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Thread: Looking for info on American Conservatory mandolin, and restoring

  1. #1
    Registered User woolenegg's Avatar
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    Default Looking for info on American Conservatory mandolin, and restoring

    We've found an old mandolin that belonged to my husband's grandmother. Unfortunately, it was up in the attic, meaning that it has been subjected to variations in temperature from freezing to baking. It seems to be in fairly good shape regardless.

    There is no label remaining, but I believe I've identified it as an American Conservatory, based on photos I found of an identical mandolin at ancientpoint.com.

    I'd be interested in knowing if a guesstimate of a year of manufacture can be arrived at, and what it might cost to clean up/restore from its current condition. I've taken a series of photos which I've put in a Google album, here:
    https://photos.app.goo.gl/Mg9hFiQSem19F4Tk8

    If this can be made playable again, we'd be quite happy. My husband has a modern mandolin and a couple guitars. I would perhaps enjoy learning to play.

    Thank you for your assistance.

  2. #2
    Mandolin Friendly Mark Gunter's Avatar
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    Default Re: Looking for info on American Conservatory mandolin, and resto

    Cosmetically, that mandolin appears to be in fine shape, so much as can be told from looking at pictures. I would find a reputable, mandolin-knowledgeable luthier to bring it to who can get a close-up in-person look at it. If the neck angle is fine, it may not need any more work than a good cleaning and re-stringing. Even the original bridge there may be just fine, judging only from the pictures, of course. The only thing that appears to be missing is the tailpiece cover.

    The checking of the finish is a normal process of time, and I would refrain from allowing anyone to topcoat it or refinish it. A proper cleaning and polishing of the instrument can make the wear spot on the bowl look 10 times better. It should be restrung with light gauge strings.

    I wouldn't attach the 'American Conservatory' name to this. The American Conservatory of Music placed their labels on instruments made in mass production by instrument factories so far as I know. They were not in the business of building instruments, but sold a lot of instruments with their label. Many were very low-level student instruments. I have a violin with their label that was produced as cheaply as possible. The way the grain runs on the bowl of your mandolin, it's impossible for me to tell by looking at a photo whether the manufacturer actually cut some fake joints to make it appear to have more ribs than it actually does, or whether they actually used a large number of ribs and just did a bang-up job of keeping the grain matched across each. So again, condition, etc. looks great according to photos, but someone knowledgeable needs to get it in their hands to tell you more.

    I'm not a luthier or expert on these things, but there are many experts here in these forums, so take what I've written with a grain of salt. I only respond because no one else has done so.

    I think you are correct in that the mandolin you found on this page is practically identical to the one you own, and was probably built by the same company, but it's likely that it never had an American Conservatory label, and they were not the makers. I realize the site says that mandolin is "made by American Conservatory" but I don't think that is accurate.
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    Default Re: Looking for info on American Conservatory mandolin, and resto

    woolenegg's mandolin, for posterity:

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    Default Re: Looking for info on American Conservatory mandolin, and resto

    Similar mandolin, labeled American Conservatory:

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    Default Re: Looking for info on American Conservatory mandolin, and resto

    It seems fairly obvious to me in that second batch of photos that the numerous rib joints have been faked; again, if it were in my hands it would be easier to tell more about these.
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    Registered User woolenegg's Avatar
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    Thumbs up Re: Looking for info on American Conservatory mandolin, and resto

    Quote Originally Posted by Mark Gunter View Post
    Cosmetically, that mandolin appears to be in fine shape, so much as can be told from looking at pictures. I would find a reputable, mandolin-knowledgeable luthier to bring it to who can get a close-up in-person look at it. If the neck angle is fine, it may not need any more work than a good cleaning and re-stringing. Even the original bridge there may be just fine, judging only from the pictures, of course. The only thing that appears to be missing is the tailpiece cover.
    It took me a while of looking at multiple photos of mandolins to realize that most likely part of the tailpiece was missing. If this turns out to be usable again, I'd like to find a replacement for the cover. The bridge seems OK to me, just flipped on its side. I took the photos as I found it, without messing around with anything.

