View Poll Results: Vintage Stella Mandolin

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Thread: ISO info Re: Vintage Stella Mandolin

  1. #1

    Question ISO info Re: Vintage Stella Mandolin

    Hi Folks!

    New to the forum and this is my first post. I was able to acquire this vintage late 50's, early 60's (??) Stella Mandolin, extremely clean and well preserved. I would like to refurbish it, new strings, cleaning, etc... any cleaning tips are appreciated. I own two other mandolins, so this is more of a novelty for me, but I will take it off the wall and play it.

    My question is this. I found a few of these for sale (Reverb etc..) and it appears there were washers of some sort on the front of the headstock in some photos, but not others. Do they belong on this mandolin or not?
    Any info you can provide on this model is appreciated
    I know it is a "tea burst" style and was bought new in 1963 for $25

    Serial number: 1590?331 ( I can't tell if there is a number, letter or a blank in the center)

    Thanks,
    Miss Cole
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  2. #2

    Default Re: ISO info Re: Vintage Stella Mandolin

    I think what you refer to is the ferrules (also called bushings) that go around the tuner posts and they are pushed in from the front of the headstock into the holes. These keep the posts snug and will prevent the posts from binding in the holes if they should move from the vertical position due to string tension as you tune up. Some instruments have them but often on less expensive ones, they are omitted. They can be bought but you need to get the right size and sometimes that would mean drilling out the holes in the headstock as well. If your mandolin tunes up evenly with no binding when you turn the buttons then I would suggest that all is well.
    Your mandolin was made by Harmony and that number where you have the ? is the letter H- or ought to be, and this denotes the model- the H331- the number before the H would most likely be a "batch" number- denoting a factory order. There may be a date stamp inside which will be a block of text including MADE IN USA with a number above- which is the year and FL for fall and S- for spring during the time when your mandolin was made. Before 1959 it was just an F for fall. Anyway, good luck with your Harmony Stella mandolin!
    Harmony started to make this basic model in the early 1930s. I will see if I can find one on eBay. Here is one from 1937- sold as a Supertone, a brand of Sears, Roebuck who owned Harmony at that time- they sold the company to its management in 1940. The mandolin has been stripped of its metalware to be sold seperately- the "pickguard" is sprayed on. This was a $3.00 instrument back then!
    https://www.ebay.com/itm/PAIR-Vintag...UAAOSwCqpfL-~z

  3. #3
    Moderator MikeEdgerton's Avatar
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    Default Re: ISO info Re: Vintage Stella Mandolin

    The F stands for First Half, the S stands for Second Half of the year on the date code. It does not stand for Fall and Spring. The company used to shut down in the summer to retool.
    "Bargain instruments are no bargains if you can't play them". These are the words of J. Garber.

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  5. #4
    Teacher, luthier
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    Default Re: ISO info Re: Vintage Stella Mandolin

    1. Neither vintage nor antique, just moderately old.
    2. A style.
    3. Refurbish? Maybe. Refinish? No.
    4. Wall art or play it? These were budget instruments and are not valuable, but were of passable quality when made. If they have survived in good condition and don't need too much work, they are decent student instruments. If they need a lot of work, the cost of making them playable can easily exceed the value of the instrument.

  6. #5

    Default Re: ISO info Re: Vintage Stella Mandolin

    Thank you so much Nick for this information. Really looking forward to getting her up and running again.
    I'll have a look for the date stamp.
    Happy picking!

  7. #6

    Default Re: ISO info Re: Vintage Stella Mandolin

    Thank you for the reply and for this information.

  8. #7

    Default Re: ISO info Re: Vintage Stella Mandolin

    Mike, it is generally agreed among Harmony nuts that the original Spring and Fall is correct and the later business of "first" and "second" was a new but wrong bit of info from a worker. The fact that in 1959, the stamp was changed to FL would make no sense if it signified the word "First". However, there is plenty of anecdotal information that is found by way of the Sears,Roebuck catalogues and detail changes, generally. This guitar below appears in the 1935 catalogue- the only year it was featured and the one sold on eBay a few months back was marked F34 according to the seller. There is no way that Harmony made the guitars in the first part of 1934, and then they were sold in 1935- it was all about fast turnover.

