Features of 19th century autoharps

Features of 19th century autoharps

C.F. Zimmermann, Philadelphia, 1885-93
Type 1, 1885-88 bar labels tuning labels logos shifter triggers
interior labels exterior label spiral pick The entire type1 line
Type 2, 1889-93 logo bar and tuning labels interior labels

C.F. Zimmermann Co., Dolgeville, NY (1893-99)
interior labels bar and tuning labels logos
a word about woods used in the construction of early autoharps

C.F. Zimmermann, Philadelphia, Type 1 (c. 1885-1888)

The very first American autoharps (which I refer to as "type 1" for short) were produced by C.F. Zimmermann of Philadelphia. These instruments have some conspicuous features.

index

Zimmermann,
Philadelphia >
type 1,
1885-88 >
bar labels

bar labels

Type 1 Philadelphia standard model bar labels

Standard models (Nos. 1, 2, and 2 3/4) have paper bar labels, either plain white or bluish-green colored paper with black lettering, glued to bars.

Type 1 Philadelphia shifter model bar labels

Shifter bar models (Nos. 3, 4, 5, and 6) have tacked-on celluloid bar labels or maroon/gold paper labels. It is likely that the paper ones were first and that they were replaced by celluloid because it was considered more luxurious.

index

Zimmermann,
Philadelphia >
type 1,
1885-88 >
tuning labels

tuning labels

Type 1 Philadelphia standard model tuning labels

Tuning label of standard models is either plain white or bluish-green colored paper bonded to a thin slat of wood and tacked on to the instrument's front.

Type 1 Philadelphia shifter model tuning labels

Those of shifter bar models are either maroon/gold paper, glued to a wood lath, or celluloid, tacked on. (The "tacks" used to affix various details of labelling are in all cases about the diameter of straight pins, but much shorter.)

index

Zimmermann,
Philadelphia >
type 1,
1885-88 >
logos

logos

Type 1 Philadelphia fire-brand logos on soundboard

"C.F. Zimmermann's Autoharp, Pat. May 9, '82" is fire-branded into the instrument. This brand appears in at least two different forms and in at least two different locations. One location is on the upper left hand corner of the instrument's front .

Type 1 Philadelphia fire-brand logos on bar holder covers

Another location for the logo is on the bar holder covers. One form has the logo in plain block letters, the other has a curvy "F" and a curvy, crossed "Z". As can be seen, both forms appear in both locations.

index

Zimmermann,
Philadelphia >
type 1,
1885-88 >
shifter triggers

shifter triggers

Type 1 Philadelphia shifter triggers

Shifter triggers of Type 1 instruments appear in at least three types, either wire loops, the more usual metal tabs, or a hybrid form that has (usually profiled) metal tabs soldered into wire bases:

index

Zimmermann,
Philadelphia >
type 1,
1885-88 >
interior labels

interior labels

Type 1 Philadelphia interior labels

Label inside the instrument reads "Miniature Autoharp", printed on either plain white or bluish-green colored paper. An example of each is given.

index

Zimmermann,
Philadelphia >
type 1,
1885-88 >
exterior label

exterior label

Early Philadelphia exterior paper label

Some (perhaps all) early Philadelphia autoharps left the hand of C.F. Zimmermann with this paper label affixed to the instrument's back. Given the vulnerability of this location and the usual fragility of 1880s paper due to high acid and lignin content, it is not surprising that few of these labels have survived. It was at the address given on this label that the first autoharps of American manufacture were produced.

index

Zimmermann,
Philadelphia >
type 1,
1885-88 >
spiral pick

spiral pick

Spiral pick and illustration from early manual

One curious accessory associated with early autoharps is a helical brass finger pick. This pick was to be used along with a celluloid thumb pick of conventional form. Shown is a brass spiral finger pick, along with the illustration from an 1880s instruction manual showing how it is to be worn.

index

Zimmermann,
Philadelphia >
type 1,
1885-88 >
first line

The type 1 line, in full

The Philadelphia type 1 line, in full

The instruments shown below represent the entire line of the very first American autoharps, produced in the shop of C.F. Zimmermann, Philadelphia, c. 1885-88. As can be seen, some models have appeared in more than one type 1 form, particularly the shifter models. All are represented with accompanying text in the Autoharp Gallery.

(Click on images to open larger ones.)

