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Thread: Early Lyon & Healy bowl back mandolin? Help identify

  1. #1

    Default Early Lyon & Healy bowl back mandolin? Help identify

    You've probably seen variations of this story a thousand times, but here goes.

    First, the facts. I inherited this mandolin from my great-grandmother in 1979. I'm not sure if she passed away that year, or went into a nursing home and relatives dispersed her possessions. She was 96 when she died, and it was somewhere around that time. My great-grandfather was born in 1883. Their first daughter, my grandmother, was born in 1906. I received this mandolin in college because I played the guitar. We (my parents) had it marginally restored. You can see the repaired crack on the right side, and I think he shimmed up the bridge. I "played" it for probably a couple years, mostly making up tunes on my own and maybe working out some small mandolin bits from Led Zeppelin. Unfortunately very soon the left side of the face also cracked (see photos), and it became largely unplayable again. It's been "on display" ever since. My great-grandmother, sometime in her 90s, scrawled "Nancy" on it (see photo), because she wanted that granddaughter to have it. I got it instead.

    Now the non-factual story. This was supposedly my great-great-grandfather's mandolin. He was a Civil War veteran. The Civil War stories I heard as a kid got mixed up with the mandolin, and for a long time I envisioned him having this mandolin during the war. I recently decided to try to find out the real history behind this, and quickly determined that there weren't any "American" mandolins during that period. Now I'm wondering if it was even his mandolin at all. He was born in 1844 and died young, even for that time, at 47 in 1891. So if it was his, this mandolin would have to be from 1891 at the very latest.

    I've scoured the internet for a couple days, and the most I can determine is that it appears to be a Lyons & Healy with some characteristics of an American Conservatory. It has 18 ribs. The tuning pegs are odd; I have yet to see another example that are solid black. It's possible these were replaced during the minor restoration, but they seem to have an "old" character. The cloud-style base plate in general seems common from the early 1900s but has a small hole in the center not seen on most examples. The shape of the pick guard seems common among Lyon & Healy in the early 1900s as well, but I have yet to find one with the same inlay pattern. The tuning plates are secured with three screws - everything else I'm finding that looks vaguely similar has 5 screws. The inside is lined with a black fabric-like material. There are no labels or serial numbers or stamps or any other identifying marks anywhere that I can find. I even looked inside with a light and automotive mirror.

    I'm a bit stumped because if this originated later than 1891, it means it must have been my great-grandfather's and not my great-great-grandfather's. And if it originated later than 1913, it means he started playing the mandolin in his 30s...
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  2. #2

    Default Re: Early Lyon & Healy bowl back mandolin? Help identify

    From my experience working at a vintage guitar shop, I have found families often get the details wrong when trying to fit the instrument to the person and the year from memory. It is best to let the instrument do the "talking". I'm sure some of the bowl back experts will chime in soon....

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  4. #3

    Default Re: Early Lyon & Healy bowl back mandolin? Help identify

    An except from a genealogy by my grandmother Martha:

    "The Logues were musical and loved a good time. They had reddish hair and very fair skin. Both John [John Miller Logue] and his son George [George Emory Logue, my great-great grandfather] played their fiddles for barn dances.
    ...
    "He [George Emory Logue] was thirty-three when he rode a horse, with a friend past the farm where Grandma, a girl of fifteen, was idly swinging on the farm gate, her long black hair (it hung to her knees still at 84) flying in the breeze. She had just lost her father and was wondering on this spring day which one of her half brothers or sisters (she had ten) would be taking her in. Grandpa is supposed to have turned to his friend and said "There is the girl I'm going to marry". And he did four months later on 20 July 1879. "

    So of course I always imagined him wooing my great-great grandmother with this very mandolin, but it was probably a fiddle. It seems likely he might have gotten caught up in the mandolin craze of the 1880s before he died, just probably not this one. My main interest is to pass the correct story, along with the mandolin, down to my daughter who plays viola. One of the men below was the original owner, that's for sure.

    And wow, there sure are a bazillion different ones out there. I still have yet to find a close match. Thanks for letting me bore you with all this!
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  5. #4
    Mando accumulator allenhopkins's Avatar
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    Default Re: Early Lyon & Healy bowl back mandolin? Help identify

    Definitely has a Lyon & Healy look; the "scooped" headstock profile was used on Washburn models in the 1890's, replaced with fancier profiles after that, but possibly continued on less expensive Lyon & Healy mandolins. L & H started using the dark cloth lining on Washburns about 1915 (I'm using Pleijsier's Washburn Prewar Instrument Styles as a reference here). The pickguard profile is also like those used on Washburns, and the "cloud" tailpiece also characteristic.

