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Thread: Help me identify / date an old Gibson mandolin-banjo

  1. #1
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    Default Help me identify / date an old Gibson mandolin-banjo

    Hi all,

    I bought an old Gibson mandolin-banjo the other day. I think it's the MB-JR model, seeing as the hoop diameter is only 9", but it has no model designation anywhere on it. I paid $500, which seems to be the going rate (from what little previous sales information I could find on eBay, craigslist, and auction-house sites) for similar instruments in the low-end range of the Gibson MB line. It was in nearly immaculate condition, so I'm not too bummed about not getting a better deal.

    In any event, I'm trying to pin down exactly what model / year / etc the instrument is. Like I said, there is no model number on the gold oval label inside the hoop; all that says is "The Gibson Mandolin, Banjo, and Guitar Company of Kalamazoo Michigan" or something to that effect. There is a serial number: 8023-15, but I can't seem to track that down anywhere online either, although some sources identify 8XXX serial numbers in general for Gibson banjos as being of 1925 build.

    Other features:

    9" hoop, smaller than what is quoted for the numbered MB-# models I've seen around.

    "Snakehead" style head, with very little decoration, but coming to a nice point.

    No binding, no inlays (except dots), no flange, and an open back for the head.

    Whatever else you see in the [small, from the craigslist listing] attached pics.
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  2. #2
    Mando accumulator allenhopkins's Avatar
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    Default Re: Help me identify / date an old Gibson mandolin-banjo

    Here's a link to an MB-Jr that Elderly was selling (and thanx to Elderly for leaving pics of sold instruments accessible!). Not quite like yours; this has a totally plain, non-snakehead headstock, but it does have a nine-inch shell. I'm fairly sure yours has a replacement tailpiece, or at least tailpiece cover. The Elderly one went for $500, and it was in a lot worse shape!

    Here's another one that was auctioned off (in parts!), and it does have the snakehead. No inlay, however, but also a nine-inch shell.

    With regard to the "serial number," not clear whether you have a serial number or a factory order number, both of which were affixed to Gibson instruments. The Blue Book of Guitars guide to Gibson serial numbers, which is what Gibson Inc. references at its website, lists 80300 as the last serial number of 1924, and 9839 as the last FON of 1918. The reason that I think 8023-15 may be an FON rather than a serial number, is the hyphenation; the number after the hyphen was, I believe, the number of the individual instrument (15) in the numbered batch of 40 instruments (8023).

    I hope other more knowledgeable Cafe-ers will chime in and help out here.
    Allen Hopkins
    Gibsn: '54 F5 3pt F2 A-N Custm K1 m'cello
    Natl Triolian Dobro mando
    Victoria b-back Merrill alumnm b-back
    H-O mandolinetto
    Stradolin Vega banjolin
    Sobell'dola Washburn b-back'dola
    Eastmn: 615'dola 805 m'cello
    Flatiron 3K OM

  3. #3
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    Default Re: Help me identify / date an old Gibson mandolin-banjo

    Yep. I came across both of those when researching this one before I bought it.

    Mine's number falls in between these two very similar looking tenor banjos (model TB-0, not TB-JR... so maybe mine is a 0, or maybe the 0 replaced / was replaced by the JR designation):

    http://www.earnestbanjo.com/gibson_b...-0_8015-10.htm
    http://www.earnestbanjo.com/gibson_b...-0_8040-41.htm

    The gold oval label, the hoop, the single coordinating rod, the non-ornamented neck/headstock, and the general look of both of those banjos are pretty similar to what I've got in my mando-banjo.

    If the chronological serialization is right in the general chart from that same site (http://www.earnestbanjo.com/gibson_b...ial_number.htm), then those fall right in line with the 1925 date.

    I found a Gruhn's Guide to Vintage Guitars at my university's library. It lists the 9" MB model as being made only during 1923 and 1924, with the larger model replacing it in 1925. It gives 8XXX as 1925, as well.

    Now I'm just guessing at the model number, I suppose. This is where the guide is confusing me. It says the MB-JR line was introduced in 1924, and the description sounds right.

    Then, it says it was replaced in 1925 by the -0 line, but it says the -0 models had a 10.5" head. I'm guessing mine must be a very late MB-JR model, produced early in 1925.

    Looks like the one Elderly had would have been an earlier MB-JR model or maybe just an unlabeled generic MB model. I suppose the difference in condition makes up for the difference in vintage.

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    Default Re: Help me identify / date an old Gibson mandolin-banjo

    Hi, Nate.
    Actually, Allen has it right.
    Here is what noted Gibson expert A.R Duchossoir has to say about Factory Order Numbers (FON)

    "..Gibson instruments were usually made in 'racks' or 'batches' of approximately 40 units of the same model "

    "..At first, FON's consisted of a 3 to 5-digit number, which identified the batch under progress, plus a 1 or 2-digit suffix to rank each instrument in the lot."

    "Up to about 1924, FON's were applied to all Gibson models.."

    So, you could probably just refer to your MB as a circa 1924, & not be to far off the mark !
    Cheers,Nate
    Jeff

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    Default Re: Help me identify / date an old Gibson mandolin-banjo

    Sounds good. Thanks for the help, both of you.

    It's amazing to hold and play something so old.

  6. #6
    Mando accumulator allenhopkins's Avatar
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    Default Re: Help me identify / date an old Gibson mandolin-banjo

    Well, my 3-point F-2 predates it by 15 years or so, and I won't even mention the late-19th-century bowl-backs I play occasionally...

    But it does make you wonder about an instrument's history, why it survived when so many of its contemporaries didn't, whose hands have touched it before ours. Just remember to pass it on into the future!
    Allen Hopkins
    Gibsn: '54 F5 3pt F2 A-N Custm K1 m'cello
    Natl Triolian Dobro mando
    Victoria b-back Merrill alumnm b-back
    H-O mandolinetto
    Stradolin Vega banjolin
    Sobell'dola Washburn b-back'dola
    Eastmn: 615'dola 805 m'cello
    Flatiron 3K OM

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    Default Re: Help me identify / date an old Gibson mandolin-banjo

    Hi Nate! I just joined mandolin cafe last week .So im having a hard time navagating this web site. So any help is welcome. Ibought aGibson MB-JR at auction on march 13. Got it home and googled mandolin banjo and your thread come up and luckly i went to it.I saw your photos and read the replys to your question. My mb-jr is fon #8023-45. It is in a little more used condition. One of the brackets is messing .I think it was taken off to accomadate a newer clam shell cover. I want to replace when I can find one. The bridge is a gretsch. The skin on the thing is very old and has a 1/8 inch whole in it about the 2 oclock position and about 2 inchs from the ring. The strings are very old put on in a style that does not rap around the peg . There is a lot I would like to know myself. Like is the skin in good enough condition to be a player. I did tune it up and played some salt creek on it. But I cranked them back down after. The strings will need replaced. But what a sound loud and cool. Should I make this a player or a collecter piece? The patina on the skin is just awsome looking. At any rate these two mb jrs look to have been made in the same batch or group. I paid $350 for the instrument. And am very happy. THe case is another story.It is black and hand tooled like a sadle. It is an M W with a cow on music bars. And the case opens at the bottom like a car hood. Which means that there are no compartments inside. No case candy. No spare parts or picks.The case may be as rare as the mando.I will be keeping these two. I will posr pics soon. Nate please reply.And also everybody else to . I would like to know some about the case. And if any body can tell me hoe to get around on this site all help is welcome.

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