    Quote Originally Posted by Mark Gunter View Post
    I'm not a luthier or expert on these things, but there are many experts here in these forums, so take what I've written with a grain of salt. I only respond because no one else has done so.
    And I thank you for that. I was wondering if I might have broken some unwritten forum rule and ticked everyone off. (If I have, do please let me know, so I can fix it/avoid doing the same thing again.)

    Quote Originally Posted by Mark Gunter View Post
    I think you are correct in that the mandolin you found on this page is practically identical to the one you own, and was probably built by the same company, but it's likely that it never had an American Conservatory label, and they were not the makers. I realize the site says that mandolin is "made by American Conservatory" but I don't think that is accurate.
    Even with the label inside of it? I realize labels can be faked or placed into instruments after the fact, but I'm genuinely curious why you hesitate to believe that ancientpoint example is not for/by AC/Lyon and Healy?

    Thanks again for your help. I'm going to check out more on the forum and see if I can find a luthier somewhat near to us. Failing that, if I could find some advice for newbies on how to at least appropriately clean and polish it up, and get some light-gauge strings, we can see how it sounds.
    ---
    Karen

  9. #7
    Mandolin Friendly Mark Gunter's Avatar
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    Default Re: Looking for info on American Conservatory mandolin, and resto

    Quote Originally Posted by woolenegg View Post
    Even with the label inside of it? I realize labels can be faked or placed into instruments after the fact, but I'm genuinely curious why you hesitate to believe that ancientpoint example is not for/by AC/Lyon and Healy?
    Yeah, that's not what I meant ...
    The problem is that I was trying to discuss two different mandolins and not being precise enough in my language. I wrote "it", "they" and "that mandolin" - what I meant was:

    1. Your mandolin probably wasn't sold by American Conservatory. Could have been, but they did a pretty good job of affixing labels, decals, etc. to the instruments they sold. However, your mandolin is very much like the other one from 'ancientpoint'. They were both probably made by the same company.

    2. At any rate, "American Conservatory" did not make either one of them. They labeled instruments made for the trade by someone else, as far as I know, they did not manufacture instruments. I believe that more than one manufacturer's instruments ended up with those labels. "American Conservatory" does not equal Lyon & Healy.

    3. The site, ancientpoint, uses the language, "made by American Conservatory" which I believe to be inaccurate. That mandolin was labeled by and distributed by American Conservatory, but not made by American Conservatory. The label is not fake, there would be no reason to fake it.

    And remember, I'm not an expert. These are my opinions and I believe they are correct, but I'm ready to learn if someone knows better. There are some pretty knowledgeable folk in these forums who deserve the "expert" appellation on some things.
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    Mando-Accumulator Jim Garber's Avatar
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    Default Re: Looking for info on American Conservatory mandolin, and resto

    I am getting more than a little confused. As far as I know American Conservatory was a mid-priced brand of the Lyon & Healy Company. The OP's and the one at ancientpoint.com do resemble some of those I have in my files and L&H catalogs. There are actually some AC mandolins that are fancier than some of the lower end Washburn (their high end) mandolins. In addition there are quite a few unlabelled AC mandolins that were probably sold to the trade for retail shops to put their own label in.

    American Conservatory or Washburn were not companies, they were both brand names pf the Lyon & Healy Company of Chicago.

    The ancientpoint.com mandolin, at least the one I found on that site (linked here) is labelled correctly AFAIK:
    This lovely mandolin from the turn of the last century has a straight grained spruce top, a rosewood back with 40 ribs, and a rosewood neck and headstock
    The label on the inside is marked “American Conservatory,” which was a brand made by Lyon and Healy
    Made in the U.S,.
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  13. #9
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    Default Re: Looking for info on American Conservatory mandolin, and resto

    You surely know more than me, Jim. I looked for info on the brand a few years ago when I got a violin with their decal on it, and never saw the connection to Lyon & Healy. The violin is definitely not what I would call a mid-range instrument, it is pretty budget quality. So if American Conservatory was nothing more than a brand owned by L&H company, that's something new for me to learn.

