Posted 15 December 2005

Serial Number Muddle
in Early Wheatstone Ledgers

(Preliminary Version)

Wes Williams

Most users of the Wheatstone ledgers visit the Horniman website to try to determine the manufacturing date or selling date of a specific Wheatstone concertina from its serial number. For many instruments this can involve extensive searching, as some of the early ledgers show an apparently random jumble of serial numbers listed by the date that instruments were sold, exchanged or hired. Even if repeating serial numbers caused by exchange or hire are ignored, the ledgers still show a jumble of numbers. This note contains the results of some basic investigation to show what is happening, using the first four sales ledgers, C104a, C1046, C1047, and C1048. I show that a major source of the jumbled sequence is the practise of selling (and we presume also making) multiple ranges of serial numbers at the same time, a feature which the ledgers show to have changed character and become much more pronounced after 1850. (This is a preliminary version, and will be replaced by a fuller report and further data files as work progresses.)

Examination of the ledger data, confirmed by other readers, shows that the earliest date written in the ledgers is "22 Oct 26" (i.e. 1826) for serial number 381 (Ledger C104a, page 20). Apart from being illogical (a date prior to the first Wheatstone patent in 1829), it can be shown that this is an error, since ledger C1046 contains an almost identical entry on page 51, but for 21 Oct 1846. Further examples of differences between C1046 and C104a can be found, and there is no reason to suspect that similar errors may not have equally occurred in later ledgers. The data from this investigation makes no attempt to correct any of these errors. Errors will also almost certainly have occured in transcribing the investigation data from the photographs of the ledgers, and reports of any of these errors will be gratefully received.

The ledgers investigated so far cover the period May 1834 (although this may also be an original ledger error) to March 1854. However, some parts of this range are not covered, and only the dates June 1839 to April 1848 and January 1851 to March 1854 are covered in depth. Ledger C104a covers the first 1500 serial numbers, and provides some of the missing coverage. According to ledger C104a, one instrument is sold in 1834, three in 1835, and fourteen in 1836. No instruments are listed for the first half of 1837, suggesting that those records may have already been lost when C104a was compiled. Sixteen instruments are listed for the second half of 1837, so the Wheatstone concertina output was beginning to increase considerably.

Searching for serial numbers between 1 and 1500 appears to be simple, as ledger C104a is ordered by serial number. However, investigation shows that dates given in C104a tend to be for a 'final sale' (by 9th September 1849, the latest date in C104a), and cross-checking with entries from ledger C1046 shows that some instruments were first sold years before the date entered in C104a. For example, serial 759 first appears in C1046 in July 1844, and makes two more appearances (December 1844 and July 1846) before its entry on 13th Oct 1846, the date given in C104a. Many instruments have earlier entries than their C104a dates, with their manufacture much nearer that of other instruments with similar value serial numbers.

The plot below shows the 'earliest dates' for serial numbers that appear in the ledgers used so far.

In this graph, serial numbers are scatter-plotted from numbers near 0 at the top, down to serial numbers above 6000 at the bottom; each division is 1000 serial numbers. From left to right, each division is two years, running from 1834 to 1856. We see immediately a major difference roughly around 1850 (which is also, unfortunately, the break in the data caused by a missing ledger); the occurrence of serial numbers for 1834–1850 is very different from the occurrence of serial numbers after 1850. In the earlier period, we see basically a single main descending diagonal line, showing a single sequence in which serial numbers get larger as time gets later. But in the later period, we see multiple descending diagonal lines, showing more than one sequence of serial numbers being produced at the same time. (In both periods, there is a scatter of numbers around the major features.)

It has been suggested that the muddle of serial numbers in the ledgers has been partially caused by multiple production sources for instruments, with allocations of groups of serial numbers to particular sources causing years of difference between instruments of similar serials.1 Although this investigation cannot demonstrate multiple sources, it can confirm that multiple 'range-lines' of serial numbers were occuring in the sales recorded by the ledgers. If we look more closely, we can actually discern that the sub-pattern of multiple overlapping production ranges begins before 1850, and seems to be evident as early as 1845 (see below). The results also show that in the early years this effect is not as pronounced as later.

In this graph, serial numbers are scatter-plotted from numbers near 400 at the top, down to serial numbers above 1400 at the bottom; each division is 200 serial numbers. From left to right, each division is a single year, running from 1842 to 1849. At this scale, we can discern an internal structure of overlapping ranges, usually up to three ranges being produced simultaneously over periods of up to a year each.

