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Thread: Who was the first American mandolin manufacturer?

  1. #1
    Registered User pfox14's Avatar
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    Default Who was the first American mandolin manufacturer?

    I am curious if anyone knows the answer to this question. Most sources seem to indicate that the mandolin was introduced to America by Italian immigrants around the 1870s-80s. The earliest ads I could find date from 1894 for Lyon & Healey/Washburn, A.C. Fairbanks, Biehl & W.A. Cole. Was it L&H? Or somebody else?

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    Mando-Accumulator Jim Garber's Avatar
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    Default Re: Who was the first American mandolin manufacturer?

    I have a C. Bruno catalog from 1888. I believe that they contracted with mostly New York makers like Mannello and Ricca and others. I hv posted the mandolin page but can do so again when I get to my computer. I will check my other catalogs. My Ricca catalog is undated as well as the Mayflower one I have online.
    Very interesting question, Paul. I'll be back.

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    Default Re: Who was the first American mandolin manufacturer?

    Whatever you guys find in terms of "manufacturing" will have been a true commercial enterprise. However, Italian immigrants w/musical backgrounds were prominent in musical endeavors here at least as early as 1801 in the Northeast and Central Atlantic coast. Take a look at the history portion of Italian American Immigrants entry at Wikipedia- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Italian_American.

    Given the rough outline there, I would not be surprised if Italian luthiers, maybe from Southern Italy, were here making instruments(probably violins, maybe mandolins) on a small scale before the Revolutionary War. The problem, of course, is finding records of it. That's a big research undertaking which I'm not able to undertake- but someone may already know- unsure who that might be.

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    Mando-Accumulator Jim Garber's Avatar
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    Default Re: Who was the first American mandolin manufacturer?

    Ok. Here are a couple of old mandolin pages. First my 1888 one. Note that there is one #32 listedas American -- it is also a flatback.

    Then a ca. 1890 Bruno that I found on archive.org. I might guess tho that many of these were imports but there us a section called American mandolines. Of course, we haven't much of clue as to who made them.

    Then a page from FH Newell 1886 in Boston with another mandolin pictured similar to the Bruno ones.
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    Default Re: Who was the first American mandolin manufacturer?

    Interesting to see the change in spelling. Each of Jim's examples, dating from 1890 to a few years earlier, spell it "mandoline," while each of Paul's examples, dating from 1894, spell it "mandolin." I wonder how that came to be, and if this is indicative of an industry-wide change.
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    Default Re: Who was the first American mandolin manufacturer?

    Good stuff Jim. Thanks for posting those awesome catalog pages. I think it will be pretty difficult to determine if these early American companies actually built the mandolins or were importing them from Europe. I know for sure that Lyon & Healy manufactured their own instruments, but not sure about any others.

    Here's another ad I found from 1891 for Stratton mandolins, a brand I've never heard of.

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    Default Re: Who was the first American mandolin manufacturer?

    Did some more digging on Lyon & Healy. The earliest American patent for a mandolin design I could find is Pat. # 368,461 from 1887 by George Durkee who was Lyon & Healy's Chief Engineer. The patent is essentially a standard bowl-back mandolin. Also got pages of L&H's 1889 catalog showing their bowl-back mandolins. Apparently, L&H was importing fretted instruments prior to 1885, but were disappointed with the quality, so they built their own manufacturing plant in Chicago. If anyone finds anything earlier, let me know.

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    Default Re: Who was the first American mandolin manufacturer?

    I don't know but would have guessed Martin would be in the running.

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    Default Re: Who was the first American mandolin manufacturer?

    Should have searched before posting. I see they didn't start making mandolins till near the turn of the century.

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    Mandolin tragic Graham McDonald's Avatar
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    Default Re: Who was the first American mandolin manufacturer?

    Joseph Bohmann 'claimed' to have made the first mandolin in the US. I am at work and away from my notes, but it may have been on one of his printed catalogues (1895) that he claimed to have made a mandolin for the Spanish Students. This is a bit odd as the original Spanish Students played bandurrias, but there was a group of Italian mandolin players who appeared quite soon after, led by Carlo Curti and they may have been the people for whom Bohmann made that mandolin. There is some information about this in a chapter on early mandolins in the US which can be downloaded off my website here. This one of a couple of chapters of the forthcoming book on mandolin history which, with luck, will be published later this year and can be downloaded as a teaser I have also made my first forays onto facebook with a page about the book. There are a few interesting photos of mandolins there as well. New friends are welcome !

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    Default Re: Who was the first American mandolin manufacturer?

    quick search says Martin got into mandolin in "the late 1890s" probably not the first but not too far off
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    Default Re: Who was the first American mandolin manufacturer?