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    Here is the listing- it is still viewable:https://www.ebay.com/itm/Vintage-SUP...p2047675.l2557

    Somebody has lifted this from the Cowboy Guitars book and it details the stamps from start to finish in terms of style:

    https://www.facebook.com/stellaguita...1926666856135/

  9. #8
    Moderator MikeEdgerton's Avatar
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    Default Re: ISO info Re: Vintage Stella Mandolin

    OK, I can see that except as I recall the conversation with the employee, the plant shut down in end of June to to early July. That was actually a common practice in manufacturing plants in times past. You had a two week window to repair and retool. You sent everyone home on vacation except the maintenance people. I just don't get why they would use Fall and Summer and not the calendar year. Call me a little skeptical.

    By the way, this looks early 60's to me on the outset. I'd love to know if there's a date stamp. In the 60's these were sold new in Portland, Oregon in the local pawn shops. They were the Harmony dealers for the area. I don't recall ever seeing on in a music store.

    It looks like somebody went to a whole lot of trouble to shine this one up. They didn't shine brand new.
    "Bargain instruments are no bargains if you can't play them". These are the words of J. Garber.

  10. #9

    Default Re: ISO info Re: Vintage Stella Mandolin

    Fall and spring it was, and I agree it seems a bit odd. Unfortunately, the Harmony Demont site is down at the moment and that details when the factory shut down and the worker who stated it was first and second. I used to think that first and second made more sense but when it appears to moving backwards in time, in terms of model and detail changes, then it makes no sense. You can see this with the introduction of Kluson tuners on Harmony guitars without the screws as WW2 kicked in and likewise the introduction of the wooden tailpiece on guitars, as metal became scarce. Quite frankly, it doesn't matter and I wish it was logical and if people want to use first and second that's fine but I have reverted to spring and fall because it appears to be the reality!
    Let's hope there is a date stamp in that Stella but when you really want them, they don't appear to be present!

  11. #10
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    Default Re: ISO info Re: Vintage Stella Mandolin

    Be sure when you put new strings on you use very light gauge strings. Normal mandolin strings will damage the instrument.
    THE WORLD IS A BETTER PLACE JUST FOR YOUR SMILE!

  12. #11

    Default Re: ISO info Re: Vintage Stella Mandolin

    Hello again Folks. Ive searched for a date stamp and dont see one anywhere. Thanks for your replies and comments.
    A little beauty for sure!

  13. #12
    Moderator MikeEdgerton's Avatar
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    Default Re: ISO info Re: Vintage Stella Mandolin

    As far as the F and S go, I think someone is applying the way things would happen in the 2000's to the way things would happen in 1934. Forget the fact that we were in a Depression, that doesn't affect business operations in this case. The Sears catalog probably was done 1 to 2 years ahead of time. Why? It would take many months to print and distribute those catalogs via the US mail. No highway system like today, most everything moved via rail and it was handled multiple times. That meant they were sourcing their 1934 catalog as early or late as 1932. Harmony wasn't a "cheap" instrument builder they were building guitars and mandolins and whatever that corresponded with what the market generally would pay for them. Cadillac made high end cars but Chevrolet wasn't a bottom end manufacturer, they were building cars that people would and could buy. That's what Harmony was like, along with Kay and Regal. There was no Just In Time (JIT) shipping, there probably was no First In First Out. Business was different. Those guitars were probably manufactured when there was time to run them just to make sure they would be available for when the catalog finally hit. It was a different world. As far as the FL goes, why didn't S become SG? I'm going to guess that the L meant something. If you look at the progression of the date codes they are adding more information and an important item is that "Made In The USA" piece. There's only one reason they would have added that. It's not national pride or anything, it had to be there so they could export them. Most if not all countries, including the US, required and still requires a Country of Origin on imported items. The only time you saw made In The USA on Gibson products in the early was if they were being exported.

    Back to the interview with the factory worker that is now being called bad information. I think they are ignoring the obvious. He was there, he knew what the codes meant. Now someone says well, they added an L so it must mean Fall? I think that's silly personally. On the other side, the Harmony crazies love the mojo of these instruments and honestly most weren't a whole lot to write home about. I was buying them new in the 60's because they were all I could afford.

