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Sohmer & Co. Records

Author:
Falcone Custom Grand Pianos  Search this
Collector:
Musical Instruments, Division of (NMAH, SI)  Search this
Musical Instruments, Division of (NMAH, SI)  Search this
Donor:
Pratt, Read and Company  Search this
Creator:
Sohmer & Company  Search this
Names:
Sohmer & Company  Search this
Kuder, Joseph  Search this
Sohmer, Harry J.  Search this
Sohmer, Harry J., Jr.  Search this
Sohmer, Hugo  Search this
Sohmer, William  Search this
Extent:
43 Cubic feet (74 boxes and 11 oversize folders)
Type:
Archival materials
Collection descriptions
Photographs
Sales catalogs
Photographic prints
Advertisements
Scrapbooks
Clippings
Journals (accounts)
Ledgers (account books)
Place:
Ivoryton (Conn.)
New York (N.Y.) -- Musical instruments industry
Date:
1872-1989
Scope and Contents:
The records of Sohmer & Co., date from 1872 through 1989. They fall into fourteen series based primarily on function. Legal, financial, inventory & appraisal, manufacturing, marketing, advertising, and sales are the major series. Photographs, awards, family papers, publications about Sohmer, general publications, "miscellaneous" and correspondence are the remaining series. The records are especially strong in the areas of advertising, finances, and marketing. The collection does not contain corporate records, articles of incorporation, executive records, minutes, annual reports, or personnel records such as payrolls or job descriptions.
Arrangement:
The collection is divided into 14 series.

Series 1: Stock and Legal Records, 1882-1985

Series 2: Financial Records, 1887-1962

Series 3: Inventory & Appraisal Records, 1891-1980

Series 4: Manufacturing Records, 1872-1967

Series 5: Marketing, 1901-1989

Series 6: Advertising Records, 1880-1983

Series 7: Sales Records, 1923-1982

Series 8: Photographs, circa 1920-1964

Series 9: Awards, 1876-1976

Serioes 10: Sohmer Family Papers, 1945-1970

Series 11: Publications about Sohmer, 1883-1986

Series 12: General Publications, 1912-1985

Series 13: Miscellaneous Records, 1894-1983

Series 14: Correspondence, 1892-1987
Historical:
When Sohmer & Co. was founded in 1872 by Hugo Sohmer and his partner Joseph Kuder, it became one of 171 piano manufacturers in New York City. Over the next 110 years, Sohmer & Co. was one of the few active and successful family-owned and operated piano-making ventures in the United States. Nationally known for tonal quality and fine craftmanship, the firm's product, in the music trade, came to be referred to as "The Piano-Maker's Piano."
Biographical:
Born to an eminent physician in Dunningen, Wurtemberg, Germany on November 11, 1846, Hugo Sohmer enjoyed a first class education. Riding the last major wave of German immigration, which had brought piano makers such as Albert Weber, George Steck, John and Charles Fischer, and Henry E. Steinway to America, Hugo arrived in New York City in 1862. He became an apprentice in the piano making house of Schuetze & Ludolf. To learn more about European piano making, Hugo returned to Germany in 1868 and travelled extensively throughout Europe. In 1870 he returned to New York and by 1872 the 26 year old Sohmer and his partner, Josef Kuder, began manufacturing pianos in the 149 East 14th Street factory previously utilized by J.H. Boernhoeft and most recently by Marschall & Mittauer.

Josef Kuder, originally from Bohemia, Austria Hungary, learned piano making in Vienna between 1847 and 1854. Kuder arrived in New York in 1854 and became a pianomaker with Steinway & Sons which had been founded in 1853. In 1861 he returned to Vienna; he worked there until returning to New York in 1864, where he worked for Marschall & Mittauer until joining Sohmer.

Concentrating on tonal quality and response, Sohmer & Co. began producing pianos which were recognized in 1876 by an award from the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia. In the waning years of the nineteenth century Sohmer & Co. received other awards including a diploma from the Exposition Provinciale in Montreal, Quebec in 1881, the gold medal at the Great New England Fair in Worcester, Massachusetts in 1889, and an award from the World's Columbian Commission in 1893 in Chicago.

By 1883 additional factory space, located on East 23rd Street and formerly used by Carhart & Needham, was occupied to accomodate increased production. In three years this space proved inadequate and forced the renting of an extension to the original factory. The main office and salesrooms were located at 31 West 57th Street in New York City. Meanwhile, in 1884 Sohmer invented the first five foot "baby" grand piano which was applauded for its musical brilliance and depth of tone. In the early 1900's Sohmer produced grand pianos in four sizes: Concert, Parlor, Baby & Cupid.

