Glass Harmonica

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Object Name: 
Glass Harmonica
Accession Number: 
Case W: 111.6 cm; Smallest Bowl Diam: 8.2 cm; Largest Bowl Diam: 24.6 cm
On Display
glass harmonica made 1818-1830
wooden case possibly made 1930-1939
Web Description: 
In 1762, Benjamin Franklin improved the process of making music by rubbing the moistened rims of glasses. He attached perfectly tuned glass bowls on a horizontal spindle, which was set in motion by the foot. This arrangement allowed a player to produce several tones at one time. The instrument, known as the glass harmonica, attracted the interest of several composers, including Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Richard Strauss. The tones, which resembled those produced by the violin and the flute, sounded almost celestial, and they were thought to make a considerable impact on those who heard them. After hearing a performance on the harmonica by the famous, blind Marianna Kirchgessner in Stuttgart in 1808, the composer J. R. Zumsteg died from a "vehement attack of cramp [sic] in the chest."* Shortly thereafter, Kirchgessner herself contracted a fever from which she did not recover. The Austrian physician Franz Anton Mesmer apparently played the instrument for his patients in Vienna. Concerns about the glass harmonica arose not only from listening to it, but also from playing it. From the late 1870s on, it was believed that the vibrations produced by rubbing the glasses could cause serious nerve damage. C. F. Pohl, grandfather of the probable maker of the instrument in the Corning collection, reported that playing the harmonica "was forbidden in several countries by the police."* The making of a glass harmonica was a very demanding task. The glass bowls had to be blown and cut to the right size and pitch, and they had to fit inside one another on the spindle. Benjamin Franklin himself probably supervised the production of only two such instruments. The most famous harmonica manufacturers were members of the Pohl family in Kreibitz (Chribská), Bohemia, who continued to produce the instruments from 1785 to 1945. * Charles Ferdinand Pohl, "Cursory Notices on the Origin and History of the Glass Harmonica," International Exhibition of 1862, London: Petter and Galpin, 1862.
Fritsch, Bernhard, Former Collection
Sturm, Virginia D., Former Collection
Sturm, Julius K., Former Collection
Primary Description: 
Colorless non-lead glass; blown, ground, reverse-painted and -gilded; assembled. Set of hemispherical bowls of descending size, with openings at their tops and with cork shims to permit their arrangement along a square iron shaft; the bells painted white or black on the interior, and with gilded bands at the rims; domed brass cap on the largest bell; a large circular iron wheel with five spokes on one end of the shaft, the other end with an iron disk attached near the rim to an iron strap, the strap attached at the other end to a foot treadle; the bells and rod mounted in a rectangular wooden case with angular back, curved sides, and tapered flat front, with pierced S-shaped holes in front; the edge of the wooden case near the bells inscribed in ink: "C / Cis / D. / Dis / E / F / Fis / G / Gis / A. / Ais / H / C. / Cis / D. / Dis / E / F / Fis / G / Gis / A / Hs / H / C / Cis / D. / Dis / E / F / Fis / G. / Gis / A / [H / His] / C / [Cis] / D / [Dis]"; flat board front and angled boards underneath; flat board ends with curved cutouts at the bottoms; two horizontal stretchers in back.
Corning Museum of Glass 2004-05-13 through 2004-10-17
Keyboard Instruments from the time of Mozart
Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art 2003-03-04 through 2003-06-24
The Glass Armonica (2013) illustrated, p. 258, fig. 45; BIB# 134840
Meet the Artist: Dennis James (2011) illustrated, p. 12; BIB# AI88811
Glass Harmonica (family) (2011)BIB# 131696
Jurors' Choice (New Glass Review 32) (2011) illustrated, p. 80, top; BIB# AI95693
Keyboard Instruments from the Time of Mozart (2003) illustrated, p. 5; BIB# 82886