The entire type 1 line, all models and forms:

No. 1
No. 2
No. 2 3/4

No. 3

No. 4
No. 5


No. 6

index

C.F. Zimmermann, Philadelphia, Type 2 (c. 1889-1892)

A few years after autoharp production began, sometime around 1889, Zimmermann changed some details of the autoharp. These are cosmetic details only; no new models beyond the type 1 line shown above were introduced. The second variety ("type 2") features the changes documented below.

index

Zimmermann,
Philadelphia >
type 2,
1889-93 >
bar labels,
tuning label

bar and tuning labels labels

Paper bar and tuning labels disappear from standard models and are replaced by the tacked-on celluloid type, same as those of Type 1 shifter models, shown above.

index

Zimmermann,
Philadelphia >
type 2,
1889-93 >
logo

logo

Type 2 Philadelphia logo

Fire-brand logo is deleted, replaced by the tacked-on celluloid plate shown below, bearing the image of Zimmermann and the patent date, located just below the head bridge, on the instrument's front.

index

Zimmermann,
Philadelphia >
type 2,
1889-93 >
interior labels

interior labels

Type 2 and type 3 Philadelphia labels

Label inside the type 2 instrument is identical to the type 1 form except for the removal of the word "Miniature", again, printed on either plain white or bluish-green colored paper. An example of each is given below.

Zimmermann's instruments bore Type 2 features for the remainder of the time he produced them, but there was a third Philadelphia label, which is shown below. The Dolgeville company adopted this as its first label and continued to use it for a time.

index

 

C.F. Zimmermann Company, Dolgeville, New York, 1893-99

Sometime around 1893, Zimmermann sold the autoharp to Alfred Dolge, a piano parts manufacturer of Dolgeville, NY. It is said that at the peak of its production the Dolgeville factory manufactured 3000 autoharps per week. Several new models were introduced by the Dolgeville firm. Dolge built an impressive business empire, but it toppled in 1899. No autoharps were produced in America for the next decade to follow.

index

Zimmermann,
Dolgeville,
1893-99 >
interior labels

Dolgeville interior labels

Dolgeville interior labels

Dolgeville produced a number of different interior labels, some of which are shown below, in chronological order, left to right. Note that the first Dolgeville label is also the last Philadelphia label, which the company continued to use. The company adopted a curious practice around the time it began to use the latest label shown, the black one. This label is almost always turned 90 degrees clockwise from the usual horizontal position. One possible motive behind the decision to spin the label would be that this quarter-turned orientation of the text makes it read right-side-up from the player's view.

index

Zimmermann,
Dolgeville,
1893-99 >
bar and tuning labels

bar and tuning labels

The bar labels of Dolgeville instruments are of the tacked-on celluloid variety, either the type seen above or smaller ones which were used on the later models 2 7/8, 72 7/8, and 73. Tuning labels are nearly always the tacked on celluloid type, but decal tuning labels are known.

index

Zimmermann,
Dolgeville,
1893-99 >
logos

logos

Dolgeville logos

Early Dolgeville instruments bear the logo on a celluloid plate like the Philadelphia instruments. They are fastened with four tacks instead of two. The celluloid plate soon gave way to the decal logo, and some of the logo decals were made to reproduce the image of the celluloid plate.

And it was at Dolgeville that the familiar gold logo decal shown was first introduced. It would adorn the sound boards of autoharps by the Phonoharp Company and International Musical Corporation for the next 35 years or so, the bottom line being changed to bear the identity of its subsequent users.

index

woods

Concerning woods used in the construction of early autoharps, the tops of the Philadelphia instruments are of cedar, seldom cut dead on the quarter, but never far from it. Some instruments from both Philadelphia and Dolgeville are veneered with hardwoods. Tops of the Dolgeville instruments are of either cedar or redwood. The loose pattern at Dolgeville seems to have been that cedar was most often used for the clear-finished tops, while redwood was usually used for the black painted instruments. The Phonoharp Company used redwood early on, but at some point began making tops of poplar. Until the manufacturers resumed use of conifers and adopted the use of plywood in the 1960s, poplar remained the material used for tops. The frames are all of solid hard maple, from the beginning of production until around the 1960s, when laminated hard maple was deemed more favorable. Bridges too were of hard maple, until on later models wooden bridges were dispensed with altogether. Backs and chord bars from the earliest models through about the 1960's are all of poplar. Chord bar holders of earliest models are usually maple, but by about 1890 most were made of poplar. Interior braces of 19th century instruments are poplar. Beginning with the Phonoharp Company era, braces were made of any of a number of different woods, including poplar, maple, oak, and pine.

index