    Could "American" also include Central or South America? Could "mandolin" be any of those early instruments that were kind of mandolins but not exactly as we mean it today? The Portuguese for example made and played a flat back version of the mandolin and they've been over here a long time! We know that violins were made here almost as long as European settlement existed here ,why not other instruments? By the 1890's there were thousands of Italian Americans and by that I mean people of Italian decent who were born here. None of them got the idea to try and build a mandolin until Lyon and Healy gave them the idea?

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    Default Re: Who was the first American mandolin manufacturer?

    Martin was a late comer to the mandolin business. It was already thriving when old C.F. finally started building mandolins. From what I've read he didn't want to be in that business. He didn't want to make ukes a few years later but that instrument ended up saving the company. I think Lyon and Healy got into the business because there was a market for the product. Mandolins were either being imported or built by smaller companies. Keep in mind that L&H grew out of a retail business. They didn't start out manufacturing.
    "Bargain instruments are no bargains if you can't play them". These are the words of J. Garber.

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    Default Re: Who was the first American mandolin manufacturer?

    Quote Originally Posted by Graham McDonald View Post
    Joseph Bohmann 'claimed' to have made the first mandolin in the US. I am at work and away from my notes, but it may have been on one of his printed catalogues (1895) that he claimed to have made a mandolin for the Spanish Students. This is a bit odd as the original Spanish Students played bandurrias, but there was a group of Italian mandolin players who appeared quite soon after, led by Carlo Curti and they may have been the people for whom Bohmann made that mandolin. There is some information about this in a chapter on early mandolins in the US which can be downloaded off my website here. This one of a couple of chapters of the forthcoming book on mandolin history which, with luck, will be published later this year and can be downloaded as a teaser I have also made my first forays onto facebook with a page about the book. There are a few interesting photos of mandolins there as well. New friends are welcome !

    Cheers
    Great article Graham. Thank you for sharing that. I am sure your book will be awesome. Love the cover
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    Default Re: Who was the first American mandolin manufacturer?

    Graham, I just read the chapter on early American mandolins, which you so graciously let us download for free. Based on that chapter, I can't wait for the book to come out. It's very well written (concise, informative, not so detailed to be cranky). And I say this as a professional editor. Please do keep us posted on progress! I have a dead ringer for the Lyon & Healy American Conservatory instrument on p. 78 (actually, mine's in better shape and gets played nearly every day). Reading this chapter made my day!

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    Mando accumulator allenhopkins's Avatar
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    Default Re: Who was the first American mandolin manufacturer?

    Martin apparently made a now-obscure Style G mandolin in the mid 1890's, per Mike Longworth's Martin history. He states:

    "Little is known about the G series mandolin. There was a small catalog issued about 1896 when Mr. F.H. Martin was making his first entry into the mandolin market, and the catalog showed the G mandolins. They may well have been serially numbered...Since the sales book for the period begins in 1898, no actual sales of the G mandolins were recorded." [Mike Longworth, Martin Guitars: A History, Colonial Press, 1980 revised edition]

    Longworth used Martin sales records as the basis of much of his price and production information, and his earliest records apparently were from 1898. Martin first cataloged its Styles 1-6 bowl-back mandolins in 1898, probably nearly a decade after other US-made instruments were cataloged.
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    Default Re: Who was the first American mandolin manufacturer?

    I took a mandolin workshop with Lil' Rev once and he is a bit of a self-styled fretted instrument historian. He claims that as soon as the hoop/skinhead style banjo started to get popular in the US, which is after Joel Sweeney became popular in blackface minstrel shows in the 1830's, people started putting all kinds of fretted instrument necks on banjo bodies for the volume boost. Also, the mandolin would have been well known at that time, with examples likely brought to the US by European immigrants. He said he can't prove it, but he feels certain that the the first mandolins made here were banjo mandolins and they were probably "Frankensteined" together from existing mandolins and banjos starting in the mid-1800's.

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    Default Re: Who was the first American mandolin manufacturer?

    Thank you Paul and Scot63 for your kind words. Paul's site has been very useful background for the Gibson chapter. There has been a fair bit of editing done by a retired academic musicologist friend, who has been forensically going through as he would a PhD thesis and pointing out inconsistencies and the like. Only a couple of chapter to go. My current thinking on publication is to run a KickStarter project to see if I can pre-sell enough copies that will cover the cost of the entire print run and have them sent out by a mailing house. There will be widespread invitations to participate

    Cheers

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    Default Re: Who was the first American mandolin manufacturer?

    Quote Originally Posted by John Flynn View Post
    ...he feels certain that the the first mandolins made here were banjo mandolins and they were probably "Frankensteined" together from existing mandolins and banjos starting in the mid-1800's.
    Wouldn't there be some around, then? All the mandolin-banjos I've seen have been pretty clearly post-1900. And were the "existing mandolins" imported?

    Very few musicians seem to have played mandolins in the US before the 1880's. I did a bit of research on Civil War-era mandolin references couple years ago, and only found one or two -- about the same number as from the colonial period, when all references refer to immigrant musicians or music teachers from Mediterranean countries, who presumably brought their mandolins with them.