    If this were a Washburn, it would almost certainly be labeled and have a serial number, either stamped into the headstock or written somewhere inside the bowl. It could well be an American Conservatory or another less expensive L & H label. If they started using the cloth lining at the same time as with the Washburn line, that would put it into the second decade of the 20th century.

    Hope some more informed members will add their expertise...
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  7. #5

    Default Re: Early Lyon & Healy bowl back mandolin? Help identify

    Thanks to the great website by Jake Wildwood, I have found a fairly close match titled "1890s Lyon & Healy Bowlback Mandolin": https://antebelluminstruments.blogsp...-mandolin.html. His is also unlabeled and thinks it's American Conservatory. The purfling is very similar to mine, the design in the pick guard is similar, the pick guard shape and headstock are identical, the wood and overall style made me think - there it is! I don't know where he gets the 1890s estimate from. The 14 (?) ribs and absence of the MOP dots in the pick guard make me think it was a slightly lower range model of American Conservatory. I won't steal his pictures to post them here, so go to the link.

    I also found one on a popular auction site (images shown), with even more similar perfling and overall style, but the headstock is different as is the shape of the pick guard, and it appears to have 24 ribs. It has the MOP dots. There is no real information on it though.
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    One amusing thing I noticed about mine is that they messed up the purfling pattern in one spot. Click image for larger version. 

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    These two seem to also have the dark cloth lining. If the "1890s" designation is correct, I'm not sure if we can apply the 1915 Washburn date to other L&H mandolins. Can we?

    I guess I haven't given up on whether this mandolin could pre-date my great-great grandfather's death in November 1891. Surely L&H would have been in on the "mandolin craze" by 1890. What does a late 1880s/early 1890s L&H mandolin look like? Does anybody have old catalogs from this period?

  8. #6

    Default Re: Early Lyon & Healy bowl back mandolin? Help identify

    Quote Originally Posted by kbbpll View Post
    Thanks to the great website by Jake Wildwood, .............One amusing thing I noticed about mine is that they messed up the purfling pattern in one spot.
    Yes, Jake's website is very entertaining and informative and cool!

    As I understand it, the wood marquetry (purfling) was made in bulk strips in Europe and then imported for trim on American instruments of that era, where it could be installed in strips by semi-skilled workers quickly. I often wondered how so many inexpensive instruments could have so much "hand inlay work" back then, well even "back then" -- they didn't! But, they managed to find a way to create that same look for a cheap price.

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  10. #7

    Default Re: Early Lyon & Healy bowl back mandolin? Help identify

    "When this was made, the furniture-trade purfling would've been brightly-colored -- probably oranges, reds, and yellows." - from that same Jake link. So they apparently got this stuff via furniture manufacturers.

    This wild goose chase is starting to remind me of investigating my (now) vintage bicycle. I dug and dug, and it turned out that the left crank arm (where the pedal attaches) was a 1977 and the right one was a 1978, on a "1980" bicycle. Parts is parts!

    Seems like we see the same thing here. 15 minutes ago I thought the purfling pattern would be a dead ringer for the year it was made. Now I'm thinking, parts is parts. From what I've gleaned digging through Jake's website, the Waverly "cloud" tailpiece was used from at least 1895 through 1920. My black "bakelite-buttoned tuners" also appear on a c.1900 "Oscar Schmidt made?", a c.1910 "unmarked butterfly", and a c.1915 Stella. Parts is parts.

    It's like 100 years from now trying to figure out which antique Beautyrest mattress you have.

  11. #8
    Mando accumulator allenhopkins's Avatar
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    Default Re: Early Lyon & Healy bowl back mandolin? Help identify

    Yeah, the lack of a label (instrument labels varied by period, so they can give an approximate date), a headstock logo (ditto), or a serial number means dating is a process of inference and guesswork.

    The sources we cite as authoritative, such as Pleijsier's book, relay on "original sources" like catalog descriptions and drawings (which aren't always completely detailed or accurate), individual instrument histories, and the non-original opinions and analyses of vintage instrument dealers. So while they have a high probability of accuracy, we can never be absolutely sure.

    Companies like Martin and Gibson, who put serial numbers on nearly all their instruments, made dating their products much more simple and reliable. On the other hand, Martin ukuleles were not serial-numbered, so again we date them based on features that we know changed at particular points. The result is usually to assign a Martin uke to a particular period, but not a specific year.

