“Wherever you be let your wind be free” (Paddy Sheppard)
One of Grandfather’s favourite sayings. He was a seaman, but I think he was referencing a gastro intestinal condition. The Hohner Auto Valve Harp was not in the business of letting it go, but rather in saving it by the use of leather valves. I recently received a couple of photos of an Auto Valve model 100/40 (model number followed by how many reeds) that radio listeners Aly and Rampaging Ross from Upwey had in their possession (I believe it was Aly’s Grandfather), which had me pondering on what these harps were all about. I had a beaten and bruised 105/20 in my collection with star, but no blue box. The Auto Valves had strangely been promoted in Australia by Hohner in the 1930’s as an Aussie mouth organ yet they had been on offer worldwide since 1903.
The Auto Valve is so named because of the leather strips (flaps) that act as valves automatically closing its neighbouring reed so there’s no leakage of air and thus are referred to as windsavers. The registration dates from 1902 and the US trademark for the Auto-Valve was from 1903 and in it, they claimed to have been using the name since December 15th 1902. Pat Missin assisted in identifying these trademarks and he added, “The inventor of these valves is Alfred Vischer of New York. Hohner had several patents from Americans, but usually they were in the employ of Hohner US – which was always somewhat separate from the rest of the Hohner empire. However, there’s no evidence that Vischer was an employee. Vischer and Hohner US were neighbours around this time – Vischer’s company was at 661 Broadway and Hohner were at 475 Broadway. Aside from that DRGM, I’ve not seen anything else that ties them. The 1902 US TM was for ‘Auto-Valve’, while the later 1936 registration DRWZ 451576 is for ‘Auto-Valve-Harp’.” Pictured above is just the graphic associated with this 1936 registration.
DRGM stands for Deutsches Reiches Gebrauchs Musterschutz which means protected patented design under the Reich Government. DRWZ – stands for Deutsches Reichswarenzeichen, meaning that an item marked as such was officially registered under trademark laws inside all of the Germany states.
I did locate a patent associated with Alfred that does resemble the Hohnerphone.
Pat’s take was, “I’ve never been certain whether that was what became the Hohnerphone. The patents diagrams certainly look like it, but I’ve never found anything that definitively links them. Herr Hohner himself had a US patent issued at almost the same time and his looks more like the Hohner Echophone.”
The Auto Valve is a Knittlinger constructed harp. The inventor Friedrich Hotz of Knittlingen, Germany, who had a close association with Hohner and would later be bought out by them in 1906.
The Knittlinger built harp has a pair of reed plates with both blow and draw reeds on each plate unlike your regular ten hole tin can that has just blow reeds on one plate (top) and draw reeds on the other (bottom) – a Richter constructed harp. The plates are mounted on a divided comb of twenty rectangular holes with both a blow and draw reed in each cell. The bottom reed plate would be tuned an octave lower than the upper plate.
The model #100 seems to have been the first model produced, as shown in the 1903 advertisement. In a 1923 catalogue the model #6462 appears alongside the 100/40 model.
The art of investigating antique or vintage harps is fraught with conflicting information and even more so here as there were quite a few terms bounced around in the advertising of the various Auto Valve models. Concert size, concert tuning, octave size, octave tuning, Knittlinger construction and Richter tuning. I would need more help to wade through this confusing nomenclature and Guru Pat came to the rescue once again.
“Concert Size” means a larger divided comb, but still only 20 reeds. “Concert tuning” is usually used to mean the same as Knittlinger Octave. It’s as much the construction style as it is the tuning. Strictly speaking, “Richter System” refers to the construction of the instrument, not its tuning. Richter, Knittlinger and Wiener harmonicas all use pretty much the same arrangement of notes, but with a different construction style with regard to combs and reedplates. I’ve often wondered when people started referring to that arrangement of notes as “Richter tuning”, which is now the way it is most commonly used. As for “Octave Size” that’s another story in a 1930s Hohner catalog I see those same terms used to describe the 6462 and the 105 are said to be “octave tuning and concert size”, but their stated sizes are 4″ and 4 5/8″. The 100 is said to be “octave tuning and octave size”, with its size being 4 5/16″, which places it right between the two previous sizes that were both called “concert size”. I did warn you that these terms get used very loosely!”
In this advertisement from The Talkeries Sydney catalogue (which is proving quite difficult to date) many of the Auto Valves are explained, however the descriptions given don’t diminish the confusion. In layman’s terms then, the Auto Valve Vamper (Model #109) was a standard ten hole diatonic with no valves housed in a red box. See more on this oxymoron named harp in the previous published Hohner’s Hollandia (Nova) Harp. The blue box model was the 105/20. It had the same reed plates as the Vamper, but with valves and a divided comb. Another red box model was the 100/40. It was an octave tuned model similar to the most well known version of the Auto Valve Harp (the 105/40 in a purple box), but instead with covers that wrapped around the ends of the comb. The brown box model was the 106/40 (Super Brass Band), which was double octave tuned – the bottom reed plate was two octaves below.
Thinking about my beaten up 105/20, for the life of me I cannot see the benefits of using this instead of a standard diatonic when it’s essentially the same except for the divided comb (and valves). Pat explains, “No harps really need windsavers, but they do reduce the amount of lung power required. It’s more noticeable in those harps with more reeds, but it does have an effect on single reed instruments. It also changes how the harp works, eliminating normal blues-style bends and allowing other types of bending, but that’s not really what it was designed to do, as note bending was not really encouraged back then.”
In 1936 a new forty eight reed model (one with a few additional higher notes perhaps) is on sale at Nicholson’s in Sydney.
As for the Auto Valve Junior – ten reeds has to be a typo. When Pat looked at the pricing, he noticed how the price of the Junior is slightly higher than the Second To None. Pat concluded that, “I would expect a harp with half as many reeds to be significantly lower in price. That said, I’ve never had my hands on one, so…” I followed up with John Whiteman prominent world collector who assured me that this is a misprint, “The 10-reed Junior Autovalve you show is a misprint or more accurately stated, a mis-think. The one in the ad is a piccolo vamper; that is, a 4″ 20-reed 10-hole diatonic.”
Harmonica bands were prolific in the thirties and Hohner’s Auto Valves were popular with bandmasters. It is the author’s belief sales here in Australia outstripped other countries. The States had their Marine Band Concert and I don’t believe the Auto Valve was big in the UK (not sure it was even available). Hence Hohner advertising the Auto Valves as an Australian brand in this decade made some sense – you know it did.
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