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Thread: Curious Mandolin

  1. #1

    Default Curious Mandolin

    Hi Everyone,

    Nice to meet you all, apologies for this being my first post.

    I recently acquired this mandolin and I'm wondering if anyone has any thoughts on the possible maker?

    It came in an old coffin case (possibly not the original case) and it has no label inside. The instrument is lined with purple paper of some kind.

    My flatmate and I are both instrument makers but are not knowledgeable about mandolins. We have used an inspection mirror inside and can't see any makers marks or other information.

    Overall the instrument seems of quite high quality, all the inlay work is quite nicely done. I'm not used to seeing a mandolin like this so highly adorned in places but then very plain in other ways. Something seems a bit off.....

    I'm guessing it's from around 1880-1920 kind of time period? I'm wondering if it was a more plain instrument that has been refinished by someone interested in inlay? Even parts of the top of the headstock detail is veneered so someone took some effort doing this. The tuners however seem very plain compared to the rest of the instrument.

    Any thoughts?

    Kind regards,

    Sheldon Click image for larger version. 

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  2. #2
    Registered User slimt's Avatar
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    Default Re: Curious Mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by Onlyuntil View Post
    Hi Everyone,

    Nice to meet you all, apologies for this being my first post.

    I recently acquired this mandolin and I'm wondering if anyone has any thoughts on the possible maker?

    It came in an old coffin case (possibly not the original case) and it has no label inside. The instrument is lined with purple paper of some kind.

    My flatmate and I are both instrument makers but are not knowledgeable about mandolins. We have used an inspection mirror inside and can't see any makers marks or other information.

    Overall the instrument seems of quite high quality, all the inlay work is quite nicely done. I'm not used to seeing a mandolin like this so highly adorned in places but then very plain in other ways. Something seems a bit off.....

    I'm guessing it's from around 1880-1920 kind of time period? I'm wondering if it was a more plain instrument that has been refinished by someone interested in inlay? Even parts of the top of the headstock detail is veneered so someone took some effort doing this. The tuners however seem very plain compared to the rest of the instrument.

    Any thoughts?

    Kind regards,

    Sheldon Click image for larger version. 

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    by the looks of the Hawksbill .. I bet its older..

  3. #3

    Default Re: Curious Mandolin

    It's a curious one as in person it doesn't seem as old as some of the 1850-70s mandolins I've seen. However I know this can all be very misleading stylistically.

  4. #4

    Default Re: Curious Mandolin

    Sadly the neck has pulled up as per lots of mandolins I have come across.

  5. #5
    Registered User Randi Gormley's Avatar
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    Default Re: Curious Mandolin

    The strings were probably too heavy for it. Waiting for the bowlback experts to come on and help out.
    --------------------------------
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  6. #6
    Moderator MikeEdgerton's Avatar
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    Default Re: Curious Mandolin

    It's probably right around 1900, just before or just after. It's what would be called a "presentation" piece, very ornate to possibly show at some sort of exposition. The dots to show the bridge position might point one of our resident bowlback experts to a possible builder. Is the inside of the bowl lined and if so is it cloth or paper? The burl on the headstock is fairly unique. What country did you find it in?
    "Bargain instruments are no bargains if you can't play them". These are the words of J. Garber.

  7. #7

    Default Re: Curious Mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by MikeEdgerton View Post
    It's probably right around 1900, just before or just after. It's what would be called a "presentation" piece, very ornate to possibly show at some sort of exposition. The dots to show the bridge position might point one of our resident bowlback experts to a possible builder. Is the inside of the bowl lined and if so is it cloth or paper? The burl on the headstock is fairly unique. What country did you find it in?
    Great info that would actually make sense, I found another similar headstock one here with exactly the same coffin case as mine so perhaps it is original after all. https://www.marks4antiques.com/apa/L...an-bowl-1e5b27

    Yes it is lined with purple paper over the entire inside of the bowl.

    I picked it up in London, UK.

    Thanks for the info so far.

  8. #8
    Full Grown and Cussin' brunello97's Avatar
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    Default Re: Curious Mandolin

    My hunch, Sheldon, is what you see is what you've got. No reason to think it isn't "original"....even with the better quality case.
    I'm assuming wood / coffin rather than the ubiquitous cardboard cases we see on many mandolins shipped to the UK from this era. Nasty canvas ones were the favorite from the Chicago builders.

