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Thread: Please help me determine some history and instrument value

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    Default Please help me determine some history and instrument value

    How can I be certain of whether my Ditson "Victory" mandolin is a Larson Brother's or a Martin- made for instrument for Ditson Co., it's age (e.g., Circa 1890), and its worth?

    Label reads: The Stringed Instrument Studios of the Ditson Company:
    Boston, New York and Philadelphia.
    Bowl (round back) with 19 ribs that make up the bowl
    Heart-shaped cut-out on the top of headstock
    Frets are not flush to the fretboard
    All original parts
    no cracks, great action
    Great condition, only one wear spot south of pick guard
    Spruce top. Brazilian Rosewood back.
    Mahogany neck. Ebony fretboard and bridge
    Ornate ("real" tortoise shell??) pick guard
    Comes in original leather hard shell case.
    Serial # 12461

  2. #2
    Full Grown and Cussin' brunello97's Avatar
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    Default Re: Please help me determine some history and instrument value

    Well, a great way to start would be to post some photos.....

    Despite some misinformation proliferating on the web, your Victory was likely not made either by the Larson Brothers or by Martin, but probably by the Vega Company out of Boston. Probably ca, 1900 +/-

    Don't be disappointed, Vega made excellent mandolins under their own label, some of the best American-made mandolins of their era.

    There are more misattributions of "Larson-made" mandolins than splinters from the True Cross. There's a cottage industry to it with an attempt to inflate prices. Count me as the lead Doubting Thomas.

    Martin did make some mandolins for Ditson, in both bowlback and flatback design. Their distinctive shapes--the same as Martin used for their own instruments--make the ID quite straightforward. I have seen more Martin-made-Ditson-labeled flatbacks than bowlbacks, btw.

    Attached are a couple photos. The body and headstock shapes are clearly distinct. The first is a Ditson "Empire" made by Martin. It looks just like a Martin. This was part of the US Hegemony series: The Conquerer, Empire and Victory mandolins that Ditson sold. The second photo is a Vega -- or possibly Lyon and Healy -- made Victory.

    Complications arise because Ditson jobbed these mandolins out to a few different makers. Your photos will help folks make a call.

    The value / price range is unfortunately askew. Ditson sold a lot of these so there seem to be many available and not a large market. Everything depends on the playability and not necessarily the lookability. Again, if you post some images it would be helpful to ascertain.

    With that in mind: Unplayable, maybe $50. Playable: maybe $350-400. You will see them listed higher than that, but unlikely that they are selling for much more. Which is a pity, as they can be quite nice mandolins.

    Mick
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  4. #3
    Mando-Accumulator Jim Garber's Avatar
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    Default Re: Please help me determine some history and instrument value

    Bowl (round back) with 19 ribs that make up the bowl
    Probably a lower- to mid-priced mandolin; upper-end ones had upwards of 30 ribs in the bowl.
    Frets are not flush to the fretboard
    I would hope not, otherwise it would be unplayable. Only some banjos might be desirable with flush frets.
    Spruce top. Brazilian Rosewood back.
    Very common in that era when Brazilian woods were readily available.
    Ornate ("real" tortoise shell??) pick guard
    Very unlikely that it is real tortoise. Even in the late 19th century celluloid imitation tortoise was very common.

    I concur with Mick (brunello97) that it is likely made by Vega which made very nice bowlbacks. His estimation of value tho is, sadly, a little on the optimistic side. If you want to sell it, start there (assuming it is perfectly playable and in good cosmetic and structural condition) but be prepared to haggle.
    Jim

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    Default Re: Please help me determine some history and instrument value

    Ditson labelled mandolins are known to have been made by Lyon & Healy/Washburn, Vega, and Martin; perhaps also by others; but I have never before heard of any Ditson instruments being attributed to the Larson Brothers.

    A couple of pictures would be helpful in narrowing down the maker.

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    Default Re: Please help me determine some history and instrument value

    Thanks Mick, Jim and Luthier for your comments.
    It is very playable with no structural problems at all.Click image for larger version. 

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    I have attached images I hope will post.
    MY mandolin looks just like Mick's right-hand image. What price range does this place it in?

    Margaret
    Margaret

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    Default Re: Please help me determine some history and instrument value

    That looks like a nice instrument. I'm leaning towards Vega. I don't see any glaring Martin characteristics, and 17 ribs would be inconsistent with known Martin specs. The way the soundhole binding is installed is not consistent with Larson assembly practices-- they always inlaid their soundhole bindings.

    Most bowl back mandolins in good condition are worth a few hundred to maybe $800 or $1000, unless they are very ornate models by the most desirable builders. The value of yours depends on how well it plays and sounds, and whether it needs any repairs. I do see a rib crack that needs attention.

