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Thread: Vega cylinderback info

  1. #1

    Default Vega cylinderback info

    Hey Gang, Got this little Vega here in the classyfieds about a month ago and thought I'd ask here if anyone can date it from the serial # and shed some light on this unusually cool instrument. I know it ain't all original but it is structurally sound and plays great. Serial # 34855. Hope everyone is behaving themselves as much as possible. Click image for larger version. 

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    Default Re: Vega cylinderback info

    The cylinder back mandolins went into production in the early 1910's.

    There is disagreement about whether or not the mandolins used the same serial number system as the banjos. I believe that they did. If so, it would place the build date of your mandolin in 1918 or 1919. If not, I would still say the instrument was made sometime between 1915 and the very early 1920's.

    The picture of the back is too small for me to tell with certainty whether the back is mahogany or rosewood. If it's mahogany, it's a model 202. If rosewood, it's model 203.

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    Mando-Accumulator Jim Garber's Avatar
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    Default Re: Vega cylinderback info

    I believe it dates to circa 1918 from the serial lists I have.
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    Default Re: Vega cylinderback info

    There is absolutely no question that the mandolins DO NOT follow the same serial scheme as the banjos. The dates would be off by 10-15 years, depending on the era. There is no known list of serials for Vega mandolins (or guitars, for that matter).
    www.OldFrets.com: the obscure side of vintage instruments.

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    Default Re: Vega cylinderback info

    Noah: I am very glad that you are so confident in your assessment of the serial numbers. Perhaps you are right but I am not sure. You say off by 10-15 years so I assume it would be later, not earlier than the banjos? Can’t be earlier since the cylinder patent was 1913 unless they made them unpatented for quite some time.

    I cross referenced two lists, one from Mugwumps and the other from Paul Ruppa, Vega collector and former head of the Milwaukee Mandolin Orchestra. See the older thread Allen references above. I have also consulted at times with Jim Bollman.

    I am not sure where you get the number of 10-15 years off though. That seems extreme. I think one problem may be that Vega often did not date their catalogues. Please, more details how you know what you do.
    Last edited by Jim Garber; Mar-25-2020 at 7:16am.
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    Default Re: Vega cylinderback info

    The earliest Vega electric mandolins and guitars have serials in the 35000 range; that would put them 1919-1920 on the banjo list, but Vega did not start building them until around 1935. The earliest carved-top instruments are around 33000; they may date to the early '30s, but certainly not the late 1910s. My cylinder-back tenor lute is 38226 and those were most definitely introduced in 1926, not 1920. Vega catalogs are well-correlated with banjo serials and magazine advertisements, so their dates are pretty well established after 1920 or so.

    My theory is that the discrepancy dates back to Vega's acquisition of Fairbanks in 1904. Vega had already been building mandolins and guitars for years, but they didn't do banjos until they bought out Fairbanks. When they started building Vega-brand banjos, they kept using the Fairbanks serial system for banjos but kept using their existing Vega serial system for mandolins and guitars. I have no hard evidence to support this, but it does appear to sit well with the facts.
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    Default Re: Vega cylinderback info

    Interesting. I don't know if the serial numbers on electric Vega mandolins relate to the older serial numbers we've been relying on. Maybe they don't.

    Vega started marketing their CB mandolins in 1912, not in the mid-to late 20s.

    I just did a quick search for the earliest Vega ads I could find in some Cadenza Magazine pdfs. I've found evidence of Vega's earliest Pettine Special Mandolin. Apparently, that model (at least a prototype) was available in September 1904. Vega marketed Pettines in Cadenzas by November 1904. So, if someone with a Pettine Special owner could check the serial number on theirs we could compare it to the late Mike Holmes "last of 1905" number #23500. It could give us a ballpark date range.

    I also found an ad for a Vega tenor mandola and mando-cello in a January 1912 Crescendo Magazine. The November issue did not mention those instruments. So, early numbers we can check are 28062...........................28930............. ..1912. Those numbers came from a defunct website: http://www.whitetreeaz.com/vintage/banjomfg.htm

    On thing I look at to roughly age Vega CBs is the upper bout points. I feel confident that the sharper points indicate instruments made later than the mandos with the blunt pointed upper bouts. According to the numbers I've seen, the sharp-point CBs were made in the early 20s. Paul
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    Default Re: Vega cylinderback info

    Quote Originally Posted by Dr. P View Post
    Interesting. I don't know if the serial numbers on electric Vega mandolins relate to the older serial numbers we've been relying on. Maybe they don't.

