Labels of the Boehm instruments in chronological order

As the Waldzithers of C. H. Boehm bear no serial numbers, it is the labels inside the instruments which constitute the most valuable means for the dating of an individual instrument. The method of dating that is proposed here is to compare the different labels with each other, analyse changes in the construction of the instruments, and compare the data they provide with information gained from external sources (e.g. patent registrations or entries in the Hamburg address and telephone books). Fortunately, C. H. Boehm changed the design of his labels quite often (at least in the early years) so that it is possible to date his instruments with this method fairly well.

The three known catalogues from 1912, 1926 and 1929 are unfortunately no great help for an accurate dating of the instruments, for C. H. Boehm used the same pictures in these catalogues for many years. In other words, the Waldzithers that were actually produced at a certain date could be quite different from what the pictures in the catalogue of the same year would have displayed.

The dates presented hereafter mark the estimated first use of a certain label. For the older Waldzithers, these data should not differ more than 1-2 years from the actual date, for the younger instruments after 1918, a comparable accuracy is impossible because Boehm continued to use the same labels for many years. The majority of the surviving Waldzithers dates from this time period, but this bears no greater consequences for, in these later years, the model range of the Boehm instruments was fairly fixed so that the value of a particular instrument will depend more on the model type and its condition than on its exact year of manufacture.


1897 Round label in beige

The oldest known Boehm label probably dates from 1897 and therefore from the founding year of the company. The two D.G.R.M. (Deutsches Reichs-Gebrauchs-Muster = German Reich Utility Model) numbers refer to two patent registrations from this year: On June 11th 1897, C. H. Boehm had his Waldzither registered (Nr. 77344), and on August 12th 1897, his Preston tuners (Nr. 80548) which he had developed following the style of the Guitarra Portuguesa. The guess that this may be the first label used by Boehm is based on three observations: 1. This label differs in colour from all subsequent labels; 2. there is only one Waldzither known today (with this label) that has the  D.G.R.M. number 80548  engraved on the tuners; 3. all three Waldzithers with this label that are known today are not supplied with a glass bridge but with an ebony bridge with a metal insert.

1898 Round label in black

This signature differs from its precursor only in colour and the fonts that are used, but it differs like this from all subsequent labels by being round (and not square). From this time on until about 1910, all Boehm labels are black with golden letters and golden decoration. And, from now on, all Boehm instruments bear a glass bridge.

1900 Square D.G.R.M. label

On June 8th 1900, Boehm renewed the term of protection for his Waldzither (which always ran for three years), but not for his Preston tuners. This third label must therefore also have come into use before mid-1900. It has already the square shape of all the later labels, as well as a font for the word “C. H. Boehm” that was also to be used on the subsequent labels. The two known Waldzithers with this label already show a rich mother-of-pearl ornamentation on the fretboard and around the sound hole, similar to those known from the higher models of later years.

1901 "Musikwaaren" label without Walddoline

As C. H. Boehm refrained from renewing the protection of his tuners (D.G.R.M. number 80548), the previous label should not have been used much after 1900. But the twin-“aa” in the word “Musikwaaren” (= musical goods) of this next label was removed in a German spelling reform in 1903. It follows that this label, as well as its immediate successor, must fall in the time period until about 1904. Of course, the spelling reform was not implemented everywhere at once (but right on January 1st in the offices and on April 1st in the schools), but the last time that the word “Musikwaaren” showed up in the yellow pages of Hamburg was already in 1904.

1904 "Musikwaaren" label with Walddoline

This label differs from its precursor only by adding the Walddoline. Again, the introduction of this instrument to the Boehm model range can be discerned fairly well: On April 6th 1904, Boehm registered the Walddoline at the patent office as a utility model (No. 73575); the patent was assigned on November 3rd 1904. The unchanged spelling of the word “Musikwaaren” on this label indicates that it came out of use probably not much later than 1904. Some instruments with this label already show signs of a kind of transition: They are bigger than their predecessors, but they do not yet reach the full size of the later standard models.

