Concertina

Original content by: Caitlin Daly

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About This Artifact

One of the most well-known instruments that sailors used aboard ships is the concertina.  There are many different styles of concertinas, which come from the same family as accordions and harmonicas.  Instrument makers in England and Germany invented their own, independent versions of the instrument almost simultaneously, debuting them in the 1820s to 1830s.  They quickly became popular, as they were less expensive and more portable than larger instruments.

Music was heard frequently on ships due to its many different uses.  In addition to sea chanteys (songs that were performed to accompany tasks on the ship) and music performed for small ceremonies or interactions with the ship's officers, crew members also used music to boost morale in their living quarters during off-duty hours. Because this type of music generally took place in the ship's forecastle, it became known as fo'c'sle music (pronounced folk-sul).  Concertinas along with musical bones, fiddles, and harmonicas became popular instruments among sailors and were frequently used to lift spirits during long stretches at sea.

The maker of this concertina is Charles Jeffries, and although he became one of the most prominent concertina makers in the world, relatively little is known about him.  His father was a brushmaker, and Charles followed suit for the first part of his career.  Although not confirmed, it is thought that he taught himself how to play the concertina, and then promoted his brushmaking wares by serenading his customers.  When they were intrigued by the instrument, he would offer to make them one.  By the late 1860s, he was fully engaged in the concertina-making business and had established himself as one of the best concertina makers in the world by the end of the century.

Questions for Further Thought

  1. Why would the concertina be a good choice of instrument to bring on board a ship?
  2. When would music be needed during sea travel? What purpose might it serve?
  3. What kinds of things would you pack for fun if you were going on a long voyage?