    Other firms like Vega, Bacon, etc. also serial-numbered their products, and we have relatively reliable research to date their instruments. Lyon & Healy numbered their Washburn instruments, their higher-end products, but not all their other lines.

    Well, I have a Victoria bowl-back mandolin, a nameplate of Bugeleisen & Jensen, a major distributor of musical merchandise, but not a manufacturer. On its label the number "593" is written in India ink. What does that mean -- a model designation, a serial number, a production code? I'll never know.
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  13. #9
    Mando-Accumulator Jim Garber's Avatar
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    Default Re: Early Lyon & Healy bowl back mandolin? Help identify

    I know you cannot always go by catalog pics but I doubt that either of these is from the 1890s. Also L&H made tons of unlabelled mandolins for the trade but many have similar specs to theor American Conservatory line.

    This is from my 1909 catalog and the shape of the pickguard resembles Jake's example above.
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    This is from the color American Conservatory page from the 1912 L&H catalog I have. The shape of the pickguard is the same as the OP's mandolin. The OP's one is probably a style 601 which is not pictured here.

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    This one looks just like the OP's tho with white tuner buttons.

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    So I would guess in the second decade of the the last century. L&H was truly cranking them out in that period and selling to retailers nationwide.
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  15. #10

    Default Re: Early Lyon & Healy bowl back mandolin? Help identify

    Thanks Jim. Do you have any attribution on the one in your last three pictures? It is certainly an exact match other than the tuning buttons.

    I had seen your 1912 catalog picture elsewhere, but thought the "style" of the perfling and inlay was too different. Perhaps a different year around that same timeframe. Do you have an image of the descriptions/prices associated with that 1912 page, or any other catalogs?

    It has been a fun exploration for me. I spent a number of hours pouring through an online archive of the Music Trade Review (here http://mtr.arcade-museum.com/). So far the earliest mention of the "Conservatory" line is 1894 (along with Marquette, Arion, and Lakeside), and "American Conservatory" (along with Jupiter, Columbus and Sylvia) starts getting ads around 1904. Difficult and time consuming to search though, so those dates could be way off.

    Other tidbits (bold mine):
    6/5/1889 review of L&H 300 (!) page catalog
    In order that our readers may form some idea as to the extent of Lyon & Healy's establishment, we may mention that it is divided into five departments, covering over a hundred thousand square feet of space, and requireing the employment of upwards of three hundred men. ... Department B is the great manufacturing branch in Canal street, where are turned out, in avalanche-like volume and rapidity and without cessation, the world-famous Lyon & Healy guitars, mandolins, zithers, banjos, drums, organs, etc. The value of stock now in hand in all the departments and in process of manufacture is not less than $650,000; the business of the firm involves the turning over of millions of dollars annually.
    10/6/1889
    We have received from Messrs. Lyon & Healy, of Chicago, Ill., the "Washburn Souvenir," a tastefully gotten-up catalogue of the Washburn guitars, mandolins and zithers, containing illustrations, full descriptions and net prices, and twenty art designs embracing portraits of the most celebrated performers upon, and teachers of those instruments in the United Stales. Twenty thousand of the Washburn instruments, all of which are manufactured by Lyon & Healy, are now in use, and their popularity is ever on the increase.
    Chicago Tribune article 10/19/1890
    ...celebrated its twenty-sixth birthday [1864] by opening to the public its new mammoth factory...
    Commencing in a small way some five years ago, they found a ready market..." [1885]
    Another instrument which is becoming popular with our people is the mandolin. [cue Spanish student story] ... and today it ranks almost with the guitar in popularity.
    In this department are found about 700 guitars in the various stages of evolution.
    On the second floor of the east wing is the mandolin department. A stock of nearly 2,000 of them are to be seen here in the different stages of construction.
    The cost of this plan, including buildings and machinery, aggregate $200,000. The present yearly output of instruments is as follows: 15,000 guitars, 15,000 banjos, 12,000 drums, 600 zithers, 3,000 mandolins, 50 double action harps, 1,800 parlor organs, and 150 church organs.
    11/23/1892
    Mr. C. N. Post... As late as seven years ago [1885] the firm of Lyon & Healy imported all the small instruments they sold, but found them so poorly made that they had, in self-defense, either to make them here or else humbug their customers. A factory was started which now turns out 15,000 guitars, 75,000 mandolins, 12,000 drums and 10,000 banjos, yearly.
    My point with these quotes is to ponder why I cannot seem to find online a single well-attributed L&H mandolin from around 1885-1895. Maybe I'm just not searching properly? Clearly there were tens of thousands of them shipped all over the world. I'm perfectly happy with a date of 1910-1915 for mine; it just seems curious that examples from the early mandolin craze are hard to track down.

