S. Nathaniel Adams

Documenting history as well as my experiences with repairing and restoring vintage guitars.

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About Herwin was a short lived record label and distributor which existed in St. Louis, Missouri from 1924 until about 1930. Its founders ar...

About

Herwin was a short lived record label and distributor which existed in St. Louis, Missouri from 1924 until about 1930. Its founders are commonly attributed to the brothers Herbert and Edwin Schiele but further research shows that the company was actually founded by Herbert and his father Edwin Schiele. 

Edwin Schiele Sr was born July 9th, 1862 to German immigrant parents, Sigmund and Fanny, in St Louis, Missouri. Sigmund found success in the wholesale liquor business and earned a comfortable living for the family. They lived at 1428 Papin Street in a 3 story brick building between 14th and 15th Streets [2]. Edwin attended St Louis Public Schools until he turned 14 when he took a job at the wholesale dry good store of Judd & Platt. After 3 years of employment, he joined his father in the liquor trade as secretary and treasurer of his father's company. His father died in 1882 at the age of 56 leaving Edwin in control of the company [1]. 

Herbert Schiele was born January 25th, 1899 as the third child of Edwin and Minnie Schiele (nee Kramer) in Saint Louis, Missouri. They lived at 4139 Maryland Avenue in a two story brick home that they rented . They were a relatively well off family and employed two live-in maids. In 1910, they had moved to a luxury apartment complex at 4548 Forest Park Boulevard; not far from the famous park that had held the Worlds Fair years prior [11]. All three of their homes have been unceremoniously torn down during the last century as part of 'urban renewal'.

Edwin Schiele Jr was born July 8th, 1909 and was too young to have participated in these businesses in any meaningful fashion [12].

Schiele Advertising Co

In 1913, Edwin and his brother Seymour founded the Schiele Advertising Company which carried on into the 1920s.

Artophone Co

Prohibition in January of 1920 put an end to the Schiele liquor industry so Hebert and Edwin pivoted into the musical merchandise industry. They obtained control of the Artophone Company, a talking machine manufacturer founded in 1916 by Robert H. Cone Senior and his son. Edwin took on the role of President while Herbert became the secretary and treasurer. The company switched its focus from manufacturing to distributing of more general musical merchandise.

Image Credit: Music Trade Review

In 1923, 1101 and 1103 Olive Street suffered a fire originating from the basement which destroyed product from 3 large firms including Artophone. They lost around $45,000 worth of talking machines, records, and assorted merchandise [3]. They temporarily relocated to 1213 Pine Street while repairs were conducted [4]. Later that year, Arthur C. Thiebes Co took over the retail operations of Artophone while they would continue operating in a wholesale fashion [7]. Excitingly, in 1925 Artophone absorbed Wholesale Musical Supply Co and were joined by the brothers Ray and C. W. Layer [5]. 

Herwin 

Herwin Records began being distributed by Artophone around 1924 or 1925, according to snippets I've found. There isn't a ton of detail available but a man named John Randolph spoke with Herbert and compiled some history on the company and records in the late 1940s. A 1957 mention in "A Glimpse at the Past - An Illustrated History of Some Early Record Companies that Made Jazz History" by Michael Wyler describes Herwin records as being relatively rare. Another, later, mention describes the records as being pressed from cheap shellac which may explain their scarcity.

It was around this time that Edwin and Herbert began distributing records under the name Herwin. The label being a portmanteau of Herbert and Edwin.

Artophone - continued

In 1926, they moved out of the Thiebes building to 1622-1624 Olive Street with plans on expanding their offerings to include band instruments with their brand name [8].

In 1929, Tonk Brothers purchased the merchandise branch of Artophone and shipped the remaining stock up to their office in Chicago. It is noted that the record, radio, and phonograph operations of Artophone would remain unaffected [6]

In 1930, Artophone sold Herwin Records to Paramount Records which axed the label [9].

According to Herbert's youngest son James, Artophone Co continued to exist into the 1950s until his father purchased another local firm St. Louis Screw & Bolt [10].

The Herwin Guitar

This is the pièce de résistance. The reason I compiled a bunch of background information. I saw this guitar on Reverb and initially dismissed it as the logo looked and sounded like something from 1950s Germany. But I came back around to it and realized that this very well looks like an American made guitar from far earlier than I originally thought.

Reverb - Izzy's Vintage Guitars

The listing identifies it as being from the 1920s and likely from Chicago which I agree with. The exact builder manages to escape me but I know St Louis didn't have any prolific guitar builders during that era but did have a strong piano manufacturing center in the same block that Artophone was based out of. My gut is telling me that it is a Harmony because of the fingerboard inlays, wood selection, and checkerboard binding but I cannot say that it is for certain without more photos/better info.

Reverb - Izzy's Vintage Guitars

Sources

[1] https://www.google.com/books/edition/Centennial_History_of_Missouri/3g9ZAAAAMAAJ?hl=en&gbpv=1&dq=EDWIN+SCHIELE+DISTILLING+COMPANY&pg=PA479&printsec=frontcover
[2] https://www.loc.gov/resource/g4164sm.g4164sm_g04858190801/?sp=65&st=image&r=0.15,0.371,0.89,0.365,0
[3] https://mtr.arcade-museum.com/MTR-1923-77-4/05/
[4] https://mtr.arcade-museum.com/MTR-1924-78-2/10/
[5] https://mtr.arcade-museum.com/MTR-1925-80-24/51/
[6] https://mtr.arcade-museum.com/MTR-1929-88-9/14/
[7] https://mtr.arcade-museum.com/MTR-1923-77-25/13/
[8] https://mtr.arcade-museum.com/MTR-1926-82-7/24/
[9] https://rateyourmusic.com/label/herwin_record_co_/
[10] https://source.wustl.edu/2010/10/a-special-man-builds-a-special-collection/
[11] 1910 Census - https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:33S7-9RNY-D1J?i=22&cc=1727033&personaUrl=%2Fark%3A%2F61903%2F1%3A1%3AM21B-DZZ
[12] 1920 Census - https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:33S7-9RX3-7LT?i=20&cc=1488411&personaUrl=%2Fark%3A%2F61903%2F1%3A1%3AM884-8WW

  Image Credit: State Historical Society of Missouri Included in my recent purchase of Schwarzer scans from the State Historical Society of ...