Limited space and increased production soon became issues again, and in 1887 the company moved its factory and special machinery to Astoria, Long Island. This factory, located at 31st Avenue and Vernon Boulevard, remained in continuous operation until 1982, when the Adirondack Chair Co. bought the building and Pratt Read acquired the company.

During the 1880s a number of letters patent were granted to Sohmer for such piano improvements as the agraffe bar for tone augmentation, and the aliquot string, which were auxiliary strings "arranged in conjunction with the regular strings for the purpose of giving forth reverberatory or sympathetic waves of sound, thus augmenting the general tone results of each unison." (Spillane, History, 256.)

In 1894 Hugo Sohmer took competitor Sebastian Sommer to court for stenciling the name "Sommer" on the fallboard of his pianos. Sohmer declared that "Sohmer" was a trademark used as an emblem to distinguish the piano from others, especially the Sommer piano which he considered inferior. The court in this equity case dismissed the case on the grounds that Sohmer had not proven damages accruing from the advertising and sale of the Sommer piano.

By 1907 Sohmer & Co. was producing 2,000 pianos per year. Additionally, with Farrand & Co. of Detroit, Sohmer was making the Sohmer Cecilian player piano. On June 8, 1913 Hugo Sohmer died in Scarsdale, N.Y.; 20 days later, Josef Kuder died as well. Hugo was survived by his wife, Elizabeth; a daughter, Adelaide S. Weber; and a son, Harry J. Sohmer, born in 1886. Company leadership was assumed by Harry J. Sohmer after Hugo's death.

During the 1920s Sohmer began a special department in its plant for the manufacture of period pianos. According to Harry Sohmer, the 1930s were difficult. He recalled that, once only one piano in 29 days was shipped. The number of American piano manufacturers dropped from 140 to 22 during this time. It was during this time that Harry's cousins, Frank and Paul Sohmer joined the company as consultants. However, through its pioneering efforts in the introduction of a console vertical piano known as a "Spinet," Sohmer revitalized the industry. (Taylor, "Piano Family.") This console vertical piano has been called "The Musicians' Console.

Primarily because of its concentration on the console vertical pianos Sohmer & Co. never cultivated famous performers in the way that Steinway and Baldwin did. While publicly acknowledging that it never entered into the competition for artistic endorsement (an acknowledgement which perhaps worked to its favor), Sohmer & Co. relied upon a most comprehensive and innovative advertising strategy stressing integrity, quality and craftsmanship in the pursuit of the ideal tone and touch.

In 1940 Harry incorporated the company as Sohmer & Co. and led it, with his sons Harry J. Sohmer, Jr., (born 1917) as production manager and Robert H. Sohmer (born 1920), as process engineer. By 1969 Harry Jr. was vice president in charge of production and Robert was production engineer/ treasurer. In 1971 Harry Sr. died and Harry Jr. became president.

In 1982 Pratt Read Corporation, a long established manufacturer of piano keyboards, acquired Sohmer & Co. for an undisclosed amount, and moved the operations to its Ivoryton, Connecticut factory, while retaining the Sohmer name. The Sohmer brothers retained their positions in the company. At the time of its purchase Sohmer & Co. employed 120 people, produced 2500 pianos yearly, and grossed $5 million in sales. Harry J. Sohmer, Jr., grandson of the founder, in expressing his feelings about the move and the Sohmer piano, compared his piano to old New York beers saying that "they were strictly New York products and in a way so were we." He concluded by saying, "We were always identified with this city. Sohmer was a New York piano." (Prial, "Sohmer Piano.")

By July 1983 under Pratt Read's management Sohmer was producing 6 pianos per day, only 50% of the expected capacity according to H.B. Comstock, president of Pratt Read. In 1986 the Ivoryton factory was sold to a group of investors organized as Sohmer Holding Co., who continued to make pianos there until a lack of skilled workers and financial losses forced its closing in December 1988. In an effort to fill the backlog of orders, Sohmer president Tom Bradshaw opened a new facility in Elysburg, Pennsylvania. A retail showroom was maintained in Ivoryton. In 1989, the Sohmer company was sold to the Falcone Custom Grand Piano Company of Haverhill, Massachusetts.

References

Cox, Erin. "Labor Woes a Main Factor in Sohmer Closing," The Pictorial Gazette West, 3 (December 8, 1988), 1, 22.

Dolge, Alfred. Piano and their Makers. 1911; rpt. New York: Dover Publications, 1973.

