© 2005 P.Missin - Details

German Patent 19221

There have been several approaches to making harmonicas capable of playing chromatically, but this one, patented by Adolf Glass Junior in 1882, appears to be the earliest patent for a harmonica with two reedplates, each tuned in a different key, with a mechanism to shift the player's breath from one set of reeds to the other. This is the same idea as used in most common chromatic harmonicas these days, although the means of switching between the two sets of reeds is somewhat different in this design. Rather than selecting the active reeds by a mechanism at the front of the harmonica, the selection is done at the rear. There is a hinged mechanism at the rear which allows air to flow in and out of only one set of reeds at a time:

The patent doesn't specifically mention the ability to play chromatically, just that it allowed one harmonica to play in "several keys". Of course, with one set of reeds in C and another in C#, a fully chromatic scale would be possible.

The inventor's location is given as Brunndöbra-Klingenthal, where there were several accordion and harmonica makers with that same surname in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The following is an illustration from an 1886 wholsale catalog issued by John F. Stratton, an musical instrument dealer from New York:

No maker's name is given in the catalog, but the construction seems to be similar to that shown in the Glass patent.

A similar idea was patented some years later by Torahachi Machino (British Patent 819441 and Swiss Patent 352220 both from 1957, US Patent 2877679 from 1958, French Patent 1186328 from 1959 and German Patent 1074953 from 1960, plus presumably a Japanese Patent from around that time).

This was marketed as the Machino Tone Chromatic Harmonica.

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