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The Ukelin


"Ukelin" is one of the more common trade names of a type of stringed musical instrument marketed from the early 1920s until about 1966.

Ukelins  combine two sets of strings, one group of sixteen strings tuned to the scale of C (from middle C on a piano to the C two octaves above) plus four groups of four strings, each group tuned to a chord. The instrument is meant to be placed on a table with the larger end toward the performer, and while the right hand plays the melody on the treble strings with a violin bow, accompanying chords are played on the bass strings with the left hand using either the fingers or a pick. Each string and chord group is numbered, and sheet music is provided in a special numerical system intended to simplify playing for persons unable to read standard musical notation.

These instruments were sold by the Phonoharp Company of East Boston, Massachusetts, and its subsidiaries, which apparently included the Bosstone Company. A patent for the instrument was awarded to Paul F. Richter on April 6, 1926. He then  assigned it to the Phonoharp Company. In 1926, the Phonoharp Company merged with Oscar Schmidt International, Inc., of New Jersey, and Ukelins were then sold by them and their subsidiaries, which included the International Music Corporation and the Manufacturers' Advertising Company of Newark, New Jersey.

The Ukelin depicted in the photograph was purchased by Anna Hodge Babb from a traveling salesman during the late 1920's or early 30's. Ukelins and Ukelin-type instruments were usually sold by traveling salesmen, often on a time-payment plan, and were intended for home music-making by persons without a formal musical education.  These instruments are not rare and often turn up in attics and second-hand stores.

The International Music Corporation published a 17 page instruction booklet  for the Ukelin which included playing and tuning instructions and 14 tunes.