Posted 15 February 2003

Early Wheatstone Double Duet No. 23

Robert Gaskins

Early Wheatstone Double Duet No. 23

This instrument was bought from a seller on eBay in February 2003. The seller's family tradition was that it had been bought for his grandmother to accompany her singing while she was living in Germany as a child with her family during the years 1890-1902; she returned with it to New York (living at 50 Central Park West), and sang for Teddy Roosevelt at a White House ball in 1907 (whether the concertina went to the White House is not recorded). The instrument was inherited recently along with a rare New York printing of Alsepti's tutor for English concertina—which must have been a confusing guide to the Double.

It is in playable condition, with essentially all-original parts; all pieces including the bellows are marked with stamps “L” or “R” and “23”. The reeds are brass, secured with two screws, in square-ended brass reed-shoes. According to Neil Wayne, square-ended reed shoes ceased to be used from early 1848, and the Wheatstone labels changed the monarch's gender to “By Her Majesty’s Letters Patent ... ” (as here) in late 1847; based on those points, an approximate date for this instrument would be 1847-1848, corresponding roughly to English concertinas numbered around 1500–1600. That is consistent with the production ledgers, which show the first units being made in 1845 and ramping up very slowly—a total of 23 by late 1847 is quite reasonable. The highest Double serial number known to Neil Wayne seems to have been No. 58.

The early factory records show several different sizes being made. Danny Chapman's No. 14 is 67 keys, a very large instrument in the English pattern; the Wheatstone & Co. tutor shows a 57-key instrument; and this No. 23 is only 45 keys, two octaves on the right and an octave and a half on the left. (No. 23 measures 6 and 5/8 inches across.) It's probably true that no standard size emerged during the brief experimental life of the Double system. Like all known Doubles, it has English-style thumb-straps, but no rests for the little fingers (although the pattern of the fretwork allows for them) which makes the instrument harder to play. This lack is explained by the tutor, which suggests that on each hand the four fingers be assigned to the corresponding four columns of keys, leaving no extra fingers for support. The reed pans are inclined on both sides (more sharply on the left) to produce deeper reed chambers for the larger reeds and shallower reed chambers for the smaller reeds.

The original baffles intact in this No. 23 are very interesting. The perpetual topic among modern duet players is how to balance the volume of the left end (normally louder) with that of the right end (normally quieter), and one way is to install baffles with additional baffling on the left end. This duet from 1847 does exactly that. It has “outer” baffles of thin spruce mounted just below the fretwork above the action on both sides, just like any English concertina of the same period, and then on its left side—only—it has an additional “inner” shaped baffle (also of spruce) screwed to a doughnut-shaped sycamore stand-off mounted around the central hole on the inside of the left reed pan. This “inner” left-side baffle is asymmetrical and covers all the larger reeds on the left side, leaving the left-side reeds which overlap with the right end uncovered. This could have been an attempt to reduce the volume on the left side smoothly, so that the same note was not quieter on the left and louder on the right.

Similar solutions for Maccann duets, using removeable baffles made of other materials, are explained elsewhere on this website. (See Baffles for Maccann Duet Concertinas.)

(Click on any small photograph in this document to see a larger version;
click ‘Back’ to return to this document.)

Wheatstone Double System Keyboard

This document is unreleased;
Please do not cite or quote.
Print text double spaced
Print text single spaced
Early Wheatstone “Double”
No. 23; elegantly conceived and
presented, but a dead-end.


  • Early Wheatstone Double Duet No. 23

© 2003 Robert Gaskins.

Links to related documents

warren-double-wheatstone-tutor Instructions for the Double Concertina
by Joseph Warren (C. Wheatstone & Co.)
A complete tutor for the Double duet, with an introduction devoted to the theory of the keyboard arrangement and the leveraging of patterns among key signatures. Published by Wheatstone & Co., deposited at the British Museum 28 July 1855. 27 pages. Printed in large format, trim size 9.5 inches by 14 inches.
Posted 15 February 2003
» read full document in pdf
wheatstone-homepage C. Wheatstone & Co.
Concertina Library directory of all information on this website about C. Wheatstone & Co.
Posted 01 January 2005
» go to directory
double-homepage Early Wheatstone Double System Duet Concertinas
Concertina Library directory of all information on this website about Early Wheatstone Double System Duet Concertinas.
Posted 01 January 2005
» go to directory
photos-homepage Photographs of Concertinas
Concertina Library directory of photographic documentation of concertinas.
Posted 15 January 2005
» go to directory