CHARLES F. L. RICHTER (Founder)
CARL H. RICHTER (Son)
Richter (Richter Mfg. Co. Chicago) was a Chicago label of the 1920’s, 30’s and early 40’s. Their guitars were budget instruments but they are on a par with Harmony and Kay guitars of the period, and for blues playing can sound as good as any 1930’s Oscar Schmidt concert sized guitar. Most Richter guitars were all birch construction, many with a stenciled or silk screened decorated soundboard, very popular at the time.
There is also the belief that Richter did not make their own instruments but contracted other Chicago manufacturers to do the work, Harmony is usually mentioned. I am quite certain they did have their own factory, and they proudly display it in one of their ads (more information below). Their guitars also have quite distinctive characteristics that further substantiates that they had their own factory.
RICHTER GUITAR CHARACTERISTCS
- Medium quality all birch body instruments with a rounded chunky, yet comfortable neck.
- Richter branded guitars usually (but not always) have the distinctive ‘gumby’ style headstock with the small paper ‘Richter’ label in a script font on the front of the headstock and ‘RICHTER MFG. CO. CHICAGO, ILL.’ impressed into the wood on the back.
- Richter made guitars usually have the word ‘RICHTER’ stamped in ink onto a thin piece of wood that is glued (sometimes haphazardly) to the heel plate on the inside of the guitar. On this heel plate can also be stamped the manufacture date or a serial number. Guitars that carry a distributors brand such as B & J Serenader still have this stamp inside the guitar.
- The saw kerfing around the top and bottom inside the guitar usually has a small square profile.
- Richter made some cowboy stencil guitars that were sold by Montgomery Ward, ‘The Plainsman’ from 1938-1941, ‘Home on the Range’ from 1938-1939, ‘Red Foley in 1940 and ‘Rodeo’ Scene, also in 1940.
The Richter Manufacturing Co. was founded by Charles F. L. Richter, sometime before August 1920:
“C. F. L. RICHTER DIES. Charles F. L. Richter, president of the Richter Mfg. Co., a string musical instrument concern at 2532 Irving Park boulevard, Chicago, died last week. Mr. Richter was a Mason and a Shriner. He was an active member of perhaps a dozen fraternal organizations. He was a member of the Illinois legislature in 1909. He was born in Germany April 30, 1853. and came to America in 1883.” (PRESTO 28 Aug 1920 p 5.)
Following the death of Charles Richter in 1920 the company was run by his two sons, Carl H. Richter and Harold Richter, and by February 1923 The Richter Mfg. Co. had “completed its first full year as a manufacturer of stringed musical instruments for the musical merchandise trade” and that they were “now in a position to supply the trade with an excellent line of mandolins, banjos, guitars, ukuleles, and other stringed instruments”. (MTR Feb 3, 1923, p. 29)
In the early years of manufacturing the company seemed to have great success with the ‘Sweetheart’ brand of Ukulele: “Carl Richter, president of the Richter Mfg. Co., is highly gratified with the activities of the Sweethearts in the face of the present ukulele business situation. “I don’t know where they all go to, but everybody seems to want a Sweetheart.” MTR Nov 20, 1926, p 38. (Note Carl Richter was now the president of the company, and after 1927 there is no mention of Harold in further articles).
The company was not afraid to try new products and advertising a “waterproof” Ukulele in 1922 (the Beach-Uke) that “It is especially adapted for use on bathing beaches, being waterproof and immune from the effects of dampness.” They also brought out a larger sized Ukulele in 1924 and in 1930 hand painted decorated guitars.
The 1930’s seemed to be busy years for the Richter company, selling direct and through distributors. They also had an arrangement with Montgomery Ward, who sold Richter guitars through their mail order system.
In the early 1930’s one of their ads carried a photograph of their factory:
A Google Earth photo search shows this factory still stands today:
The Richter Manufacturing Company ceased trading sometime in 1943 or 1944. The Music Trade Review’s for 1943 are not available and I could find no reference to why the company folded. I could also find no reference to Carl H. Richter after this date.
UPDATE: 22 August 2019
I mentioned this Ad earlier in the post, but I’d never come across a Richter hand-painted guitar as is described in the ad. That is until now when one was listed on ebay:
Click images to enlarge. The detail photo shows the brush-strokes.
UPDATE: 2 October 2019
A reader, Matt, sent me some photos of his Richter ukulele he recently purchased. Since I have not seen one of these, with Matt’s permission I am sharing a couple of the photos with you:
Wooden tuners, nicely rounded neck, it looks to be a beautiful little instrument!
All the best