 

Image Credit: State Historical Society of Missouri

Included in my recent purchase of Schwarzer scans from the State Historical Society of Missouri was this catalog of all the models available during the peak of Schwarzer's firm. This 1898 catalog contains numerous models and levels of ornamentation. The most expensive instrument is equivalent to $3,500 today which reflects the clientele that Franz and his men were building for.

Prime Table Zither No. 1 "A"

  • List Price: $10.00 (without folding legs)
  • Tuning same as a Concert zither
  • Spruce sound board
  • Imitation Rosewood finish
  • Sides are painted black and polished
  • Back is 'dull' black
  • Purfling around soundhole
  • Rosewood hand rest
  • Pearl position dots
  • Pasteboard case

Prime Zither


Photograph is of a special order Prime Zither with
ornamentation not seen in the catalog
  • No. 3 (Small Model, without patent heads)
    • List Price: $15.00
    • Imitation Rosewood top
    • Black finished sides and back
    • 32 strings
    • Pearl position dots
    • Pasteboard case
  • No. 7 (Large Model, with patent heads)
    • List Price: $29.50
    • Same as No. 3 except with:
      • Engraved nickel tuners
      • Wood purfling around soundhole and edges
      • Cloth covered and flannel lined wood case
  • No. 9
    • List Price: $35.00
    • Same as above except with:
      •  Pearl figures inlaid around soundhole
  • No. 10
    • List Price: $50.00
    • Same as as No. 7 except with:
      • Brazilian Rosewood veneered top and sides
      • Ivoroid bound edges
  • No. 11
    • List Price: $60.00
    • Same as above except with:
      • Brazilian Rosewood veneered back
      • Colored wood inlaid purfling
      • Highly polished
      • Leather covered and velvet lined case with nickel trimmings
  • No. 12
    • List Price: $70.00
    • Same as above except with:
      • Fancy pearl inlaid around soundhole 
      • Plated tuning pins
  • No. 13
    • List Price: $78.00
    • Same as above except with:
      • Fancy pearl inlaid around top edges
  • No. 14
    • List Price: $105.00
    • Brazilian Rosewood veneered top, sides, and back
    • Fancy colored wood inlaid around soundhole and edges
    • Ivoroid bound edges
    • Inlaied with variegated pearl
    • Ornamental designs of ivory, gold, and silver
    • Finely engraved gold and silver patent head with pearl buttons
    • Leather covered and velvet lined case with nickel trimmings

Concert Zither Style "A" No.17

  • List Price: $19.00
  • Imitation Rosewood top
  • Black finished sides and back
  • Wood purfling inlaid around soundhole and edges
  • 32 strings
  • Pearl position dots
  • Pasteboard case

Concert Zither Style "A" No.21

  • List Price: $32.00
  • Imitation Rosewood top
  • Black finished sides and back
  • Engraved nickel patent heads
  • Wood purfling inlaid around soundhole and edges
  • 32 strings
  • Pearl position dots
  • Canvas covered, flannel lined case with nickel hardware
    • Optionally available in a cloth covered, flannel lined case, with leather handle

Concert Zither Style "A" Large Model


  • No. 23
    • List Price: $39.00
    • Imitation Rosewood top
    • Black finished sides and back
    • Engraved nickel patent head
    • Polished steel tuning pins
    • 35 strings
    • Pearl position dots
    • Canvas covered, flannel lined case with nickel hardware
      • Optionally available in a cloth covered, flannel lined case, with leather handle
  • No. 23-1/2
    • List Price: $50.00
    • Same as above except with:
      • Sides veneered with tulipwood
      • Ivoroid bound edges and inlaid wood purflings
      • Pearl figures inlaid around soundhole
      • Leather covered, velvet lined case with nickel hardware
  • No. 24
    • List Price: $52.00
    • Same as No.23 except with:
      • Brazilian Rosewood Burl veneer on top and sides
      • Ivoroid bound edges and inlaid wood purflings
  • No. 25
    • List Price: $64.00
    • Same as above except with:
      • Brazilian Rosewood Burl veneer on top, back, and sides
      • Ivoroid bound edges and inlaid wood purflings
  • No. 26
    • List Price: $73.50
    • Same description as No. 25 except with:
    • Fancy pearl figures around soundhole
    • Finely plated tuning pins
  • No. 27
    • List Price: $83.00
    • Same description as No. 26 except 'elaborately finished'
  • No. 28
    • List Price: $112.00
    • Brazilian Rosewood Burl veneer on top, back, and sides
    • Ivoroid bound edges and fancy, colored inlaid wood purflings
    • Inlaid with variegated pearl
    • Ornamental designs of ivory, gold, and silver
    • Finely engraved gold and silver plated patent heads with pearl buttons
    • 35 strings
    • Pearl position dots
    • Leather covered and velvet lined case with nickel hardware

Concert Zither Style "B" 

Pictured is No. 36
Model first introduced in 1891
  • No. 31
    • List Price: $40.00
    • Imitation Rosewood top
    • Black finished sides and back
    • Engraved nickel patent head
    • Inlaid wood purfling around soundhole and edges
    • Polished steel tuning pins
    • 35 strings
    • Pearl position dots
    • Cloth covered and flannel lined case
  • No. 32
    • List Price: $48.00
    • Same as above except with:
      • Pearl figures inlaid around soundhole and wood purfling around edges
  • No. 33
    • List Price: $58.00
    • Brazilian Rosewood Burl veneer on top
    • Sides veneered with Brazilian Rosewood
    • Engraved nickel patent head
    • Inlaid wood purfling around soundhole and edges
    • Ivoroid bound edges
  • No. 34
    • List Price: $68.00
    • Same as above except with:
      • Fancy, colored inlaid wood purfling around soundhole and edges
      • Leather covered, velvet lined case with nickel trimmings
  • No. 35
    • List Price: $75.00
    • Same as No. 34 except with:
      • Fancy pearl figures inlaid around soundhole
      • Plated tuning pins
  • No. 36
    • List Price: $84.00
    • Same as No. 34 except with:
      • Fancy pearl inlaid around soundhole and top edge
      • Fitted with a 'finely carved ebony shell'
      • Ornamented scroll
  • No. 37
    • List Price: $100.00
    • Same as above No. 34 except with:
      • Fancy, colored inlaid wood purfling around soundhole and edges
      • Fitted with a 'finely carved ebony shell' and ornamental scroll
      • Finely engraved gold and silver plated patent heads with pearl buttons
      • Leather covered, velvet lined case with nickel hardware

