Charles Jeffries: the Concertina Maker

Chris Algar,

Stephen Chambers,

Robert Gaskins,

David Lee,

Randall C. Merris,

and Wes Williams

Charles Jeffries: Concertina Maker

This Charles Jeffries never knew a thing, never been taught anything—most extraordinary, as he turned out an instrument that no other maker could equal. He used the hardest steel there was, very solid.
Tommy Williams Interview, Part 2, Concertina Newsletter, 5 (May 1972), 7.

Introduction 1

Charles Jeffries is an enigma. As far as we know he had no technical training and was never employed by any of the established concertina makers 2, yet somehow he managed to produce concertinas that are widely regarded as among the best ever made. Almost nothing is known about his manufacturing and sales activities, compared with what is known about the firms headed by Charles and William Wheatstone, Louis Lachenal, George Jones, or Henry Crabb. It seems that no manufacturing or sales records have survived from the firm of “C. Jeffries, Maker” or from its successors. We have not found even one pricelist, brochure, or advertisement issued by Jeffries, and only occasional mentions of second-hand instruments in the advertisements and pricelists of major concertina retailers. John Hill Maccann’s The Concertinist’s Guide, a virtual “Who’s Who” of the late-Victorian concertina industry, contains no advertisement for C. Jeffries, and lists among the concertina makers “Chas. Jefferys, Parade Street, Paddington, W.”—a doubly-misspelled reference to Charles Jeffries, Praed Street. The later Jeffries firm names have been found only in London classified trade directories. But today the instruments made by Charles Jeffries command the greatest interest (and the highest prices) of any vintage concertinas.

          Remainder of article in preparation.


1 This article (together with a complementary article on the Jeffries family) is posted in the hope that it will elicit additional information from readers who share our interest in finding out more about the Jeffries family and their concertinas. We emphasize the preliminary nature of these articles. Additional birth, death, and marriage records still need to be obtained, some purported facts need to be checked, and additional information needs to be garnered from continuing research.

Among the many sources for these article are reminiscences, such as the opening quotations from Harry Crabb (principal of the Crabb concertina business) and from Tommy Williams (b. 1894/95, an employee of Lachenal & Co. until its closure in the mid 1930s and a charter member of the International Concertina Association). These recollections about the Jeffries family and their concertinas seem to derive from contacts with the Jeffries sons. We do not at all presume that these stories are accurate.

We wish to thank Geoffrey Crabb, Suzanne Charles, Roger Digby, Colin Dipper, Pamela Forsey, Andrew Norman, Sheila Peckett, Pearl Pierce, and Neil Wayne for comments and/or materials. We also thank Margaret Birley, the library staff, and those who are responsible for the concertina collection at the Horniman Museum. We wish to recognize the late Paul Davies, an Anglo player, concertina enthusiast and dealer, who showed a relatively early interest in the Jeffries history, and who first managed to contact a Jeffries descendent. We have tried to provide credits for photographs obtained from outside sources, and we will welcome fuller information for credits. [ Back to text ]

2 Many nineteenth-century makers learned about concertina construction through their associations with Wheatstone & Co. Before establishing their own shops, Rock and Edward Chidley, John Crabb, John Nickolds (and sons Thomas Nickolds and Frederick Charles Nickolds), William Dove, and Joseph Scates worked at Wheatstone & Co. Louis Lachenal began by making tools and concertina components (and probably entire concertinas) for Wheatstone & Co. George Jones was apprenticed to Jabez Austin, who supplied components to Wheatstone & Co. See Neil Wayne, Concertina Book: Final Edit (unpublished typescript, 1986), 46-71; “Recollections of the English Concertina, from 1844, by George Jones, born February 29th 1832,” Concertina Magazine Part I: 13 (Winter 1985): 4–5; Part II: 14 (Spring 1986): 4–7; and Frank Butler, “Concertinas in the Commercial Road: The Story of George Jones,” Concertina & Squeezebox 20 (Summer 1989): 5–14. [ Back to text ]


Chris Algar ( ) is a well-known expert on concertinas and their history. He is the proprietor of Barleycorn Concertinas, maintaining the largest selection of concertinas of all types and buying and selling worldwide. He has a particular interest in Ireland and Irish music, and supplies most of the concertinas played there. He has been a collector for over thirty years, since first encountering concertinas when he was a folk singer and Morris dancer. For most of that period he was also a primary school teacher, but eventually had to give up teaching to spend all his time on concertinas.

