A Crackajack Story

  • 1897 – F A Rauner of Klingenthal, Germany register their Cracker Jack name # 28285. Sold six years later in Australia as Crackajack with same reg #.
  • 1899 – F A Rauner had The Scorcher models in the market place in Australia sold by Feldheim, Gotthelf & Co of Sydney and The Bushman sold by W H Paling of Sydney.
  • 1903 – Allan & Co of Collins Street Melbourne in May release three Crackajack mouth organs; #1/Professional (40 reeds in a metal box for 3/-) #2/Senior (20 reeds in a fancy box for 2/-) and 3/Junior (20 reeds in a fancy box for 1/6). Apply for Trademark of the name Crackajack on the 28th August. November – two cheaper models available under Crackajack brand; the Tommy Dodd (20 reeds 6d) and the Little Gulliver (small 20 reeds 3d). In December a fourth model added to mainstream models – #4/Boss Cracker (20 reeds for 1/-)
  • 1905 – Crackajack Cadet added to primary line (20 reeds for 6d). Cadet has same style of writing as F A Rauner’s Cracker Jack.
  • 1907 – Crackajack Double (40 reeds for a shilling).
  • 1925 – Crackajack Concert (40 reeds for 4/6).
  • 1926 – Whole new range with the Artist (12 double hole 48 reeds packaged in wooden box for 8/6), Professional (7/6), Senior (5/-), Concert (released previous year, 4/6), Junior (3/6), Double (same model as previous release 3/-), Boss Cracker (same model with changes 2/6), Cadet (two models nickel front 2/- and plain wooden 1/6), Tivoli (small 20 reeds 1/-). Artist, Professional Senior & Junior all have single fluted cover plates that open at the back – same as F A Rauner’s World Master model
  • 1929 – F A Rauner heads merger with Seydel and F A Bohm this ends in 1933.
  • 1934 – #1/Concert Grand (auto valve model with leather wind savers 40 reeds 6/6), #2/Professional, #3/Miniature Concert (auto valve and Bakelite frame), #4/Senior, #5/Concert, #6/Boss Cracker, #7/Junior and #8/Cadet
  • 1937 – Crackamonic (40 reeds 12/6), Regal (80 reeds 15/-), De Luxe (40 reeds 7/6), Tremolo Concert (40 reeds 5/6).
  • 1946 – F A Rauner cease to operate when the new Government of occupied Germany, under USSR protection, expropriate for the people (without compensation) the company as they had produced armaments for the Third Reich. (Harmonica Makers Of Germany & Austria – Martin Haffner & Hans Lindenmuller)
  • 1950 to 1953 – Crackajacks return. Cadet (20 reeds 5/6) and Tremolo (40 reeds 10/6). The Cadet illustration in Allan’s advertisements very different than pre war models. It is the author’s opinion that F A Bohm, one of the merger partners may have taken over the Trademark and production.

Allan’s Crackajack mouth organs were not Albert’s Boomerangs poor cousin – not by a long way. Perhaps this inference originated north of the border and was a result of interstate rivalry between New South Wales and the Big ‘V’ (Victoria). Allan’s was the oldest and most successful music warehouse in the Southern Hemisphere and Crackajacks were the harmonica of choice here in Melbourne. Crackajack’s were manufactured to the highest quality by one of Germany’s finest establishments, F A Rauner and exported to Australia. These mouth organs were both fair dinkum and dinky di. Forgetting all the marketing of the big brands for a moment, for elite sound and reliability Crackajacks were the mouth organs that best fit this requirement for professional performers. Crackajacks hit the shelves at Allan & Co in 1903. Their introduction into the Allan’s stock may have been a result of Charles Tait’s shrewd business sense.

Allan’s started life as Wilkie’s music store at the entrance of Block Arcade, in Collins Street in 1850. Joseph Wilkie arrived to our shores from the London firm of John Broadwood and Sons, to open doors to his music emporium in Melbourne. Some time later he was joined by John Campbell Webster as a partner and when George Leavis Allan joined in 1863, the business was registered as Wilkie, Webster and Allan. George became sole proprietor when both Wilkie and Webster passed away in 1875. In 1881 he formed Allan & Co. with his son George Clark Allan. Six years later they moved into a new three-storey building nearby, which boasted a grand saloon seating five hundred, a piano showroom, and teaching rooms. George Clark Allan experienced every department of the store before rising to head the business when his father died in 1897.

Charles Tait joined Allan’s in 1884 aged fifteen. Born and bred in Castlemaine he headed to the big smoke with his family and started working in Melbourne with a toy manufacturer for five shillings a week. Legend has it that Charles had been blamed for some damaged stock and was asked to pay compensation. He refused proclaiming his innocence and left forthwith. As he meandered along Collins street he passed Allan’s music shop where he noticed the position of office boy was being offered. As they say in the classics “the rest is history.”

