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Images from the Study-Storage Collections
Alpine Zither (Arion Harp Model) by Franz Schwarzer, Washington, Missouri, 1888
"Franz Schwarzer established his plant in 1864, and has supervised the output personally ever since. Such long experience guarantees the zither he produces, signed by his autograph--like an Amati violin--to be what they should be.
Schwarzer's widow, Josephine, ran the family business after her husband's death. A nephew, Herman Grohe, inherited the business following his aunt's death in 1912. Grohe maintained a small staff of two or three workers who together continued to produce instruments for about a decade, despite a sharp decline in zither sales. Company inventory records from 1920 reveal that there was sufficient inventory remaining in the Schwarzer firm to supply demand for zithers, guitars, mandolins, and accessories until the factory was demolished in the early 1950s. Grohe's wife valiantly tried to keep the factory operational following her husband's death in 1925, allowing some older workers to remain with the firm through the 1930s and 1940s. Although "a few instruments were made and small repair work done; [for] all intents and purposes, the factory closed down in the late twenties." (Thomas M. Davis and Franz R. Beinke, "Franz Schwarzer: Missouri Zither Maker," Missouri Historical Review 60, No. 1 (October 1965): 29.)
Schwarzer's 1898 catalog includes a sketch (#1126 at the far right) of the same monogram (GA, for Guillermo Alvarez) inlaid on this zither.
According to a study of Schwarzer's life and work, "Schwarzer designed, often with the help of his wife, the inlay patterns on the top and edges of the instrument[s]. In the early years of the factory he did all of the finer work . . . . The veneer for the top of the zither was cut from rosewood, tulipwood, mahogany, or some other finish wood. The design for the inlay was then carefully traced, one section at a time, on the veneer. With small knives, usually made in the factory, the design was cut out of the veneer; the tiny pieces of mother-of-pearl were 'laid in' the appropriate places in the open area, matching not only the cut edges of the veneer, but also creating the pattern in the open area. Then glue and ebony sawdust were mixed together, smeared over the inlay, and allowed to dry. After the glue had set, the total surface was slowly sanded, removing the excess glue, and leaving the polished inlay in the black ebony background."
"Because of the tension created by fitting the small pieces together, and the strain on the eyes, only short periods at one time could be spent on the inlaying process. . . . on the more complicated designs, the inlaying might take several months; and on the intricately patterned models which sold for over $600, a full year was necessary to complete the inlaying. After the inlaid patterns were completed, the veneer was glued on the face of the instrument, leaving only the ivory trim and tulipwood burl to be fitted and glued to the edges of the instrument."
Excerpted from Thomas M. Davis and Franz R. Beinke, "Franz Schwarzer: Missouri Zither Maker," Missouri Historical Review 60, No. 1 (October 1965): 24-25.