    Does anybody have a copy of that 1889 catalog?

  16. #11
    Full Grown and Cussin' brunello97's Avatar
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    Default Re: Early Lyon & Healy bowl back mandolin? Help identify

    FWIW, I tend to agree with Jim on the range of date for the mandolin under discussion and think Jake's might be nearer to the 1900 mark of his estimate.

    I also would take the L+H production numbers with a large grain / boulder of salt. We live in an age of hyperbole, but those folks had it down as well.

    From all anecdotal / on line / Keef Pleijsier / Mandolin Cafe evidence (if you can call it that) 1895-1910 was the heavy production years for L+H bowlbacks. My hunch is that they were still selling off back stock well into the '10s as the bowl craze receded.

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  17. #12

    Default Re: Early Lyon & Healy bowl back mandolin? Help identify

    I agree the hyperbole in Music Trade Review is pretty amazing, especially surrounding some of the crazy inventions. That 75,000 mandolin number from 1892 is particularly suspect. However, clearly they were doing a huge volume - their store on Wabash opened 5/28/1894 and had six floors and a basement. They claimed 100,000 instruments a year. (http://mtr.arcade-museum.com/MTR-1894-18-47/29/)

    Most interesting to me was the connection between the mandolin/"small instrument" craze and the bicycle craze. I ran into a couple articles on that in the same publication. And Lyon & Healy got an injunction against the construction of the L loop in Chicago, but eventually lost. ("The Loop" is famous in Chicago).

  18. #13
    Mando-Accumulator Jim Garber's Avatar
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    Default Re: Early Lyon & Healy bowl back mandolin? Help identify

    kbbpll, I would highly suggest you get yourself a copy of Hubert's book, Washburn Pre-War Instrument Styles.

    There are lots of catalog cuts of Washburn branded mandolins from the 1890s. I have the full catalog but have to dig it up. I don't know if American Conservatory brand goes back that far. I will try to find all my catalogs and get you scans of descriptions.
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  19. #14

    Default Re: Early Lyon & Healy bowl back mandolin? Help identify

    Thanks Jim, but don't go to a lot of extra effort just for this. The more I look into it, the more it seems like a rat hole. An except from the book "Vintage Guitars" (available online) says the 1895 catalogs for both Sears and Ward's were marketing a Lyon & Healy-made American Conservatory guitar under their "Windsor" lines (Sears even stole the descriptions from Wards). One would think mandolins under American Conservatory would also originate around this 1895 period.

    I just dug out a 1921 Sears catalog from 1921 and sure enough, bowl back mandolins (as well as whole houses!), with the same shape pick guard. I might post a pic of the page after my camera battery charges. It wouldn't surprise me if the real story is that my great-grandfather/mother got this mandolin from Sears in the 1920s.

  20. #15
    mando-evangelist August Watters's Avatar
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    Default Re: Early Lyon & Healy bowl back mandolin? Help identify

    Quote Originally Posted by kbbpll View Post
    My point with these quotes is to ponder why I cannot seem to find online a single well-attributed L&H mandolin from around 1885-1895. Maybe I'm just not searching properly? Clearly there were tens of thousands of them shipped all over the world. I'm perfectly happy with a date of 1910-1915 for mine; it just seems curious that examples from the early mandolin craze are hard to track down.
    Quote Originally Posted by kbbpll View Post
    I just dug out a 1921 Sears catalog from 1921 and sure enough, bowl back mandolins (as well as whole houses!), with the same shape pick guard. I might post a pic of the page after my camera battery charges. It wouldn't surprise me if the real story is that my great-grandfather/mother got this mandolin from Sears in the 1920s.
    Hyperbolic sales-reporting aside, I suspect that catalogue sales accounted for the large majority of those instruments. However: wasn't it practice that Sears and the other major catalogue sales houses sold mandolins under their own name, without attributing the manufacturer? Perhaps that could explain the difficulty in documentation today.

    One of my cherished instruments is a no-name, medium-ornamented relic that recently underwent a full restoration, including a new fingerboard. It's not a sensitive instrument by any means, but it's loud and has a lovely, full characteristic sound. Only recently I realized that it's a close match to an item in my 1902 Sears Catalogue!

  21. #16

    Default Re: Early Lyon & Healy bowl back mandolin? Help identify

    Here are the mandolins from the 1921 Sears catalog. I get a chuckle out of the "American or Flat Style. Played Exactly Like the Regular Style." So, in 1921 the bowl back was still a "regular style" mandolin.
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