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

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About Gustav A. Ernst was born on April 18th, 1844 in Kauern, Germany. He married Emilie and had two children: Hugo (b. 1872) and Martha (b....

Gustav A. Ernst - Camden, New Jersey


Gustav A. Ernst was born on April 18th, 1844 in Kauern, Germany. He married Emilie and had two children: Hugo (b. 1872) and Martha (b. 1876). He worked as a tischler or carpenter. Gustav moved his family to the United States in May of 1882 aboard the Hamburg where they finally settled in Camden, New Jersey. He became a US citizen in 1887 [2][3].

In 1887, Gustav went into the business of manufacturing musical instruments with his son Hugo and an initial capital of $3,000. By 1895 they were employing 15 men and one women and a worker could expect to work 59 hours for around $18 per week. The raw materials that were brought into the factory included "sawed lumber, veneers, imported fretwire, machine heads, strings, and varnishes" [1]. Of the materials listed, they paid a 14% duty on the imported lumber and a 45% duty on the "strings, fretwire, machine heads, etc." [1]

Luckily for us, the Sanborn Map Company passed through Ernst's factory and gave us a brief look into what the building looked like. The building was originally a two story brick home but Gustav built on a wood frame extension that would've tripled the amount of space. 

The Factory on the South-West corner of Mechanic and Norris Streets
Sanborn Map Company, 1906 Vol. 2
Image Credit: Library of Congress

The first floor had three rooms of which the first was for 'bench work' which would've been the assembly and fitting of the parts. The second room was denoted 'sawing' and would've housed their bandsaw and other machinery powered by a 10 horse power motor sitting right outside. The southernmost addition was only a single story and was marked as 'storage' which would hold raw materials and instruments waiting on glue to dry. Hopping up to the second floor one would find a room dedicated to 'finishing' where varnishes would be hand rubbed onto the instruments and left to cure. The room behind that was designated storage and likely would've housed the drying instruments. 

Image Credit: Google Maps

The factory appears to still be standing at 1401 Norris Street but there have been further additions and renovations so its unclear whether the original structure still remains under there. Public property data that can be found on realtor websites for this address say that it was built in 1908. Whether that means a new structure was put here or the building was changed from an industrial to a residential zoning is unclear to me.

Production Totals

  • 1887 
    • Guitars - 150
    • Zithers - 40
  • 1888
    • Guitars - 250
    • Zithers - 50
  • 1889
    • Guitars - 500
    • Zithers - 20
  • 1890
    • Guitars - 750
    • Zithers - 20
  • 1891
    • Guitars - 900
    • Zithers - 25
  • 1892
    • Guitars - 1200
    • Zithers - 50
  • 1893
    • Guitars - 2000
    • Zithers - 100
  • 1894-?
    • ?
At the turn of the century, Gustav and Hugo were continuing to produce musical instruments but in 1906, Gustav passed away months before his 62nd birthday [4]. Hugo sold the old factory in 1908 and moved a stone's throw away to 1327 Haddon Avenue (his building is no longer there) [6]. He continued to produce mandolins and guitars under such names as "The Ernst" until he passed away in the late 1920s. 

Hugo also received a patent for a double back guitar in 1916

Hugo's 1912 patent for a double back guitar
US 1,180,991

Extant Instruments

Identifying Ernst instruments relies primarily on any existing labels or stamps due to their relative rarity on the market. I will add photos of Ernst instruments here in order to better help others identify theirs
Image Credit: Guernsey's Auctions - July 2021



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