1905 "Waldzither-Fabrik" label with “Egyptienne” font

This label differs from its precursor by replacing the word “Musikwaaren-Fabrik” through the word “Waldzither-Fabrik” and adding the postal district “Hamburg 5”. The latter does not help in dating the label, for all three Hamburg addresses of C. H. Boehm lay in the same town district St. Georg. Instruments with this label are the first to display the measurements that are found on all subsequent Waldzithers. The development of Boehm’s model range seems also to be finished: From now on (and apart from a few custom made instruments), all Waldzithers produced by Boehm can be classified into the Models Nr. 1-4 (although Model Nr. 1 is differentiated into three sub-models in later years). Only a few early instruments with this label still wear the old “Portuguese” kind of Preston tuners, the rest uses simplified tuners with shortened screws that are arranged in one single row. Like their immediate predecessor with high screws, these tuners have at first a single hump in the middle, but before long they are replaced by tuners with two asymmetrically arranged humps. This label is also printed in the 1912 Catalogue, but the instruments in the catalogue all wear the older type of tuners with only one hump in the middle. This can be seen as evidence that Boehm drew back on older photos for the printing of this catalogue.

1908 "Waldzither-Fabrik" label with “Art Nouveau” font

The change made between this label and its predecessor is marked by a different font, a different ornamentation left and right of the word “Fabrik” and a change of the word “Spec. Waldzithern” to “Spez. Waldzithern”. All instruments with this label have tuners with two asymmetrically arranged humps (and never “Portuguese” type high screws), which is a clear indication that this label came into use after the previous one, although the earlier “Egyptienne” label was still to be used years later in the 1912 catalogue.

1911 "GR. 4. 6825" label without black bars

In 1910, C. H. Boehm is registered in the Hamburg telephone book with his own telephone connection (GR. 4. 6825); the address book presents this number from 1911 on. In subsequent years, the labels of the Boehm instruments always display the current telephone number. Some tuners of Waldzithers bearing this label show signs of a further simplification: While the older screws had two rings, now some screws have only one ring left. It seems therefore as if C. H. Boehm moved step by step towards his later standard tuners which got along without any ring (and which can therefore be managed only with a special tuning key). A few instruments with this label already wear the standard tuners that came to be used on all further Boehm instruments.

1914 "GR. 4. 6825" label "D.R. Patent"

This label differs from its predecessor only by showing left and right of the word “Walddoline” the words “D.R. Patent”. Apart from his utility models and trademarks, C. H. Boehm received only one true patent: On February 5th 1914, he received a patent for a stringed instrument with a hollow neck, that is, for a Waldzither with a hollow neck made of aluminum. Until now, only one  instrument  with such a neck of aluminum is known: It is known that the First World War led to a rising demand for aluminum which also meant that every non-war usage of it had to be discontinued. In consequence, Boehm was probably not able to build many Waldzithers of this type altogether.

1914 "GR. 4. 6825" label with black bars

On most labels which bear the words "D.R." and "Patent", these words are covered by two black bars. There is at present only one instrument known which does not display these bars; it is a Waldziter Nr. 1 without an aluminum neck. This suggests that Boehm originally intended to use the labels with the words "D.R." and "Patent" on all of his instruments. But in order to avoid the false impression that he had a patent for his usual Waldzithers with wooden necks, he would have soon been forced to blacken out the reference to his patent on the label.

1918 "Alster 6825" label with black bars

In 1918, the telephone book entry of C. H. Boehm changes from "GR. 4. 6825" to "Alster 6825"; this new telephone number is also displayed on the next generation of labels. This label is also known in two versions, one with and one without black bars; in the latter version, the free space left and right of the word “Walddoline” is filled with the words “Gegr. (= founded) 1897”. Until now, it has not been possible to discern what is hidden by the black bars of this label (there would of course have been no reason to cross out the words “Gegr. 1897”). But after the war, Boehm managed to produce at least some Waldzithers with an aluminum neck (the instrument shown above is from ca. 1920), although it seems that he still hadn’t much success with this type of instruments. It therefore seems reasonable to suggest that he continued to print the words “D.R. Patent” on the first generation of this label (using the black bars whenever the instrument had no aluminum neck). After finding that he only managed to produce and sell a few instruments with this kind of neck, he would have decided to replace the words “D.R. Patent” by the words “Gegr. 1897”. N.B.: The Waldzither with the aluminum neck has the Alster 6825 label without black bars and the words “D.R. Patent” engraved on the tuners.

