The concertina belongs to a class of instruments known as Free Reed instruments, which also includes accordions and harmonicas. It was developed in 1829 by Sir Charles Wheatstone, after several years of building prototypes, but he did not get round to patenting the concertina under that name until 1844. The already-existing family musical instrument firm of Wheatstone & Co switched over to manufacturing concertinas, each one expensively hand-made by highly skilled craftsmen. So at first the concertina was very much an instrument of the middle and upper class drawing room. Its fully chromatic range was suited to classical pieces, with its fast action lending it to party pieces such as The Flight of the Bumble Bee. In due course other firms such as Lachenal and Jeffries were founded (several by ex-Wheatstone employees), the cost of concertinas lowered and the instrument moved out of the drawing room and into the world of popular music.
It became popular with music hall performers and the Salvation Army liked it for its portability and strident tone. Concertina bands were formed, playing marches and other popular pieces and it became a favourite of traditional musicians throughout the British Isles. But in the 20th Century the instrument gradually fell out of favour and one by one the makers closed or went out of business.
What saved the instrument from gradually dwindling away into obscurity was the Folk Revival from the 1960s onward. Performers looking for a different sound from the ubiquitous guitar were drawn to the concertina for all its old virtues of versatility and flexibility combined with portability. In addition the concertina permitted song accompaniments that were free of the rhythmic straitjacket that the guitar in unskilled hands tends to impose upon everything. People started making concertinas again, many of a quality to equal anything made by the old companies.
My primary instrument is a Lachenal Edeophone with raised metal ends. It was made in London in about 1920 and it was the top-of-the-range instrument produced by Lachenal & Co. Whereas most concertinas have 48 buttons and a 3.5 octave range, this particular instrument has 64 buttons and 4.5 octaves. This means that it is an extended treble but with the extension being with higher notes, rather than the more useful lower range. However, if the extra 16 buttons had been in the baritone range it would have meant a very much larger and heavier instrument, which I could not so easily be used to play while standing. Having said that, it has a beautiful sweet tone and, when playing with a group of instruments, it can be heard because of its clear sound, almost like a whistle being heard above much more powerful instruments. And its clear tone is also evident when it is played quietly, a mark of a quality instrument. As you can gather, I love my Edeophone!
Unlike my Edeophone, my Wheatstone Baritone has a very soft tone. It has wooden ends and it was made in about 1903. Quite simply, in range it is a whole octave below that of my Edeophone. Hence, it is not well suited to play for morris dancing or in music sessions. When its very distinctive tone comes into its own is when I use it to accompany myself singing. When I have used it to play chords, I have been told that its deep gentle tone sounds rather like a harmonium.