In the late 1800s and early 1900s, numerous domestic zither manufacturers emerged in the United States. In Missouri, Franz Schwarzer was producing award winning zithers. Chicago based Lyon & Healy and Hartmann Bros. & Reinard, of New York City, also sold and manufactured zithers. In our Nation's Capitol, on 1417 Sixth Street, NW, zithers and strings were also being manufactured to fulfill the demand of zither-playing Washingtonians.

A very interesting find has recently emerged that sheds light on the musical history of our Nation's Capitol. The instrument, a concert zither, was fortuitously saved from a collapsed farm building in West Virginia. Fitted with a wire hanger, the zither had apparently been used as a wall decoration for a number of years. As the saying goes, if walls could talk, just image what this zither would have to say!

An examination of the zither maker's label, located inside the sound hole of the instrument, identifies it as the handiwork of Franz Waldecker & Co. As it so happened, this concert zither was constructed in Washington D.C., many years ago. Founded in 1863, Franz Waldecker & Co. was a successful enterprise that met the musical requirements of Washingtonians for several decades.

An advertisement placed in a December 30, 1887 issue of the Washington Critic newspaper places the music store's location at 521 Seventh Street, NW. From their store-front location, pianos, organs and numerous instruments were available for sale, including zithers. Their factory, located at 1417 Sixth Street, NW, was engaged in the manufacture of strings, zithers and other musical instruments. As a service, the company also repaired and polished instruments.

Franz Waldecker, founder of the company, was himself an accomplished zither player and promoter of this instrument. He is credited with publishing the first newsletter in the United States dedicated to the zither, "The Zitherplayer." First published in 1879, the newsletter continued until 1881. A brief description of his zither newsletter is provided in Publisher's Weekly, vol. 27, January- June, 1885: "The Zitherplayer is the title of an unpretentious little journal devoted to the interest of zither playing. It is edited by O.G. Eckstein and published by Franz Waldecker & Co., Washington, D.C at 75 cents per year."

His zither activities and publications were not limited to his zither-focused newsletter. With zithers, strings and sheet music, his company endeavored to meet all of the material requirements for zither players in the city. He was a recognized teacher of this instrument. According to Zeitschrift, Volume 10, 1908, he is listed among the well-known "composers, or performers, or instruction book writers, on the Munich system." His composition, Deutsche Träume am Potomac Fluss (German Dreams on the Potomac River), suggests memorable excursions along the river. As an inventor, he was interested in problems of efficiency. In 1881 he was issued US Patent number 240,057 for his zither table, which functioned as a table and carrying case for the traveling musician.

Franz Waldecker & Co. Zither Label

Franz Waldecker passed away in 1883 and his widow, Josephine Waldecker, became the executrix of her late husband's estate. The business of Franz Waldecker & Co., however, continued on after his passing and, in 1894, the business had re-located to 719 7th Street, NW. Josephine Waldecker also continued to renew the copyright on her husband's zither instruction book. A copyright renewal from the Library of Congress, Catalogue of Copyright Entries, 1911, reads: "Praktische zither-schule; practical instruction book for the zither 10th ed. © by Josephine Waldecker. Chicago, as widow of the author, in renewal for 28 years. Renewal no. 2390, Dec. 29,1911. Original entry. July 10,1884, no. 13973."

Franz Waldecker & Co. Zither (ca. 1875)

The musical tastes and habits of Washingtonians invariably changed and the business and factory of Franz Waldecker & Co. eventually closed. Franz Waldecker and, to a large degree the zither, have faded from the collective memory of Washingtonians. Time, however, has left a hint for us in the form of a weathered zither, sheltered by a dilapidated farm building in West Virginia.

For the enjoyment of the zither community, the following composition and arrangement by Franz Waldecker is provided in the following table. If the reader should have additional works by him to share, please contact us.

Index Composer Arranger Title Publisher Notes
SM-0267 Franz Waldecker Franz Waldecker Deutsche Träume am Potomac Fluss Franz Waldecker & Co., Washington, D.C. Code: C
SM-0268 Carl Maria von Weber Franz Waldecker Freischütz Franz Waldecker & Co., Washington, D.C. Code: C

Our thanks to M.J. Rinehart for bringing this zither to our attention. Do you have a zither photograph or story you would like to share? If so, email, or use the provided contact form.