By the end of 1851, these multiple range-lines dominate the Wheatstone output and at least seven range-lines seem to be active. Within a few years the spread of range-lines becomes even wider—the first instrument in the 7000s appears at the end of C1048 (March 1854) even though few instruments with numbers in the 6000s have been sold. There is also a significant gap below 5640 with instruments around 5560/5570 only just starting to appear in sales. The lowest range-line still operating in March 1854 is producing instruments at approximately serial number 4390, so there is a gap of almost 2700 between highest and lowest range-lines in active sales.

In this graph, serial numbers are scatter-plotted from numbers near 2500 at the top, down to serial numbers above 6000 at the bottom; each division is 500 serial numbers. From left to right, each division is a single year, running from 1851 to 1855. At this scale, we can see more overlapping ranges, up to seven or more being sold simultaneously, over periods of typically multiple years. The random mass of points in the range 2500 to 3000 indicate an area where we do not have earlier data (roughly 1848 to 1851), and most of these serial numbers will have earlier origins.

In summary, the plots above have shown that a major contribution to the muddling of serial numbers in the early ledgers is that multiple range-lines of serial numbers are in use at any one date, and that this is further complicated by instrument exchanges and hires. The multiple range-lines are a feature of sales before 1850, but only a few ranges are sold at a time, and for briefer periods, so that they blend into a fairly-simple sequence. After 1850, the multiple range-lines dominate the structure of sales, with many simultaneous ranges extended over longer periods. The true causes of these range-lines cannot be defined by this investigation, and it is hoped that future research will provide some answers.

The investigations made here also lead to a further observation. The C104a entry for serial 334 gives serial, date and buyer. When C1046 is checked for the same date, an entry shows the same buyer name, without a serial, but adds the number of buttons of the instrument. The presence of single source data like this indicates that C104a and C1046 have been compiled independently of one another, using another source or sources.

Demonstration of the presence of these range-lines opens up at least two further aspects of ledger research. Ledger entries for sales without serial numbers are no longer subject to a totally random possible serial number, and more probable numbers may be suggested for these entries. In the future, it may also be possible to correlate sales prices with these range-lines and demonstrate if they represent distinct types of instrument.

Data from the Wheatstone Ledgers

Below are links to files containing the data used to generate the scatter plots discussed in this article. The same data is available in two different formats: in "comma-separated-value" (CSV) format and in XML format. So far data is available for four ledgers (which were used to make the graphs above). The data is further available on web pages (where each record is linked to its photograph in the online ledgers) to be consulted or printed.

All file data should be checked against the original ledgers, as transcription errors may have occurred. Please report any errors.

Data from the Wheatstone Ledgers in CSV (Excel, etc.) Format

The data is arranged as a single file for each ledger. Each file is in CSV (comma separated value) format, the standard used by spreadsheets for 25 years. Each file can be eyeballed by opening it in a simple text editor (e.g., Notepad) using a line terminator of the two ASCII characters "carriage-return" and "line-feed" (<CR><LF>).

Each file contains one record per line. Each record contains four comma-separated fields, for example:


Each file contains a dummy first record containing the field names


Second and subsequent records contain:

  1. Ledger Number - as used by the Horniman Museum website, 5 alpha-numeric characters.
  2. Page Number - two digits<./li>
  3. Date - eight digits in yyyymmdd format.
  4. Serial - the serial number and any note, variable length.

    A number of codes following the serial number are used to signify additional information. Most of them indicate that the ledger shows that the instrument was made by another maker and/or for another dealer, and so the serial number is probably not a Wheatstone number. (Most of these makers are profiled in "Minor Historic Concertina Makers and Dealers", by Wes Williams.)
    Other codes indicate sales to buyers with serial numbers that may be non-Wheatstone, an unusual model of instrument (such as "double" duets which had a separate serial number sequence), or improbability of the serial number as read and/or uncertainty in reading the number.
    Codes used are:

