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Researching Collectibles: Pearl Queen Stickpin

by Harry Rinker (04/27/11).

In conversations with serious collectors, I often hear the phrase: “It speaks to me.”

Inanimate objects have voices, something difficult to understand by those who do not collect. All objects have a voice, the stories they can tell. If collectors or anyone want to hear the voice, all they have to do is research the object. Once the voice is discovered, it never stops talking.

On Sunday, March 27, Linda and I visited the 2011 Barry Expo Center Antique Show, managed by Larry Wood and held at the Barry Expo Center located on M-37 between Middleville and Hastings, Mich. We wanted a diversion from the unpacking chores associated with our move from Brookfield, Conn., to Kentwood, Mich.. The 60-dealer show was my first experience with the Midwest show circuit since our move. A day earlier we had visited the Blue Star Antique Pavilion in Douglas. It felt good to be back in the field.

Notice I did not write “back in the hunt,” because the move and coping with the antiques and collectibles I left behind have seriously impeded my desire to acquire more. On the other hand, Linda remains seriously afflicted with the acquisition bug. She cannot leave an antiques mall or show without buying something, usually several things.

We spent more than an hour walking the show. “Look at this,” Linda kept saying. “Come over here. There is something I want you to look at for me.” I felt like Scrooge when I kept telling her to pass.

While tempted by several items, I found myself constantly asking: “What am I going to do with it?” This question is a curse. No collector should ever have to face it.

I hunt more for things to add to Linda’s collections than I do my own. Linda has an extensive collection of Victorian and early 20th-century stickpins, consisting of several dozen subcategories, among which is advertising stickpins.

As I rounded one of the aisles, I noticed several stickpins in a larger Riker mount on the table of a dealer’s booth. A brightly gilded pin featured an oval with what appeared to be an accordion in relief with “PEARL QUEEN” above. The asking price was $15. “What a fun piece,” I thought, as I walked away to think more about it. When I reached the end of the aisle, I backtracked and caught up with Linda.

“Come with me. There is something I want to show you.” Her reaction to the stickpin was lukewarm, much as I suspected it would be. It was just another stickpin to her.

“I think you should buy it.”

“I’ll pass,” she replied after examining it.

“No, no, you should add it to your collection.”

“I still think I’ll pass.”

“Okay, I’ll buy it for you.” Although $15 was more than a fair price, I counter-offered with $12. The dealer accepted.

I understood Linda’s reluctance. But, the stickpin spoke to me. I was anxious to see if I could make it speak to her as well.

Shortly after we returned home, I booted up my computer and did a Google search for “Pearl Organ.” This is an age of instant gratification. A wealth of information appeared on my computer’s screen. If only all research was this easy.

The Pearl Queen was not an accordion. It was a concertina. Using a loupe to examine the image on the stickpin more closely, I confirmed it was a concertina.

A concertina is a free-reed instrument consisting of two ends featuring buttons separated by bellows. It differs from the accordion in two ways. First, when the bellows are squeezed, the buttons travel in the same direction. An accordion’s buttons travel perpendicularly. Second, each button of a concertina produces one note. Accordion buttons typically produce chords.

Musical instrument makers in England, Germany and France were developing a wide variety of free-reed instruments in the early 19th century. Hotz in Khittlingen, Germany, made harmonicas in 1825, followed by Messner in Trossingen, Wurtemburg, in 1827. In 1832, Carl Zimmerman of Carlsefeld, Saxony, manufactured a concertina with 10 buttons on each side. In 1835, Carl F. Uhlig, a button-accordion musician living in Chemnitz, refined the concertina by putting the buttons into a small hexagonal box. Eventually he added a second row, thus creating two keys—C and G. Continuing improvements were made as Uhlig’s concertinas were mass-produced.

In 1844, Charles Wheatstone, an Englishman, received a patent for a concertina that used a duet keyboard system, had the ability to tune the reeds, and played the same note (flip values) whether the bellows were pressed or drawn. Wheatstone apparently was unaware of Uhlig’s advances. As a result, the concertina followed two distinct lines of development.

Heinrich Band, another German, developed a “Band-Union” (bandoneon) concertina in 1846. Eight years later, Uhlig chaired a meeting of 11 German concertina manufacturers in Chemnitz in hopes of standardizing the keyboard and music notation. The effort failed. The bandoneon arrangement became popular it Germany, while the chemnitzer version was imported to the United States.

Following the Civil War, the concertina gained widespread popularity and was used in bands, churches, minstrel shows and by the Salvation Army. The instrument is featured prominently in mail-order catalogs, such as those of Montgomery Ward.

In 1880, Otto Georgi emigrated from Chemnitz to Chicago. He organized the Chicago Concertina Club in 1890. Chicago became a manufacturing center for concertinas. Otto Georgi and Friedrich Emil Lange, who assumed leadership of the Lange Concertina Company from his father, Friedrich Anton Lange, exhibited chemnitzer concertinas at the 1893 Columbian Exposition.

In 1902 Otto Georgi and Louis Vitak created a company to sell concertinas and concertina sheet music. Otto Schlicht produced a chemnitzer concertina for Georgi & Vitak under the Pearl Queen brand name. Georgi and Vitak dissolved their partnership in 1925.

I used two websites—concertina.com and concertinamusic.com, to garner this information. Concertina.com is an archival site with a “Concertina Library: Digital Reference Collection for Concertinas” headline. Concertinamuic.com is the website of the United States Concertina Association.

The Pearl Queen stickpin most likely dates between 1905 and 1915. The stickpin’s popularity began to wane after World War I.

The Pearl Queen was a handsome instrument. The case variety is astonishing. Even more astonishing was the secondary market value for examples in restored, playable condition. Values in the high hundreds, low thousands were common.

Linda and I live in the heart of concertina country—Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin. It is highly likely that we will attend a concertina concert in the near future. Meanwhile, I have sent off a flurry of e-mails to local clubs and the U.S. Concertina Association, trying to locate a concertina collector for a guest appearance on WHATCHA GOT?, my antiques and collectibles call-in radio show.

I shared my findings with Linda. The Pearl Queen stickpin now speaks to her. It is no longer an inanimate object. When Linda wears it and someone asks, “What is that?” Linda is armed with a wealth of stories.

Learning as a lifelong experience is a hot-button topic in educational circles. Collectors have been aware of this for decades. We love to learn. Each new object encountered is another learning opportunity. It keeps us alive.

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Rinker Enterprises and Harry L. Rinker are on the Internet. Check out Harry’s Web site..

You can listen and participate in Harry’s antiques-and-collectibles radio call-in show “Whatcha Got?” on Sunday mornings between 8 a.m. and 10 a.m. Eastern Time. It streams live on the Genesis Communications Network.

“Sell, Keep Or Toss? How To Downsize A Home, Settle An Estate, And Appraise Personal Property” (House of Collectibles, an imprint of the Random House Information Group), Harry’s latest book, is available at your favorite bookstore and via Harry’s Web site..

Harry L. Rinker welcomes questions from readers about collectibles, those mass-produced items from the 20th century. Selected queries will be answered on this site. Harry cannot provide personal answers. Send your questions to: Rinker on Collectibles, 5955 Mill Pond Court SE, Kentwood, MI 49512. You can e-mail your questions to harrylrinker@aol.com. Only e-mails containing a full name and mailing address will be considered. Please indicate that these are questions for WorthPoint.

Copyright © Rinker Enterprises, Inc. 2011

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