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“Ne Plus Ultra Accordeon” – No Greater Antique Accordion?

May 19, 2015

This post is to ask for help. What can we discover about this not very humble accordion?

Ne Plus Ultra Accordeon for blog - 03

I was able to score this old squeezebox online for about $50 which is pretty cool. It’s what historians call “pretty old,” and I’m willing to guess it’s from about 1900, but there must be more details somewhere. It certainly has some distinctive things that should help identify a maker or era. So I’m asking for any help readers can offer.

An old accordion with big ideas.First of course is the huge grill-cover proclaiming there is “No Greater Accordion.” Well, that’s settled, and seems it should guarantee somebody remembers it, no? The grill also says that it’s patented, which raises the possibility of legal documentation somewhere. But where? The proclamation is in French, but the instrument seems pretty similar to German accordions of the 1900 era. Did the French patent a similar design too? I’m writing about Canadian accordion history this month and even though I bought it from a US dealer I can’t help but think it could be one of the early Canadian accordions made by Odilon Gagné in Quebec starting in about 1895? (That’d be awesome!) It couldn’t be from Louisiana, could it? Hmmm. I’m totally open to suggestions.

I hope readers help me follow some of these leads and we learn more together.

Distinctive things I’ve noted besides that audacious grill:
The single register knob is a simple square shape, attached with a screw at the top, and still works. Pushed in, one reed set sounds, pulled out, two reeds sound tuned a bit wet I think.

Ne Plus Ultra Accordeon for blog - 08   Ne Plus Ultra Accordeon for blog - 09

The darn thing is actually in decent tune to my ear. Quality work by someone 100 years ago. Have I mentioned that this thing has seen some playing! Serious amounts of music came out of this instrument over the years.

The left hand bass and air buttons are screwed into place and almost look like they could be generic drawer knobs or something.

Ne Plus Ultra Accordeon for blog - 13    Ne Plus Ultra Accordeon for blog - 12Ne Plus Ultra Accordeon for blog - 14

Under the grill a textile-mesh has come loose, but still shows evidence of once being glued in place on the grill. One of the valve-pallets is missing, and they all seem to be bare metal, without any gasket, or at least none of them show evidence of gaskets now.

Ne Plus Ultra Accordeon for blog - 05

The bellows has been traumatized and may need extensive therapy. Sorry, I forgot to take a photo of the bellows opened. They’re not very air-tight, that’s for sure. The metal hardware is interestingly corroded and the paper decorations (just about the only decorations on the instrument) are very worn and fragile. None of the metal is engraved or decorated with any identifying designs at all.

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I tried to open it up to see if there are any markings on the inside but I haven’t succeeded yet. I loosened the large screws I thought would release the ends from the bellows but that was not enough. I don’t know if some of these tacks or nails are holding it together, or maybe it’s been glued or is stuck? I’m concerned about breaking it if I don’t know what I’m doing.

Any advice for safely opening up old accordions would be welcome.

And please do leave a comment if you have any suggestions to find out more about The Greatest of All Antique Accordions!


Addendum years later: Found a copy of an 1883 advertisement for the same accordion line. (via google books)

Ne Plus Ultra, Spaethe Accordeon ad, The Youth's Companion, Boston, 1883, pg 434

The little curved reed-plates that fit into shaped slots (lower right 1, 2.) are very interesting.


12 Comments leave one →
  1. Bob Berta permalink
    May 19, 2015 9:00 pm

    It certainly is old. My guess is it is a diatonic button accordion popular for early ethic this case it is probably French. It could have come over with a French man and been part of the early days of Cajun music. Fun to imagine all the stories it could tell.

    By the way there is a terrific book out about an ancient accordion and its travels from owner to owner called Accordion Crimes. It is a bit gritty and some parts are a little x rated…but really a wonderful tale. It reminds me of the movie The Red Violin which is also a fantastic story.

