The other day,  a friend of mine pulled a small instrument out of a bag and asked if I had ever seen one.  This is what he had -

I about fell on the floor, I thought it was the oldest bowed psaltery I had ever seen, the missing link!  No kind of markings, other than the numbers and note names along the edges.  It's really small, about 14 inches long.  It's diatonic, tuned to the key of G.  I could tell this because everywhere there was an F, it was marked F#.  Each successive note is along the other edge. The sound hole label was missing.

If you look closely, you can see that the musical notes are upside down.  That makes it obvious that that you play it with the tuning pins facing away from you, so kind of upside down for how we play the psaltery, even though there are folks that play exactly that way, Paulette Lucas is the first one I saw playing that way years ago.

You can tell in the photograph above that there is something missing on the bottom.  You can see the marks in the finish and also the holes, there are also a few holes on the sides.

Anyway, it was a new one on me.  The markings of the numbers and notes were very similar to what I had seen on a ukelin.  The brand that used the similar markings was made by the Marx company.  A little more searching and I found this - 

It's called a Marxolin.  There's very little information that I could find, but it appears that there are some flexible metal hammers at the bottom.  It looks like they are used to hammer four different strings, or maybe even pairs of strings.  Hard to tell in the picture.

Another Marx instrument is a Marxophone, it uses those same flexible hammers.  Here's a video of a lady playing one -

Then I found a picture of a newer version of the Marxolin - 

I also found this link to a picture of a lady playing one like this -

I wish I could hear it being played, if anyone knows of a video or recording, please let me know.

So, it appears that the one my friend has is missing the hammer mechanism and little wire music holder.

An odd little instrument, to be sure.  But I guess that's the first impression most folks have the bowed psaltery, seeing one for the first time.


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Comment by Rick Long on January 30, 2012 at 2:33pm

All I know is, an Antique shop somewhere in the Shenandoah Valley.

Comment by Terry Butler on January 30, 2012 at 1:54pm

Wow - where did your friend find it?  GREAT FIND!  Too bad there's no information to go with this about it's origin.  I'd love to stumble across one of those locally sometime.  :)   

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