    In order to want to make a mandolin-banjo, to make your mandolin louder, you first have to have a mandolin, right? So who, and where, were the "mid-1800's" mandolin players who started creating these prototypical mandolin-banjos? We find only a scattering of references to American mandolinists, before the "mandolin craze" hit after the Spanish Students tour.

    I would guess that some US instrument manufacturer seized on the mandolin's new popularity, and started building them in the mid-to-late 1880's. Who that was, is not readily discernible, but mandolins did start showing up in distributor catalogs before 1890, as documented above.

    Joseph Bohmann claimed (see label here, in mandolin three-quarters down the page) that his "Guitars, Violins, Zithers and Mandolins" won prizes at the 1889 Paris Exposition. Did he actually exhibit mandolins in 1889, or did he exhibit other instruments, and just expand his claims to include mandolins he made in subsequent years? No way to tell. (We do know that the big attraction of the Exposition was the brand-new Eiffel Tower.)

    Bohmann, who promoted himself relentlessly, is still a decent bet as the first domestic mandolin builder. I'd vote for Lyon & Healy, myself -- alternatively, an as-yet-unnamed Italian immigrant luthier in New York City.

    Later: or how about August Pollmann? His "mandoline banjos" show an 1887 patent date (advertising copy here).
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    Professional Dreamer journeybear's Avatar
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    Default Re: Who was the first American mandolin manufacturer?

    FWIW - The description of a Washburn mandola for sale at AMS includes the following:

    Lyon & Healy, before incorporating as Washburn, was the first American manufacturer of mandolins until Washburn began making mandolins in 1887.

    No source cited for that statement. And since the description also includes the following, its veracity may be considered suspect:

    The Mandola instrument is the ancestor of the modern day Mandolin. The strings are tuned in unison, rather than in octaves as seen on traditional modern Mandolins.

    [Note: Put "Washburn mandola" into the search engine to get to the item.]
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    Mando-Accumulator Jim Garber's Avatar
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    Default Re: Who was the first American mandolin manufacturer?

    Quote Originally Posted by journeybear View Post
    FWIW - The description of a Washburn mandola for sale at AMS includes the following:

    Lyon & Healy, before incorporating as Washburn, was the first American manufacturer of mandolins until Washburn began making mandolins in 1887.

    No source cited for that statement. And since the description also includes the following, its veracity may be considered suspect:

    The Mandola instrument is the ancestor of the modern day Mandolin. The strings are tuned in unison, rather than in octaves as seen on traditional modern Mandolins.

    [Note: Put "Washburn mandola" into the search engine to get to the item.]
    Complete nonsense. L&H did not incorporate as Washburn. Washburn was a brand.

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    Default Re: Who was the first American mandolin manufacturer?

    Quote Originally Posted by journeybear View Post
    FWIW - The description of a Washburn mandola for sale at AMS includes the following:

    Lyon & Healy, before incorporating as Washburn, was the first American manufacturer of mandolins until Washburn began making mandolins in 1887.

    No source cited for that statement. And since the description also includes the following, its veracity may be considered suspect:

    The Mandola instrument is the ancestor of the modern day Mandolin. The strings are tuned in unison, rather than in octaves as seen on traditional modern Mandolins.

    [Note: Put "Washburn mandola" into the search engine to get to the item.]
    I can tell you for sure that Lyon & Healy never "incorporated" as Washburn. Washburn was their brand name only. Yes, it is true that the mandola came first, then the mandolin. In fact, the Italian word "mandolino" means "small mandola".

    The Bohmann instruments sure are fascinating, but there seems to be no conclusive evidence that he built any "traditional" mandolins before 1887.

    I also don't buy the pre-1880 mandolin-banjo theory and agree that surviving examples of these instruments do not exist to my knowledge, and don't believe that they would be considered mandolins in the truest sense of the word.
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    Professional Dreamer journeybear's Avatar
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    Default Re: Who was the first American mandolin manufacturer?

    It's sales-speak, an odd idiom, not often reliable for factual source material. Yes, I thought this was pretty erroneous. It came to my attention via the laughable bit about tuning in octaves. Nice of them to mention the mandola => mandolin evolution; much of the rest seemed iffy.
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    Default Re: Who was the first American mandolin manufacturer?

    Cafe member Hubert Pleijsier's book Washburn Prewar Instrument Styles is in my eyes the definitive book on Lyon and Healy instruments from the early days. Anyone interested in the history of the company does themselves a disservice by not getting a copy and reading it. It pretty much changed what most of us thought the history of that company was.
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    Default Re: Who was the first American mandolin manufacturer?

    Does anyone have any opinion as to how reliable Clarence Partee was? He claimed in 1902 to have handled Bohman's mandolin. It looks like that was 1883 or 1884, but that may be vague.

    http://www.newspapers.com/clip/1966977//

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