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Today In Mountain Dulcimer History: 3 March 1933

PostPosted: Fri Mar 03, 2017 4:41 am
by dbennett
March 3, 1933 (3/3/33) was the release date to movie theaters nationwide of the W.C. Fields (1880-1946) comedy short, “The Fatal Glass of Beer”. Early in the sketch a Canadian Mountie asks W.C Fields, “Have ya got your dulcimer here...I wonder if you’d mind singin’ me that song?” which Fields sings and “plays” while wearing huge mittens (I thought it was funny). The instrument clearly is not a dulcimer. See video of the skit at

This vaudeville style sketch written by Fields, set in the Yukon, was originally a stage play and is a parody of the old Yukon/North woods melodramas that were popular at the time. At one point Fields spits out some snow from his mouth and says, “It tastes just like corn flakes,” revealing a then studio secret: film snow was cornflakes dipped in white paint.

The instrument in the skit is a chord zither (sometimes described as a fretless zither or harp zither). Chord zithers were often marketed with brand names such as 'guitar zither' or 'mandolin zither'. They were in vogue as a parlor instrument in many homes in the late-1800s to the mid-1900s. It differs from the concert zither in not having a fretboard and from the autoharp in not having a mechanical process for blocking chords. The chord zither was patented in 1894 and was widely mass-produced in the United States and in Germany.

In The Story of the Dulcimer, 2nd Edition, Ralph Lee Smith writes, "…To the musicologist, however, the term zither is applied to any instrument in which strings are stretched over a body and does not have a neck." Ralph Lee Smith goes on to say in his discussion on scheitholts, "The Pennsylvanian German instrument is a zither--a diatonically fretted zither. So is the fretted dulcimer."

Using the definition above, the term "zither" covers a wide variety of instruments: concert zithers, chord (fretless) zithers, harp, autoharp (also known as a stopped zither or a autochord), hammer dulcimers, plucked and bowed psalteries, diatonically fretted zithers now commonly called scheitholts, and fretted dulcimers.

W. C. Fields was born William Claude Dukenfield in Pennsylvania. His father, James Lydon Dukenfield (1840–1913), served in the 72nd Pennsylvania Infantry Regiment in the American Civil War and was wounded in 1863.
WC Fields1.jpg

Re: Today In Mountain Dulcimer History: 3 March 1933

PostPosted: Sat Mar 03, 2018 7:12 am
by dbennett
Fields wc2.jpg

Re: Today In Mountain Dulcimer History: 3 March 1933

PostPosted: Sat Mar 03, 2018 3:12 pm
by KenH
Not even an autoharp. That's a regular German zither without a fretboard on the 'near' edge.