Harp Zither Style "A"

Pictured is No. 45
Model first introduced in 1887

  • No. 40
    • List Price: $55.00
    • Imitation Rosewood top
    • Black finished sides and back
    • Genuine rosewood pillar and scroll
    • Engraved nickel patent head
    • Polished steel tuning pins
    • 38 strings
    • Cloth covered and flannel lined case
  • No. 41
    • List Price: $60.00
    • Same as above except with:
      • Pearl figures inlaid around soundhole and wood purfling around edges
  • No. 43
    • List Price: $78.50
    • Brazilian Rosewood Burl veneer on top
    • Sides veneered with Brazilian Rosewood
    • Genuine rosewood pillar and scroll
    • Finely carved shell
    • Engraved nickel patent head
    • Inlaid wood purfling around soundhole and edges
    • Ivoroid bound edges
    • Polished steel tuning pins
    • Cloth covered and flannel lined case
  • No. 45 (New Style)
    • List Price: $112.00
    • Same as above except with:
      • Sides veneered with tulip-wood
      • Artistically engraved gold and silver plated patent head with pearl buttons
      • Fancy, colored inlaid wood purfling around soundhole and edges
      • Elaborately inlaid and engraved pearl, metal, and ivory
      • Finely carved pillar, shell, and scroll
      • Leather covered, velvet lined case with nickel trimmings
  • No. 46
    • List Price: $134.00
    • Same as No. 45 except with:
    • Inlaid pearl figures around soundhole and top edge 

Harp Zither Style "B" 

Pictured is No. 51
Model first introduced in 1878

  • 42 Strings

Arion Harp Zither Style "B" 


Pictured is No. 73
Model first introduced in 1882

  • 42 Strings
  • Schwarzer patent aluminum stringholder

Concert Arion Zither Style "A" Large Model

Pictured is No.62
Introduced in 1881
  • No. 61
    • List Price: $48.50
    • Imitation Rosewood top
    • Black finished sides and back
    • Engraved nickel patent head
    • Inlaid wood purflings
    • Polished steel tuning pins
    • 35 strings
    • Schwarzer patent aluminum string holder
    • Canvas covered, flannel lined case 
  • No. 62
    • List Price: $55.00
    • Same as above except with:
      • Pearl figures inlaid around soundhole
  • No. 64
    • List Price: $65.00
    • Same as No.61 except with:
      • Brazilian Rosewood Burl veneer on top
      • Sides veneered with Brazilian Rosewood
      • Ivoroid bound edges  
  • No. 65
    • List Price: $75.00
    • Same as above except with:
      • Brazilian Rosewood burl on top and bottom
      • Colored wood inlaid purfling
      • Leather covered, velvet lined case with nickel trimmings
  • No. 66
    • List Price: $82.00
    • Same as above except with:
      • Pearl figures inlaid around soundhole
  • No. 67
    • List Price: $90.00
    • Same as above except with:
      • Sides veneered with tulipwood

Folding Table Zither

  • No. 110
    • List Price: $50.00
    • 42 Strings
    • Polished imitation rosewood top
    • Polished steel tuning pins
    • Brazilian Rosewood handrest
    • Oiled walnut stands
    • Papier-mache Case
  • No. 112
    • List Price: $60.00
    • Same as above:
      • Sides veneered with Brazilian Rosewood
      • Edges bound with white holly
  • No. 114
    • List Price: $80.00
    • Same as above:
      • Top veneered with Brazilian Rosewood burl
      • Pearl inlaid soundhole
      • Ivoroid bound edges
      • Colored wood purflings
      • Finely finished walnut stands

Elegy or Song Zither

Pictured is No. 85
The "Elegy" or "Song" zither is 3-1/2" longer than the concert zither and is tuned four tones below concert pitch, or in "E". 
  • No. 80
    • List Price: $24.00
    • Imitation Rosewood top
    • Black bottom and sides
    • No patent heads
    • 32 Strings
    • Polished steel tuning pins
    • Cloth covered, flannel lined wood case
  • No. 84
    • List Price: $34.00
    • Same as above except with:
      • Engraved nickel patent head
      • Wood purfling around soundhole
      • Pearl position dots
  • No. 85
    • List Price: $40.00
    • Same as above except with:
      • Pearl figures inlaid around soundhole
  • No. 86
    • List Price: $54.00
    • Same as No. 84 except with:
      • Top veneered with Brazilian Rosewood burl
      • Sides veneered with Brazilian Rosewood
      • Ivoroid bound edges
      • Inlaid wood purflings
  • No. 87
    • List Price: $68.00
    • Same as above except with:
      • Colored wood inlaid purflings
      • Leather covered, velvet lined case with nickel hardware
  • No. 88
    • List Price: $85.00
    • Same as above except with:
      • Top and bottom veneered with Brazilian Rosewood burl
      • Sides veneered with tulipwood
      • Fancy pearl figures around soundhole
      • Ivoroid bound edges and inlaid fancy colored wood purfling around soundhole, top, and back

Lady Zither

Not Pictured

Schwarzer first introduced the Lady-sized zither in 1878. They are the same shape as the Elegy zithers but are 1-1/2" shorter and tuned in concert pitch. They are also strung with thinner strings making playing easier
  • No. 90
    • List Price: $30.00
    • Imitation Rosewood top
    • Black bottom and sides
    • Engraved nickel patent heads
    • Inlaid wood purfling
    • 32 Strings
    • Polished steel tuning pins
    • Cloth covered, flannel lined wood case
  • No. 91
    • List Price: $36.00
    • Same as above except with:
      • Pearl figures around soundhole
  • No. 93
    • List Price: $52.00
    • Same as No. 90 except with:
      • Top veneered with Brazilian Rosewood burl
      • Sides veneered with Brazilian Rosewood
      • Ivoroid bound edges
      • Inlaid wood purflings
      • Leather covered, velvet lined case
  • No. 94
    • List Price: $65.00
    • Same as above except with:
      • Colored wood inlaid purflings
  • No. 95
    • List Price: $75.00
    • Same as above except with:
      • Fancy pearl figures inlaid around soundhole
  • No. 88
    • List Price: $85.00
    • Same as No.94 except with:
      • Top and bottom veneered with Brazilian Rosewood burl
      • Sides veneered with tulipwood
      • Fancy pearl figures around soundhole
      • Ivoroid bound edges and inlaid fancy colored wood purfling around soundhole, top, and back