    Vega started marketing their CB mandolins in 1912, not in the mid-to late 20s.
    The electric serials line up with the acoustic serials from the same period; there doesn't appear to be a separate list for electrics. While the cylinder-backed mandolins came out in 1912, the tenor lute didn't appear until 1926.
    www.OldFrets.com: the obscure side of vintage instruments.

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    Default Re: Vega cylinderback info

    Quote Originally Posted by Dr. P View Post
    I just did a quick search for the earliest Vega ads I could find in some Cadenza Magazine pdfs. I've found evidence of Vega's earliest Pettine Special Mandolin. Apparently, that model (at least a prototype) was available in September 1904. Vega marketed Pettines in Cadenzas by November 1904. So, if someone with a Pettine Special owner could check the serial number on theirs we could compare it to the late Mike Holmes "last of 1905" number #23500. It could give us a ballpark date range.
    Paul: My two Pettine Specials are stamped 21954 and 26433. The hugher number one actually has a backplate that says Giuseppe Pettine Special. The earlier one is close to identical in features but has a engraved backplate without the GP engraving (see below). In my files I also have photos of 28356, 27949, and 23114.

    The only one that has a higher number is one that Richard Walz documented as belonging to Pettine himself: 37X X5 (the photo has reflections on the middle numbers. My guess is that GP owned a few of these since he sold them to his students. Both of mine originated in Rhode Island. It is quite possible that GP was ordering these mandolins from Vega into the 1920s.

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    Default Re: Vega cylinderback info

    I'm now convinced that Vega may have used more than one numbering system. I would still date the OP's instrument as having been made in the mid to late 1910's or very early 1920's.

    Most of the more knowledgeable banjo people no longer rely on Mike Holmes' list. More recent research has yielded information that is generally believed to be more accurate. One of the more recent sources for Fairbanks/Vega banjo serial numbers is acousticmusic.org.

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    Default Re: Vega cylinderback info

    Just to be clear - the banjo and mandolin serials may come reasonably close for some eras, especially in the early years before banjo production skyrocketed. For the Pettine Special, the banjo list may not be that far off even if it's not precisely correct. But the 34000 range is definitely closer to the early '30s than the 1910s.
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    Default Re: Vega cylinderback info

    Quote Originally Posted by nmiller View Post
    Just to be clear - the banjo and mandolin serials may come reasonably close for some eras, especially in the early years before banjo production skyrocketed. For the Pettine Special, the banjo list may not be that far off even if it's not precisely correct. But the 34000 range is definitely closer to the early '30s than the 1910s.
    I'm reluctant to disagree but here's something to consider:

    An early fixed-bridge, flat-back, Vega mando-cello that resides in the UK showed up on the Café a few years ago. Fortunately for this discussion, the owner still has the original bill-of-sale with a serial number #25639 and a purchase date of 10 April 1908.

    The number and date seem pretty close to fitting one of the serial number charts that I posted earlier. It had the following serno/date range listing:

    24337...........................24973............. ..1908
    25083...........................25986............. ..1909

    There is a photo of Joe Pettraca from a Feb 1925 Cadenza that shows a comparable flat-back, fixed-bridge Vega mando-cello, but that doesn't necessarily prove that it was made that year.

    Aside from the pointy upper bouts, other things that suggest to me that a Vega is from a later run are the dark stain or sunburst tops.

    I attached a partial list of antique Vega mandos in Milwaukee with their serial numbers (based in existing charts) and estimated dates.


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    Default Re: Vega cylinderback info

    And, numbers or no numbers, I still date the OP's mandolin in the teens or no later than the early '20's by its specifications.
    It appears to have the varnish/French polish finish of Vega instruments made 1925 or earlier. Vega switched to lacquer in the late '20's.

    If the OP's instrument had been made in the '30's, I would expect it to have both a lacquer finish and a peghead logo with the Vega brand.
    30's Vega instruments look noticeably different than those of the previous era.

    Dating models by catalog introduction is not foolproof. For example, Gibson was known to put models into production a couple of years or more before they were catalogued. I know of at least 2 HG-Century guitars with 1936 factory order numbers. The model was not cataloged until 1938. Martin started making D-45's in 1933, but they were not cataloged until 1938. And there are some Vega tenor banjos floating around that were made as early as 1912 or so, several years before they were cataloged. Bob Smakula has a 1915 model in his shop right now.

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    Default Re: Vega cylinderback info

    Vega serial number throwdown alert! I do so love this site!

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