Double Bass by Julius Heinrich Zimmermann, London circa 1895 – Review

How do you know that this double bass was made by Julius Heinrich Zimmerman?

The instrument bears its original label on the inside bass-side back. The small printed label reads 'Jul. Heinr. Zimmermann, 67 New Bond Street, London W'.

Can you describe the instrument to me please?

This is a viol shaped instrument with a swell two-piece back. The back, ribs and scroll are moderately flamed. The table is made from spruce of a fine straight grain that broadens to a medium-wide grain at the flanks. The ribs feature outside linings. The peg-box is fitted with four cogs that are affixed to the underside of boarder-engraved brass half plates. The barrels of the cogs are made of hardwood. The instrument is covered in a good quality golden brown spirit varnish over a yellow ground.

Surely these are essentially Germanic features?

Yes correct.

Can you expand on this please?

Julius Heinrich Zimmerman (b-1851, d-after 1920) was born in Sternberg in the North German state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. He was an entrepreneur who published music, dealt extensively in old instruments and opened factories and workshops in a number of countries for the production and wholesale of stringed musical instruments and accessories.

Can you tell me where he opened his workshops?

The Brompton's Book of Violin and Bow Makers by John Dilworth published in 2012 by Usk Publishing (ISBN 978-0-9573499-0-2) records that Zimmermann founded a firm in St. Petersburg in 1876. Presumably this was for the purpose of publishing music for Dillworth goes on to state in the middle of his entry that the workshop only opened for the production of stringed instruments in St Petersburg in 1895 and that it relocated to Markneukirchen in 1908.

Where did Zimmermann open his branches?

Dilworth records that he opened branches in Moscow in 1882, Leipzig in 1886 and Riga in 1905.

Can you remind me where Riga is located?

Riga is the capital of Latvia and the largest city of the Baltic States. Before WW1 it was part of the Russian empire.

What about the London branch that Zimmerman's label clearly records?

Both The Universal Dictionary of Violin and Bow Makers by William Henley published by Amati Publishing Ltd in 1973 (third edition) and the two volume Encyclopaedia of Violin Makers by Karel Jalovec which was first published in GB by Paul Hamlyn Ltd in 1976 record that in addition to the braches already notated by Dilworth a London and a Berlin branch were opened although the dates are not recorded. The well researched double volume Deutsche Bogenmacher by Klaus Grünke, C. Hans-Karl Schmidt and Wolfgang Zunterer published by Eigenverlag der Autoren in 2000 (ISBN 3-00-005839-7) does however record this information and informs us that the London branch was opened in 1890 and the Berlin one in 1919. Regarding the Markneukirchen branch the Deutche Bogenmacher records that it opened in 1919 which is a different date to the one provided by Dilworth.

What instruments were made?

The different stores produced and dealt with the entire violin family instruments and bows, lutes, guitars, balalaikas and accessories.

Is there any information on the quality of the instruments?

The Jalovec records that Zimmermann employed many capable makers in his workshops including Albrecht Robert Hammig, Friedrich August Reichel (II), Albert Roth and Walter Wilhelm Fischer. Henley records that Zimmermann "employed the best workmen from Saxony". The Deutsche Bogenmacher records that August Rau made some of the bows that bear the Zimmerman shop stamp. Henley records that the "Solo" and "Concert" model violins and cellos were of the highest grade of machinery produced instruments and that they were "beautifully finished and nicely varnished."

At what period was the business most successful?

The height of Zimmerman's success was at the beginning of the 20th century.

What effect did WW1 have on the business?

The Deutche Bogenmacher records that in 1921 the business was incorporated and that August Zimmermann - "most likely a son of J.H. Zimmermann" - was one of the directors. The entry then suggests that from the late 1920's onwards the economic effects of the war put the company into years of decline and that following numerous bankruptcy proceedings it was finally forced to close in 1938.

Tell me more about the bass please. You have mentioned factories and workshops but is this still a handmade instrument?

Yes it is handmade although several different hands may have worked on the different parts of the instrument before it was assembled by another craftsman and then varnished by yet another hand. Most of this divisional type work would have been done by a whole family either in a small workshop or within their own home.

So the use of the word "factories" in most of the reference works available is perhaps a little misleading?

In terms of instrument making it is misleading although in terms of string production this was already industrialized and operated by a few large companies.

Did mechanisation ever take over the production of instruments in Markneukirchen at some stage?

According to the pamphlet Violin-Making in the Musikwinkel of Bohemia and Saxony which accompanies the 2014 publication Markneukirchen Violins and Bows by Bruce Babbitt (ISBN-13: 978-0-615-99930-2) William Wisehart writes that in Markneukirchen in 1907 a manufacturing company started to produce thousands of violin fronts, backs and ribs using twelve machines. Unfortunately for the company it turned out that it was more expensive to use the machines rather than the many self-employed craftsmen in the region and the company liquidated during the economic depression that followed the end of the war.

How does the instrument sound?

Really huge and punchy.

Is it tonally good too?

Tonally it is very rich with deep, dark, rounded qualities.

This all sounds perfect for the orchestra. I see that the instrument even has a low-C extension fitted.

Yes that is correct. Even more impressive is the fact that the extension is fitted with stops on the Eþ, D and C#.

What else will I like about the instrument?

The neck has a really nice slim-feel to it.

Anything else to rave about?

The overall condition of the instrument is excellent.

What about the value for money aspect?

We are confident that you won't find a better quality named old instrument for less money.

Can you provide a summary?

This well made, well finished instrument really does produce a more than impressive quality and volume of sound. If you are currently doing the audition circuit or already have a position and require something that fits in with the other members of the section then this instrument by Julius Heinrich Zimmermann would make an excellent choice.

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