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 Franz Schwarzer Zithers and Stringed Instruments Franz Schwarzer Image Credit: Zither.us I won't reiterate what has already been writte...

Franz Schwarzer Instrument Serial Numbers

 Franz Schwarzer Zithers and Stringed Instruments

Franz Schwarzer
Image Credit: Zither.us

I won't reiterate what has already been written about Franz Schwarzer and his company, as there are more much knowledgeable resources who have done it better, but I will try to expand on what is already known. If you do own a Schwarzer instrument, contact me and I'll get you as much information as I can and may even buy it. I live in St Louis, Missouri and love all history relating to my state.

1930 Washington Citizen article [8]

I recently shelled out the cash to purchase high quality scans of the original Schwarzer factory log books and now can date most Schwarzer instruments via their serial number down to the month (sometimes even day) and provide the name of the original purchaser. 

"To say that a zither is a guitar on which a fat man sat and then fastened the neck at the side instead of where it belonged would be resented here" [8]

Operation of the Factory

At its peak, the Schwarzer factory employed 25 men in the business and construction of instruments [9]. The factory was described as feeling like an "ordinary cabinet making shop" but with zithers, violins, guitars, and other stringed instruments hanging on the walls and on workbenches in various states of construction. Even through the 1930s the instruments were still produced primarily by hand as the employees, and some discerning players, believed that machinery was counterintuitive to making a proper zither [8]. 

Despite the association with zithers, the Schwarzer factory also produced guitars, harp guitars, violins, and mandolins in any configuration that the customer desired. There are also records in the log books of "heart shaped" violins being produced. Interest in zithers began to wane in the early 20th century and the logs reflect that with a small increase in non-zither instruments being manufactured. 

Advertising the expanse of where Schwarzer instruments could be shipped, a 1926 newspaper article notes that zithers had been sent, via submarine, to Chile and sent through Alaska via dog sled [6]. In 1938, the factory was eager to demonstrate the efficiency of transporting zither strings across the country via air mail [7].

Albert A. Hesse and A. W. Schepp were in charge of designing the instruments after Franz's passing [6].

Serial Numbers

Excerpt from the log book

I have indicated the first serial number for each year or the earliest known serial number by date
Email me with your serial number and I can give you more detailed information including limited info on any factory repairs
  • July 1885 - #2001
  • 1886 - #2154
  • 1887 - #2422
  • 1888 - #2710
  • 1889 - #3035
  • 1890 - #3395
  • 1891 - #3855
  • 1892 - #4354
  • 1893 - #4950
  • 1894 - #5556
  • 1895 - #6098
  • 1896 - #6541
  • 1897 - #6901
  • 1898 - #7241
  • 1899 - #7533
  • 1900 - #7732
  • 1901 - #8022
  • 1902 - #8311
  • 1903 - #8518
  • 1904 - #8732 - February, Death of Franz Schwarzer, his wife takes over
  • 1905 - #9002
  • 1906 - #9160
  • 1907 - #9319
  • 1908 - #9463
  • 1909 - #9586
  • 1910 - #9717
  • 1911 - #9822
  • 1912 - #9932 - Death of Mrs. Schwarzer, nephew Herman Grohe takes over
  • 1913 - #10044
  • 1914 - #10138
  • 1915 - #10197
  • 1916 - #10242
  • 1917 - #10304
  • 1918 - #10358
  • 1919 - #10426
  • 1920 - #10500
  • 1921 - #10556
  • 1922 - #10599
  • 1923 - #10622
  • 1924 - #10655 - Death of Grohe, veteran worker Albert Hesse takes over
  • 1925 - #10678
  • 1926 - #10706
  • 1927-1935 - Production hits rock bottom and the log book becomes increasingly more erratic. Grohe's widow ceases operations at the factory in 1933 but a handful of instruments are still produced
  • October 1936 - #10826
  • 1937 - #10829
  • 1938 - #10836
  • 1939 - #10842
  • 1940 - #10845
  • 1941 - #10848
  • 1943 - #10849
  • 1945 - #10850
  • 1946 - #10851, 10852, and 10853 were the only instruments produced
  • 1951 - #10854
  • October 20th, 1951 - #10855 The final instrument in the books, a 32 string concert zither for Carolyn Johnson
  • 1953 - Factory is scheduled to be demolished. [2]
    • May 2nd, 1953 was to be the date of the auction for the contents of the factory including tools, clamps, wood, fixtures, workbenches, antiques and souvenirs, and the remaining instrument stock [5]

String Winding Machine

According to a 1956 issue of the Washington Citizen newspaper, employee Albert Hesse had been winding the strings for the Schwarzer zithers since at least 1912 on a pedal operated machine. After the factory was shuttered, he moved the winding machine to his home and continued to produce strings for zither players and perform repairs on Schwarzer instruments. According to articles I can find, he was the last living employee of the factory. He passed away in the early 1950s and his wife began selling off his tools.

In comes Alberta Krader, a New York born zither player and music teacher. Her family moved to New Castle, Pennsylvania where she continued to make a name for herself as a musician and instructor. She was so important to the popularity of the instrument that she was invited to ride in a zither themed float in the 1939 Washington, Missouri centennial celebration with Hesse. 

1956 Washington Citizen column [3]


Alberta had to opportunity to purchase the Schwarzer string winding contraption from Hesse's widow in the mid 1950s and had it shipped to her residence in Pasadena, California. She had intended to continue to produce zither strings for the community of players and to teach "young handicapped lad" how to operate the machine to carry on Hesse's legacy. She died in 1966 and the fate of the machine is unclear as I do not believe she had any children. 

Sources

[1] https://www.zither.us/schwarzer.zither.king
[2] https://www.newspapers.com/image/126314274/?terms=schwarzer%20factory&match=1
[3] https://www.newspapers.com/image/137307970/?terms=schwarzer%20factory&match=1
[4] https://www.zither.us/zitherist.alberta.krader
[5] https://www.newspapers.com/image/126314057/?terms=schwarzer%20factory&match=1
[6] https://www.newspapers.com/image/94326672/?terms=schwarzer%20factory&match=1
[7] https://www.newspapers.com/image/94322955/?terms=schwarzer%20factory&match=1
[8] https://www.newspapers.com/image/94356373/?terms=schwarzer%20factory&match=1
[9] https://www.newspapers.com/image/92093037/?terms=schwarzer%20factory&match=1













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