Glass Harp

This instrument has been called by different names:
  • glass harp
  • musical glasses
  • grand harmonicon
  • verillon
This instrument is the pre-desessor of Benjamin Franklin's glass armonica
(sometimes called by mistake 'glass harmonica').

These glasses are sometimes reffered to as 'dry glasses' - each glass is ground at the
bottom for tuning and therefore there is no need to fill the glasses with water.

This instrument comes in different sizes. Mine, pictured above, has 25 chromatic glasses, from C to
C 2 octaves above.

The wood case holding the glasses is 41" by 22"
The largest glass has a diameter of 5.25"
The smallest glass has a diameter of 2.5"
The height of the glasses and their thickness are all the same throughout the set

The glasses are arranged in a "reverse" keyboard order: the sharps /flats are below the naturals,
whereas with the piano, they are above the naturals.

All have the bottom foot of the stemware ground into a triangle, with three ground edges separated
by unground arcs between. This is so the feet can be inserted into little wooden pieces on the
stretcher, formed in a right-angle V shape. On the third side (the rear) there is a wooden chock
held at one end with a screw into the stretcher. That piece is L-shaped, like an L fallen over to
its right. The thickest part of the base of the L is where the screw goes through, and thus sits on
the wooden platform below. The thinner part is made thus to extend up and over the foot of the glass.
The piece pivots over the glass foot at right angles to that third side, holding the glass in place.

I always keep in the case for playing times, a small plastic cup (a glass or china one might hit and
break one of the note glasses) with water in it. The previous owner also kept a piece of rough
wallboard insulation material about 3"x5". The purpose is to help the player clean his or her fingertips
of natural oil, grease and soil, as one's fingers must be totally clean to produce the required friction
with the glass. It helps the finger to slid on the rim if it is wet.

I got these glasses in Virginia. The previous owner purchased them 40 years ago, in the mid-1960's in
San Francisco from what was then one of the finest antique shops there.
For a portion of this time (1971-1977) these glasses were exhibited in the 'Yesteryear' museum in NJ,
as he was the director there. At the museum this set was featured directly below Benjamin Franklin's
"John Paul Jones/Bonhomme Richard" (Texel, or Serapis) flag on the wall behind.
Tours at themuseum were treated to a solo on the glasses, either by the director or his associates,
nationally-known music box and bell collectors George and Madeleine Brown.
In honor of Franklin they usually played the song known as "All Through the Night", which is a Traditional
Welsh melody. (Benjamin Franklin I understand was at least partially of Welsh attraction, as were the
directors of the museum). The words most known were written by Sir Harold Boulton in 1884.

Since its discovery, scientists and musicians alike have been fascinated by the tonal and light transmitting qualities of glass. They realized that different densities of glass produce different vibrations and tones. As early as 1492, scientists used the vibrations emitted from glass bowls to test the theories of Pythagoras.
Musicians, too, seized the opportunity to tune glass and invented various instruments using tuned glass bowls. Over the years, inventors such as Ben Franklin and composers such as Mozart were fascinated by the glass harp and contributed to its refinement and popularization.

To begin with, glasses were filled with water to different levels to obtain the different pitches. That
is quite a nuisence, especially when water evaporates so one has to keep refilling the glasses, and even
more so when travelling to perform - one has to constantly retune the instrument!
Musical glasses were popularized in England in the 1740s through performances given by Irishman Richard
Puckeridge, and by the famed opera composer Christolph Willibald Gluck. Both Puckeridge and Gluck tuned
their glasses by partially filling them with water.

Grand Harmonicons were accompanied by instruction books containing specially scored music for popular
Scottish, Irish, English secular tunes, hymns, and even a portion of the Mozart Requiem. One popular tune
entitled "French Air" is today better known as "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star".

Francis Hopkinson of Baltimore, Maryland manufactured galss harps back in the early 1800's. Approximately
30 of his pieces have survived.

Who were the glass harp players of yore?
Well, it appears W.C. Fields did...

The lost double-act:
W.C. Fields and Chester Conklin
in 'Two Flaming Youths'.

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