Concert Violin Bow Zither


The violin bow zither is played with a bow and the left hand does the fretting. The instrument is placed against the edge of the table with the body resting in the lap (it could also be fitted on a table). They are tuned E, A, D, and G but can be custom ordered in A, D, G, C.
  • No. 105
    • List Price: $21.00
    • Flat top and back
    • Top is finished dark red
    • Back is imitation rosewood
    • No patent heads, plain steel tuning pins
    • Schwarzer's patent metal stringholder
  • No. 106
    • List Price: $26.00
    • Same as above except with:
      • Engraved nickel patent heads
      • Case available for $4.00 extra
  • No. 108
    • List Price: $42.00
    • Same as above except with:
    • Arched top and back
    • Stained and polished
    • Canvas covered case

Cello Bow Zither

Made to order only. The tuning is one octave lower than the Violin bow zither

  Image Credit: Historical Society of Missouri Style 118 Not Pictured List Price: $15.00 Spanish Cedar 9 ribs Mahogany border Spruce top Inl...

 

Image Credit: Historical Society of Missouri

Style 118

Not Pictured

  • List Price: $15.00
  • Spanish Cedar
  • 9 ribs
  • Mahogany border
  • Spruce top
  • Inlaid wood guardplate
  • Wood purfling around soundhole and tip
  • Ebony fingerboard
  • Ivory nut
  • Ivory saddle in bridge

Style 120

Image Credit: State Historical Society of Missouri

  • List Price: $17.00
  • Mahogany neck
  • 13 ribs
  • Mahogany border
  • Spruce top
  • Inlaid celluloid guard plate
  • Wood purfling around soundhole and tip
  • Ebony fingerboard
  • Ivory nut
  • Ivory saddle in bridge
  • Rosewood veneered headstock
  • Style 122

  • List Price: $21.00
  • Mahogany neck
  • 13 ribs of Rosewood and Birds-eye maple
  • Mahogany border
  • Spruce top
  • Inlaid celluloid guard plate
  • Wood purfling around soundhole and tip
  • Ebony fingerboard
  • Ivory nut
  • Ivory saddle in bridge
  • Rosewood veneered headstock
  • Style 123

    Not Pictured

    • List Price: $28.00
    • Mahogany neck
    • 13 ribs of Rosewood and Birds-eye maple
    • Mahogany border
    • Spruce top
    • Inlaid tortoise celluloid guard plate
    • Pearl figures around soundhole and top
    • Ivoroid top binding
    • Ebony fingerboard
    • Ivory nut
    • Ivory saddle in bridge
    • Rosewood veneered headstock

    Style 126

  • List Price: $25.00
  • Mahogany neck
  • 21 ribs of Rosewood and Birds-eye maple
  • Rosewood border
  • Spruce top
  • Inlaid tortoise celluloid guard plate with scroll ornament
  • Colored wood purfling around soundhole and top
  • Ebony fingerboard
  • Ivory nut
  • Ivory saddle in bridge
  • Rosewood veneered headstock

  • Style 129

    Not Pictured

  • List Price: $35.00
  • Mahogany neck
  • 21 ribs of Rosewood and Birds-eye maple
  • Tulipwood border
  • Spruce top
  • Inlaid tortoise celluloid guard plate with scroll ornament
  • Pearl figures around soundhole and top
  • Ivoroid top binding
  • Ebony fingerboard with four engraved position marks
  • Ivory nut
  • Ivory saddle in bridge
  • Rosewood veneered headstock
  • Style 135

    Not Pictured

  • List Price: $50.00
  • Mahogany neck
  • 28 ribs of Rosewood with ivoroid between each rim
  • Rosewood border
  • Spruce top
  • Inlaid tortoise celluloid guard plate with pearl inlay
  • Fancy wood purfling around soundhole and top
  • Ivoroid top binding
  • Ebony fingerboard with 5 engraved pearl position marks
  • Ivory nut
  • Ivory saddle in bridge
  • Rosewood veneered headstock
  • Style 137

  • List Price: $65.00
  • Mahogany neck
  • 28 ribs of Rosewood with ivoroid between each rim
  • Rosewood border
  • Spruce top
  • Inlaid tortoise celluloid guard plate with pearl inlay
  • Fancy pearl inlays around soundhole and top
  • Pearl inlay in headstock
  • Engraved gold tuners with pearl buttons
  • Ivoroid top binding
  • Ebony fingerboard with 5 engraved pearl position marks and ivoroid binding
  • Ivory nut
  • Ivory saddle in bridge
  • Rosewood veneered headstock
  • Style 140

    Not Pictured

  • List Price: $80.00
  • Mahogany neck
  • 40 ribs of Rosewood with ivoroid between each rim
  • Tulipwood border
  • Spruce top
  • Inlaid tortoise celluloid guard plate with pearl inlay
  • Fancy pearl inlays around soundhole and top
  • Pearl inlay in headstock
  • Engraved gold tuners with pearl buttons
  • Ivoroid top binding
  • Ebony fingerboard with 5 engraved pearl position marks and ivoroid binding
  • Ivory nut
  • Ivory saddle in bridge
  • Rosewood veneered headstock
  • Engraved tailpiece
  • Style 150


  • List Price: $125.00
  • Mahogany neck
  • Tulipwood border with inlaid pearl and celluloid
  • 40 fluted ribs of ebonized maple with aluminum inlay between each rib
  • Spruce top
  • Inlaid tortoise celluloid guard plate with pearl and metal inlay
  • 'Variegated pearl cording' around soundhole and top
  • Pearl inlay in headstock
  • Engraved gold and silver tuners with pearl buttons
  • Ivoroid top binding
  • Ebony fingerboard with engraved pearl position marks and ivoroid binding
  • Ivory nut
  • Ivory saddle in bridge
  • Tortoise celluloid headstock veneer with pearl inlays
  • Engraved tailpiece

  • Style 224 - Mandola

  • List Price: $25.00
  • Mahogany neck
  • 21 ribs of mahogany
  • Rosewood border
  • Spruce top
  • Tortoise celluloid guardplate
  • Colored wood purfing around soundhole and top
  • Ebony fingerboard 
  • Pearl position dots
  • Nickel plated tuners