    I wouldn't confuse the maker with the Vinaccia you linked to, however. My guess would be from Sicily with all that bling.

    The bowl / stave work looks nicely done as do the neck / head appointments.
    Not sure from what you say just how out of alignment the neck is. You can see from the repositioned bridge that perhaps someone
    was trying to compensate for the higher action.

    Unfortunately, neck re-sets on Italian bowlback mandolins is not a straightforward task.
    Our friend, John Maddock, down Tavistock way, may be the best at it, but he'll be straightforward about the feasibility.

    The discussions here often turn to how good of an "investment" such a repair is. In monetary terms.
    That's one way to look at it, but a distinctly limited one.

    The payback I get from playing the mandolins I have can't be measured in dollar / pound terms.

    Thanks for sharing! Let us know what y'all decide to do with this.

    Mick
    Ever tried, ever failed? No matter. Try again, fail again. Fail better.--Samuel Beckett
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  9. #9
    Mandolin tragic Graham McDonald's Avatar
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    Default Re: Curious Mandolin

    I suspect the front of the head and the fingerboard are veneered in tortoiseshell, like from actual turtles/tortoises, not celluloid.

    Cheers

  10. #10
    Mando-Accumulator Jim Garber's Avatar
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    Default Re: Curious Mandolin

    I owned this Alfonso Moretti (Napoli) which has similarly-styled inlays, engraving and that wire inlay. I am not saying it was made by that maker but it might give a clue of influence. I agree with Graham and the OP can verify that the headstock overlay is TS. Here are a few shots of my ex-Moretti.

    I would not say that the OP's is presentation grade but more upper end from whoever this was. There should have been some fluting in the bowl. Presentation grade of that era was way over the top but the most desirable did have some taste whereas this one is only borderline too much ornateness. Still it could be a decent playing mandolin. Of course, it would be hard to ship it anywhere in the world these days.
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    Jim

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  11. #11

    Default Re: Curious Mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by brunello97 View Post
    My hunch, Sheldon, is what you see is what you've got. No reason to think it isn't "original"....even with the better quality case.
    I'm assuming wood / coffin rather than the ubiquitous cardboard cases we see on many mandolins shipped to the UK from this era. Nasty canvas ones were the favorite from the Chicago builders.

    I wouldn't confuse the maker with the Vinaccia you linked to, however. My guess would be from Sicily with all that bling.

    The bowl / stave work looks nicely done as do the neck / head appointments.
    Not sure from what you say just how out of alignment the neck is. You can see from the repositioned bridge that perhaps someone
    was trying to compensate for the higher action.

    Unfortunately, neck re-sets on Italian bowlback mandolins is not a straightforward task.
    Our friend, John Maddock, down Tavistock way, may be the best at it, but he'll be straightforward about the feasibility.

    The discussions here often turn to how good of an "investment" such a repair is. In monetary terms.
    That's one way to look at it, but a distinctly limited one.

    The payback I get from playing the mandolins I have can't be measured in dollar / pound terms.

    Thanks for sharing! Let us know what y'all decide to do with this.

    Mick
    Hi Mick,

    Yes I can see what you mean, it was the disparity between the elaborate inlay of the front and plainess of the back that was confusing me and causing me to question if it was original or not. Perhaps as Jim mentioned later this is just a higher model in a range, but not quite the top nor an exhibition piece.

    Yes the case is a wooden coffin one exactly the same as the one in the Vinaccia listing down to the fittings.

    The neck is very bad, I will take some photos when I get home. My main concern is damaging the fingerboard trying to do any repair. For me personally this is not a repair I would do, but I only have limited repair experience. My flatmate is a bit more adventurous than me, but even he is put off by the inlay. I will have a look at John Maddocks work and perhaps reach out to him. It would be great to have it playable again but if it is going to damage the inlay then I would prefer to leave it as is.

    It's one of those instruments that would be nice to display, but it's not really museum grade (on the back anyway). Maybe it could be used as an education piece about the historic use of animal parts on instruments.

    I shall think it over

    Thanks for all the help.