    You are smart to have not touched it until you can learn more about it. It may be junk now…or it could be a prized museum piece worth a lot IF you don’t do anything to it. Almost certainly attempting to restore it would ruin the historical value of it. That is why you NEVER refinish fine antique furniture. If it were a more modern fine accordion it would be worth while restoring it…but in this case you would make a big mistake.
    Bob Berta

    • May 20, 2015 9:41 am

      Thanks Bob. I like Annie Proulx’s book too. I certainly agree about not trying to restore something like this old instrument. I’m very curious, and cautious, about opening it up to see if there are any maker’s marks inside that will help identify it. Often I’ve seen pencil markings on reed-blocks, and once a patent indication, and I’ve heard rumours of dates or makers’ names, but never seen that.

      I’ve sent out a call to experts who I hope may know more. We’ll hope to hear back.

  2. May 21, 2015 3:02 pm

    Exciting news!

    Laurent Jarry author of the amazing “Trésors de lames” accordion art book wrote back.
    First, look at his book, very pretty accordion pictures:

    Here’s what he had to say about this one (so far):

    “Accordion made by Wilhelm Spaethe, Germany. W. Spaethe’s accordions, (1884 or 1889 patents), I do not remember and I will look in my archives! These accordions were innovative for its time with a keyboard while metal, other manufacturers will only much later, the reeds were screwed onto the leather.”

    Originally posted at:

  3. Tyler permalink
    December 23, 2016 2:14 pm

    Just got a ne plus ultra accordeon handed down to me, and was trying to get it back in mostly working order. A couple of the left hand notes really aren’t sounding right, did you ever figure out how to get the bellows off? It would be fun to try to get it in tune, but as you mentioned in your post there doesn’t seem to be an obvious way in without damaging it.


    • December 23, 2016 3:25 pm

      Do let me know if you get it open, I fear mine has some tacks holding it together that might keep me from figuring it out.

    • December 23, 2016 3:25 pm

      Hi Tyler,

      I haven’t opened mine, but I suspect one of the ends slides off like early French “flutina” style accordions. There’s some discussion w/illustrations here:

      “…the secret of opening one is that the treble end-plate (with the key mechanism on it) slides off, like an old-fashioned pencil case.”
      Diagram showing sliding the front off a flutina.

      More pics of one opened up:

      Flutina opened, lid shows one end slides off.

      • Tyler permalink
        January 3, 2017 7:48 am

        Thanks for the advice! I had actually tried this technique once before, but didn’t have the confidence in it to put to much elbow grease in trying to side the panel up. I gave it another shot, removing the two long screws at the top and the small corner brackets, and was able to carefully but firmly slide both the bass and treble sides off the bellows.

      • January 5, 2017 12:06 pm

        Yea! Now I want to give mine another try.

  4. Chelsea Nichols permalink
    January 27, 2018 9:31 pm


    I realize that this post is quite old but I would be interested to know if you found any additional information on your accordion. I found one exactly like yours at my grandma’s house a few years ago and used to play with it; however, I recently attained it from her as she is getting older and beginning to have signs of dementia. That being stated I did not have the opportunity to ask her where it came from. I would appreciate any information you could spare on it.

    Chelsea Nichols

    • January 28, 2018 4:24 pm

      Hi Chelsea,

      I’m not sure how to tell where your individual instrument came from. I know they sold in catalogues, so chances are it came from a shop or by mail. Unless they went all the way to Germany to get it.

      I think after I posted this page I found a catalog advertisement from an 1883 magazine from Boston, so I’m going to add them to the main posting up above.

      Out of curiosity to see where yours ended up, where did your grandma live?

  5. Deb permalink
    May 16, 2018 8:08 am

    I also have one just like this that someone threw away. I’m not a collector of things like this so I want to sell, but can’t find anything on the value of it.

    • May 16, 2018 10:25 am

      I payed $25 CAN for mine and found that hard to pass up. The market for unplayable old accordions hasn’t ballooned due to speculation, so they aren’t very good investments and don’t usually call for very high prices.

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