Posted 30 January 2007

Ladies in the Wheatstone Ledgers:
the Gendered Concertina in Victorian England, 1835–18701

Allan W. Atlas

Prelude to the web edition

Victorian England had rather strict rules about musical instruments and gender, especially as they concerned the question of which instruments were proper for amateur female musicians of the middle and upper classes, women for whom music was a leisure-time activity, one among a variety of “accomplishments.” Thus to play violin or cello, or any of the wind instruments, was a decidedly unfeminine pursuit. In fact, the Royal Academy of Music did not admit its first female violin student until 1872, and only in the final quarter of the century did the strictures against women playing these instruments begin to loosen. (Men, we might note, were discouraged from playing the piano, an instrument, that, if played by men, was better suited for foreign virtuosos, whose masculinity was not quite that of their British counterparts.) Which instruments were deemed proper for women? The conventional wisdom has long held that there were three: piano, harp, and guitar. Yet what “Ladies in the Wheatstone Ledgers” shows is that there was a fourth instrument deemed suitable for women: the English concertina.

The article that follows draws upon the nine extant Wheatstone & Co. sales ledgers that record the firm’s sales, rentals, and exchanges from 1835 to 1870. It shows that of the 15,056 transactions there listed, as many as 1,796—just under 12%—involved women (978 of them to be precise), among whom were many from Victorian England’s socio-economic elite. This was no accident, for as I argue towards the end of the essay, Wheatstone’s and other manufacturers of the English concertina often advertised the instrument in terms specifically intended to catch the attention of women, a strategy further reinforced in many of the period’s method books.

In all, the English concertina played an important role in domestic, amateur music-making: it was the one instrument that cut across boundaries of gender, the one instrument on which husband and wife, father and daughter, brother and sister could meet on common musical grounds.


After the original publication in the Royal Musical Association Research Chronicle in October 2006 some corrections have been noticed (the page references are correct for both the printed version and the online version):

p. 45, Table 13, entry 3: Ellen Attwater was Richard Blagrove’s niece (not his daughter).

p. 115, No. 348.01: Miss E. Geary is not just related to, but may be identical with the Elizabeth Margaret Geary who wrote Musical Education with Practical Obserations on the Art of Pianoforte Playing (1841); another Miss E. Geary can be identified as Miss Elizabeth Geary, a singer.

p. 182: Sophia Wheatstone was not Sir Charles’s daughter; rather, she was his older sister and gave Regondi his first lessons on the concertina.

Needless to say, I would be happy to learn about other errors, as I would to hear about more likely identifications of the many women about whom I do no more than speculate. We will keep the “corrections” up-to-date. Just click on to send me a correction or comment.

Allan W. Atlas
January 2007


allan-atlas-ladies-in-ledgers Ladies in the Wheatstone Ledgers:
the Gendered Concertina in Victorian England, 1835-1870
by Allan W. Atlas
The entire article is a single PDF file which includes all 8 sections, iv+235 pages in total. Size is about 5.6 megabytes. The text in the PDF file is searchable using the search tool in Acrobat Reader. Click on the title or picture to open the document in PDF, or right-click and choose “Save Target As …” to save a personal copy of the entire file to your computer. 239 pages.
Posted 30 January 2007
» read full document (pp. i–235) in pdf (or right-click to download)

Individual Sections

The eight sections below, in individual PDF documents, collectively contain all the pages in the entire article. The text in each PDF file is searchable using the search tool in Acrobat Reader.