    • 'A': Made for A. B. Sedgewick
    • 'B': Bass instrument
    • 'C': Made by Rock and Edward Chidley
    • 'D': Double system duet instrument
    • 'F': Notation of "Frames" plus irregular price
    • 'G': Made by George Case
    • 'H': Anglo-German instrument
    • 'J': Made by John Simpson
    • 'L': Made by Louis Lachenal
    • 'M': Made for J. B. Cramer & Co.
    • 'N': Made by Nickolds
    • 'P': Made for Keith, Prowse & Co.
    • 'R': Made by Rudall
    • 'S': Made by Joseph Scates
    • 'T': Made by Turner
    • 'X': Made by Rock Chidley
    • '?': Sold to Boosey/Case/Scates with unusual serial
    • '*': Sold to Boosey/Case/Scates with unusual serial
    • '+': insertion written vertically near serial 248
    • '!': Uncertain

For ledger C104a, a record indicates that a serial number entry is not completely blank. For all other ledgers, only entries containing both date and serial number are recorded.

This data may be used with any program (such as Excel) to produce scatter plots or other kinds of graphs. A simplified version of the specialized program used to produce the scatter plots used in this article, with a corresponding serial number search program, is available from the author.

Data from the Wheatstone Ledgers in XML Format

(XML is supposed to be self-documenting; take a look and see!)

Serial Number Indexes to the Wheatstone Ledgers

(Web pages with sorted indexes to serial numbers in the Ledgers, linked to photographs—just find the serial number in the list and click.)

Available indexes to the Wheatstone Ledgers listed in a directory: Serial Number and Date Indexes to the Wheatstone Ledgers.



Acknowledgements and thanks are due to Allan Atlas, Stephen Chambers and Robert Gaskins for helping to change my ethereal jottings into something comprehendable.

1 Robert Gaskins suggested this in 2002, after physically inspecting the paper ledgers at the Horniman Museum, London, in preparation for scanning them: “in the 1850s and 1860s, … various blocks of numbers might have been given out to multiple workmen, or to multiple sub-contractors or suppliers—exactly as blocks of telephone numbers are today given out to competing telephone companies to assign independently to subscribers. Eventually the telephone companies have to "return" unused numbers to the issuing authority—and perhaps the same was true here. The big gap between serial numbers observed and instruments sold seems to happen in the mid-to-late 1850s, at the height of the boom. Perhaps to meet the skyrocketing demand Wheatstone had multiple sub-contractors, and gave each a block of numbers? And then as the boom tailed off, the number of subcontractors was reduced to one, and the unused numbers were retrieved and filled in? This would account for the apparent discrepancy between serial numbers and cumulative sales getting smaller as the years go on, until it is practically even again by the quiet of the mid-1860s. (This would also, by the way, provide a mechanism by which serial numbers could appear to go "backwards" a little bit—as the returned numbers were used, there would be instruments made later with serial numbers which preceded the serial numbers of instruments which had been made earlier.)” Private communication, 23 June 2002. [ Back to text ]


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.

This document is unreleased;
Please do not cite or quote.
Print text double spaced
Print text single spaced
pub dart board with scores
Serial numbers are strangely
jumbled in the pages of
early factory ledgers


  • Serial Number Muddle
    in Early Wheatstone Ledgers
  • Notes
  • Author

Links to related documents

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
» go to directory
lachenal-sig-wheatstone-concertina-ledgers Wheatstone Concertina Ledgers
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.
Posted 15 June 2003; Updated 15 June 2005
» go to directory
pricelists-wheatstone Wheatstone Concertina Pricelists
collected by Chris Algar
A large collection of pricelists issued by C. Wheatstone & Co., mostly found in old concertina cases without further identification. From internal evidence it is possible to date the lists c. 1915 to c. 1965 (plus one very early pricelist dated 1848, from the collection of the Horniman Museum, and a list published as an advertisement in a trade directory in 1859). These lists contain information about Wheatstone model numbers and descriptions which are useful to interpret the Wheatstone Concertina Ledgers.
Posted 15 May 2003
» go to directory
patent-collection Historic Concertina Patents
A portfolio of full copies of nine historic concertina patents. Includes the early Wheatstone English patents, Maccann's Duet patent, Jones's Anglo patent, the Crane Duet patent, Kaspar Wicki's patent for the Wicki-Hayden system, and Brian Hayden's much later patent for the same system. Includes: C. Wheatstone 1829; C. Wheatstone 1844; Wm. Wheatstone 1861; Maccann 1884; Jones 1885; Alsepti and Ballinger 1885; Butterfield 1896; Wicki 1896; Hayden 1986. None of these patents has any current force, all have either lapsed or been abandoned.
Posted 15 December 2004
» go to directory
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