The History of Penzel Mueller

(As best we can tell...)

G. Penzel was one of the precursor companies to Penzel-Mueller.  The G. Penzel company was founded in 1881 and ceased operations in 1920 when Gustav Penzel entered into a partnership with Edward Mueller to form the Penzel-Mueller company (known as "G.L Penzel & Mueller" in the early days).  There are many versions of how and when the company was started and merged, however.  Here is a tag on an old PM clarinet case which says Penzel, Mueller and Company, Inc., since 1882:

To further murk the waters, "The Penzel Mueller Company was founded in New York originally in 1899" [the first discrepancy - 1899 vs 1920.  They formed their partnership in 1899 (according to the Langwill Index)] by Penzel and Mueller, two German immigrants.  The firm was in existence through the 1950's and for a period of time became one of the leading manufacturers of woodwind instruments.  The Mueller name was well known in the music world during the early 19th Century.  Until the idea of a modern style pad, clarinets simply had brass key cups with a slim piece of leather to seal a tone hole, resulting in a poor seal.  Leaking keys prevented the design of the clarinet to allow more than five or six keys, which was the bare minimum to facilitate a full chromatic range. The fingering however proved to be very difficult, especially on quick passages.  It was Iwan Mueller (originally Müller) who invented the first bladder skin pads.  With this he was able to facilitate a new key system that would become the standard for a period of time during the 19th Century.

Edward Georg Mueller, who jointly established Penzel and Mueller in New York, was the grandson of Iwan.  Being raised in a family of clarinet manufactures, the young Mueller had a deep understanding of quality clarinet manufacturing.  As for Penzel, he to came from a lineage of musical instrument makers in Germany before immigrating to the United States.  In fact it is said he manufactured his own line of clarinets, flutes and oboes in his own company in Germany.

As German immigrants and superb woodwind artisans, Penzel and Mueller coupled old world technique with the most advanced technology during their era. The finest grenadilla heartwood and extensive hand finishing on professional models yielded quality clarinets with great intonation when compared to all other USA and European clarinet makers. Apparently sometime in the late 1920s, the Penzel and Mueller Company started producing clarinets in Long Island City, New York; before that, their instruments were produced in France. French-made clarinets are considered to be of higher quality than the Penzel-Mueller clarinets made in the U.S. By the 1940s, Penzel-Mueller Co. had blended old world craftsmanship with the most advanced technical production in the United States. During this era Penzel-Mueller produced clarinets equal to and generally better than french companies ie: Buffet, Selmer, Leblanc. With the collaboration of two such knowledgeable and talented craftsmen, it is no wonder some of the finer clarinetists in the U.S. relied on these fine instruments. In fact Woody Herman played on a Boehm System Penzel Mueller clarinet, in the words of an old catalog offered by Penzel Mueller in the 1920's.

Penzel-Mueller clarinets had a world-wide reputation. Their preference by the most eminent soloists marked them as first class instruments of first class makers. They combine to the highest degree the essential qualities of free and pure tone, perfection in scale and mechanism, and ease of manipulation and execution.

Evidence has been found that there was an original Guarantee Card with the matching serial number of a G. Penzel Pacemaker clarinet; the guarantee card reads: "PMBb Clarinet Pacemaker - xxxx -" Back of card reads: "Penzel, Mueller & CO., Inc 36-11 Thirty Third Street Long Island City 6, N.Y." The instrument was completely intact. The upper and lower joint serial numbers match the Guarantee card and are followed with the letter B. (xxxxB). The Upper joint has the name "Pacemaker" and the bell reads "SOLOIST - Penzel Mueller". Unfortunately, the card was not dated<./p>

It is believed that the company ceased operations around the year 1960.

In the matter of dating Penzel Mueller clarinets time of manufacture, I found the following information on the woodwind forum:

"Based on my observations, I'd guess PM used a numeric serial until number 18000 or so, then switched to alphanumeric formats X####Y, ####Y and X####, where the final Y is either an A or B indicating pitch and the inital X is the letter K, L or M indicating sequence of production.
In *very* rough terms, a PM with a 3- or 4-digit serial is 'early' (before WW2), with a 5-digit serial is 'middle' (around WW2), and with an alphanumeric serial is 'late' (after WW2)."

