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About This Object

If you stroke the edge of a drinking glass with the fingertips you will hear a faint musical note. Concerts on sets of wine glasses, played in this way and filled with water to tune them to different notes, were given in Britain from the 1740s. The armonica is a mechanised version of these ‘musical glasses’. It was invented in 1761 by Benjamin Franklin, who was inspired to do so after hearing a concert for the musical glasses while on a visit to Britain earlier that year (the trough of water beneath the bowls to wet them was a later invention). The armonica remained popular, especially in Germany and Austria, until long after the turn of the 19th century, although it was sometimes harmful to the performer’s mental health. It was also heard during healing sessions of the ‘mesmerising’ physician, Franz Anton Mesmer. Hadyn, Mozart, Beethoven and many of their respective contemporaries composed music for the instrument.

See full details Description

Armonica (‘glass harmonica’). This glass musical instrument, or crystallophone, consists of thirty-three glass bowls of graduated sizes, mounted concentrically on an axle. They form a row of bells that are not struck, but played by friction. The bottom of the mahogany-veneered case is lined to hold water, wetting the bowls turning on the axle, which is operated by the treadle mechanism on the left. The wet, rotating glasses play a chromatic scale of two octaves and eight notes from F-sharp3 to D6 (f-sharp to d''') when stroked with the fingers. The glasses with gold-edged rims sound the accidentals, while the plain bowls sound the natural notes. The treadle and crank drive are stamped 'Hof Schlosser Böhme in Karlsruhe'.


glass armonica; crystallophone
Musical Instruments

2 items (description level: top)

Broad category
Musical Instruments, Idiophone
Additional names, titles, or classifications
catalogue name:  glass armonica; crystallophone
object name (Horniman Ethno.):  armonica
object name (Horniman Ethno.):  crystallophone
catalogue title:  133.2
classified as:  133.2

Additional maker information
maker:  Böhm, F. A.
maker:  Böhme
Karlsruhe, Germany, Western Europe; Europe
Additional place information
made:  Karlsruhe 
Date made
circa 1780
Additional date information
date made:  circa 1780 

Materials & techniques
wood; glass; copper alloy; iron; rubber; paper; paint
Additional material & technique information
material: wood (overall)
material: copper alloy (overall)
material: iron (overall)
material: glass (overall)
material: rubber (overall)
material: paint (overall)
material: paper (overall)
overall: 936 mm x 1158 mm x 380 mm
Additional measurement information
overall: 936 mm x 1158 mm x 380 mm

vendor:  Morley, J. George  Undefined - 1955-12-14

The bottom of the case is lined to hold water that wets the glass bowls as they rotate on the axle operated by the foot pedal. The wet glasses are stroked with the fingertips.

Related subjects
object name (Horniman Ethno.): armonicas
object name (Horniman Ethno.): crystallophones
object name: musical glasses
material: wood
material: glass
material: copper alloy
material: iron
material: rubber
material: paper
material: paint
classified as: 133.2 Sets of friction vessels

Record created 2011-05-12 by NCROWE
Record last updated 2017-04-03 by JWHITSONCLOUD

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