  • Style 418 - 12 String Mandolin

    Not Pictured

    • List Price: $19.00
    • Spanish Cedar
    • 9 ribs
    • Mahogany border
    • Spruce top
    • Inlaid wood guardplate
    • Wood purfling around soundhole and tip
    • Ebony fingerboard
    • Ivory nut
    • Ivory saddle in bridge

    Style 420 - 12 String Mandolin

    Not Pictured

    • List Price: $21.00
    • Mahogany neck
    • 13 ribs
    • Mahogany border
    • Spruce top
    • Inlaid celluloid guard plate
    • Wood purfling around soundhole and tip
    • Ebony fingerboard
    • Ivory nut
    • Ivory saddle in bridge
    • Rosewood veneered headstock

    Style 422 - 12 String Mandolin

    Not Pictured

    • List Price: $25.00
    • Mahogany neck
    • 13 ribs of Rosewood and Birds-eye maple
    • Mahogany border
    • Spruce top
    • Inlaid celluloid guard plate
    • Wood purfling around soundhole and tip
    • Ebony fingerboard
    • Ivory nut
    • Ivory saddle in bridge
    • Rosewood veneered headstock

    Style 426 - 12 String Mandolin

    • List Price: $29.00
    • Mahogany neck
    • 21 ribs of Rosewood and Birds-eye maple
    • Rosewood border
    • Spruce top
    • Inlaid tortoise celluloid guard plate with scroll ornament
    • Colored wood purfling around soundhole and top
    • Ebony fingerboard
    • Ivory nut
    • Ivory saddle in bridge
    • Rosewood veneered headstock

    Style 310 - Mandolinette


  • List Price: $16.00
  • Stained Birds-eye maple back and sides
  • Mahogany neck
  • Ebony fingerboard
  • Inlaid tortoise celluloid guard plate
  • Wood purfling around soundhole and top
  • Nickel plate tuners

  • Style 320 - Mandolinette

    Not Pictured

  • List Price: $18.00
  • Mahogany back and sides
  • Mahogany neck
  • Ebony fingerboard
  • Inlaid tortoise celluloid guard plate
  • Wood purfling around soundhole and top
  • Nickel plate tuners

  • Style 340 - Mandolinette

    Not Pictured

  • List Price: $24.00
  • Brazilian Rosewood back and sides
  • Mahogany neck
  • Ebony fingerboard
  • Inlaid tortoise celluloid guard plate
  • 'Fancy' purfling around soundhole and top
  • Nickel plate tuners

  • Style 350 - Mandolinette

    Not Pictured

  • List Price: $26.00
  • Brazilian Rosewood back and sides
  • Mahogany neck
  • Ebony fingerboard
  • Inlaid tortoise celluloid guard plate
  • Inlaid pearl figures around soundhole and top
  • Nickel plate tuners
  • Mandolin Cases

    Not built by Schwarzer, these were fairly common case offerings. But a fun thing to note nonetheless

















      About Best known for their zithers, the Schwarzer company is rarely associated with other stringed instruments when in actuality they prod...

     


    About

    Best known for their zithers, the Schwarzer company is rarely associated with other stringed instruments when in actuality they produced guitars, mandolins, and violins. Thankfully the State Historical Society of Missouri had copies of the Schwarzer catalogs and I paid to get high quality scans. I am including the guitar models and their descriptions below. The date of this catalog is unknown but I know from their log book that the first guitar was produced around 1896.

    Use my Guide to Schwarzer Serial Numbers for a closer date on your instrument and Contact Me with your serial number for an exact date of manufacture. I also buy and repair instruments.

    Style 2
    Image Credit: State Historical Society of Missouri

    Franz Schwarzer's Style 2 instruments started at $20 for their Standard size (No.502) and were available in Concert (No.602) and Grand Concert (No.702) sizes.
    • Solid Mahogany body
    • Inlaid wood purfling around soundhole and top
    • Radiused rosewood fingerboard
    • Pearl position dots
    • Ivoroid heel plate
    • Veneered headstock
    • Nickel-plated tuners with celluloid buttons
    • Ebony bridge

    Style 3


    The Style 3 instruments started at $25 for the Standard size (No.503) and were also available in Concert (No.603) and Grand Concert (No.703) sizes.
    • Solid Mahogany body
    • "Fancy marquetry" purfling around soundhole and top
    • 'Variegated' wood centerstrip on the back
    • Radiused rosewood fingerboard
    • Fancy pearl inlaid position markers
    • Ivoroid heel plate
    • Veneered headstock
    • Nickel-plated tuners with celluloid buttons
    • Ebony bridge

    Style 4

    The Style 4 instruments started at $30 for the Standard size (No.504) and were also available in Concert (No.604) and Grand Concert (No.704) sizes.
    • Solid Mahogany body
    • Fancy pearl figures inlaid around the soundhole and top
    • Ivoroid top binding
    • Radiused rosewood fingerboard
    • 'Variegated' wood centerstrip on the back
    • Fancy pearl inlaid position markers
    • Ivoroid heel plate
    • Veneered headstock
    • Nickel-plated tuners with celluloid buttons
    • Ebony bridge

    Style 4

    The Style 5 instruments were identical to the Style 4 except they were Brazilian Rosewood. They started at $50 for the Standard size (No.505) and were also available in Concert (No.605) and Grand Concert (No.705) sizes.
    • Solid Brazilian Rosewood body
    • Fancy pearl figures
    • 'Variegated' wood centerstrip on the back
    • Fancy pearl inlaid position markers
    • Ivoroid heel plate
    • Veneered headstock
    • Nickel-plated tuners with celluloid buttons
    • Ebony bridge






    Albert Hesse working on a zither December 19th, 1937 Image Credit:  State Historical Society of Missouri Upbringing Albert August Hesse was ...

    Albert Hesse working on a zither
    December 19th, 1937
    Image Credit: State Historical Society of Missouri

    Upbringing

    Albert August Hesse was born October 13, 1878, in Washington, Missouri to August and Wilhelmina "Mina" Hesse. He was the youngest of his six brothers and second only to his youngest sister Mina [1]. Not much is known about his early childhood except that his father was a laborer and the family lived on Olive Street [4]. After finishing the 8th grade, he switched to working full time at a cob pipe manufacturer, a large industry in town, with dreams of quitting and moving up to "Saint Louie" [2]. 