Section 1: Publication Prelims, pages i–iv (size 49 kb)
» read prelims (pp. i–iv) in pdf (or right-click to download)

Section 2: Introduction, pages 1–57 (size 3,546 kb)
» read introduction (pp. 1–57) in pdf (or right-click to download)

Section 3: The Ledgers, pages 58–71 (size 1,398 kb)
» read the ledgers (pp. 58–71) in pdf (or right-click to download)

Section 4: The Inventory, pages 72–187 (size 446 kb)
» read the inventory (pp. 72–187) in pdf (or right-click to download)

Section 5: Appendix I: Chronological Index, pages 188–204 (size 76 kb)
» read appendix i (pp. 188–204) in pdf (or right-click to download)

Section 6: Appendix II: Serial Number Index, pages 205–222 (size 90 kb)
» read appendix ii (pp. 205–222) in pdf (or right-click to download)

Section 7: Appendix III: Price Index, pages 223–234 (size 68 kb)
» read appendix iii (pp. 223–234) in pdf (or right-click to download)

Section 8: Abstract, page 235 (size 31 kb)
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From the Introduction:

The heart of this study is the inventory of women whose names appear in the nineteenth-century sales ledgers of Wheatstone & Co., the period’s most prestigious manufacturer of the English concertina.2 More specifically, the inventory is based on the nine extant sales ledgers, now housed at the Horniman Museum, London, that list Wheatstone’s day-to-day sales from 4 April 1835 to 23 May 1870.3 In all, the ledgers record a total of 15,056 transactions,4 of which no fewer than 1,769 (just under 12%) refer to and account for 978 women who either purchased, rented, exchanged, or borrowed concertinas for their own use or, as with those who taught the instrument (see Tables 8 and 11), had such transactions carried out in their name with the intention of passing the instrument on to someone else. Clearly, these figures come with an important caveat with respect to things that we cannot know: (1) how many transactions entered under a woman’s name involved instruments ultimately destined for men; (2) how many transactions signaled movement in the opposite direction; and (3) how many concertinas sold to dealers ended up in the hands of women? In the end, we can only tally up the transactions, take them at face value, and take note of those that specifically involve women.

The Introduction, which analyses and provides the context for the data in the Inventory, is divided into six sections: I. ‘Matters of Propriety’, II. ‘The English Concertina’, III. ‘The Clientele: An Overview’, IV. ‘Ladies in the Ledgers’, V. ‘Marketing Strategies’, and VI. ‘Concluding Comment’. It is followed by two brief sections: ‘The Ledgers’, which describes the nine sales ledgers and offers a short note on one ‘production’ book (without the names of customers) and two salary books, and the ‘Preface to the Inventory’, which explains how the Inventory is organised and lists the sources (and their sigla) cited therein. […]

Continue reading the entire article:
allan-atlas-ladies-in-ledgers Ladies in the Wheatstone Ledgers:
the Gendered Concertina in Victorian England, 1835-1870
by Allan W. Atlas
The entire article is a single PDF file which includes all 8 sections, iv+235 pages in total. Size is about 5.6 megabytes. Click on the title or picture to open the document in PDF, or right-click and choose “Save Target As …” to save a personal copy of the entire file to your computer. 239 pages.
Posted 30 January 2007
» read full document (pp. i–235) in pdf (or right-click to download)


1 It is with great pleasure that I dedicate this article to and acknowledge the help and support received from my fellow members of the informal (internet-connected) Concertina Research Forum: Chris Algar, Stephen Chambers, Robert Gaskins, Randall Merris, and Wes Williams, all of whom share my interest in the history of the concertina in Victorian England and were always ready to supply information, challenge interpretations, and keep up a constant stream of stimulating discussion. Thanks also to Judith Barger, Christina Bashford, Margaret Birley, Julie Cunningham, Paul De Silva, Therese Ellsworth, William Glenn, Halina Goldberg, Rachel Goodman, Robert Harvey, Foster Henry, Blake Howe, Ian Graham-Orlebar, Sylvia Kahan, Charity Lofthouse, Adrienne Munich, Julia Grella O’Connell, Peg Rivers, Douglas Rogers, Deborah Rohr, Pat Shipman, Lawrence Shuster, E. Bradley Strauchen, Wim Wakker, Jennifer C.H.J. Wilson, Robert J. Wood, and the Research Chronicle’s anonymous reader, each of whom helped and contributed in diverse and important ways. [ Back to text ]

