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.
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?