COLLECTION: Musical Instruments

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Zither

1788
Origin: America, Pennsylvania, Heidelberg
OL. 37 3/8" (956 mm.); OW. 3 3/4" (95 mm.); OH (not including bridge): 1 7/8" (48 mm.); thickness of belly: 2.8 mm; thickness of back: 4-5.5 mm.; OL(frets): 20 mm; nut to bridge: 613 mm; OL(bridge crest wire): 60 mm. (originally 80 mm)
Maple, soft wood (pine?), iron, paint, and ink
Gift of Mrs. Jeannette S. Hamner
Acc. No. 2000.708.1
INSTRUMENT: Rectangular body, tapering from the tailpiece to the tuning head, with nine strings, three of which are fretted on fourteen frets; with three sets of round finger holes (each individual hole diam. 7 mm) on the belly, two of which form squares (a center hole with four perimeter perforations that go through the belly and four that do not) and one of which forms a cross (with one center perforation that goes through the belly and four that do not), all of which are defined by concentric scribe lines; bottom extends length of instrument except top 40 mm and has a single sound hole (diam. 28 mm) and no feet; belly is not glued through top of tuning head and has no marking gauge or transverse lines; there appear to be no individual nuts (these may be the guide pins referred to under "CONDITION"). DECORATION: Painted and inked decoration in black and red on all surfaces except bottom, which is unfinished. Decoration on belly includes wavy lines with circles as a border and around sound holes, stylized flowers, vines and scrolls, with note names from C-C (2 octaves) in block letters, except "D" in script; on tuning head penned ink scallops and free-form scrolls and leaves on top and sides; on long side, stylized tulips, scrolls vines and flowers (similar to fraktur decoration): on short side, inscription (see "MARKS") penned in black ink between scribe lines with inked decorative letters and other decoration. Decoration is very similar to that found in Schaefferstown, PA, fraktur decoration.
TUNING HEAD: Tuning head has chamfered edges on top and is shaped on one side with small and large reverse curves terminating in large and small angled decorative areas. The shape of the tuning head is similar to examples A1-A7 in Smith, Catalogue of Pre-revival Appalachian Dulcimers, pg. 17-18, although much more finely executed.
Label:Decorated eighteenth-century musical instruments made in America's German-speaking communities are uncommon. Inscribed and dated examples are exceptionally rare; this one may be unique. As translated from the German, the text on the short side of the zither reads, "That heart of mine shall be given to you alone, amen that is true, we want to sing and play an entire year [illegible] Heidelberg Township, Dauphin County 27 February Samuel Ache 1788."
Two points are critical to understanding the inscription. Achey's (Ache's) name on the instrument indicates that he owned it, not necessarily that he made it. (In fact, German scholars doubt that he was either fabricator or decorator). Secondly, English-oriented historians may interpret the text as secular, even amorous, but it is sacred in nature. Fuller texts from other sources clearly reveal that the writer intended Jesus as his heart's recipient, not a flesh-and-blood woman. The zither may have been used to accompany hymns.
Forerunners of dulcimers, box zithers could be played by fingers, a plectrum, or a bow, but this one's construction and mechanical evidence suggest that it was primarily plucked or strummed with the fingers. Interestingly, its scale includes a flatted seventh, denoting the Mixolydian mode, less familiar to modern ears than the major (Ionian) or minor (Aeolian) scales.
Achey was a prominent citizen of eastern Lebanon County (which, in 1813, was carved from Dauphin, named on the instrument). About 1792, he married Elizabeth Albright of Schaefferstown, Pennsylvania. The Acheys were members of the Reformed Church there and were buried in its cemetery.

Provenance:Descended in Mrs. Hamner's family, which originated in the present Berks County, Pennsylvania, area.
Inscription(s):Inscription on short side: "Das herze mein, Soll dir allein, Ergeben Sein, amen deB werde wahre, wir wollen Singen unde Spiehlen Ein ganzes Yahr [abraded]/Heydelberg Daunship Dauphin County 27 Den feberwari SAMUEL ACHE 1788".

Translation (done in 2000 by Pastor Fred Weiser?): "That heart of mine shall be given to you alone, amen that is true, we want to sing and play an entire year [illegible] Heydelberg Township, Dauphin County 27 February Samuel Ache 1788".

N. B. Not transcribed here are the note names inscribed between the frets. According to German note nomenclature, they incorporate "H" instead of "B".