Home » ARTSY FARTSY » JEAN SHEPHERD Kid Stories–HAM RADIO & (91) ARTSY–Plastic Harmonica Collection

JEAN SHEPHERD Kid Stories–HAM RADIO & (91) ARTSY–Plastic Harmonica Collection


In the meantime, I have acquired a short wave receiver and I’m sitting there copying code off the air.  A kid can learn languages incredibly fast.  Even much faster than a person of eighteen or nineteen when your language skills decline abruptly.  Here I am, I’m thirteen, and code is coming to me so simply, it’s like absorbing the air around me.

I am now thirteen and I’m working in a vacuum.  I don’t know how good I am or how bad I am.  I’m sitting there writing this code down until I finally get to the point, at the age of thirteen, when I’m copying press-wireless.  That’s international press telegraphy.  I’m writing full-length news items like:  “Dacar.  It was reported that…”  I’m transcribing this endless stuff.

My old man would look into the room and he’d say, “Will you cut that out!  Just relax once in a while.  Come on, get out of there, all that beeping is gonna hurt your ears,” just like your mother would say, “Don’t read so much, it’s bad for your eyes.”  I couldn’t stop.  Every day when I’d get home from school I’d turn on my receiver.



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The Eugene B. Bergmann

Plastic Harmonica Study Collection

Inspired by Pratt Institute industrial design professor Ivan Rigby,

who once commented to his design class that

the Statue of Liberty and all Christmas trees are ugly design.

Also, a tip of the ARTSY hat to Claes Oldenburg,

creator of the Mouse Museum/Ray Gun Wing.

•    •    •    •    •

I am the Founder/ Owner/ Director/ Conservator/ Curator/ Tour-Guide of what seems to be the only-in-the-world-collection of a major-musical phenomenon—plastic harmonicas. True, I’ve Google-encountered a very few cuckoo harmonicas that date back a century, but they are painted metal and are not, in my opinion, on the same level as my modern plastic beauties.

Most specimens arrived in the collection in the early-to-mid-1980s. Nearly all were manufactured in Hong Kong. As curator of the entire collection (jumbled one atop the other in a small, clear, acid-free shoe box), I’m pleased to report that I’ve kept a record of my acquisitions.


Note that several were purchased at a high-end toy store (no longer extant) opposite New York’s museum of natural history; the sea crab was bought at New York’s South Street Seaport; the lobster claw bought one summer at a general store in Maine; and the boxed mouth organ was acquired at New York’s Upper East Side “Come Again Erotic Emporium.”

Regarding quality of sound, although these specimens are seldom played, the curator reports that one should note (he intends no pun) that when one blows, not one of the instruments in the whole damn collection elicits sound through all openings. The non-plastic specimen made of chewing gum has not yet been tested but one would not expect even a tasteless squawk. As for the failure to function, the Cuckoo! Plastic! Harmonica! Museum’s Founder/ Owner/ Director/ Conservator/ Curator/ Tour-Guide doesn’t give a damn. In fact, he has been quoted as saying that “partial lack of any tone at all is rather endearing and quite a relief.”


In some of the harmonicas, the holes are at the wrong end for propping up and viewing. The smiling one’s holes are at the back so the smile faces the viewer. The crab’s holes are on the bottom. The banana and the watermelon wedge each came with its own zippered pouch. The only subject in the collection that has two separate items is, maybe significantly, corn.

Donations of instruments are gratefully accepted (plastic only please). If insisted upon, we will reimburse you–based on place of origin, condition of piece, condition of package material if present, rarity, and percentage of playable notes. Cost to the Museum not to exceed list prices of previous acquisitions: $0.40-$4.50 adjusted to 1980s dollar values. The entire staff here at the Museum is especially interested in acquiring plastic harmonicas of giraffes, reptiles of all sorts, and of penguins and other flightless birds.

Free tour by knowledgeable and exuberant Tour Guide available for the complete collection of the Cuckoo! Plastic! Harmonica! Museum as well as for the nearby “Shep Shrine.” The box holding the “mouth organ” will be opened only upon written request—must be 18 or older. Combo-tour lasts well under 4 hours and 30 minutes. Expanded, late-night tours every July 26 only.


•    •    •    •    •

The Eugene B. Bergmann Object-Simulated-Harmonica Study Collection

has no insurance policy, no guards, no alarm system, nor can it be located on any map or tourist guide.

The not-for-profit collection does not accept government or philanthropic subsidies.

No Public Hours.

Viewings By Appointment Only.




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