2 The company was variously known as: (1) C. Wheatstone & Co., after the family’s most famous member, the physicist Sir Charles Wheatstone (see below); (2) W. Wheatstone & Co., first after Sir Charles’s father, William (1775–1854), and then after his brother, William Dolman (1804–62), with the two Williams seemingly having run the day-to-day affairs of the business during their lifetimes; (3) Messrs. Wheatstone & Co; and (4) simply Wheatstone & Co. To what extent Sir Charles took an active role in the business from the time of his brother’s death in 1862 until the firm was sold to the Chidley family (related to the Wheatstones through marriage) around 1870 is uncertain. In addition to manufacturing concertinas, Wheatstone’s also produced flutes (at least early on in its history) and seraphines/harmoniums, and published a voluminous amount of music, mainly for the English concertina. On the history of the firm, see Peter Kidson, William C. Smith/rev. Peter Ward Jones, ‘Wheatstone’, The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, 2nd edn, ed. Stanley Sadie and John Tyrrell (London, 2001), xxvii, 334–5 (hereafter New Grove 2); William Waterhouse, The New Langwill Index: A Dictionary of Musical Wind-Instrument Makers and Inventors (London, 1993), 426; Neil Wayne, ‘The Wheatstone English Concertina’, Galpin Society Journal, 44 (1991), 117–49 (also online at ); idem, ‘Concertina Book—Final Edit’ (1986), 29–51 (an unpublished manuscript of which there is a copy in the Horniman Museum, London); Stephen Chambers, ‘Some Notes on Lachenal Concertina Production and Serial Numbers’, Papers of the International Concertina Association, 1 (2004), 19–20, n. 18 (also online at both and Unless otherwise noted, all references to the concertina are to the type known as the English concertina, though I sometimes use that name in full; for other types, see note 12. [ Back to text ]

3 The ledgers are described in some detail below (see the section entitled ‘The Ledgers’, following the Introduction). Ledger C104a, 18, contains a late, pencil entry dated 3 May 1834 in connection with the sale of Wheatstone no. 352 (all Wheatstone concertinas have a serial number); however, this date is surely incorrect, as no other instrument numbered in the 300s antedates 1839. There is a gap in the records from 5 April 1849 through 31 December 1850, as the ledger for that period is now missing. In addition, records from 4 April 1835 to 4 April 1839 and from 6 April 1848 to 5 April 1849 are patchy and probably incomplete. The ledgers are in the Horniman Museum’s Wayne Archive, and are available online at [ Back to text ]

4 This does not include the 875 instances of duplicate entries shared by C1046 and C104a; on the often-puzzling relationship between these two ledgers, see the description of the latter in ‘The Ledgers’, below. Note that, throughout this study, the word ‘transactions’ can refer to sales, rentals, returns, loans, or exchanges. [ Back to text ]


Allan W. Atlas ( ) teaches at The Graduate Center of The City University of New York, where he heads The Center for the Study of Free-Reed Instruments. Author of books and articles on both fifteenth-century music and Puccini, he currently focuses his research on the English concertina, especially its sociological role in Victorian society, with publications in this area including The Wheatstone English Concertina in Victorian England (Clarendon Press, 1996) and ‘George Gissing’s Concertina’, Journal of Musicology, 17 (1999), 304–18; his current projects include an edition of selected works for the instrument by Giulio Regondi (co-edited with Douglas Rogers) and an article on Arthur James Balfour and the concertina. He is also the founding editor of the PICA [Papers of the International Concertina Association]. An avid concertinist, he performs (together with Julia Grella O’Connell and and Francesco Izzo) with the New York Victorian Consort.

RMA Research Chronicle 39
Royal Musical Association
Research Chronicle,
39 (2006)


The original version of this article appeared in the Royal Musical Association Research Chronicle, Vol. 39 (2006), pages i–235, published by the Royal Musical Association.
© 2006 The Royal Musical Association and Allan W. Atlas.
Copies of the published volume are available from the RMA Research Chronicle website at a price of £48 (£24 for RMA and AMS members).