    Albert was persuaded to stay in Washington only after receiving an offer of employment from a Mr Franz Schwarzer, owner of a musical instrument manufacturing firm. Franz, known as "Papa" to his employees, and his wife, Josephina, immigrated from Austria in 1866 having studied architecture and woodworking at the Polytechnic Institute in Vienna [6]. His factory was built about a block away from his home, overlooking the Missouri river, and would become a staple of Washington, Missouri [5]. His firm was experiencing an outstanding demand for their instruments and by the 1890s were producing around 500 hand-crafted instruments every year.

    Franz Schwarzer in front of his factory
    Circa 1901
    Image Credit: State Historical Society of Missouri

    Albert was 14 when he first began working for Franz, around 1894, and was hired as an errand boy. He recounted the effect that this opportunity had on him in a 1950 interview where was quoted as saying,

    "Mr. Schwarzer gave me my start in life" 

    With tears in his eyes. Albert earned twenty-five cents per day for his work. Having no children of their own, the Schwarzers invited Albert to come live with them. He rushed home to obtain permission from his parents and was granted it on his mother's terms that he would return home for one home-cooked meal [2]. By the time of the 1900 census, both Albert and his brother George were employed for Franz.

    Schwarzer Factory Employees
    Albert is lying down at the left in front of another worker
    Franz Schwarzer is leaning on Andreas Mohrlock just to his right
    Circa 1901
    Image Credit: State Historical Society of Missouri

    By the turn of the century, production had slowed back down to pre-1890 levels of a few hundred instruments a year. At the peak, Schwarzer employed around 26 men and were taking more orders than they were able to fill [7]. These men were building instruments and shipping them all across the country to satisfy the orders flooding in from retailers and individuals. Although their primary product was the zither, they had diversified into building mandolins, guitars, and violins using their expertise and stock of exotic woods and materials. The very first guitar appears, from my research, to have been built in 1896.

    1904

    Franz passed away in 1904 at the age of 76 and Josephine became the owner of the company. Franz's employees were known for being loyal, on account of how well they were treated, and I cannot imagine Josephine would've struggled in managing the men. They continued to take orders and build around two-hundred instruments a year. 

    A odd quirk appears in the log book where #8800 was misstamped, scratched out, and the next serial number is #8900. I was contacted about a serial number in that missing range so its possible that they continued to stamp #88xx serial numbers while logging them as being #89xx. I haven't found enough examples from that era to adjust my information 

    1912

    Josephine died in 1912 and left the factory to Herman Grohe who is referenced as either being a nephew to Josephine or their neighbor back in Austria. Regardless, at this point Herman was an experienced employee and a trusted friend to the Schwarzers. The factory's output had decreased to around a hundred instruments per year.

    1924

    Herman Grohe died and Albert Hesse, being the senior-most employee, took over the factory's operations while Grohe's widow, Annie, inherited ownership of the company.

    1927

    Production of Schwarzer instruments hits rock bottom in a slump that lasted until Grohe's widow shut down operations at the factory in 1933. The serial number log book becomes erratic and difficult to follow with only a hundred and twenty instruments ordered in the next decade.

    1937

    In December of 1937, photographer Townsend Godsey passed through Washington, Missouri on his journey to capture rural Missouri in film. He took two photographs at the zither factory, the one at the top of the page and below, which are incredibly glimpses into the work of a craftsman. These photos were labelled as being of Andreas Mohrlock, who had died twenty-years prior. Albert is seen working on one of the six instruments that were ordered that year; a far cry from the hundreds of orders that they received when he was first hired. Albert and his brother were the only two employees left at the firm [10].

    Albert Hesse working on a zither
    December 19th, 1937
    Image Credit: State Historical Society of Missouri

    1941 - 75 Years in Business

    Albert Hesse holding a ~1906 Schwarzer zither
    1941
    Image Credit: Newspapers.com - St Louis Post Dispatch

    In 1941, the Franz Schwarzer factory solemnly celebrated its 75th year in business. Forty years prior, the Schwarzer factory was headed by Franz, himself, and was on the top of the world. Now in the midst of a world war, Albert and his brother George were the only surviving employees building only a couple instruments per year. Time had taken both the skilled workforce and the market demand for their instruments. Albert said,

    "When I started at this factory as an errand boy in 1894, I had no idea I would live to see the day that the zither would be almost a curiosity."

    Despite the downturn in orders, he was still very proud of the legacy of the company and the instruments that they produced. He described the price as meaning nothing to the avid zither player and his motto as "not how much, but how good" in response to factory made zithers. His attitude remained positive about his work saying

    "Yes, times have changed. But I do not complain. Still the orders find their way here and I have enough to do"

    Albert Hesse playing a c.1906 Schwarzer zither
    1941
    Image Credit: Newspapers.com - St Louis Post Dispatch

    The reporter pointed out the two order books on a side table which went back to 1891 and 1866 and contained the names and addresses of customers of the Schwarzer Zither Company. Albert said,

    "Once, that order book meant only the amount of business we were doing. Now it means more than that to me. It is a record of my friends all over the world. Most of them I have never seen and I have no way of telling which of them are still alive, but a great many of them have written to me. There is a sort of bond between zither players."

    The Third Man

    The theatrical release of Carol Reed's movie, The Third Man, in 1949 (1950 in America) stirred a new interest in the zither. It appeared in the opening scene and was also part of the soundtrack thanks to player Anton Karas.

    The St Louis Globe Democrat interviewed Albert in June of 1950 and described the 78-year-old man as having "no plans for cashing in on it". He had been receiving "10 to 20 letters a day from people wanting catalogues and asking about prices" but seemed content with his relaxed itinerary of repairing customer instruments and using an electrically-powered winder to construct the famed Schwarzer strings. He had been winding the strings since 1912 on a pedal-powered machine. Albert's brother had died four years prior, leaving him as the sole employee and likely the last person alive who had worked under Franz Schwarzer, himself [2].

    The 1950s

    On October 20th, 1951 the very last order for a Schwarzer instrument was placed. Carolyn Johnson ordered #10855, a 32 string concert zither, from Albert Hesse. 10 days later, correspondence was sent from the factory to Mrs W. H. Brueggemann which was described by a FretboardJournal.com columnist as the "Saddest Letter Ever Written?". In the letter, Albert responds to an inquiry on the cost of strings with his prices and ends the document by saying "I am the only onekeft[sic]"


    The factory officially closed down in 1952 and Albert Hesse took his tools and bench home where he would continue repairs and string winding in his basement until its retirement in 1954 [8]. 

