c. 1831 Joseph Gerard


Mirecourt, France

Joseph Gerard (c. 1806–1844) was a favorite maker of the acclaimed British guitar virtuoso, composer, and tutor Catharina Josepha Pelzer (1824-1895), later known through marriage as Madame Sidney Pratten.

Gerard likely arrived in London after 1830 to build guitars in the R. & W. Davis workshop (please see the R.&.W Davis guitar attributed to Gerard in this collection), as one extant guitar labeled by Davis is signed under the soundboard “Joseph Gerard/á Londres/1831.” Although Gerard claimed he was from Paris, he was likely born and initially trained in Mirecourt in northeastern France. (It was fashionable at the time for French émigrés to embellish their resumes by claiming they worked in the capital.)

The provenance of the c. 1831 guitar attributed to Gerard in the Austin-Marie Collection is particularly unique. It came from the estate of Madame Pratten’s younger sister, British guitarist and mandolinist Giulia King-Church, née Pelzer (1838-1938). Their father was the renowned nineteenth century guitar instructor, publicist, and promoter Ferdinand Pelzer.

Date c. 1831
Location London, England
Length of Guitar 920mm
String Length 632mm
Upper Bout Width 250mm
Waist Width 182mm
Lower Bout Width 315mm
Side Depth at Waist 84mm
Soundboard: Spruce | Back: Brazilian rosewood | Sides: Brazilian rosewood | Details: Typical Mirecourt design

The guitar carries a label visible through the soundhole that reads:

Mme. Sidney Pratten, Instructress to H.R.H. The Princess Louise. [1857]

(Written below in Madame Pratten’s hand)
“This guitar belonged to my Father Ferdinand Pelzer 1831”

The guitar’s original case bears two plaques to the outside that read:

Madame Sidney Pratten
Mme Sidney Pratten/(No 2) 22A Dorset Street/Portman Sqe London

Following Madame Pratten’s death in 1895 her younger sister Giulia inherited the Gerard guitar and when Giulia died in 1938, her collection of guitars and memorabilia were auctioned at Sotheby’s in London. The c. 1831 Gerard was one of two guitars included as Lot #192 in the 1938 auction list.

Ferdinand Pelzer was born in 1801 in Treves, then part of the Kingdom of Prussia. He initially followed his father’s footsteps as a math instructor but was drawn to music and enthusiastically focused his efforts on the guitar. After immigrating to London with his wife and young daughter Catharina in or around 1830, he quickly established himself as a reputable guitar instructor. Riding the wave of guitar mania that swept through Britain and Europe during the first few decades of the nineteenth century, he became a prominent figure in the London guitar scene and could boast a list of wealthy aristocrats as students.

Ferdinand promoted his oldest daughter Catharina as a child prodigy who wowed enthusiastic audiences. Her numerous concerts included performances with another child prodigy, the French-born Italian guitarist Giulio Regondi. She later married the renowned English flautist Robert Sidney Pratten and became known henceforth as Madame Sidney Pratten. She spent her later years teaching and composing.

Ferdinand Pelzer’s Gerard carries no maker’s mark or label – not an uncommon occurrence with guitars made by Mirecourtian luthiers. (Note: the maker’s label might be covered by Madame Pratten’s own label visible though the soundhole.) The soundboard is made of fine-grained spruce with rosewood back and sides. The soundhole and body edges are bordered with matching multi-string banding. The head shape is typical of London-made guitars and the tuners are brass with shaped ivory buttons.