Later that office boy would suggest to George the idea of compiling and publishing music in a magazine. That idea matured into the popular and successful The Australian Music Book (first edition published 1892). The office boy rose to co-director with George Allan in 1896 and at the turn of the century – managing director. In this 1907 edition #78 we can see there’s a Besses o’ th’ Barn March by Dodd (not Tommy, but Jas. E. Dodd).

Charles was the eldest of four brothers who were all prominent in the theatrical world. He was closely associated with his brothers in their concert and theatrical activities, and was a member of the firm of J. and N. Tait.

The firm had been experiencing some financial problems. Charles came to the rescue by arranging the visit to Australia of the Besses o’ the Barn Band, which provided the impetus in establishing the business back on solid grounds.

Charles capabilities didn’t end there. He directed and wrote a feature film in 1906 on Australia’s best known bushranger Ned Kelly. His brothers John and Nevin Tait acted as the producers and several members of the family had roles, including Charles’ wife Elizabeth Tait, who played Kate Kelly. The outdoor scenes were shot at Elizabeth’s parents acreage at Heidelberg, while the indoor views of Glenrowan Hotel were filmed from sets constructed in the grounds of the Tait residence. It is said ‘The Story of the Kelly Gang’ is the world’s first narrative feature film (this is debated), but without doubt it was Australia’s first.

The Tait family owned the Athenaeum Hall in Melbourne, a concert venue, which also ran film programs. Ned Kelly was projected on the big screen there after having had a popular run at country venues. Unlike the country edition, sound effects and a narration were added at the Atheneum. The film, which cost £1000 was extremely successful and was said to have returned at least £25,000 to its producers. They became part of ‘The Firm’ as owners of J C Williamson in 1920. Many celebrated artists toured Australia under the J. and N. Tait management.

One noted artist was Sir Harry Lauder, the Scottish comedian and singer, who had Canadian raconteur and harmonica player W V Robinson on his undercard. Of course Robbo used Crackajack mouth organs exclusively while touring with Harry.

This was the aha moment on many of the connections between Allan & Co (and their Crackajacks) with high profile artists. The Besses O’ The Barn Band, Harry Lauder, W V Robinson and also the mention of Paderewski in the Crackajack booklet. Ignacy Paderewski, a Polish virtuoso pianist and noted composer, had visited the historic music house in July 1904.

Jack’s mug first appears on the Crackajack Double (1907) and he features prominently in advertising through the 1920’s and 30’s.
F A Rauner Klingenthal (1864-1946)

In 1935 there were approximately twenty mouth organ bands in Melbourne of which each had twenty five members. Three of the members would play stringed instruments and one other on drums. The rest blew mouth organs and usually the Crackajack Concert Grand in the key of ‘G’, which sold for 4/6 at Allan’s (reported in The Age on Friday 25th July 1935) – a little cheaper than the advertised model above. The Concert Grand was an auto valve model with leather wind saving valves.

Harold Collier’s Crackajack Mouth Organ Orchestra paved the way for future bands by competing at the South Street Ballarat Competition in 1927. There was no Mouth Organ Band component then, so they entered in the Dance Orchestral Section open to dance orchestras of no more than ten players. Bands were required to perform a waltz, a trot and their own selection. The Crackajack Orchestra were unplaced, but they might have been up against it just playing the humble harp. Pictured here with their touring van and the spare tyre cover (maybe it’s the bass drum) displaying Jack’s image front and centre. Harold is standing second from left and band members are resplendent in matching jumpers. Harold was employed as Allan’s Crackajack Ambassador and in 1936 he would be crowned Australian mouth organ champion at the South Street Championships.

Harold was prominent in forming both youth and ladies mouth organ bands. The Melbourne Ladies Crackajack Mouth Organ Band were very successful winning many competitions and even challenging the men.

A dynamic new range of Crackajacks featuring F A Rauner’s attractive World Master cover plates remodelled for the Crackajack arrived in stores in 1926. In 1937 the first Crackajack chromatic harmonica was available – brilliantly marketed as the Crackamonic.

Crackajacks return in 1950 and continue through to 1952. Two models the Cadet and Tremolo. My belief is that one of the merger partners F A Bohm took over the trademark and production, however I have no conclusive evidence. The Cadet model pictured in the advertisement is quite different to pre war models.

Allan’s of Melbourne were only advertising the Cadet and Tremolo from 1950 through to 1952.

Allan’s of Rundle Street Adelaide were offering the Senior, Junior and Tivoli in 1952/53 – maybe excess stock. F A Bohm stopped producing harmonicas in the fifties and this may reflect the reason for Crackajacks disappearing off Allan’s shelves again.

It’s a Crackajack for me. If everyone had the opportunity to play a Crackajack the world would sure be a better place.

Ch EssDawg

PS: I suggest, if you haven’t already, you place Crackajack in the search box to read previous articles to supplement this reading. There’s more to come – one a week for this Crackajack month.

Just click on gallery pictures for a larger scrolled viewing.

Thanks to Doug Dawson, John Whiteman and Harland Crain for images of their Crackajacks (only a couple were from my collection). Also John for a few of the box labels and Pat Missin for a couple of TM’s.

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