    In 1953, an auction was held to sell off everything remaining within the factory including unfinished instruments, tools, jigs, and souvenirs. 

    Franz Schwarzer's house and factory (left)
    Circa 1900
    Image Credit: State Historical Society of Missouri

    Destruction of the Factory

    Judge Randolph H. Schaper, along with his sisters Florence and Margaret, purchased the factory from their aunt, Mrs. Grohe, with the express intent to tear it down. Randolph, born in 1905, had been a life-long resident of Washington and I do have to wonder what the motivation might have been behind demolishing such a large piece of their town's history. 

    Shortly after, the red brick factory was demolished and shoveled off the property. 

    As someone who is passionate about the history of musical instrument manufacturing and the history of Missouri craftsmen, I consider the demolition of the Schwarzer factory to be one of the worst tragedies for the historic record. Had the factory been left standing, it would've functioned as an incredible museum for a business that helped put the town on the map. Of the dozen or so instrument factories I've tracked down, most are still standing in some capacity and to see that this was torn down is devastating.

    Passing of Albert Hesse

    Albert Hesse passed away on June 28th, 1955 in his home at the age of 76. He was survived by his wife, Anna, and sister, Minnie [9]. 

    Albert spent his entire life as a craftsman and luthier beginning as an errand boy for the Franz Schwarzer Zither Company and departing as the last living employee. His career spanning sixty years in service despite two world wars, the death of his boss and mentor, and the complete decline of the market for their instruments cannot be understated. It would've been an honor to speak with him and learn about his life experiences first hand. 

    Serial Numbers

    I did spend the money to purchase scans of the Franz Schwarzer log book which had been preserved. Its fairly expensive so as a favor to the community I've published the first serial number of each year so you can estimate the age of your instrument. If you reach out to me via email, I will send you a screenshot of your serial number record

    Sources

    [1] https://www.newspapers.com/image/legacy/137305235/?article=b9f805c3-a04b-4d7c-9b6b-46bdc4f58391&focus=0.15040684,0.4058592,0.2828062,0.67046356&xid=3355&_gl=1*bgl9m5*_ga*MTIzNzkzNjIxLjE2NDIxODkwMDQ.*_ga_4QT8FMEX30*MTY2Mzg2NTgwOC4zMi4xLjE2NjM4NjU5MDguMC4wLjA.&_ga=2.167727486.1310917887.1663863595-123793621.1642189004
    [2] https://www.newspapers.com/image/legacy/573889599/?clipping_id=109994007&fcfToken=eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJmcmVlLXZpZXctaWQiOjU3Mzg4OTU5OSwiaWF0IjoxNjYzODYzMzU5LCJleHAiOjE2NjM5NDk3NTl9.9cUDbRmDG6QajQR3IXJm7BPAnQAxGZ5vBN-1KnEcgAQ
    [3] https://www.newspapers.com/image/legacy/126540901/?terms=franz%20schwarzer&match=1 
    [4] https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/7602/images/4118776_00813?pId=76202425
    [5] https://www.emissourian.com/features_people/feature_stories/music-to-historians-ears/article_dd7c675d-575d-56d7-b583-cdda3a9ff396.html
    [6] https://www.zither.us/schwarzer.zither.king
    [7] https://www.newspapers.com/image/legacy/139305241/?terms=franz%20schwarzer&match=1
    [8] https://www.newspapers.com/image/legacy/137305235/?article=b9f805c3-a04b-4d7c-9b6b-46bdc4f58391&focus=0.15040684,0.4058592,0.2828062,0.67046356&xid=3355&_gl=1*bgl9m5*_ga*MTIzNzkzNjIxLjE2NDIxODkwMDQ.*_ga_4QT8FMEX30*MTY2Mzg2NTgwOC4zMi4xLjE2NjM4NjU5MDguMC4wLjA.&_ga=2.167727486.1310917887.1663863595-123793621.1642189004
    [9] https://www.newspapers.com/image/legacy/137305235/?article=b9f805c3-a04b-4d7c-9b6b-46bdc4f58391&focus=0.15040684,0.4058592,0.2828062,0.67046356&xid=3355&_gl=1*bgl9m5*_ga*MTIzNzkzNjIxLjE2NDIxODkwMDQ.*_ga_4QT8FMEX30*MTY2Mzg2NTgwOC4zMi4xLjE2NjM4NjU5MDguMC4wLjA.&_ga=2.167727486.1310917887.1663863595-123793621.1642189004
    [10] https://www.newspapers.com/image/legacy/94324821/?terms=franz%20schwarzer&match=1
    [11] https://www.ancestry.com/discoveryui-content/view/91890948:2442

    Kay Musical Instrument Co ended its 37 year run in 1968 when its new parent company went bankrupt after only a year of ownership. As far as ...

    Kay Musical Instrument Co ended its 37 year run in 1968 when its new parent company went bankrupt after only a year of ownership. As far as I knew, that was the last time a Kay instrument would be manufactured in the United States. The brand returned in the 1970s and was applied to Japanese import instruments and later Korean and Taiwanese guitars in the 1980s. Today I was introduced to the exception to that rule, a footnote in Kay's history in an era that I have ignored. I am a bit of a snob about Kay instruments made post-1968 but this guitar piqued my interest. Thank you to Casandra who reached out to me with this.

    1978-1980 Kay Acoustic - Made in America
    Image Credit: Casandra S

    Background

    The year is 1964, Beatlemania is taking over the US, and guitars are the hottest product on the shelves. Kay Musical Instrument Co had just built their multi-million dollar factory in Elk Grove Village, Illinois (see this rare 1964 Kay booklet I scanned) to modernize and compete with growing demand. Kay primarily served the retail stores across the country; providing guitars, mandolins, and banjos for the stores to resell. If you walked into any department store in America, there would be a section for guitars and 9 times out of 10 it would've been built in America by a Chicago or New Jersey manufacturer. 

    Simultaneously in Chicago, The Weiss Musical Instrument Co was founded by Sylvain Weindling, Richard Weiss, and Barry Hornstein with Robert Weintraub as head of sales. The firm was established to import musical instruments from the burgeoning Japanese market (post-WWII reconstruction) and provide them to the growing American market [6]. 