    Interestingly enough R.R. Donnelly & Sons were printing the catalog by 1928. That explains how they got as big as they are. Some interesting catalog history is here. I'd love to find some history on how they put it together, the purchasing process and all. That might actually shed some light on that.
    Last edited by MikeEdgerton; Sep-25-2020 at 8:27am.
    "Bargain instruments are no bargains if you can't play them". These are the words of J. Garber.

  14. #13
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    Default Re: ISO info Re: Vintage Stella Mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by MissCole View Post
    Hello again Folks. I’ve searched for a date stamp and don’t see one anywhere. Thanks for your replies and comments.
    A little beauty for sure!
    Sometimes it just wasn't there or they faded so bad you could no longer see them. I think it's circa 1960 give or take.
    "Bargain instruments are no bargains if you can't play them". These are the words of J. Garber.

  15. #14

    Default Re: ISO info Re: Vintage Stella Mandolin

    Well, we discussed this a bit in August when the Florentine Supertone was up on eBay. Here is one of the comments:

    I don't know for certain when the cats were pressed, but it does bring up a good point. I had an aunt who worked for Sears and know the spring catalog would have begun being put together over the winter, so it does give credibility to the theory that a git built in the fall of 1934 would be intended for the spring 1935 catalog.

    Given the amount of warehousing needed to fulfill Sears orders, and given the huge regional warehouses Sears had, I would imagine Harmony shipped to the Sears distribution warehouses, and customer orders were shipped from these. When I was a kid, we had a massive Sears catalog fulfillment center in Atlanta. Big, huge massive warehouse with a small customer area taking up less than a fourth of the first of many floors.

    And another:

    I'm trying to research how Sears handled getting these guitars to people who ordered them? I'm thinking drop shipping directly from the factory or, to shipping centers, as Guitar Center does now....?
    This is the Sears complex in 1915, ten years before they opened their first store.
    It was huge so, most likely could handle receiving and shipping on to the rest of America...

    I have omitted the photo of the vast complex mentioned. What we have been trying to do, is find definitive information to counter the usual stuff that is repeated with little concern to its veracity. Personally, as I wrote, it does not bother me which version is definitive. Once the hosting issue has been sorted out, the Harmony Demont site will be available and we can revisit the information regarding the shut down period of the factory etc. I just find that detail changes from a chronological point of view, seem to fit the spring/fall definition whereas I thought that first/second seemed so much more sensible but as know, much in life has evolved and is not necessarily based on logic. Using logic is a good basis for analysis but it does not always deliver the goods as well as one might hope.

    Finally, if the first date stamp was indeed F32 as Cowboy Guitars tells us, then if one was to find an S32 stamp then using logic, the code letters must mean first and second. If no S32 stamp can be found, then the F must mean fall. I will keep my eyes open for an S32 stamp but I may search in vain! Who knows?

  16. #15
    Moderator MikeEdgerton's Avatar
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    Default Re: ISO info Re: Vintage Stella Mandolin

    The vast majority of the US didn't have Sears retail stores in the 30's. The earliest retail stores were in and around the Chicago area. They shipped from Chicago via US Postal Service to the individual post office. They were pretty much in the middle of the country and everything moved via rail including the mail. No Interstate highway system to speak of. Yes, there were highways but things didn't happen like they do now. One of the reasons most of the large catalog retailers were in Chicago was because it was the center of the distribution world for the US. The reason all those instrument manufacturers were there was probably because the catalog folks were there. It's pretty basic.

    As the retail operation grew the need for the catalog was diminished yet we still received one via the US Mail every year when I was a kid u[p through the 60's. My parents like most working class folk in the 50's in Portland, Oregon bought all our school clothes and such from Sears. They were also one of the first stores that offered credit cards. No Visa or Mastercard. In the end it's not a very complex distribution system until much later in their history.
    "Bargain instruments are no bargains if you can't play them". These are the words of J. Garber.

