The Italian Job

Picked up this harp and box for a starting bid of a fiver. Well, I thought I did. Three times he apologised and said it would be in the next post – never did see it in the flesh. An Australian Job! I knew they weren’t a perfect match, but I was still interested in both – the Silvertone box because we referred to a Sears and Roebuck Silvertone in the last review blog and the Claravox harmonica as this was one of the first mouth organs back in Australian stores after WWII. The Wollongong Argus reported on Thurday 27 November 1947 that, “A 12 year old schoolboy of Wollongong saw a mouth organ for the first time last week. Mouth organs have been off the counters since 1940. However, due to the enterprise of H Box….a stock of Italian harmonicas have arrived.”

In late November of 1947 Clemens Music Store in Little Collins Street, Melbourne had the Claravox 20 reed model on sale for an outrageous 8/9.

“None of the other kids has one!”

The Sydney Sun (22 February 1948) suggested playing a mouth organ had become a lost art of Sydney schoolboys due to the absence of German mouth organs since early in the war. A limited supply of cheap Italian models had just become available priced at 8/- (before the war they were 2/-). George Price was pleased as punch to have one as other kids didn’t. The newspaper provided a few free mouth organs to his school that day. The Brisbane Telegraph (29 May, 1948) had a harsh spin on the return of mouth organs of the Italian variety, suggesting the sale of ear stoppers and cotton wool may soar within the next few weeks. They also stated, “Youth, who have never learnt to play because of past shortages are spending up to £3 on the new mouth organs.” Now that’s a wee bit exorbitant!

The Claravox was made by Jospre – I couldn’t locate anything on them, so I fired off an email to Guru Pat (Missin), “The only music-related Jospre that I’ve been able to find is a (presumably small and/or short-lived) French woodwind manufacturer from the 1960s – don’t know if they were around either earlier or later than that. It’s possible that they might have had some harmonicas made for them by another company and been obliged to stamp ‘Made in Italy’ on them.” I checked in with International collector John Whiteman regards Jospre and he replied, The Claravox harmonica of which I have 2, is a 10-hole diatonic, made in Italy by Jospre, which I would guess is a contraction of Joseph pre-something or other with ‘pre’ probably pronounced ‘pray’.”

JTL sold harmonicas stamped Made in Italy and their trademark is quite similar to the graphic on the Claravox. Is this a coincidence? The lyre does have one less string. I believe JTL is Jerome Thibouville-Lamy of Mirecourt, France, who primarily manufactured violins. The company also had an Italian connection making mechanical organs and organettes early in the twentieth century under license with the Gavioli company. World collectors believe the Broadcaster, Astro and Concord are JTL harmonicas made in Italy.

Concord (JTL?) my other (only) Italian harp.

Pat suggested the explanation for a French company stamping Made in Italy was pretty obvious, “Presumably, that would be because they were made for them in Italy, instead of made by them in France. If this J.T.L. is Jerome Thibouville-Lamy, then they seem to have been primarily stringed instrument makers, so they may not have been kitted out to make harmonicas. It’s also possible that their initial forays in this direction were for tuning pipes for violins, etc., with them later deciding to add harmonicas to their range. Maybe. It also seems plausible that there was some connection between JTL and Jospre, but this is a whole lot of maybe, with not a lot of definitely.”

Trademarked Registered May 27, 1952

As for the Silvertone manufacturer, I thought I might have cracked it when I discovered that Scandelli of Castelfidardo, Italy makers of fine accordions had a Silvertone model. I sought guru Pat’s assistance once again and he blew that one quickly out of the water as the Scandelli Silvertone accordion had the same cursive script as the Sears & Roebuck trademark. Not like the box I had purchased. Here’s Pat’s final take, “It’s weird that Italy has such a long tradition of accordions and reed organs, but not much in the way of harmonica production, with what little there was being mostly undocumented.” I also contacted John who responded, “Hi Shep, The only Silvertone harmonica about which I know is the one made for Sears by Harmonic Reed Corp. The Italian one who made the box rings nothing for me.” The Harmonic Reed Corporation were based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Zaffiro & Astro Italian models available in 1948 from Nicholson’s for 17/3.

