© 2005 P. Missin - Details

US Patent 588920

Granted to Jacob Hohner in 1897, this is the patent for one of the most famous harmonicas harmonica ever made, the Hohner Marine Band #1896. To be precise, the patent is for the cover plates of the Marine Band, the only really innovative part of the instrument. In the patent, Hohner says:

Each cover-plate is free from sharp edges or ridges, and hence is as free as possible to vibrate through its entire width, as such sharp angles or ridges serve to stiffen the plate and hinder it from fulfilling its function as a sounding board. This freedom of vibration is greatly extended by securing the coverplates at the ends by lugs or ears, which are separated from each other. Thus, as will be readily understood, each cover-plate is held only at four points by narrow lugs, and being without any ribs, ridges or corners, is perfectly free to vibrate throughout its entire length and width, even down to its line of contact with the reed-plate at the front. Such a result adds largely to the power of the instrument and has not been achieved by any construction in harmonicas hitherto known to me.

I am a little reluctant to contradict someone who was making harmonicas before my grandfather was born, but I think Herr Hohner may perhaps be overstating the acoustic importance of the covers just a little. The covers of a harmonica vibrate little at the best of times and when damped by a player's hands and lips, it is hard to imagine their vibration making any significant contribution to the tone of the instrument. Although Hohner uses the term "sounding board" in the above quoted paragraph, the term "cover plate" is a much more accurate description of what this part of the instrument does - it simply protects the reeds and the player's lips.

The exact shape of the covers varied quite a bit over the years, as did other parts of the Marine Band. For more on this, please see FFAQ38.

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