Tour of a Concertina

The Pierce Concertina

Howard Mitchell (

This is excerpted (with permission) from an e-mail message. I have left enough of the headers for you to identify the author. I find it an interesting description of an early English-system concertina which differs significantly from all which I have been able to examine. Howard Mitchell (the author) had restored it by rebuilding the severely deteriorated bellows. This was made more difficult by it being one of the old single-action ones, with valves in each bellows panel.

It is unfortunate that there are no photos available of the internals of this instrument.

Message-Id: <>
Subject: Re: Pearce English Concertina


At long last I've managed to find time to take the Pearce concertina out of its case and to describe it in detail.

The instrument is a 48 key ,single action, English baritone concertina tuned in concert pitch, 1 octave down from the normal treble instrument. There is one differently-tuned button, the lowest button on the accidental row nearest the thumb strap on the right hand is tuned to bass F natural.

The hexagonal shape is irregular, the horizontal sides being 5.25 inches in length and the shorter sides being 4.4 inches. The instrument is made completely of a dark wood (mahogany?), the centres of the ends, supporting the buttons, are solid with a straight-edged fretted area 3/4 inch wide around them.

There is what looks like a signature repeated on two adjacent edges near the right thumb strap. It might be Henry.

The bellows have six folds, the original leather was dark green and there is one release valves in each bottom folds and one in each adjacent fold, one valve per fold, facing the left hand. Each valve is a 3/4 inch by 3/8 inch oval, 18 valves in all, each fitted with a small leather hinged flap on the inside. The leather is like that used for the non-return valves on reeds but this instrument doesn't have any of those. The valve flaps are rectangular with the corners cut off.

The original bellows were badly damaged along inner and outer edges, it was possible to see the reeds without taking the end off so its impossible to say how the damage occurred.

Taking the instrument apart involves removing the six screws around the edge at each end but then removing two small screws, one of the three in the thumb strap plate and one of the three in the little finger plate to separate the ends from the reed blocks.

The construction is unusual in that there are only 5 major sections, right fretted end, right reed block, bellows, left reed block and left fretted end. The reed block appears at first sight to be a solid piece of wood 3/4 inch thick having reeds on the inner face and the button and action on the outer side. This doesn't fit inside the end of the bellows as usual but is sandwiched between the bellows and the fretted end. By removing a reed you can see that in reality, the whole block is in fact fabricated and then veneered on the outside edge giving the appearance of being a solid block. All the reeds are brass and riveted, not screwed, to rectangular brass plates which are then all screwed to the wood, parallel to the long sides of the hexagon (not radially arranged). There are no tongue shaped reed pans. The smallest reed plate is 1 5/8 inches by 3/8 inch and the largest 3 inches by 1/2 inch. The reeds are in exceptionally good condition and all speak very easily and consistently.

The bellows have the letters R6 and L6 punched into the wood on the inside and the reed blocks are similarly marked R6 and 6 (no L).

{Following are some quoted sections from previous communications on the subject - DoN.}

{HM} But to start with I connected all the cards together with cloth hinges on the inside and then attached the oval pieces of leather to the cards using a wooden former to hold the cards at a consistent fully open angle.

{Me - DoN.} By oval pieces, are you referring to the corner fills, with the fairly complex fold to allow for expansion? I've never seen them divorced from the rest of the bellows, and had envisioned them as being formed of a diamond-shaped piece of leather.

Or -- are you referring to the mid-panel flaps used for the single-action breathing? How did you cut the oval holes? It could be done with a steady hand and a good sharp knife of the right design, but I would probably prefer to make an oval arch-punch so they would all be consistent in size and shape. (Perhaps you made a metal template, and used that as a guide for the knife.)

{ end quoted exchange }

Yes, I mean the corner fills which are sort of diamond shaped with rounded ends.

I didn't have to cut the oval valve holes as I used the original bellows cards. I think I might have used a punch for preference for new ones.

That's all for now.

Howard Mitchell


Copyright Howard Mitchel -- 1995