    Japanese manufacture of guitars had been around for at least a decade by that point and benefitted from access to tropical woods that resembled what the American manufacturers had been importing from South America for nearly a century. The Japanese were not held back by the established norms of instrument design that Americans had learned from Germany, France, and Spain and so their instruments stood out with unique body shapes and designs.

    Weiss Muiscal Instrument Co reached an agreement with the Japanese manufacturer, Teisco, which had formed shortly after WWII and had begun dipping their toes in the guitar market. Weiss became the sole dealer of Teisco instruments and sold literal boat loads to American retailers who could not believe the prices they were seeing [1]. It wouldn't be long before American and Japanese instruments would appear next to each other in the catalogs, often with the same brand name rendering them indistinguishable to the consumer.

    Kay had been purchased in 1965 by the Seeburg Corporation, a jukebox manufacturer, who had seen the success of guitars in the early 1960s and wanted in. They began a modest redesign of the Kay instrument lineup. But by 1967, Kay was losing sales to the imports and became a huge liability. In sharp contrast, Weiss Musical Instrument Co reported a 50% increase in sales compared to 7% in the rest of the industry [4]. 

    Kay was bailed out by Valco, long-time manufacturer of Supro guitars and amplifiers, who purchased the company and began extensive reworking. These new instruments had Valco-designed maple necks with the Valco bolt-on neck joints and had new body shapes and appointments. Unfortunately Valco went bankrupt after only a year sinking the Kay name.

    Around 1970, W.M.I. Corp had the opportunity to purchase the Kay brand name. It seemed fitting, W.M.I was at the top of their game and owning a well-established American brand seemed like a solid investment for their product line. By 1973 they were working with the Richard Legg Co to develop marketing and sales strategies for their launch [3]. 

    Kay's 1973 Relaunch

    The debut 1973 Kay catalog had a bold, biblical slogan   
    Image Credit: Kay Vintage Reissue

    Kay guitars returned to the shelves in 1973 with a brand new catalog entirely of imported instruments. The debut catalog is rather drab to the modern eye; many of the instruments are plain and uninspired while others are blatant rip offs. Stylistically, the fancier acoustics, the mandolins, and electrics borrow heavily from Gibson while the cheaper acoustics have no discernable style. They are all constructed of laminate of Philippine Mahogany or Luan and the acoustics are crudely braced. They were meant for the American consumer who may have grown up with a Kay guitar and would like their children to have one also. Having played and worked on some of these instruments, I imagine they discouraged more kids than they inspired. Snobbery aside, these instruments are legitimately very tough to play. But you cannot deny the success, by 1975 W.M.I had purchased a 150,000 square foot warehouse at 3057 N. Rockwell Street and moved their operations to that location [2].

    The Guitar

    Image Credit: Casandra S

    On June 22nd, 1978, Charles E Jones of W.M.I. Corp (owners of the Kay brand name ) filed a patent for a guitar constructed entirely of molded plastic. Certainly a departure from the traditional wood construction but not as outrageous as it might've been a decade earlier. Italian luthier Mario Maccaferri had patented his own process for plastic guitars in the 1950s and they featured colorful designs and swirls mixed in the plastic. Ovation, one of the today's most prominent manufacturers of plastic-backed guitars, first displayed their instrument at NAMM in 1967. But while Maccaferri's guitars were seen more as novelties, Jones intended for his guitar to be a working instrument free from the pitfalls of previous molded instruments. 

    Patent image of the guitar
    Image Credit: Google Patents

    The neck is molded from "styrene acrylonitrile copolymer with glass fiber reinforcement" with weight relief pockets molded and a bent sheet metal reinforcement strip running its length. The tuners were mounted to the headplate which fits onto the headstock and encloses the tuners entirely. Interestingly, the tuners themselves were intended to be made from glass fiber reinforced nylon relying on the properties of nylon to self-lubricate the tuning machines.

    Interior drawing of the bracing and neck joint
    Image Credit: Google Patents

    The body was made of the same plastic composition with a spruce veneer laminated over poplar as the top. The top bracing was one piece, injection molded, and bonded via epoxy or contact cement. The bridge was mounted the same way but had locating pins to facilitate placement.

    Image Credit: Casandra S

    W.M.I. Corp was granted patent 4,213,370 on July 22nd, 1980. The instruments say "Made in U.S.A" on the back but I'm not able to determine where exactly they were molded and assembled. 

    Kay's Later History

    By 1981, W.M.I. sold the Kay name to Anthony Ruzbasan and Tony Blair who moved the headquarters to 5398 Massachusetts Ave (later 4180 Elmhurt Dr) in Indianapolis, Indiana  [5]. They continued to import acoustics of similar quality but expanded the electric line with beginner level guitars in a wider variety of body shapes similar to Fender, Gibson, Steinberger, and Alembic. They are the current owners of the Kay brand name and import cheap beginner instruments as well as lending the brand name to American-made reissues of certain Kay models by Fritz Brothers Guitars.


    Sources

    [1] https://www.google.com/books/edition/The_Purchaser_s_Guide_to_the_Music_Indus/dZA5AAAAMAAJ?hl=en&gbpv=1&bsq=Weiss%20
    [2] https://www.google.com/books/edition/Realty_and_Building/omcgAQAAMAAJ?hl=en&gbpv=1&bsq=%22w.m.i.+corp%22&dq=%22w.m.i.+corp%22&printsec=frontcover
    [3] https://books.google.com/books?id=IwkEAAAAMBAJ&pg=RA1-PA48&dq=%22w.m.i.+corp%22&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwiJqOuOg_L5AhVAnGoFHRGpDAgQ6AF6BAgGEAI#v=onepage&q=%22w.m.i.%20corp%22&f=false
    [4] https://books.google.com/books?id=ugcEAAAAMBAJ&pg=PA12&dq=%22w.m.i.+corp%22&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjMjuum-vP5AhVnjYkEHQY1Cog4ChDoAXoECAsQAg#v=onepage&q=%22w.m.i.%20corp%22&f=false
    [5] The Purchasers Guide to the Music Industries Vol. 85 (1981)
    [6] https://www.newspapers.com/image/legacy/386565942/?terms=%22Weiss%20Musical%20Instrument%22&match=1