Loesser, Arthur. Men, Women and Pianos: A Social History. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1954.

Musical Merchandise Review. "Sohmer Pianos Underway at Conn. Pratt Read," July 1983, 91.

The Music Trades. "Pratt, Read Acquires Sohmer & Co. Piano Maker,"August 1982, 18.

Piano and Organ Purchaser's Guide, 1907, 1930. Prial, Frank J. "Sohmer Piano, and 110 Years of Craft, will leave Astoria," New York Times, August 13, 1982, B1, B4.

Purchaser's Guide to the Music Industries. 1956, New York: The Music Trades, 1956, 58 60.

Spillane, Daniel. History of the American Pianoforte: Its Technical Development, and the Trade. 1890; rpt. New York: Da Capo Press, 1969.

Taylor, Carol. "Piano Family Stays in Tune," New York World Telegram & Sun, August 15, 1958.
Materials in the Archives Center, National Museum of American History:
Pratt Read Corp. Records (AC0320)

Chickering & Sons Records (AC0264)

Steinway Piano Co. Collection (AC0178)
Provenance:
Collection donated by Pratt Read Corporation, August 11, 1989.
Restrictions:
Collection is open for research.
Collection is open for research.
Rights:
Collection items available for reproduction, but the Archives Center makes no guarantees concerning copyright restrictions. Other intellectual property rights may apply. Archives Center cost-recovery and use fees may apply when requesting reproductions.
Topic:
Musical instrument manufacturing  Search this
Piano makers  Search this
advertising -- History  Search this
Keyboard instruments  Search this
Piano  Search this
advertising  Search this
Genre/Form:
Photographs -- 20th century
Sales catalogs
Photographic prints
Advertisements
Photographs -- 1850-1900
Scrapbooks
Clippings
Journals (accounts)
Ledgers (account books)
Citation:
Sohmer & Co. Records, Archives Center, National Museum of American History.
Identifier:
NMAH.AC.0349
See more items in:
Sohmer & Co. Records
Archival Repository:
Archives Center, National Museum of American History
EDAN-URL:
ead_collection:sova-nmah-ac-0349
Additional Online Media:

Advertising Records

Names:
Lake Placid Club  Search this
Sohmer, Hugo  Search this
Sohmer, William  Search this
Collection Author:
Falcone Custom Grand Pianos  Search this
Collection Collector:
Musical Instruments, Division of (NMAH, SI)  Search this
Collection Donor:
Pratt, Read and Company  Search this
Collection Creator:
Sohmer & Company  Search this
Type:
Archival materials
Scrapbooks
Clippings
Proof sheets
Sheet music
Reprints
Advertisements
Date:
1880-1985
Scope and Contents:
The Advertising, dating from 1880 to 1989, are by far the most comprehensive records of the collection. They are reflective of Sohmer & Co.'s heavy dependence on advertising to get its product before the people. The company advertisements represented range from the colorful cartoon advertisements featured in the magazine Puck in 1888 1890, to an undeveloped sketch by Harry Sohmer entitled: "New York Oddities, New York Certainties." [Series 7: Boxes OS 16 and OS 55 respectively.] Generally, all the ingredients for an advertising campaign from start to finish are present in these records. From the Art Work (i.e., photographs and sketches), to the Mechanicals (represented by the assemblage of art work, text, captions, layouts, and overlays), the concepts behind a campaign can be seen in the process of design development. Proof Sheets show the finished advertisement before publication, while Trade Paper and Newspaper Reprints and clippings show the advertisement as it appeared in print.

The Scrapbooks of Sohmer Advertisements include advertisements clipped from newspapers (primarily New York) and trade papers from 1883 through 1983. There are none for the years 1942 1945. Occasionally included within these scrapbooks are also the latest Sohmer catalog or booklet and clippings of editorial comments about the company's latest advertisements.

The scrapbooks of the years 1883 to 1903 primarily contain newsclippings relating to New York City politics and the 1897 nomination of Hugo Sohmer's brother William as mayoral candidate of the German faction of Tammany Hall. Other clippings relate to New York municipal elections, William Sohmer's political activities, and his appointment as city clerk in 1898. Interspersed with these articles, many of which are from German language publications such as the New York Plattduettsche Post, are clippings of Sohmer piano advertisements. Although all the scrapbooks are in very brittle condition and require careful handling, the earliest scrapbooks should be handled with particular caution due to their extremely critical condition.

The scrapbooks of the early 1900's continue to include news clippings about Sohmer & Co., e.g. regarding the move of their salesrooms in 1909, along with advertisement clippings. After c. 1922 scrapbooks primarily contain wholesale and retail advertisements, and fewer or no news clippings.

