773


PG
« Last Edit: October 15, 2013, 06:05:41 AM by pgroff »
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triskel

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Re: Irish melodeon player in New York - 1885
« Reply #15 on: October 15, 2013, 06:36:37 AM »

... those gathered look to be of higher station than your typical Donnybrook attendees ...

One thing the eBay seller did tell me was that "It mentions in first paragraph that those at the party enjoying the music are sort of the
"society members" of this area so just maybe there is other mentions of this event in other publications??"

But we'll have to wait until the print and article arrive before I know any more.
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Tamba

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Re: Irish melodeon player in New York - 1885
« Reply #16 on: October 15, 2013, 11:13:45 AM »

I know absolutely nothing about this subject other than to say that the Gentleman (and his box) in the picture bears a striking resemblence to the Gentleman (and his box) that KLR has as his avatar..... anyone else think so?
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mory

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Re: Irish melodeon player in New York - 1885
« Reply #17 on: October 15, 2013, 11:53:54 AM »

google gives us this aradru   

"Throw away the sail éille that fools and hit it well!" -  is that what you said  ;) AtB mory
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mory

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Re: Irish melodeon player in New York - 1885
« Reply #18 on: October 15, 2013, 12:48:27 PM »

Hi aradru
Yes I was guessing it wouldn't be that  (:)  but not having the language myself I and many others will be left hanging unless you elucidate.
That is of course unless it translates as    " Hi big boy, why don't you come up and see me sometime!"
AtB mory
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triskel

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Re: Irish melodeon player in New York - 1885
« Reply #19 on: October 15, 2013, 01:31:59 PM »

Can we say, with any degree of confidence, that the box depicted is representative of
a model that may have existed?

Yes, both Paul and I have examples of melodeons from that era - though they all look pretty similar from the bass end.

Quote
It seems a tad oversized!

Not really, it's by no means impossible. The tallest melodeon I've got here measures 15" x 9" across the ends (and 16" if you include its "feet"), and the widest is 14" x 9 1/2". There does seem to have been a "biggest is best" attitude with some of them, whilst I've come across evidence that some of the smaller-sized ones, that we'd be more used to seeing in Britain & Ireland, were described as "English models" by their German manufacturers, who usually made them larger.

Mind you, he is playing it off his left knee, which makes it look bigger too.

Quote
The player has an unusual grip with his left hand.

It's very common for artists to get details like that wrong - I expect he/she was unfamiliar with melodeons and working from a sketch they'd made at the party.

Quote
Considering the level of detail in the sketch in general, does it appear that the inclusion
of a box was almost an afterthought?

Not at all, the accordion player is mentioned in the article describing the event - which really happened, it's not fictitional.
« Last Edit: October 15, 2013, 10:05:54 PM by triskel »
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