Coming up trumps


A document from 1481 has been uncovered that is proving to have some of the most important information we have about that most simple of musical instruments, the Jew’s harp, or as it was commonly also known, the Jew’s trump. Following a lead from the Oxford English Dictionary editorial staff working on the 3rd edition and the London Record Society, Michael Wright has uncovered a wealth of information on how Jew’s harps were imported into this country and who was importing them. Popular musical instruments from the past are notoriously difficult to find information about, so this find has been hailed as one of the most significant in recent times.

We now know where these musical instruments were being imported from, the name of the ship along with its master and, most importantly, the name of the merchant for whom they were intended along with a list of other items he was importing. If that was not all, we now can say for certain that the instrument was known as a Jue Harpe or Jue Trumpe during the latter part of the 15th century, and possibly much earlier.

“It’s a bit like an archaeologist finding a Viking hoard. We now have definite information on where Jew’s harps came from and who was distributing them, something we’ve only speculated about before this document came to light.”


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