  12. #12

    Default Re: Curious Mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by Graham McDonald View Post
    I suspect the front of the head and the fingerboard are veneered in tortoiseshell, like from actual turtles/tortoises, not celluloid.

    Cheers
    Yes I think this is correct, I wasn't quite sure at first but looking more closely it does seem to be.

  13. #13
    Mandolin tragic Graham McDonald's Avatar
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    Default Re: Curious Mandolin

    And that looks like more tortoise shell around the soundboard and the rosette. Instant confiscation at almost any customs inspection in the world! The structural implication of that edge decoration (it is too much to simply call it purfling) are important as well. They have probably taken away half the thickness of the soundboard at the edges to inlay that wavy tortoise shell edging. There is not going to be much spruce under that to be glued to the 3-5mm or so of rib and lining, maybe 1.5-2mm of spruce, which can make that whole structural integrity of the body/soundboard join rather dodgy to start with. It is a very ordinary piece of spruce anyway. A mandolin where decoration has over-reached practicality.

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  15. #14

    Default Re: Curious Mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by Jim Garber View Post
    I owned this Alfonso Moretti (Napoli) which has similarly-styled inlays, engraving and that wire inlay. I am not saying it was made by that maker but it might give a clue of influence. I agree with Graham and the OP can verify that the headstock overlay is TS. Here are a few shots of my ex-Moretti.

    I would not say that the OP's is presentation grade but more upper end from whoever this was. There should have been some fluting in the bowl. Presentation grade of that era was way over the top but the most desirable did have some taste whereas this one is only borderline too much ornateness. Still it could be a decent playing mandolin. Of course, it would be hard to ship it anywhere in the world these days.
    Hi Jim, thanks for sharing the pics of the moretti, yes I can definitely see the similarly in the inlay for sure.

    Yes it does seem to be TS, and it also runs all the way along the fingerboard and perhaps the edge work as well?

    Yes the abscence of fluting or vaulting on the back and no engraving on the tuners was one of the things that was making me question the instrument, but as you say if there is a range/grade of instruments it would make sense to have a halfway house.

    Yes would definitely be interesting to have it playing again and yes definitely hard to take it abroad.

  16. #15

    Default Re: Curious Mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by Graham McDonald View Post
    And that looks like more tortoise shell around the soundboard and the rosette. Instant confiscation at almost any customs inspection in the world! The structural implication of that edge decoration (it is too much to simply call it purfling) are important as well. They have probably taken away half the thickness of the soundboard at the edges to inlay that wavy tortoise shell edging. There is not going to be much spruce under that to be glued to the 3-5mm or so of rib and lining, maybe 1.5-2mm of spruce, which can make that whole structural integrity of the body/soundboard join rather dodgy to start with. It is a very ordinary piece of spruce anyway. A mandolin where decoration has over-reached practicality.
    Yes I think it is all TS including the fingerboard. Yes agree the soundboard is not the greatest, the grain is a bit wide and wavy to the edge.

  17. #16

    Default Re: Curious Mandolin

    One of my friends is a world class luthier and antique instrument expert-specialising in the 19th century. I am not going to mention his name but I sent him the link asking if it was exhibition quality and I got a terse reply:

    "The pearl work is poor quality. Certainly NOT exhibition quality FAR from that."

  18. #17

    Default Re: Curious Mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by NickR View Post
    One of my friends is a world class luthier and antique instrument expert-specialising in the 19th century. I am not going to mention his name but I sent him the link asking if it was exhibition quality and I got a terse reply:

    "The pearl work is poor quality. Certainly NOT exhibition quality FAR from that."
    Ha ha well that clears that one up then.

    I think the inlay seems OK to me but yes its certainly nothing like some of those fine 18th or early 19th century instruments in museums.

  19. #18
    Full Grown and Cussin' brunello97's Avatar
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    Default Re: Curious Mandolin

    The term "Presentation Grade" has always made me smile. And the way we use it around here makes me smile again.

    "It isn't quite presenation grade..."
    Or perhaps it is presentation grade, but only of a level to be presented to a minor dignitary.

    Rather delightful to think that at one time a mandolin would be considered the appropriate gift to present to someone in a formal setting of some kind or another.

    "The City of Naples welcomes our distinguished guest from (Texas, London, Westchester, Wales, Australia, Canada .....you name it) and on the behalf of i cittadini di napoli we would like to present you with this mandolino as a token of our friendship....."