Other Italian models available ‘Down Under’ after WWII were: London Pride, Guilodori, Diamenti, Mondial, Canto Per Te, Broadcaster and Italian Band and perhaps these four tremolos that J Stanley Johnston of Sydney had for sale in 1949; Van Dyke, Voltone, Tecktone and Cadenza. There may have been many more.

Here’s a blast from the past – the Hoodoo Gurus. I remember in the early eighties learning how to play I Want You Back on rhythm guitar. This song featured on their 1984 debut album ‘Stoneage Romeos’. Well they’re back (not sure they were ever gone) with a new album. I’d like to highlight one number off their latest 40th anniversary and tenth studio album ‘Chariots Of The Gods’, but I can’t. Sorry, just gaggin’. It’s a cover of Bob Dylan’s Obviously Five Believers from his 1962 album ‘Blonde On Blonde’. Just a word of warning, this is only on the vinyl and is not available on CD or to stream. Bob’s original recording had Charlie McCoy blowin’ a bit of blues harp. The Hoodoo’s version has guitarist Brad Shepherd playing the harmonica on a tasty rendition of the original. We first heard Brad playing the gob iron on Poison Pen from the ‘Mars Needs Guitars’ album. I quite like the new album as a few of their numbers get back to their original sound. Tunes like World Of Pain and the title track aren’t too shabby. There’s no Hooroo from the Gurus yet.

UNCLE

Often the blog can throw up a surprise now and then and A Man Called Uncle (published on 9th January, 2019) did so when it went gangbusters on the 19th March 2022. It ‘lit up like a firecracker’ and had as many hits in one day as it had for three years. You just never know when someone will pick up on an article and pass it on. Hey, while you’re here, tell all your friends.

Play Hell With A Mouth Organ.

A couple of new pugilistic tales that would fit quite nicely in my article Harpin’ Ringside. Australian Welterweight Champion Wally Hancock can be added to the article as he was more than handy on the old ‘snort organ’. The Sydney Sportsman outlines his capabilities below.

Also reported in the New Call (Perth), 21st July, 1932 “Wally was a heavy puncher….he depends a good deal on road work, likes tennis and golf, doesn’t drink or smoke, but can play hell with a mouth organ.”

Wally was born in Liverpool on the 23 July 1906. He then emigrated to Sydney Australia and won the National Welterweight Title in 1930. He was 5’ 8”, had a reach of 69” and weighed 10s 8lbs. Contests 124; Won 58, K.O. 31, Lost 25. Wally passed away in Australia in 1980 aged 73.

Over on the Ranch (Stadium)

The other tale was of Bill Ranch. He was promoted as ‘Australia’s Champion Mouth Organ Player’ on the fight card at Brisbane’s Stadium (20th January 1926) of the Roy Baker (Brisbane) and Charlie King (Ipswich) twelve rounder. He played a selection of tunes before the main bout in which Roy Baker the Flyweight Champion of Queensland easily accounted for Charlie King.

How the title ‘Australian Mouth Organ Champion’ could be attributed to him is anyone’s guess. There’s no mention anywhere in the archives of Bill obtaining any title of a mouth organ variety. He’s not mentioned in any of the The Boomerang National Championships held at South Street, Ballarat. In the inaugural 1925 championship Percival Spouse was the victor and the following year Stan Andrews was crowned. Bill is not named in any of the place getters for either year nor, for that matter, any year.

Bloodhound (& Royboy)

If you missed this month’s feature here is a quick link back Football Notes. There is a little audio clip attached – so make sure you read right through and press play.

Thanks everyone for the positive feedback.

Voice of the Dandenongs

Late breaking news! I’ve decided to retire my Huff’n’Puff segment on 3MDR. I like to wind up my shows when they reach the heady heights of mediocrity. We’ll stay in contact with the odd (being the operative word) phoner on all the latest harmonica news. This is the Ol Shep Dawg Hisself signing off with “May your life’s breath be your life’s music.”

Some kids got time for Playtime

Anytime is Playtime.

Came across this advertisement from Melbourne’s Weekly Times dated 27 June 1925 for Albert’s Miniature De Luxe Boomerang (made by Seydel). Thought you might appreciate it as I haven’t found many newspaper advertisements that have an illustration of the famous boomerang shaped mouth organ. They’re as scarce as hen’s teeth.

Cheers

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