    As far as the label in the instrument at ancientpoint.com goes I have never hinted that the label is wrong, but obviously I gave the impression to the OP that I had meant that. Read my last post, I made clear that the label on the instrument I linked to, and showed pictures of in this thread, from ancientpoint.com, is correct. I was thinking that her mandolin was made by the same factory as that one, but that does not mean it was "American Conservatory" - if I am wrong that American Conservatory is not equal to Lyon & Healy, I just apologize for contributing to this thread. I've already thrown confusion to both the OP and to you, sorry about that.

    For one, I was referring to the title I saw above that mandolin, and had not read the description.
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    Mando-Accumulator Jim Garber's Avatar
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    Default Re: Looking for info on American Conservatory mandolin, and resto

    Mark: you are correct about the title on Ancientpoint listing. Lyon & Healy was one of the largest instrument manufacturers in the early part of the last century. I believe that their catalogs and ads boasted that they made 100,000 instruments per year. American Conservatory was a more budget line than Washburn which was their premium line at least as it refers to mandolins. There was also Lakeside, Jupiter, Columbus and Leland brands. The first three were lower end, budget models. The Leland was more of a specialty brand and some think they were made by the Larson Brothers.

    If you really want to educate yourself on the L&H Company get a copy of Hubert Pleijsier's book.
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    Default Re: Looking for info on American Conservatory mandolin, and resto

    Quote Originally Posted by Jim Garber View Post
    I believe that their catalogs and ads boasted that they made 100,000 instruments per year. American Conservatory was a more budget line than Washburn which was their premium line at least as it refers to mandolins. There was also Lakeside, Jupiter, Columbus and Leland brands. The first three were lower end, budget models. The Leland was more of a specialty brand and some think they were made by the Larson Brothers.

    If you really want to educate yourself on the L&H Company get a copy of Hubert Pleijsier's book.
    Good summary, Jim. I enthusiastically recommend Hubert / Keef's book for anyone wanting to sort through some of this history, but also because it is a fun read on its own.

    To complicate the L+H labeling further, there was a line of "Leland" mandolins....bowlbacks that predate the flatback Leland line that you and I have examples of.

    In regards to the flat-back "Leland" line it is worth noting that "some think that these were not made by the Larsons" but by Vega. I'm one of those "some".

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    Default Re: Looking for info on American Conservatory mandolin, and resto

    Quote Originally Posted by brunello97 View Post
    Good summary, Jim. I enthusiastically recommend Hubert / Keef's book for anyone wanting to sort through some of this history, but also because it is a fun read on its own.

    To complicate the L+H labeling further, there was a line of "Leland" mandolins....bowlbacks that predate the flatback Leland line that you and I have examples of.

    In regards to the flat-back "Leland" line it is worth noting that "some think that these were not made by the Larsons" but by Vega. I'm one of those "some".

    Mick
    I think that there may be some fancier Lelands that might have been made by Larsons but I agree with Mick. I have a standard and piccolo Leland mandolin though I am not sure they were made by Vega. More than likely they were made by L&H in their factory or maybe farmed out to one of the other Chicago makers like Tonk or Regal.

    I am not familiar with the Leland bowlbacks. Do you have some photos of them? I have no recollection of them, none in my files and i can't seem to find any mention of them in Hubert's book.
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    Default Re: Looking for info on American Conservatory mandolin, and resto

    Ok, I had a feeling something must be way off in my thinking since I was confusing everyone, and sure enough I was totally confused on the labeling. When I got out here to the shop, I checked the back of this cheap old violin and it has nothing to do with “American Conservatory”, rather it is “First National Institute of Applied Arts.” It had been several years since I was looking at it, and memory is just not very good. Wasn’t all that great even when I was young. Apologies all around.
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    Default Re: Looking for info on American Conservatory mandolin, and resto

    Quote Originally Posted by Jim Garber View Post
    American Conservatory or Washburn were not companies, they were both brand names pf the Lyon & Healy Company of Chicago.
    American Conservatory was also a registered trademark held by Lyon & Healy for classes of stringed instruments (registrations filed/granted (at least) in 1906 and 1927.