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    Moderator MikeEdgerton's Avatar
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    Default Re: Please help me determine some history and instrument value

    This one sold for $369.00. Hopefully not because someone actually thought it was a Larson. I wouldn't have expected it to go that high. Nice bowlbacks fail to sell weekly on eBay. Having the case is a plus.
    "Bargain instruments are no bargains if you can't play them". These are the words of J. Garber.

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    Mando-Accumulator Jim Garber's Avatar
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    Default Re: Please help me determine some history and instrument value

    Looks like it possibly has been worked on a bit. From the photo it looks like the top might have a little bit of warping and also may have been oversprayed. As long as it is structurally sound that is all right.
    Jim

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    Full Grown and Cussin' brunello97's Avatar
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    Default Re: Please help me determine some history and instrument value

    The Ditson / Vega Victory that Mike linked to is in quite good looking shape and the neck / action looks good. Ad copy is heavy on convincing potential buyer's of its playability. Price may be a bit to the higher end, but a good value.

    I'm not buying the Larson spiel, but....I'm not used to that fretboard "shelf" detail on other Vega made mandolins. I'm not used to seeing the bridge located south of the cant on bonafide LarBros mandolins, either. That's a Vega thing as far as I know.

    Mick
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    Default Re: Please help me determine some history and instrument value

    thanks to all of you for your advise naming and dating this instrument.

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    Registered User Martin Jonas's Avatar
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    Default Re: Please help me determine some history and instrument value

    Quote Originally Posted by brunello97 View Post
    but....I'm not used to that fretboard "shelf" detail on other Vega made mandolins. I'm not used to seeing the bridge located south of the cant on bonafide LarBros mandolins, either. That's a Vega thing as far as I know.
    I agree with Mick that the bridge position is about the strongest indication you can have that this mandolin was made by Vega. Of course, that assumes that the bridge is in the correct position for this instrument -- is it playable in its current setup and does it intonate well?

    Martin

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    Registered User RayMan7's Avatar
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    Default Re: Please help me determine some history and instrument value

    Quote Originally Posted by brunello97 View Post

    Martin did make some mandolins for Ditson, in both bowlback and flatback design. Their distinctive shapes--the same as Martin used for their own instruments--make the ID quite straightforward. I have seen more Martin-made-Ditson-labeled flatbacks than bowlbacks, btw.
    Mick, I would be interested to hear more about these Martin made Ditson bowlbacks. I have a Ditson Empire that I’m working on which I figure to be made by Vega. But from what I can see it looks almost identical to the one you pictured, so now it’s got me wondering just a bit. It also looks like a Mayflower.
    Learning as much as I can about these seemingly mystery made Ditson’s

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    Full Grown and Cussin' brunello97's Avatar
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    Default Re: Please help me determine some history and instrument value

    Quote Originally Posted by RayMan7 View Post
    Mick, I would be interested to hear more about these Martin made Ditson bowlbacks. I have a Ditson Empire that I’m working on which I figure to be made by Vega. But from what I can see it looks almost identical to the one you pictured, so now it’s got me wondering just a bit. It also looks like a Mayflower.
    Learning as much as I can about these seemingly mystery made Ditson’s
    I have a Ditson Empire bowlback as well, which I am pretty sure is made by Vega. The bowl shape, neck profile, headstock shape and bridge location are the main telling points for me. Doing a careful side-by-side comping with a Martin bowlback should reveal the distinctions pretty clearly. A top down view of a Martin vs a Vega-Ditson is pretty clear, as well. There is no confusing the two.

    A lot of the Mayflowers I have seen look like Vega made mandolins as well, though some--the early ones in particular--maybe not. Some look more like they were made by Lyon and Healy.

    The classical-pediment / hole-in-the-headstock shouldn't be seen as a defining feature. Martin used them as well as Vega on some Empires and other bowls, as did numerous Italian makers, of course, where the design idea certainly emerged.

    Does your Empire have a serial number on the interior brace just "north"--to the neck side--of the soundhole? I would anticipate it if it were a Vega mandolin.

    Post some photos if you have them.

    I like Vega mandolins, to be perfectly honest. I think they are, by and large, light and responsive and far more "Italian" in their sound than the Chicago bowls I have played. The Vega necks have tended to be a little stouter. I think highly of my Empire and play it often. Mike is right on about the pricing. I think I paid $150 for mine, in nearly mint condition. Absurdly high quality for the dinero.

    I realize this is a broad extrapolation here, but my hunch is that was on purpose to make them a bit stouter. I am extrapolating mightly here, but my sense is that Lyon + Healy beefed up the bowls and tops for perhaps the same purpose, their necks being a bit more slim lined, relatively speaking. Another generalization coming: the Vegas seem to have survived better--which could be for a host of reasons (being kept in a case, for instance.) All that's all a lot of projection on my part and nothing.

    Mick
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