c. 1871 Mareschal Mathieu

Mirecourt, France

Ferdinand Pelzer, the son of a mathematics professor, was born in 1801 in the ancient city of Treves (Trier) near Germany’s border with Luxembourg. He assisted his father with his teaching duties at the local university, but he was particularly drawn to music; he excelled as a teacher, composer, player of the piano forte, and most of all, as a guitarist.

Date 1871
Location Mirecourt, France
Length of Guitar 940mm
String Length 631mm
Upper Bout Width 247mm
Waist Width 180mm
Lower Bout Width 310mm
Side Depth at Waist 87mm
Soundboard: Spruce | Back: Birdseye maple | Sides: Birdseye maple | Details: Madame Pratten’s wax seal is stamped on the back of the headstock.

Maker Biography

Performance Video

In 1820, Pelzer and his wife traveled from Mülheim, Germany to honeymoon in London. Shortly thereafter, they decided to make England their new home and Ferdinand quickly established himself as a respected teacher of the guitar. He became one of the editors of the earliest known British guitar periodical, The Giulianiad, which honored in its title the famous Italian guitar virtuoso, Mauro Giuliani. Pelzer’s tireless work and fervent dedication helped popularize the guitar in England. It’s probably no coincidence that England’s most famous luthier, Louis Panormo, had to increase his production of guitars in response to the growing demand from an enthusiastic public.

The Pelzers had two talented daughters who played the guitar, Catherina Josepha (1824–1895) and Giulia (1838–1938). Catherina was promoted as a child prodigy who performed to much acclaim as both a soloist and as part of a duo with the equally young Swiss-born virtuoso, Giulio Regondi.  She later married the renowned flautist Robert Sidney Pratten in 1854. As Madame Pratten, she became the late-Victorian era’s foremost figure in London’s guitar scene, playing an influential role in popularizing the instrument among the nobility and gentry alike. Her students included F. A. Cramer, Ernest Shand, Princess Louise (daughter of Queen Victoria), and Dr. Walter Leckie (Francisco Tárrega’s patron).

Madame Pratten amassed an impressive collection of guitars, nearly all of them London-made and identifiable in one of three ways: by her wax seal with the initials “SP” to the head, by a brass nameplate to the case, or by provenance. (Her own handwritten labels tended to be larger than average, perhaps to cover the original maker’s label or branding.)

Catherina’s younger sister, Giulia Pelzer, succeeded her in business, continuing their century long dominance as teachers and influencers among London’s guitar elite. Their joint collection of guitars was auctioned at Sotheby’s in 1938 after Giulia’s death and included Madame Pratten’s “terz” guitar and an eight-string guitar, both by D. & A. Roudhloff. (The eight-string instrument likely belonged to Regondi, as neither of the Pelzer sisters played an eight-string guitar.) There were two guitars belonging to Sor, one catalogued as “Napoleon’s guitar” with the following note: The guitar, formerly the property of Napoleon, was given by Bacheville, one of Napoleon’s Generals, to Ferdinand Pelzer who taught him (Bacheville) the guitar. It is quite probable that many of the other guitars in the estate belonged to the well-to-do and were passed on to the Pelzer sisters either when the guitar went out of fashion in the mid-nineteenth century or upon the death of the owner.

Determining the maker of a Mirecourt-made guitar, usually marked by an iron brand as opposed to a more descriptive paper label, is sometimes complicated by the intermarriage of various Mirecourt families. Furthermore, labels and marks were often used by successive generations within a family and occasionally sold to a different house who continued to use it. This is certainly the case for the Pratten guitar in the Austin-Marie Collection which is branded “Mareschal Mathieu.” Both the Mareschal and the Mathieu families of Mirecourt, France produced many luthiers. Here, we presume that the families were joined by marriage, and the maker of this guitar decided to use both family names.

The Mareschal Mathieu in this collection also carries a paper label written in Madame Pratten’s hand that reads: “Selected by Catherina Josepha Pratten, 38 Welbeck Street Cavendish Sq. London 1871.” “Selected” usually meant it was chosen by her for one of her students; this guitar, however, carries her black wax seal at the back of the headstock with the intertwined initials “SP” (Sidney Pratten). She stamped many of her guitars with the “SP” stamp using red or black wax. (It is not clear if there was any significance associated with either color.)

Although most iconography shows Madame Pratten with lavishly decorated guitars, ten of the thirteen guitars which are known to have personally belonged to her are actually quite plain. This may have been a case of choosing an ornate guitar for the photographer’s eye but allowing the sound of an instrument to take precedence for the purposes of playing.