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Are there any books about the history of the harmonica?

There are some, but unfortunately for most of the people reading this page, many of them are in German rather than English.

Kim Field's excellent book "Harmonicas, Harps and Heavy Breathers" has some information about the history of the harmonica (some of it not totally accurate, unfortunately), a few photos of old harmonicas and lots of other good stuff.     Click here for more details from Amazon.com, or click here for more details from Amazon.co.uk.


"Made in Germany - Played in the USA", by Martin Häffner (curator of the Trossingen Harmonica Museum) and Christoph Wagner - gives a brief history of Hohner harmonicas in the USA. It is in both German and English and has lots of pictures of tasty old harmonicas. Sometimes available from Amazon.com


"Harmonicas - Die Geschichte der Branche in Bildern und Texten", by Martin Häffner, looks at the history of the Hohner company. As you may have guessed, it is in German, but still has lots of pictures of cool old harps. Click here for more details from Amazon.com


"Das Harmonikamotiv in Kunst und Alltag", yet again by Martin Häffner, also in German. It gives a excellent overview of how images of the harmonica and accordion have been used in art, advertising, cartoons, etc. over the years. This and the two previous books are available from Hohner, or from the Trossingen Harmonica Museum.


The book "Die Mundharmonika - ein Musikalischer Globetrotter", edited by Christoph Wagner, takes a world-wide view of the harmonica and its associated musical styles, with quite a few pictures of old harps. You may be able to order this by its ISBN: 3-88747-110-5.


Hohner have issued several books themselves over the years. Probably the most interesting was "Hundert Jahre Hohner 1857-1957". It was published to celebrate their centennial, but copies of this book can still be found in German antiquarian book stores, many of which have web sites. Copies also sometimes turn up on Amazon.com


Just for the sake of variety, here's a book in French rather than German: "Le Livre De L'Harmonica" by Albert Raisner. This has a small section on the history of the harmonica and a somewhat larger section on French harmonica groups and trios of the 1950s. Published in 1961, this is another one that may be found in European antiquarian book stores.


All the above have a strong bias in favour of Hohner and the other brands they bought out, but "A Band In A Waistcoat Pocket", by Ray Grieve, looks at the history of the harmonica in Australia and New Zealand and features quite a bit about the various Boomerang brand harps (like the one Charlie Musselwhite holds on his "Ace of Harps" album cover - see FFAQ12).     Click here for more details from Amazon.com, or click here for more details from Amazon.co.uk.


Ray Grieve has recently published a follow-up to "A Band In A Waistcoat Pocket", entitled "Boomerangs and Crackajacks: The Harmonica in Australia 1825-1960". It includes even more pictures of harps for the Australian and other markets, advertising ephemera and lots of clippings and assorted bits of information about the harmonica scene in Australia, from the late 19th and into the 20th century. A companion CD is also available and you can order them directly from the publishers Bushlark Music.


"Harmonica Makers of Germany and Austria; History and Trademarks of Hohner and their Many Competitors", by Martin Häffner and Lars Lindenmüller, is one of the most comprehensive books on the subject of harmonica manufacturers. Produced with the support of American-based historians and collectors Alan Bates, Rick Neilsen and Harland Crain, it starts with an overview of the harmonica manufacturing business, then follows with more detailed chapters on individual makers - from the big names of Hohner, Seydel, Koch and Thie, to such lesser known names as Irion, Eisen and Bufe. The appendix shows the various trademarks used by harmonica producers and gives a list of more than 250 European harmonica manufacturers with brief details of each one, including dates and locations. A unique book which belongs on the shelf of every serious harmonica collector. It is available in the US through Harmonica Collectors International (see link below). There is also a German language edition, entitled "Hohner, Seydel, Köstler, Koch und die Vielen Andren Noch", available from the Trossingen Harmonica Museum.


