Wheatstone & Co.
Throughout much of the 20th century, the name 'Wheatstone & Co.' was synonymous with the manufacture of high quality concertinas.
From its mid eighteenth century origins to its current incarnation as a one man business, the company has had a long and varied history. Although the concertina itself has waxed and waned in popularity throughout this period, the quality of Wheatstone branded instruments has ensured a constant demand and the firm's present owner and concertina maker, Steve Dickinson, has a five year waiting list for new instruments -- reflecting both the highly labour intensive process of making a concertina and the continued popularity of the Wheatstone brand.
The firm was established in London by Charles Wheatstone in about 1750 in the old Exeter 'Change building, near to where the Lyceum Theatre now stands. His nephew, also called Charles, was born in Gloucester in 1802 and went on to become the firm's most influential figure - Sir Charles Wheatstone, a Victorian scientific genius with a torrent of ideas and inventor of the concertina, telegraphy and the Wheatstone Bridge.
In 1823 uncle Charles died and Charles and his elder brother William took over the business. Charles had no interest in the commercial aspects but he enjoyed the freedom of invention that the business gave him. By 1829 he had developed and patented the symphonium - a free reed mouth organ with an oval blow-hole and a small button keyboard. Its patent described the possible addition of flexible bellows to the instrument -- an addition which would later result in the concertina. Production of the instrument was begun in the early 1830s and following various prototypes a patent for the concertina was finally granted in 1844. The instrument quickly grew in popularity and became the darling of the Victorian middle classes.
As well as inventing musical instruments, Wheatstone also turned his attention to scientific subjects and by the middle of the century was widely known for his invention of the electric telegraph and development of the Wheatstone Bridge, a device for measuring electrical resistance. Interestingly, keys and levers like those used in his concertinas often appeared in his scientific inventions.
Sir Charles Wheatstone died in 1875 but the firm continued to produce concertinas, and by the early twentieth century the instrument's popularity had increased, becoming a popular amateur instrument in the home and also inspiring the formation of concertina bands in both London and the north of England. The instrument was also a common addition to the instrumentation of Salvation Army bands.
In 1948 the Wheatstone firm was acquired by Boosey & Hawkes who produced Wheatstone branded instruments until its own free reed instrument division was closed in the 1970s, when Steve Dickinson bought the company name.
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