On the Research Trail

An “arial view” of my autoharp research notebooks; as you can see, many are full.  And there’s more in my PC!

Help Me Find Autoharp Instruction Books!

[one_half][/one_half] [one_half_last]December, 3, 2018: Lately, I’ve been on the lookout for all kinds of materials, old and recent, relating to the history of the autoharp and autoharpING (meaning how it’s played).  “Old autoharp paper” didn’t mean to become an obsession but it became such beginning around April 2018 (see left; the oldest piece, bottom center, is a copy of a book published around 1888, and I’ve since received a photocopy–better than nothing!–of an 1885 book).[/one_half_last] 

On October 4, 2018, I also began to generate what is right now a 206-page autoharpING timeline comprising mostly quotes from about 85 instruction books published from 1885 to 2018, describing set-up, picks, techniques, just about anything relating to playing the autoharp.  There are more books that I don’t have that I’d like to account for in the timeline and hope to at least get a look at soon. 

To find out all I could about autoharpING (the subject of autoharps themselves is already well covered; no point re-inventing the wheel), I asked, for example, a few autoharping friends if they owned a particular title I was looking for.  All of them had thrown their copies of that title away!  Yikes!  I could have used one for reference, if only they (and I) had known sooner.

[two_third]So a fellow autoharp-instruction-book collector, Charles Levy, suggested in an email on September 7, 2018, “Why don’t you compile a list so people can see what you have and know what you’re looking for?”  Great idea!  Then: gulp!  How many books were in my stash, and how many more might I be looking for?  I didn’t know, but I trudged forward on Charles’ idea.   That was a good thing, because at that time, my “library stack” held about 25 titles.  As of Sept. 12, 2019, that number swelled to about 85; the photo at right offers an idea as to how serious this collection has become!  (Thank you, Charles!  I’d be swamped right now if I hadn’t followed through.)



Scroll down for “the rest of the story”![/two_third] [one_third_last]

Here is about 2/3 of my chronologically arranged autoharp-instruction-book collection (1947-present), complete with laser-cut guard flamingo (courtesy of Patricia Gilbert).  Under the pink origami rose are “bookmarks” I set in the stack to show where to return books I’m studying.  The more fragile books, magazines, autoharp sheet music and related materials before 1947 lay flat elsewhere, covered and in clear, acid-free envelopes.[/one_third_last]

In the meantime, and in a desperate move as a starving artist and now a starving Accidental AutoharpING Historian (a.k.a. AAH!), on November 27, 2018 I hired a professional researcher in the Washington, D.C. area to scan an out-of-print book that only the Library of Congress seems to have.  The researcher did a great job, but at a price tag of just over $100 for time, travel and the scan of a 36-page book (plus a hamburger for lunch?), I can’t afford to do that too many more times, even I did save over $1000 to fly to D.C. and scan it myself!  But I was hit again in December 2018: $48 went to the New York City Public Library for just nine pages I needed to complete a partial photocopy of an 1893 autoharp catalog.  All this to say that research is sometimes not cheap!  So, dear autoharpist, before you toss that book you no longer need into the circular file, or give it away, no matter how old or insignificant you think it might be...

Consider donating that book to the cause of autoharp research.*  Click here to see the Archives List (the first page explains how everything is arranged).  The List is updated periodically as more materials come in (the date at the end of the file title shows when it was last updated, as well as on page 1).  On the other hand, if you’ve got a really old book you prefer to keep that I don’t have, I’ll be happy with a scan or photocopy.

*Big, big thank yous to Jim Hill, Paul Ranney (over and over!), Eileen Roys, Charles Levy, Mike Fenton, Robin Anderson, June Fessenden, Nancy Hay, Louise and Ted McClure, Marc Tan Creti, Meg Peterson, Steve Braden, Richard Switzer, Midori Hall, Rick Meyers, Vicki Mann, Nan Bovingdon, Rene St. Aubin, Hilary Robinson, Lawana Beard, Wendy Meredith, Charles Snyder, Chuck Daniels, Dave Engels, Carole Outwater, Bill Bryant and Dean Guymon–so far!

My email address appears at the top of each page of the Archives List (take the spaces out and change “at” and “dot” to the usual characters to send your message) so that you can contact me sooner than later about what you have.

In the name of autoharp history, I thank you in advance for your help, which will help land the autoharp more squarely on the musical-instruments map and benefit autoharpists everywhere.        Lucille Reilly


Spine view of all of my research notebooks, including yet more contents in the two large envelopes at far left.