    Pity about the tortoise shell, though, Shel.

    Mick
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  20. #19

    Default Re: Curious Mandolin

    Yes it is a shame about the amount of TS.

    I have a friend who is another instrument maker who loves Mandolins, but he is also a massive turtle aficionado so I have avoided showing him the pictures...........

  21. #20

    Default Re: Curious Mandolin

    For anyone interested, here is a picture of the case, the purple paper lining and the bent neck. Click image for larger version. 

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  22. #21
    Full Grown and Cussin' brunello97's Avatar
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    Default Re: Curious Mandolin

    Ah, yes. The neck is in a bad way.
    Looks like a case of the top sinking in a bit just north of the soundhole under the rotational force from the neck. You can see that on the right side of the middle photo.
    That will do it. A recent conversation about the same situation on a flat back / canted top Washburn over in the "builders / repairs" section.

    Our long-missed friend here, Dave Hynds, has what sounds like a pretty radical "neck-dectomy" method he has used, essentially sawing off a wonky neck and re-pinning it to the neck block. Frightening when you describe it but it appears as if he's had some success. Like John M, there doesn't seem like much he can't fix.

    I really enjoy those "count dracula" cases. I've made a few for myself and friends. Your photo, Sheldon, is a good prompt that I should building some more this winter.

    Would love to hear some day that you've gotten this and the Carlo M up and playable again. Lovely instruments, both.

    Mick
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  23. #22
    Mando-Accumulator Jim Garber's Avatar
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    Default Re: Curious Mandolin

    I don't think presentation grade referred to presenting it to anyone, more like presenting the luthiers art and talent. These were often as not presented in competitions and mentioned on labels. Often as not they were way over the top and if they were actually presented as a gift they would be more to aristocracy than virtuoso players. A couple of my favorites include the Angelo Manello bowlback at the Metropolitan Museum in NY:

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    This Embergher Artistico N.8 from 1895 is as ornate as you can get. Unfortunately the only phots online are low quality. Ralf Leenen has some very nice detailed ones in his book.

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    Jim

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  24. #23

    Default Re: Curious Mandolin

    Wow these are definitely something else, on the next level to what I have. They really remind me of the work of renowned 17th/18th Century German instrument maker Joachim Tielke.

    Here is a pic of one of his Citterns, he was a true master instrument maker of the old times. There is a book you can buy about his work.

    Click image for larger version. 

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  25. #24

    Default Re: Curious Mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by brunello97 View Post
    Ah, yes. The neck is in a bad way.
    Looks like a case of the top sinking in a bit just north of the soundhole under the rotational force from the neck. You can see that on the right side of the middle photo.
    That will do it. A recent conversation about the same situation on a flat back / canted top Washburn over in the "builders / repairs" section.

    Our long-missed friend here, Dave Hynds, has what sounds like a pretty radical "neck-dectomy" method he has used, essentially sawing off a wonky neck and re-pinning it to the neck block. Frightening when you describe it but it appears as if he's had some success. Like John M, there doesn't seem like much he can't fix.

    I really enjoy those "count dracula" cases. I've made a few for myself and friends. Your photo, Sheldon, is a good prompt that I should building some more this winter.

    Would love to hear some day that you've gotten this and the Carlo M up and playable again. Lovely instruments, both.

    Mick
    Yeah its pretty bad and the inlay on the fingerboard makes it extra complicated.... Yep definitely a bit of sinking for sure.

    Interesting neck idea, I can see how that could work. I think I would like to try that on a 40 scrap Mandolin first though, definitely a curious idea.

    Yeah the coffin cases are awesome, I love the guitar ones. Some of the cello ones are incredible! Have you got any pics of the ones you have made?

    Fingers crossed, lets see what happens. At the moment I'm teaching myself to make Baroque violin bows so it might have to wait a while.

    Kind regards,

    Sheldon

  26. #25
    Moderator MikeEdgerton's Avatar
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    Default Re: Curious Mandolin

    I actually sent pictures of this to my unknown anonymous world class luthier friend that has pronounced this not a Shmergel. Carry on.
    "Bargain instruments are no bargains if you can't play them". These are the words of J. Garber.

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