I stumbled across this 1927 advertisement in an unrelated search, which piqued my interest and warranted further investigation. The Union Company of Elizabeth Street in the City of Melbourne were selling this vest pocket mouth organ for a shilling (post free). It had the added feature of a powerful magnifying glass to view an interesting picture contained within. The trademark looked to be the flying horse, Pegasus. Over to you Pat (Missin). “Pegasus here is actually an eagle with wings spread. That TM belonged to Emil Friedel, who made harps under the EFRI brand. He was granted DRGM 868459 in 1924, for “Mundharmonika mit Stereoskop und Stimme”. That said, I didn’t realise they actually made mini harps with stereoscopes. A five hole mini, at that.”
Here’s their advertisement for ‘mini with views’ from a Friedel catalogue circa 1925.
I thought I’d ask another good friend of HRR Canadian collector Doug Dawson if he had one in his collection. Here’s his reply. “Yes I have a few of the Friedels with a “stanhope” lens. Briefly, the picture is on one end of the lens and is magnified by the glass in the lens. Here is a specific site: stanhope microworks there is a “stanhope” lens club somewhere on the net. I have a variety of different pictures: boats, historic buildings, religious scenes and one naked lady. The naked lady is actually on the lens with the mini. They were sold advertising a picture of a tightrope walker but when you got it home there was a naked lady….risque for the time. Stanhope lenses were also found in many different devices, sold mostly at tourist attractions. Apparently they came in a few different sizes.”
Other Friedel models were fitted with the lens and although advertising a picture of a gymnast (tightrope walker?) it appears they all had a picture of a naked lady (perhaps she has a skin coloured bathing cossie on). I couldn’t help myself (nothing to do with naked ladies) I had to explore the world of Lilliputian mouth organs. Questions aplenty, beginning with what was the first mini made.
Pat Missin would put me on the straight and narrow. He had researched and written a book of tunes on the mini, one for each day of the year. Here’s Pat’s take, “Hohner released the first miniature, later called “Little Lady”, in summer 1922. Before long, most manufacturers had something similar. Hohner seem to have used both “Little Lady” and “Miniature” for the same model, 39/8. It may have varied by intended market, I really don’t know. That said, the name “Little Lady” was not trademarked until 1923, although the harmonica itself came out in 1922.”
There’s evidence Hohner’s mini had been available several years prior to 1922, but only as a promotional gift. I wondered if Hohner had made the first five hole mouth organ and also how the mini’s are tuned. Pat responded, “All the mini harp stock tunings are variations on the same idea, which is to duplicate, one octave higher, Holes four thru seven or Holes four thru eight of a standard diatonic. Four-hole minis replicate Holes four thru seven while five-holers are Holes four thru eight. I have a five-hole Hohner Little Lady that I picked up a a teenager (circa 1968 or ’69). I’m not aware of any other Hohner tuning, though some manufacturers such as Hering have also made them in A. There are two types of five hole harps – one adds a couple of notes at the top, the other a couple of notes at the bottom. I was going to say that Seydel did the first 5 hole mini, but I can’t verify that.”
A Hohner C 40/10 (five hole) appeared in a 1962 Catalogue with an extra quarter of an inch added to the length to accommodate a fifth hole. Apparently the reason the mini’s are pitched an octave higher is a practical one, it’s so all the reeds can fit into a small enclosure as higher pitched reeds are smaller in structure. Another Hohner four hole mini, the Pioneer was sold alongside the Little Lady in 1968.
There were mini harps in circulation quite a bit earlier than Hohner’s mini, but these could be considered a toy and were often given as a promotional item. They had limited ability in playing a variety of tunes as they were not fitted with enough reeds to constitute an octave diatonic scale. E C Bruno & Sons produced this four hole/four reeds (one reed plate-above) in 1883 and Ands Koch a three hole (below) back in 1906.
Then I came across this doozy in the Museum Victoria’s collection which didn’t cross match with the facts at hand. It even suggested the cover plates branding related to the name of a Digger from WWI.
I contacted the museum and Sophie from Museum Victoria’s Public Information kindly responded with, “Thank you for contacting the Museum Victoria Public Information team with your enquire regarding the A. Mancini-Pesaro Miniature Mouth Organ. We’ve been in touch with one of the Society & Technology curators who suspects the catalogue records were incorrectly swept up in a bulk edit, incorrectly linking it to WWI soldier John Lord. It is being identified as a WWI souvenir is likely by the donor, as they donated a mix of items variously identified as WWI and WWII.” The updated version now reads, A miniature mouth organ, otherwise known as harmonica, with a leather case and strap. Inscribed with the name ‘Lord’. Identified as a souvenir from World War I, but the date has not been independently verified. Research indicates Archimede Mancini wasn’t making harmonicas in Pesaro, Italy until after World War II, in 1951 to be exactement. To their credit the museum continues to seek verification and have an open enquiry with the Harmonica Museum. Recently Sophie passed on a quote from the Curator, “Thank goodness for the public!” Link to view collection located here https://tinyurl.com/yjesmzbt .
William Valentine Robinson (thanks Pat) a Canadian raconteur and mouth organ exponent spent nearly a year down under in 1925. He used a mini harp (Robbies Little Chap) with a ribbon tied to it so he couldn’t swallow it, or so he said. An article on W V Robinson down under is in the making? The Prince of Wales Theatre referenced is in Perth, Western Australia, seating 2,300 people it opened in 1922 and was demolished just thirteen years later.
My research would ascertain that the earliest advert for the Boomerang Tiny De Luxe five hole was in 1925 (pictured below). Was this the first five hole??? Could it be it’s Seydel then? Here is my Tiny Boomerang and Tiny Boomerang De Luxe both five holes and a sketch of the rare Baby Boomerang-circa 1934.
To conclude these segmented ramblings are a couple more pics. Firstly, how to use a mini to pretend your playing the harmonica through your ear and the second a sample of Doug Dawson’s mini’s (note the Little Lady with the scroll work-a pre WWII model). They say good things come in small packages (yeah I know about poison), but how small does small need to be, a ten hole diatonic is mighty fine, it fits in your pocket, it’s a band in the hand.
Thanks to Pat Missin & Doug Dawson for their contributions to the making of this article and John Whiteman for sending a PDF of the collection of mini’s in his fantastic online catalogue.
A short follow up article featuring small ten hole harmonicas is in production as I type. Harmonicas measuring in the vicinity of 8cm (3 inches).