This Just In!

Mandolin Harp

This month we received a unique musical instrument called a mandolin harp. We were so intrigued by it that we decided to do a little research and share it with you in this month’s This Just In.


Mandolin Harp


A zither is a class of stringed instruments and refers to any stringed instruments whose strings are fastened across a frame that lacks any projecting neck or arms. German in origin, the word zither is derived from the Greek cithara – which is also attributed as the source of the modern word “guitar.” Historically, the name has been applied to any instrument consisting of multiple strings stretched across a thin, flat body. Zithers are played by strumming or plucking strings with fingers or pick, sounding the strings with a bow, or by beating the strings with specially shaped hammers. In modern common usage the term zither refers to three specific instruments: the concert zither, the Alpine zither, and the chord zither.

Mandolin Harp

In the Museum's Library

A page from the 1902 Sears Catalog that advertises for chord harps similar to the mandolin harp

A mandolin harp is a type of fretless chord zither. This musical instrument consists of a sound box with two sets of unstopped strings. It has doubled strings in unison courses producing a more mandolin-like sound than other zithers. It also has no frets, unlike a guitar, making it such that players can only play one note on each string.

The mandolin harp was first patented by Friedrich Menzenhauer on May 29, 1894 and came into use in the late 19th century. It was then mass produced in the United States and Germany. Later, Oscar Schmidt Company and others began mass producing the mandolin harp. The Phonoharp Company used “Columbia Zither” as both a brand name and a generic name for the instrument as seen in the Sears 1902 Catalog. A unique feature called a gizmo, contained small buttons in a panel over the strings. This was present on many mandolin harps however, our mandolin harp does not have one.

Our Mandolin Harp


This is the first page of the Instructional Book that discusses how to play the Mandolin Harp


Notes of the Strings with intricate design

Notes of the strings with intricate design painted around it




While the manufacturer of this mandolin harp is unidentified, it does have many unique features. One such feature shows an eagle with an American shield painted on the body. There is also an intricate design surrounding the sound-hole and the notes of the strings. In addition to the instrument, included in the donation is an instructional booklet which teaches beginning mandolin basics.

Eagle with shield design

Eagle with American flag shield design painted on the body

Sound Hole with intricate design

Sound Hole with intricate design painted around it









Do you have any items relating to Edmonds and South Snohomish County history that you wish to donate to the Museum? We would love to hear from you! Please fill out the Artifact Donation form, For further information, please contact us at