Despite its title, "Reference Book on Harmonicas" by Alfred Mirek focuses mostly on the accordion ("harmonika" is most often used in Russia and many European countries to denote the accordion - see FFAQ2), but does contain a few line drawings of early harmonicas and other free reed instruments, with accompanying text in both Russian and English, although I'm a little skeptical of the accuracy of some of his information and the lack of citation of sources makes it hard to double check things. It was (and may still be) available from House of Musical Traditions.


"Der Musikwinkel und die Harmonika", by Kurt Kauert is based around a doctoral dissertation written in 1969 about the history of musical instrument making in the Klingenthal area, centre of the German harmonica and accordion industry. Profusely illustrated with many historical photographs of instruments, musicians, factories, advertising materials and people involved in the industry. Companies based in this area included Meinel, Schunk, Essbach, Seydel, Schlott, Ludwig, Böhm and many others. Dr. Kauert's book is a valuable resource for those interested in the history of harmonica production - providing they can read German, or are happy just to look at the pictures! Published by Reihe Weiss-Grün, ISBN - 3-931770-28-1. Used copies often turn up on Amazon.com


"Hohner The Living Legend", by Haik Wenzel and Martin Häffner was published in 2007 to mark the 150 years since Matthias Hohner founded the company that bears his name. In both German and English, it traces the history of the Hohner company and the development of their harmonicas and accordions, with interviews with Hohner's Chairman, photos of their harmonica production line, a (somewhat incomplete) list of Hohner harmonica models produced since 1894 and, as they say, much much more. The highlight of the book for me is a 60+ page chapter of stunning colour photographs of Hohner instruments, although almost every other page in this 240 page book is copiously illustrated. As well as favorites such as the Trumpet Call, Hohnerphone and various Marine Band harmonicas, there are also rarities such as the bejewelled Red Rose, the beautifully enamelled Echo-Luxe series and even a few models that I never even knew existed. This belongs on the bookshelf of every harmonica collector, or on the coffee table of anyone who loves good photography. Available from the Trossingen Harmonica Museum, or Amazon.com and possibly still available from HCI (see below).


"Seventy Years of Hong Kong Harmonica (香港口琴70年)" was published in 2004 to celebrate (you guessed it) 70 years of the harmonica in Hong Kong. Although in Chinese (except for the chapter about David Packer, written in both Chinese and English), there are a lot of great pictures in this substantial 250 page paperback, including old harmonicas, notable players from Asia, visiting Western artists and all sorts of related ephemera. Well worth a look even if you don't read Chinese. It doesn't have official distribution outside of Hong Kong, but you can order a copy from YesAsia.com, an very reliable online retailer specialising in Asian books and CDs, usually with free international shipping.


"Chinese Made Harmonica Illustrations (中国口琴图谱)", by Zong Xiaohua, Wu Shenlu and Jing Xuejun is a huge hardback book published by the Shanghai Conservatory of Music Press. For much of the 20th century, China was both the biggest producer and the biggest consumer of harmonicas in the world and that looks likely to be true of the 21st century too, but, the immense variety of harmonicas coming from the Chinese mainland has not been documented - until now. Not just a quick overview of the subject, this 400+ page book weighs in at almost four pounds, is lavishly illustrated in full colour and simply packed with information you won't find anywhere else. Covering everything from the export models produced in the early 1900s by companies such as Hohner, Seydel, Yamaha and Tombo, through the well known Chinese brand names such as Victory, East Top, Swan, Hero and Blessing, all the way up to some very innovative designs from the last few years, there is more than enough content here to overwhelm even the most voracious of harmonica enthusiasts. Of course, the big drawback for most of you who are reading this review, is that the book is in Chinese. However, the vast amount of photographs and diagrams more than makes up for this and in my opinion, this is a must-have book for serious harmonica collectors and researchers. Another drawback is that the book is not generally available outside of China, but it is well worth the effort of odering a copy. I have a small number of copies available - contact me if you are interested.


Finally, if you are interested in old harmonicas, you should join Harmonica Collectors International. They issue a magazine called The Trumpet Call, which has lots of information and pictures of old harmonicas and related instruments, reprints of old catalogs, classified ads of collectible harps for sale, etc., etc.


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