    It's now apparently a trademark for prefab greenhouses...

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    Default Re: Looking for info on American Conservatory mandolin, and resto

    No worries Mark!
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    Default Re: Looking for info on American Conservatory mandolin, and resto

    Whatever it is, it is a very handsome mandolin.

    Best of luck getting it playing again.

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    Default Re: Looking for info on American Conservatory mandolin, and resto

    Don't worry, Mark. We all get a little confused. Besides the labyrinth of interrelated Chicago instrument companies is confusing enough. Kay, Harmony, L&H, Regal, Tonk, Larson Brothers, etc.
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    Default Re: Looking for info on American Conservatory mandolin, and resto

    Quote Originally Posted by Jim Garber View Post
    I think that there may be some fancier Lelands that might have been made by Larsons but I agree with Mick. I have a standard and piccolo Leland mandolin though I am not sure they were made by Vega. More than likely they were made by L&H in their factory or maybe farmed out to one of the other Chicago makers like Tonk or Regal.

    I am not familiar with the Leland bowlbacks. Do you have some photos of them? I have no recollection of them, none in my files and i can't seem to find any mention of them in Hubert's book.
    Thanks, Jim. I'm waiting for more specific evidence that the Larsons had anything to do with the Leland line, besides Bob Hartman's conjecture in his book. The key "Vega" aspects for me are the bridge position and the (smoking gun) of the SN series and location on the uppermost brace...which are design features Vega used on a range of their mandolins-for-hire. The few detailing "traits" attributed to the Larsons on some of the Lelands might be just that (maybe, perhaps, kind of, sort of, etc)....mandolins built by Vega that were detailed by the Larsons.

    I understand folks really want to believe that the LarBros had something to do with their mandolins---but it strikes me as one of the stranger threads of discussion around here. I can't recall a single discussion about the sound, playability etc. of a "Larson" mandolin taking place here. I might have missed those. It is always some vague, mystical association.

    Attached are a couple images of a "The Leland" bowlback. I think there might actually have been another "brand" or type using the name before the Vega-built line came out. Seems like there was a discussion about one just recently here. I need to dig a little deeper into my files.

    I know I'm the cranky, doubting Thomas on this topic, but I'm sticking with it.

    Mick
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    Default Re: Looking for info on American Conservatory mandolin, and resto

    Quote Originally Posted by brunello97 View Post
    Thanks, Jim. I'm waiting for more specific evidence that the Larsons had anything to do with the Leland line, besides Bob Hartman's conjecture in his book. The key "Vega" aspects for me are the bridge position and the (smoking gun) of the SN series and location on the uppermost brace...which are design features Vega used on a range of their mandolins-for-hire. The few detailing "traits" attributed to the Larsons on some of the Lelands might be just that (maybe, perhaps, kind of, sort of, etc)....mandolins built by Vega that were detailed by the Larsons.

    I understand folks really want to believe that the LarBros had something to do with their mandolins---but it strikes me as one of the stranger threads of discussion around here. I can't recall a single discussion about the sound, playability etc. of a "Larson" mandolin taking place here. I might have missed those. It is always some vague, mystical association.

    Attached are a couple images of a "The Leland" bowlback. I think there might actually have been another "brand" or type using the name before the Vega-built line came out. Seems like there was a discussion about one just recently here. I need to dig a little deeper into my files.

    I know I'm the cranky, doubting Thomas on this topic, but I'm sticking with it.

    Mick
    I think the Larson mystique stems from their guitars which have many innovative features like laminated braces and induced arched tops. Do you have any of the Larson books? I have played some of the guitars and they are outstanding instruments. I am pretty sure my Maurer bowlback was made by Larson and it is a well-made mandolin. Some of the Larson guitars in fine condition go into 5 figures for value. The mandolins are certainly well-made but nothing super-amazing.