One undated scrapbook contains information for dealers about the Sohmer Piano Company. Sohmer also followed the advertisement campaigns of its competitors, as scrapbooks of competitor advertisements [OS FLDR 6 8] and a scrapbook with competitor ads and news clippings [OS 48] demonstrate.

The Scrapbooks covering the years 1953 through 1966 include schedules for advertisements, which are organized by the name of the newspaper in which the advertisement is to run, when it is to run, how many lines, and the cost per line; there are total costs and agency fees for each newspaper. The scrapbooks also include coupon advertising statistics and analyses, which are organized by media (i.e., newspaper or magazine), and in the following categories: number of inquiries, number of units sold, sale cost in dollars, advertising dollars spent, and advertising cost per sale.

Statistics on the pianos used as prizes on television game shows, such as "The Price is Right" and "Say When," can be found in the scrapbooks from 1959 through the 1960s. They include the date of broadcast, whether it was an evening or daytime show, the piano model, and whether it was purchased or contributed to the show.

The Scrapbook of Sohmer Advertising Mail Follow ups of 1935 include typed letters of thanks, testimonials, and marketing booklets. The trade paper reprints of advertisements are arranged numerically by piano model number, then alphabetically by name of campaign. Newspaper Reprints are arranged alphabetically by name of campaign. The Proof Sheets for dealer use, arranged numerically by their assigned numbers, were utilized by dealers to promote their store as well as Sohmer pianos. On these proofs was a request for copies of the advertisements as they appeared in print. A sampling of these is found in the Dealer Advertisements of 1948 1954.

The promotional campaign organized between Sohmer and pianist Edward J. McGinley in 1955 represents advertising in a microcosm. Included are letters to McGinley setting up a public demonstration entitled "Piano Playing Made Easy," preliminary design sketches of the advertisement, clippings of the advertisement, and a "Book of Official Record of Inquiries" about the demonstration.

The series also includes several items of miscellaneous advertisements such as a recording of a Sohmer commercial, a map of New York City, and gift wrapping paper with Sohmer advertisements.
Collection Restrictions:
Collection is open for research.
Collection is open for research.
Collection Rights:
Collection items available for reproduction, but the Archives Center makes no guarantees concerning copyright restrictions. Other intellectual property rights may apply. Archives Center cost-recovery and use fees may apply when requesting reproductions.
Topic:
Television  Search this
Municipal Election, New York City  Search this
Game shows  Search this
Sound -- Recording and reproducing  Search this
Genre/Form:
Scrapbooks
Clippings -- 1880-1910
Proof sheets
Sheet music
Reprints
Advertisements -- 20th century
Advertisements
Collection Citation:
Sohmer & Co. Records, Archives Center, National Museum of American History.
Identifier:
NMAH.AC.0349, Series 6
See more items in:
Sohmer & Co. Records
Archival Repository:
Archives Center, National Museum of American History
EDAN-URL:
ead_component:sova-nmah-ac-0349-ref133

Publications about Sohmer

Names:
Pratt, Read and Company  Search this
Sohmer, Hugo  Search this
Collection Author:
Falcone Custom Grand Pianos  Search this
Collection Collector:
Musical Instruments, Division of (NMAH, SI)  Search this
Collection Donor:
Pratt, Read and Company  Search this
Collection Creator:
Sohmer & Company  Search this
Type:
Archival materials
Clippings
Reprints
Date:
1883-1986
Scope and Contents:
Publications About Sohmer, dating from 1883 1986, include trade paper reprints, newspaper clippings, and copies of magazine articles. They provide contemporary and historical accounts of the company and the family. While the stenographic account from the 1894 Musical Courier about the Sohmer v. Sommer case is colorful and informative, testimony regarding advertising costs and costs of building and selling a piano is also revealing. While Sohmer & Co. never entered into the competition for artistic endorsements, Hugo testified that he had spent $500,000 in advertising costs between 1872 and 1894. This declaration mirrors the importance which Sohmer & Co. attached to advertising.

