[Harp-L] Sonny Terry Estate Harmonicas
Sat Jul 9 11:50:19 EDT 2016
John Kally wrote:
I notice that all of the posted Sonny Terry estate harmonicas have sold.
Just as well, as far as I?m concerned as I couldn?t see myself buying one
although the temptation was there. But I think Tom Halcha's handling of
this sale sets a gold standard for how this kind of sale should be
conducted and it?s worth seeing how the information was posted at his site.
I have many fond memories of seeing Sonny and Brownie together back in the
70s when they seemed to be touring constantly.
Thanks for your kind words. Indeed, all of the estate harmonica I have
listed this far have sold, plus a few more as the result of email
exchanges. I will be listing some more on my website over the weekend.
I've been working on this project for months. It is all uncharted
territory. I don't know of anything else quite like this that has ever
been done so it took a lot of thought and planning to figure things out.
When all is said and done, you have to make your best guess and go with
it. I am very pleased with the resposne thus far. To use a worn out
cliche, it is a once in a lifetime opportunity - for me as an Agent of the
Estate and for harmonica enthusiasts who want to own a piece of history.
We have all seen lots of things sold as collectables and Sonny's harmonicas
are not that different except it takes something of an educated palate to
appreciate their importance.
Just in case you are interested I would like to share some of my
observations about the estate harmonicas. I actually didn't pay that much
attention to the actual harmonicas up until the time I started taking
pictures and writing up descriptions, Toward the end of last year, the
estate paid Adam Gussow to "appraise" the harmonicas. Adam sat down for 10
hours over a period of two days and played about 150 harps which had been
sent to him. He made notes about each individual harp and gave each a
"rating". The rating was based mostly on how well the harps played.
Ironically, one of the primary reasons that Adam referred me to Delores
Boyd, the Manager of Sonny Terry Estate LLC, is because of my experience
with restoring vinatage harps. I guess his thinking was that I could some
minimally invasive surgery on these harps and make them play better. In
once of my first conversations with Delores I politely informed her that
even though it is true that I can and do restore vintage harps, that is the
last thing I would do to these harps. I feel very strongly that restoring
these harps would reduce the value - not enhance them. When you hold one
of these harps in you hands and think that the guy who last played on it
was Sonny Terry (notwithstanding a brief test by Adam) there is a certain
mystique. To alter that by cleaning and restoring the harp would be to
wipe away some of the magic. So I believe that they are best left just as
That said, I can tell you that these harps are pretty much in the ideal
condition from the point of view of collectibilty. Not many people would
be interested in owning a Sonny Terry harp so they could put it into their
gig case and perform with it (although I do have one such potential
buyer). Rather, most people want to own a piece of history and if they can
also play some Sonny Terry licks on it, that might give them some sort of
special conneciton with Sonny. It would certainly warm the heart if you
are Sonny fan. So what is more important - evidence that Sonny actually
played the harp or how well it plays? To me, it would be about 90%
appearance and 10% playability. Heck, even a Sonny Terry harp that was
totally unplayable would still be highly collectable. But here's the
thing. All of these harps show signs of wear - some more than others - but
all of them are "playable". To be sure some of them are a bit out of tune
and there's a few reeds that have some dried up mouth juices interfering
with their movement but I have yet to run across one that is just toast.
And if you think about it, that makes sense. Sonny Terry was a Hohner
Endorsee for decades. I seriously doubt that he was ever lacking for
harmonicas. It is clear to me that Sonny would play a harp for a long time
and when it went out of tune or some reeds got stuck, he would put it aside
and break in another. I have restore a couple hundred pre-war Marine Bands
in the past few years and I have, in my possession, many harmonicas that
are in far worse condition than Sonnys. We're talking about rusted covers,
warped or broken combs, loose nails, you name it (I have found more than
one insect coccon inside vintage harps). Sonny's harps have zero rust.
I've only seen one Marine Band where the tips of the tines were slightly
protruding from the reed plates (a condition commonyly found on vintage
harps). The nails which hold the reed plates to the comb are tight and
secure on virtually every Marine Band that I have examined. There are a
couple of the cover plate nails that are slightly loose but that is a
common issue Marine Bands. All the Golden Melodys I have seen so far are
the ones that were built with pins. I started playing Golden Melodys back
in the 70's and had issues on many of them with the pins loosening and
wiggling free. All the pins on Sonny's Golden Melodys are tight and
secure. In short, doing my amateur forensic analysis of these harps I
would say that Sonny played with a dry mouth (something for all of us to
strive for) and took good care of his instruments. They are well worn, but
if purchased a pre-war restoration project in similar condition, I could
easily clean the tarnish off the covers, straighten out covers that had
been crushed, clean the comb of dried mouth juices and make the harp look
and play like almost new. But to do that to a Sonny Terry harp would be
crazy. Clean off the half-moon semi-circle tarnish from his lips? No
way! Straighten out covers that were crushed by the Master's Hand?
Preposterous! Clean out Sonny's dried up DNA from the comb? No! If you
did that you would just have another ordinary Marine Band.
And so as this project progresses, I am very pleased with the response. I
am very pleased with the condition of the harmonicas as I do think they are
perfect collectables. I am happy to be of service to Delores and Sonny
Terry Estate LLC. I will keep you up to date as anything newsworthy
*Blue Moon Harmonicas LLC*
*P.O. Box 14401 Clearwater, FL 33766*
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