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These illustrations are taken from the German Æolian Tutor, published in 1830 by I. Willis and Co., who were importers and manufacturers of the instruments. The upper illustration shows just how stylish one can look whilst playing what is essentially just a reedplate; the lower illustration gives some idea of the range of different aeolians (also known as aeolinas) that were available: from the four reed version that merely sounded a simple major chord, to the Chromatic Pandean Aeolian with a one and a half octave range. The pandean aeolians were built on a comb much like a modern harmonica and the chromatic versions had keys that prevented the sharps and flats from sounding until they were pressed by the player.

The unnamed author of the booklet said that the instrument was first brought to the UK in 1827 by the Right Hon. Earl Stanhope and had its public debut at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, played by a Mr T. Cooke. The booklet lists no less than 32 different models of aeolian available from Willis & Co., with the cheapest ones starting as 2s/6d (12 1/2p in modern British currency). Although that does not not sound particularly expensive, that would be equivalent to approximately £80 (US$120) today.

The names aeolian and aeolina seem only to have been used in English-speaking countries. In Germany, they were given the name Mundharmonika, a term which had previously been used interchangeably with Maultrommel and Brummeisen to denote guimbardes. Sometimes the spelling Mundharmonica was used, as in this advertisement from the Leipziger Zeitung of March 1828:

Improved Mouth Harmonicas of Argentan.

I have these mouth harmonicas in 4, 6, 8, and 10 tones, which are tuned in pure harmony and are made in any key, together with pictorial representation and description of how to learn it, and some compositions in written music, by practicing which, you will soon play several pieces on it, and thus can entertain quite pleasantly. There are also 4-tones in different keys and notes, with which several can entertain at the same time, to be found at:

J. G. Wießner, Mechanicus and Opticus, Brühl No. 438.

Argentan is the copper-nickel alloy more commonly known as German silver. A copy of the "pictorial representation and description" mentioned in this ad is held at the Stadtgeschichtliches Museum, Leipzig.

The origin of these instruments is rather obscure. Several sources, including older editions of the highly respected Grove's Dictionary of Music and Musicians, credit Charles Wheatstone with their invention. Wheatstone himself described them as a German invention, although his company imported them and later manufactured them, before he turned his attention to his Symphonium and Concertina, both of these instruments being inspired by the aeolina.

An advertisement from The Harmonicon magazine from September 1829 hints at a Swiss origin:

Several German texts from the period identify the inventor as one Johann Tobias Eschenbach, of Hamburg, who is also credited with the invention of a keyboard instrument that used free reeds, which he called the Aelodion. Later texts often confuse him with Bernhardt Eschenbach, who invented a similar keyboard instrument variously called the Aeoline or Aeolodikon.

Regardless of who invented it, the aeolian rapidly inspired the development of both keyboard instruments, bellows driven instruments and, of course, the modern harmonica. According to Karl August Wolf in his 1837 book Geschichtliche Nachrichten über das Klingenthaler Kirchspiel, Johann Wilhelm Glier was making his way from Italy to St. Petersburg in 1829, when he stopped off at his family home in Klingenthal and showed his family the small aeolian that had been given to him by the Physikalischer Verein in Frankfurt. His brothers quickly saw the commercial potential for such a novelty and started manufacturing them, helping to establish Klingenthal as one of the major centres of harmonica production, a tradition still represented today by Seydel.

At around the same time, a weaver named Christian Messner obtained a Viennese-made aeolian and went into business making them himself, establishing his home town Trossingen as the other major centre of harmonica production, a tradition represented today by Hohner, who bought out Messner's company in the early 1900s.

A Brief History of Mouth Blown Free Reed Instruments
What Is A Free Reed?
Origins Of The Free Reed
Eastern Free Reed Instruments
A Selective Discography Of Asian Free Reed Instruments
Western Free Reed Instruments

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