Publications of the 1980's relate to the sale of the Sohmer Piano Company to the Pratt Read Company, and to Pratt Read.
Collection Restrictions:
Collection is open for research.
Collection is open for research.
Collection Rights:
Collection items available for reproduction, but the Archives Center makes no guarantees concerning copyright restrictions. Other intellectual property rights may apply. Archives Center cost-recovery and use fees may apply when requesting reproductions.
Topic:
New York  Search this
Genre/Form:
Clippings
Reprints
Collection Citation:
Sohmer & Co. Records, Archives Center, National Museum of American History.
Identifier:
NMAH.AC.0349, Series 11
See more items in:
Sohmer & Co. Records
Archival Repository:
Archives Center, National Museum of American History
EDAN-URL:
ead_component:sova-nmah-ac-0349-ref281

Financial Records

Names:
Fahr, Charles  Search this
Reichmann, George  Search this
Sohmer, Hugo  Search this
Collection Author:
Falcone Custom Grand Pianos  Search this
Collection Collector:
Musical Instruments, Division of (NMAH, SI)  Search this
Collection Donor:
Pratt, Read and Company  Search this
Collection Creator:
Sohmer & Company  Search this
Type:
Archival materials
Financial records
Ledgers (account books)
Journals (accounts)
Place:
New York, New York
Date:
1887 -1962
Scope and Contents:
The Financial Records consist primarily of journals and ledgers dating between 1887 and 1962. Because they are the most basic and inclusive accounting record of original entry, the Journals covering the years between 1915 and 1959, with the exceptions of 1931-1936 and 1951-1955, appear first and are arranged chronologically. Typical journal entries for a month are petty cash, cash, accounts receivable retail, executive salary, cost of retail sale, rental piano expense, and insurance expense. The new piano inventory entry includes estimated and actual costs of piano models. By 1918 monetary values for the above entries are made under five categories: private ledger, retail ledger, wholesale ledger, notes receivable, and interest. They are then referenced to corresponding page numbers in the private ledgers of the same year. General Ledgers, the principal accounting record of final entry, appear next and are arranged chronologically between the years 1901 and 1913, followed by one volume dated 1960 to 1962. Early general ledger entries included advertising, bills receivable and payable, dealer's sale account, interest, insurance, loan, purchase, postage and stable accounts, ferriage and fare, fuel, and pianos bought.

Until Hugo Sohmer's death in 1913, the general ledger was used strictly for business accounting. Around 1915 the company adopted a hybridized private ledger as the principal accounting record of final entry. This "private ledger" continued to include family business with the company until 1939. However, the name of the accounting tool remained "private ledger" until 1960 when it became simply "ledger." Typical ledger entries for 1960 to 1962 at the end of each month for a year fall under four basic categories: Assets, Liabilities, Costs and Expenses, and Income. Entries under assets include petty cash, cash, investments stocks, machinery and equipment, and various inventories including new pianos, exchanges, stools and benches. Entries under liabilities include accounts payable for New York and factory, debentures, various taxes, notes, and H.J. Sohmer personal. Entries under costs and expenses include cost of retail and wholesale sales, salaries and wages, executive salaries, commission, advertising, and various taxes including social security and real estate. Entries under income include retail and wholesale sales, service, interest, and rental piano incomes.

The private ledgers, including bound ledger sheets for 1895-1911, are arranged chronologically by volumes between 1901-1945, excepting the years 1945-1946. The only purely private ledger covers the years 1901 to 1914; it includes predominantly family member accounts with the company. Salaries for management and accounts in which quarterly issued checks are paid out (perhaps returns on investments) are typical. George Reichmann, retail department head, and Charles Fahr, financial and business manager of the firm, are names on account. Several censuses of manufacturers, dated between 1909 and 1914, were in the private ledger of 1901 to 1914; they have been transferred to series III, the inventory and appraisal records.

As already noted, the Sohmer private ledger became a hybrid of the general and private ledger format around 1915. Early typical entries in private ledgers include petty cash, accounts receivable, bank accounts, personal and drawing accounts, and retail advertising. By 1939 the accounts were set up within four categories: Assets, Liabilities, Costs and Expenses, and Income with entries similar to the 1960 1962 general ledger previously discussed.
Collection Restrictions:
Collection is open for research.
Collection is open for research.
Collection Rights:
Collection items available for reproduction, but the Archives Center makes no guarantees concerning copyright restrictions. Other intellectual property rights may apply. Archives Center cost-recovery and use fees may apply when requesting reproductions.
Topic:
Assets  Search this
Retail  Search this
Rental  Search this
Genre/Form:
Financial records
Ledgers (account books)
Journals (accounts)
Collection Citation:
Sohmer & Co. Records, Archives Center, National Museum of American History.
Identifier:
NMAH.AC.0349, Series 2
See more items in:
Sohmer & Co. Records
Archival Repository:
Archives Center, National Museum of American History
EDAN-URL:
ead_component:sova-nmah-ac-0349-ref56

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