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Political Mouthpiece

I’m sure some readers will glaze over when I write about harmonicas but this is interesting – so bear with me.

Recently I bought this Hohner Echo on Ebay for the princely sum of £16.

I was pretty pleased with it and after sterilising it I found it was in tune. Although Hohner still produce an almost identical model to this, there was a tell tale sign that this was not just a harmonica, but a bit of an antique.
I knew for certain that my purchase could not have been produced after 1937.

How come? Well in the 1937 Paris exhibition of “Art and Technology in Modern Life” Hohner had a trade stand. Unfortunately for them, it was positioned between the German (Nazi) government pavilion and the Soviet Russian pavilion.

Paris 1937. It should maybe have been the other way round but the German pavilion is on the left and the Soviet one is on the right.

With Hohner being a German company, they attracted much attention from the Nazi politicians and military men. They had many questions and examined the instruments in detail.

When they looked closely, they found something which is clearly visible in my Ebay purchase:

If you examine the Hohner trade mark, there are two hands holding a circle. Within that circle can clearly be seen a six pointed star resembling the star of David, an instantly recognisable sign of Judaism. It was decided that this would simply not do, and Hohner were forced to delete the star from their trade mark forthwith.

This was not Hohner’s only brush with politics. There are only a few basic designs of harmonica and every one produced is a variation on a theme. The most popular are the ten hole diatonic (used primarily for blues) the tremolo, used for folk melodies and the chromatic (the one with the push button) mainly for classical and jazz.

Variations on a theme have been harmonica manufacturers’ stock in trade for generations. They will produce many slightly different models in the hope of selling them to players and collectors. One such collector is mouthorganman alias Doug Dawson. Doug has a wonderful collection and he has shared them on Flickr. If you click on the link above you’ll see some of the weird and very wonderful items in his collection.

One of Doug’s items interested me greatly, but before I post the photo in question (with Doug’s kind permission), here is a photo of a box and instrument known as The Unsere Lieblinge (“Little Darlings”). It was marketed in the UK and USA as the Hohner Band.

This model has been produced since 1924 and is double sided (ie it is essentially two harmonicas). The “little darlings” are the instruments and they are symbolised by the girls depicted on the cover of the box. Over the years the hairstyles of the girls changed but in essence the marketing of this instrument didn’t change much.

Until the 1980s.

That was when Hohner, in a celebration of the end of the cold war, produced this version of the box:

Indeed, the “little darlings” were temporarily Gorbachev and Reagan!

Politics and harmonicas.

Who’d have thought it?


6 Responses

  1. There is a definite wind theme emerging on this site. Where can it go next?

  2. Interesting story. In my research I found that the number of points on the star on a Hohner harmonica had to do with the number of children in the Hohner family. I have stars with up to eight points. Where did you come up with the info. regarding the 1937 Exhibition? I have a few harmonicas that were assembled after WWII that used old cover plates with the star. There was probably a warehouse full of them just waiting for the war to end. Hohner assembled harmonicas in England during the war (even though the parts were made in Germany) to avoid losing their international customers. Although these harmonicas say “Made in England” all the parts were made in Germany.

  3. Doug, I have done some more checking. The only other harmonica I ever owned which to my knowledge had the star symbol had been in my family since pre WW2 times.

    The Echo above, if you look at the detailed photo of the star emblem, does however carry the medallion mark of the Paris Exhibition and the date 1937. It may be that the Paris Exhibition was planned years in advance and that instruments produced in the run up to it carried the medallion.

    The final link above refers to the six pointed star being used only between 1930 and 1938 but of course you have evidence that old plates were used after this date.

    Whether my harmonica itself is pre war, it would seem that the cover plates almost certainly are.

    However if any passing reader has another point of view I’d be glad to hear it.

  4. This is cool! You bought a very interesting antique for a good price,I think!
    My friend Holly Harmon plays harp and I will share this with her.When you come to visit-someday,you can jam with her! Well,why not,huh?

  5. There does seem to be an enigma here, I have two Hohner harmonica’s, one, a Hohner “band” and one the “ensere lieblinge”. Both have the Paris medal for 1937 yet also have the six pointed star (Honer used this from 1926 when it took over Wiese harmonica’s, it was their trade mark). This seems a contradiction because the medal would indicate made AFTER 1937, yet the star was banned by the Nazi’s IN 1937. It seems probable that they might have been produced for the exhibition itself? Before they were banned.
    I have to say that they are fun to play as the top and bottom rows are one octave apart, you can buy them for not much money on ebay, worth a try!

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