Moennig & Son Closes Its Doors

Venerable violin shop has served Philly for 100 years

At the end of business on December 11, William Moennig and Son closed its doors for the final time. For many, Moennig’s had been around for so long that it had become like a comfortable chair, always there and thus taken for granted. This easy familiarity perhaps blinded customers to just how significant it had been in the violin trade during its 100-plus years in business.

William Moennig Sr., a tenth-generation violin maker from Markneukirchen, Germany, established the first Moennig violin shop in Philadelphia around 1905. As it prospered, his son William Jr. joined the firm, now known as William Moennig and Son. They ultimately moved to 2039 Locust St., a quiet road close to Rittenhouse Square, where they cared for the instruments of professionals and amateurs alike.

The family continually built on their strengths. Not the least of these was talent. Bill Jr. traveled to their ancestral home to study violin making under Leo Aschauer, Paul Dorfel, and Paul Knorr and bow making under Paul Heberlein. He graduated with a master’s diploma from the ancient German guild of violin makers, the first nonnative to be so honored. When he returned to Philadelphia, he rapidly established himself as an important maker with such commissions as the two violas he designed for William Primrose, which Primrose used in all his recordings until he acquired the Guarneri.

Bill III had a similar training: violin making under Leo Aschauer and Amedee Dieudonne and repairs and expertise under Pierre Vidoudez, Max Moller, and William Beare. Bill did not pursue a lot of violin making, though. By his return, the complexion of the business had changed significantly.

When the Curtis Institute decided to sell most of its stringed-instrument collection, Efrem Zimbalist entrusted the Moennigs with their sales, jump-starting their entry into the world of fine and rare violins. When the Rembert Wurlitzer firm closed, the Moennigs acquired not only the inventory and supplies but also several restorers, pupils of Simone Sacconi, who brought with them the very latest techniques.

The Moennigs made close friends and kept them. After World War II, a continuous flow of packages to colleagues and friends in Europe made the difference between life and death for many. Generations of Curtis Institute graduates carried memories of the family’s warmth to all corners of the globe.

The sad truth about family businesses is that they last only so long as the family remains interested. Moennig’s will be sorely missed by its many friends and clients, all over the world, who drew no small measure of comfort and satisfaction from the knowledge that the welcome mat was always out at 2039 Locust St.

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