I believe that the top of the line, or "pro", model sequence went as follows:

Artist was the initial "pro" model, played by Jimmy Dorsey and Woody Herman according to 1941 posters. It also may have been the first clarinet to which PM assigned a model name.
Sometime probably in the mid to late 1940s, the Brilliante Model was the top of the line flagship professional model, and the Artist Model was the standard professional model.
HIERARCHY COMPARISON:
Penzel-Mueller Artist Model = Standard Buffet R13 / Leblanc Concerto
Penzel-Mueller Brilliante Model = Buffet R13 Prestige / Leblanc Opus
Then, according the the 70th Anniversary brochure (ca. 1952), the Super Brilliante was introduced and replaced the Brilliante;
And according to a 1955 pricelist, the Super Brilliante remained on top, but the Artist and Soloist were shown furher down in the pecking order.

It seems to me that the Soloist belongs in this top echelon; PM also made the Studio Recording model in the same era. Perhaps they were top line horns at some point in time, or perhaps neither one ever was; or perhaps they were limited production models?

If anyone can shed some light on these assumptions, please let us know.

 

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catalog listings
Penzel, G.L. & Bro. Catalogue of Band Instruments. NY, NY: G.L. Penzel & Bro; [1894], 24 p. Winds, percussion instruments: woodwinds, brass. Also lists Buffet and Crampon clarinets and saxophones, Courtois model brass and Besson model brass instruments. Library of Congress Penzel file

Penzel, G. L. & Bro. Catalogue of Band Instruments. NY, NY: G. L. Penzel & Bro; [ca. 1890], 31 p. Winds, percussion, accessories: woodwinds, brass, drums, cymbals, timpani. Maker and importer. Library of Congress Penzel file

Penzel, G.L. & Bro. [Letter to D.C. Miller.] NY, NY: G.L. Penzel & Bro; Sept. 2, 1897, [1 p.] Winds: woodwinds. Lists prices for clarinets and flutes. Library of Congress Penzel file

Penzel, G. L. & Müller. [Advertisement.] NY, NY: G. L. Penzel & Müller; Sept. 30, 1911, [1 p.] Winds: woodwinds. Boehm-system flute depicted. Item taken from The Music Trades. Library of Congress Penzel file

Penzel, G. L. & Müller. [Advertisement.] NY, NY: G. L. Penzel & Müller; [ca. 1900, 1 p.] Winds: woodwinds. Lists clarinets, Boehm clarinets, piccolos, Boehm system flutes, oboes, bassoons, simple system flutes, and reeds. Library of Congress Penzel file

Penzel, G. L. & Müller. [Catalog.] NY, NY: G. L. Penzel & Müller; [ca. 1900], 16 p. Winds, percussion, accessories: woodwinds, brass, drums, cymbals, timpani. The company made and imported instruments. Library of Congress Penzel file

Penzel, G.L. & Müller. [Price list.] NY, NY: G.L. Penzel & Müller; [ca. 1910, 1 p.] Winds: woodwinds. Full list of available instruments, without any artwork. Library of Congress Penzel file

Penzel, Mueller & Co. Catalog of Musical Instruments and Accessories. [NY, NY: Penzel, Muller & Co.]; 1923, 12 p. The catalog includes their “Perfection” Albert System Clarinets , “Artist” Albert Systems, “Artist” Boehm System Clarinets, “Artist” Full Boehm System Clarinets, “Artist” Flutes and Piccolos, “Artist” Alto Clarinets, Bass Clarinets and Bassoons, “Perfection” Clarinet mouthpieces, “Ideal” clarinet reeds and woodwind cases. Citation generated from on-line description

Penzel, Mueller & Co. Woodwind Instruments 1925-6. Long Island City: Penzel, Mueller & Co.; 1925, 20 p. The catalog includes their “Perfection” Albert System Clarinets , “Artist” Albert Systems, “Artist” Boehm System Clarinets, “Artist” Full Boehm System Clarinets, “Artist” Flutes and Piccolos, “Artist” Alto Clarinets, Bass Clarinets and Bassoons, “Perfection” Clarinet mouthpieces, “Ideal” clarinet reeds and woodwind cases. Private collection