Stephen Chambers ( ) is a leading authority on the history of the concertina and a collector of early free reed instruments; he has worked as a music librarian in London and was for many years proprietor of the venerable John McNeill music store (est. 1834) in Dublin. He has recently moved to Kilrush, Co. Clare, where he intends to set up a concertina and squeezebox museum with his collection, and to start manufacturing concertinas.

Robert Gaskins ( ) has studied and taught the use of computers for research in the humanities and linguistics, and is co-author of a textbook on computer programming for students of languages, literature, art, and music. He has also managed the computer science research section of an international telecommunications R&D laboratory, invented a graphics application program and led a startup enterprise to develop it, and headed the Silicon Valley business unit of a personal computer software company. He divides his time between San Francisco and London, where he is learning to play the Maccann duet concertina.

David Lee ( ) is enjoying retirement after many years in the rubber industry. He's a member of the Bathampton Morrismen and Anglo concertina player for the last 25 years.

Randall Merris ( ) is an economist at the International Monetary Fund and an amateur Anglo concertinist. He has been an economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago; has taught economics and finance in the Kellogg Graduate School of Management, Northwestern University; and has consulted with Asian governments on economic policy and financial reform. He writes mainly on economics and occasionally on the concertina and its history.

Wes Williams ( ) was fascinated by a 46-key Maccann Duet concertina and its history while studying Electrical and Electronic Engineering at Kingston University, Surrey in the early 1970s. After moving to Somersetshire in 1974, he slowly accumulated information on concertina makers, and in 2001 wrote a brief inaccurate summary for, which led to contact with fellow researchers. While searching for information from the International Concertina Association (founded 1952), he was volunteered for Archivist, and is now attempting to relocate, preserve, and make available the information gathered by the Association during its 50 year long history.

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50-key Anglo labeled
“C. Jeffries, Maker”; also
engraved with the address
in White Lion Passage
(from the Horniman Museum)


© 2005 Chris Algar, Stephen Chambers, Robert Gaskins, David Lee, Randall C. Merris, and Wes Williams.

Links to related documents

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New information about Charles Jeffries and all of his family that participated in the concertina making business. Contains the first known pictures of Charles and Mary Ann Jeffries, and reproductions of birth, marriage, and death certificates where known. Summary table of Jeffries descendants. Brief descriptions of the addresses where Charles Jeffries lived and worked, with maps of the Praed Street area, White Lion Passage, and the Kilburn area. Based on information from members of the Jeffries family.
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Undated manuscript (possibly as late as 1959) showing fingering and chords for a Jeffries System Duet, apparently made by the Jeffries company. The document is fashioned from a notebook with pages cut so that the keyboard diagrams can remain static at the top while partial pages of chords and instructions for various keys can be turned below. Unlike the early Jeffries Maccann manuscript tutor (c. 1910) written with a split pen and very finished, this document is written with a biro (ballpoint pen) indicating a much later date, and is very rough. Manuscript now in the collection of the Horniman Museum, London (Item CM C1080). The notebook is at present contained in an envelope along with a letter from Thomas Jeffries dated 1959 which may or may not be related.
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A polished 76-page manuscript “chords tutor” found in the case of a matching 57-key Maccann Duet made by C. Jeffries Maker, 23 Praed St. The instrument and the tutor are dated c. 1915. This may have been a “semi-bespoke” tutor included with the instrument when it was originally sold. Unlike the much later Jeffries System manuscript tutor (c. 1960) written with a biro (ballpoint pen) in very rough style, this much-longer document was written with a split pen and is very carefully finished.
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gaskins-jeffries-maccann-no-6-pics Photographs of Jeffries Maccann Duet Concertina, serial No. 6
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Photographic documentation of a Jeffries Maccann Duet, serial No. 6, 57 keys, c. 1915. Marked on the right with an oval engraved C. Jeffries Maker, 23 Praed St. Raised metal ends, some construction details in common with Jeffries anglos such as linear reed chambers. Its matching manuscript chords tutor is also reproduced on this website. 54 photographs.
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