    As for the Leland bowlback. Was that on eBay? I missed that one. You are probably right that it predates the flatbacks sold by L&H. I have an original catalogue from Chicago Music Company but that one dates from 1930 or so. I wonder if that Leland bowlback was made for them by L&H. There must be a relationship that was active then.

    Mugwumps.com has a listing: Leland, L.H. Chicago IL c1905-1911

    The L&H catalog I have dates from 1912-3 so possib;y L&H bought them out or may have made their instruments on contract.
    Jim

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    Mando-Accumulator Jim Garber's Avatar
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    Default Re: Looking for info on American Conservatory mandolin, and resto

    I found this thread on Washburn Forum. In it an owner of a Leland bowlback jousts with our own Hubert/Keef about the L&H and Chicago Music Company etc. This thread goes back to 2006 which was before Hubert's book came out ゥ2008.
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    Default Re: Looking for info on American Conservatory mandolin, and resto

    Hey, I found another Leland bowlback, with a big crack on front on ebay that ended yesterday. That headstock is the same as one of the main AmCon headstock shapes.

    Those bowlbacks with the alternating woods on the bowl esp thos with wide ribs are usually lower-end ones. This is no exception. I do like that fancy lyre tailpiece but that was probably from a supplier and not unique to Leland or L&H.
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    Last edited by Jim Garber; Nov-28-2018 at 11:27pm.
    Jim

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    Default Re: Looking for info on American Conservatory mandolin, and resto

    Neat tailpiece on that Leland!

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    Default Re: Looking for info on American Conservatory mandolin, and resto

    Quote Originally Posted by Jim Garber View Post
    I found this thread on Washburn Forum. In it an owner of a Leland bowlback jousts with our own Hubert/Keef about the L&H and Chicago Music Company etc. This thread goes back to 2006 which was before Hubert's book came out ゥ2008.
    Thanks, Jim. At least that conversation ended amicably.

    Yes, I have Bob Hartman's book on the LarBros. I didn't know there was another. I'd enjoy checking it out. Many of the guitars look great, though I've never played one.

    The Leland flatback mandolins sound and play really well, in my opinion. Exceptionally good, really. I think I've told the story of Carlo Aonzo offering to swap his Pandini for mine. I knew he was joking but he did really dig the Leland.

    Mick
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    Default Re: Looking for info on American Conservatory mandolin, and resto

    Quote Originally Posted by brunello97 View Post
    Thanks, Jim. At least that conversation ended amicably.

    Yes, I have Bob Hartman's book on the LarBros. I didn't know there was another. I'd enjoy checking it out. Many of the guitars look great, though I've never played one.

    The Leland flatback mandolins sound and play really well, in my opinion. Exceptionally good, really. I think I've told the story of Carlo Aonzo offering to swap his Pandini for mine. I knew he was joking but he did really dig the Leland.

    Mick
    Hartman published a few Larson books. Each one (I believe) was a complete update with new info. I have a couple of them. I don't think anyone else published any books about the shop. He also has this Larson Guitar Registry, fwiw.

    Carlo was joking. He would never trade his Pandini for anything. For a year or two he played a bowlback made for him by Giacomel. Now he is back with the trusty Pandini made I believe in the 1990s.
    Jim

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    1923 Gibson A2 black snakehead -- Brentrup A4C -- 1915 Frank Merwin Ashley violin -- Huss & Dalton DS -- 1937 Gibson L-Century -- 1939 Gibson L-00 -- ca. 1890s Fairbanks Senator Banjo -- ca. 1923 Vega Style M tenor banjo -- Gibson TB-Junior -- National RM-1

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    Default Re: Looking for info on American Conservatory mandolin, and resto

    Quote Originally Posted by Jim Garber View Post
    Carlo was joking. He would never trade his Pandini for anything.
    Maybe I should have jumped at the offer. He honestly didn't want to give the Leland back.....

    Get yours strung up!

    Mick
    Ever tried, ever failed? No matter. Try again, fail again. Fail better.--Samuel Beckett
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