1919 "Alster 6825" label without black bars

Instruments that carry the Alster 6825 label without black bars are quite often, instruments that carry the Alster 6825 label with black bars, quite seldom. This suggests that this label must have followed its unhappy precursor quite soon. A number of instruments with this label shows some signs of the material shortage of the early post-war time: The mother-of pearl inlays and other decoration elements of some Waldzithers Nr. 2 and Nr. 3 are significantly reduced (e.g. the outer ring around the sound hole is missing, the herringbone strip on the back is replaced by a simple piece of wood, and the scratch plate of Nr. 3 lacks its entire MOP decoration). Even some instruments with the previous label have this reduced design, but also quite a few instruments with this later label return to the full design. It therefore seems as if Boehm used this type of label for at least some time after the economic situation had meliorated; how long it stayed in use is hard to determine without further evidence.

1925 Standard label

This label can be found on the greatest part of the surviving Boehm Waldzithers. The fact that it is presented in the 1926 Catalogue is evidence that it must have been introduced beforehand (there is also a instrument with the buying date June 17th 1930 engraved on top of the head). As there are no other signatures known from this time period, it has to be supposed that it was kept in use also after 1931, when the telephone number of the Boehm Company changed into 242375.

1937 "Hamburg 1" label

This is the last label to be found on genuine Boehm instruments. Because of the changed postal code, its introduction can be dated quite well: On April 1st 1937, the so called “Greater Hamburg Act” became effective, which united the city of Hamburg with towns like Altona, Wandsbek, and Harburg-Wilhelmsburg, as well as with a number of other smaller villages. This also led to a reorganization of the inner-city districts so that the Steintorweg moved from the district “Hamburg 5” to the district “Hamburg 1”. This label also displays the new telephone number which had been introduced some six years earlier. Two Walddolines and a Waldzither are known whose label displays the name of a music shop of another town. Martina Rosenberger, who knew only the Waldzither with this label, guesses in her book “The Waldzither Puzzle” that this instrument was already built by the GEWA Company. But there are two facts which suggest a different interpretation: a) this Waldzither is a Nr. 1B, of which not a second instrument has been found that was produced by the GEWA Company, and b) the GEWA Company obviously never built Walddolines (they already had mandolins in their program when they took over the Boehm Company). It therefore seems that the Boehm Company, at least in its later years, tried to sell its instruments in other cities through local music stores.

1942 Early GEWA label

Labels with an empty white box are a reliable indicator that the instrument in question was built not by C. H. Boehm but by the GEWA Company. Georg Walther, a producer of musical instruments from Adorf/Vogtland, presumably bought the Boehm Company in 1942 from Margarethe Boehm, and continued to produce Waldzithers of the Boehm type until the 1960s (even after the company had moved to Mittenwald/Karwendel in the south of Germany). It is usually quite easy to distinguish GEWA Waldzithers from genuine Boehm instruments, even if the GEWA Company seems to have used up the rest of the Boehm production at first: There are quite some GEWA instruments which still display original Boehm tuners and tailpieces; even a few glass bridges are to be found. Only as these had been used up, the Company started to produce their own tuners and tailpieces and provided their instruments with bridges of dark wood.

Late GEWA label

The GEWA Company seems also to have used up the rest of the last generation of Boehm labels – with the only difference that now the white box (in which the address of the Boehm Company had been printed) was kept empty. But there is another GEWA label (also based on the last Boehm label) on which the Walddoline is omitted, which, as has been said before, the GEWA Company obviously never produced. It is hard to tell when this label came into use, but the change seems to have happened after the rest of the Boehm production had been used up. The last original part from Boehm to be found on a GEWA instrument is the tailpiece; it seems to have vanished at about the same time as the introduction of the late GEWA label.