London Labour and the London Poor, volume 2
Of the Jew Street-Sellers of accordions, and of their Street Musical Pursuits.
I CONCLUDE my account of the Street-Jews with an account of the accordion sellers.
Although the Jews, as a people, are musical, they are little concerned at present either in the sale of musical instruments in the streets, or in street-music or singing. Until within a few years, however, the street-sale of accordions was carried on by itinerant Jews, and had previously been carried on most extensively in the country, even in the far north of England. Some years back well-dressed Jews "travelled" with stocks of accordions. In many country towns and in gentlemen's country mansions, in taverns, and schools also, these accordions were then a novelty. The Jew could play on the instrument, and carried a book of instructions, which usually formed part of the bargain, and by the aid of which, he made out, any , even without previous knowledge of the practical art of music, could easily teach himself —nothing but a little practice in fingering being wanted to make a good accordion-player. At the accordions sold by the Jew hawkers were good, guineas being no unusual price to be paid for , even to a street-seller, while and were the lower charges. But the accordions were in a few years "made slop," cheap instruments being sent to this country from Germany, and sold at less than half their former price, until the charge fell as low as or even —but only for "rubbish," I was told. When the fragility and inferior musical qualities of these instruments came to be known, it was found almost impossible to sell in the streets even superior instruments, however reasonable in price, and thus the trade sunk to a nonentity. So little demand is there now for these instruments that no pawnbroker, I am assured, will advance money on , however well made.
The itinerant accordion trade was always much greater in the country than in London, for in town, I was told, few would be troubled to try, or even listen, to the tones of an accordion played by a street-seller, at their own doors, or in their houses. While there were or Jews hawking accordions in the country, there would not be in London, including even the suburbs, where the sale was the best.
Calculating that, when the trade was at its best, Jews hawked accordions in town and country, and that each sold a week, at an average price of each, or in a week at an average price of each, the profit being from to per cent., we find upwards of expended in the course of the year in accordions of which, however, little more than a part, or about , was expended in London. This was only when the trade had all the recommendations of novelty, and in the following year perhaps not half the amount was realized. informant thought that the year - was the best for the sale of these instruments, but he spoke only from memory. At the present time I could not find or hear of street-Jew selling accordions; I re-
|member, however, having seen within the present year. Most of the Jews who travelled with them have emigrated.|
It is very rarely indeed that, fond as the Jews are of music, any of them are to be found in the bands of street-musicians, or of such streetper- formers as the Ethiopian serenaders. If there be any, I was told, they were probably not pure Jews, but of Christian parentage on side or the other, and not associating with their own people. At the cheap concert-rooms, however, Jews are frequently singers, but rarely the Jewesses, while some of the twopenny concerts at the East-end are got up and mainly patronized by the poorer class of Jews. Jews are also to be found occasionally among the supernumeraries of the theatres; but, when not professionally engaged, these still live among their own people. I asked young Jew who occasionally sang at a cheap concert-room, what description of songs they usually sung, and he answered "all kinds." He, it seems, sang comic songs, but his friend Barney, who had just left him, sang sentimental songs. He earned and sometimes , but more frequently , or nights in the week, as he had no regular engagement. In the daytime he worked at cigar-making, but did not like it, it was "" He had likewise sung, but gratuitously, at concerts got up for the benefit of any person "bad off." He knew nothing of the science and art of music. Of the superior class of Jew vocalists and composers, it is not of course necessary here to speak, as they do not come within the scope of my present subject. Of Hebrew youths thus employed in cheap and desultory concert-singing, there are in the winter season, I am told, from to , few, if any, depending entirely upon their professional exertions, but being in circumstances similar to those of my young informant.