Links to related documents

shipman-baker Ms Mary Baker with Concertina, c. 1857
Notes by Pat Shipman
Mary Baker (d. 1882) seems to be the only woman named in the Wheatstone Concertina Ledgers (listed in Allan W. Atlas, “Ladies in the Wheatstone Ledgers”) whom we can see with her concertina in hand, in a daguerreotype dated c. 1857. Mary Baker’s brother (Samuel Baker) with his second wife explored central Africa in search of the source of the Nile, and discovered Lake Albert in 1864, for which he was knighted in 1866. As published in PICA [Papers of the International Concertina Association], Vol. 3 (2006), pp. 36-37. Better-quality colour photographs have been substituted for those originally published.
Posted 21 March 2007
» read full article
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Historical business records of C. Wheatstone & Co. from the Horniman Museum in London. Earlier ledgers from the Wayne Archives contain company sales records from the late 1830s to the 1860s along with production records from the 1860s to the 1890s and some early records of wages and other payments. Later ledgers from the Dickinson Archives contain production records from 1910 to 1974. All surviving ledgers have been digitized (some 2,300 pages in total) and made available free on the web for private research. The same material is also available to buy on an inexpensive CD. Includes an introduction to the project by Margaret Birley, Keeper of Musical Instruments at the Horniman Museum, and an article by Robert Gaskins describing in detail how the ledgers were digitized.
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Posted 15 November 2005
» read full article
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At Christmas of 1865–1866, three young daughters of the late Louis Lachenal gave a series of concerts in Edinburgh introducing “concerted music” played on treble, tenor, and bass concertinas. We think this was also exactly the period when Lachenal & Co. had lost their contract to manufacture concertinas for Wheatstone, making it important to publicize Lachenal’s own brand. Based on clippings from The Scotsman newspaper, Edinburgh, notices of concerts and reviews, October 1865 through January 1866.
Posted 01 February 2005
» read full article
ledgers-serial-and-date-indexes Serial Number and Date Indexes to the Wheatstone Ledgers
Indexes listed on this page contain serial numbers and dates from the Wheatstone Ledgers at the Horniman Museum, London. Each item listed is a single index (either serial numbers or dates) to a single ledger. Indexes lead to the ledger identification and page number as a live link: click on it to see the colour photograph of the page from which the information was taken. There is also an automated lookup which finds all records for any single serial number throughout all the indexed ledgers. (Only indexes to nineteenth-century ledgers are yet completed. Additional indexes to the twentieth-century ledgers will be listed here as they are published.)
Posted 15 December 2005; updated 01 February 2006
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ledgers-serials-lookup Serial Number Lookup for Wheatstone Ledgers 1830s to 1890s
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A quick lookup for serial numbers in Wheatstone Ledgers covering the late 1830s to early 1890s; type in a single number and receive a report on all its occurrences in the ledgers. Includes ledgers C104a, C1046, C1047, C1048, C1049, C1050, C1051, C1052, C1053, and C1054. The record for each serial number entry gives its date (if present) and a live link to the photograph of its page in the online ledgers.
Posted 01 February 2006
» go to lookup
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Informative interview with Christine Hawkes who in 1907 had given successful concertina concerts in the West End of London. Miss Hawkes has been “inundated with … shoals of letters from people anxious to learn the concertina,” and she gives a number of practical tips on buying a concertina and on practising. She recommends “the English concertina as patented by Sir Charles Wheatstone in 1829,” … “as distinguished from the cheap German atrocities with which Bank Holidays make us all too familiar.” Miss Hawkes “was lucky enough at the beginning to come across a copy of Regondi’s ‘Concertina Exercises,’ but whether this work is published now she does not know.” Contributed by Stuart Eydmann. First published in Cassell's Magazine, June 1908 to November 1908, pp. 159–161.
Posted 26 March 2007
» read full document in pdf
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Concertina Library directory of all information on this website about the history of concertinas.
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» go to directory