  17. #16
    Moderator MikeEdgerton's Avatar
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    Default Re: ISO info Re: Vintage Stella Mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by NickR View Post
    If no S32 stamp can be found, then the F must mean fall....
    Why?

    Who knows?
    The retired Harmony employee. This really is a no brainer.
    "Bargain instruments are no bargains if you can't play them". These are the words of J. Garber.

  18. #17
    Mando-Accumulator Jim Garber's Avatar
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    Default Re: ISO info Re: Vintage Stella Mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by NickR View Post
    Unfortunately, the Harmony Demont site is down at the moment and that details when the factory shut down and the worker who stated it was first and second.
    Ah, the last time that site was archived by Wayback Machine on archive.org was March 25, 2019. Here is the serial number entry you and Mike E mention from their FAQ page:

    Q - How can I date my Harmony guitar from the serial number ?
    A - Usually you will find two stamps inside your Harmony guitar. They always are on a place easy to read, ie near the f-holes on a archtop. The larger one is the serial number, and the part after the "H" letter is the model number. For example, on the photo below this guitar is without doubt a H22 (You can type a model number, with the H, on the search box on top of this page). The first part of the serial number has no precise meaning relative to the date of production. It seems Harmony reset these numbers in every batch of the model, so a "6690H22" can be older than a "123H22" for example. Tip : on many guitars (easy to check on flat top acoustics), Harmony stamped the top of the guitar as well as the back, so if the number on the back is difficult to read, use a mirror and check under the top (near the neck)
    The other smaller stamp is the date stamp and indicates the year of production. It's said that the letter at the beginning indicates the period of the year, like "F" for "Fall" or "S" for "Spring". That was before Ed, a former worker from the Harmony factory, said : "The company closed down production every July for two weeks. During the last two weeks of June an effort was made to finish as many orders as possible and not start any new orders. The last days of June, we had a complete inventory. I believe the "F'" and "S" may have stood for first and second half of the year."
    Harmony.demont.net is no longer online, not just down temporarily. Maybe they are redesigning the site but it is unusual to remove it altogether.
    Jim

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  20. #18
    Moderator MikeEdgerton's Avatar
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    Default Re: ISO info Re: Vintage Stella Mandolin

    I think I may have figured this out, or at least I can put a plausible reason for Fall and Spring as a designation. I believe the link Nick posted above had the beginning and the ending of the date stamp. If the beginning and ending years of the Dates stamp with and F and S on it corresponds with the time Sears acquired Harmony and then divested itself then the S and F could indeed stand for Spring and Fall as "In 1896 Richard Sears added a spring and fall catalog and enlarged the size". If they were building for those two major catalogs and if those stayed as the release date, ignoring the wish book, then it could be that they were using Sears Catalog designations for what they were building. In other words, their new models were built for the catalog and thus could change mid year. That's totally conjecture on my part and I'd still go with the First and Second concept. That's the absolute only way Fall and Spring make any sense that I can see.

    If the beginning and ending of the date stamps doesn't correspond with the purchase and sale then it's just another wild but more plausible answer.
    Last edited by MikeEdgerton; Sep-26-2020 at 6:45am. Reason: Fixed typo
    "Bargain instruments are no bargains if you can't play them". These are the words of J. Garber.

  21. #19

    Default Re: ISO info Re: Vintage Stella Mandolin

    Me again! Well this has certainly generated a very interesting read for me. Thank all of you so much for your input and for the history lesson. It has been very helpful.
    The sales receipt from 1963 is from a music store in Madison, WI. It was purchased new and kept in the family all these years. It has been in storage for 30 years.
    None of the 5 grandchildren were interested in it, so they decided to sell it for peanuts. Kids these days ... they were very happy it went to a good home. Lucky me.

  22. #20

    Default Re: ISO info Re: Vintage Stella Mandolin

    Mike, I was thinking along those lines myself and nearly posted up a reply but I thought you might think I was being obsessive about this question! As Sears had those spring and fall catalogues, and as Sears owned Harmony at the time, they may have suggested that Harmony stamped the instruments accordingly. Harmony may have then decided to stamp all the instruments and possibly some years later after being sold by Sears changed the stamping to correspond to the year itself- first and second half with the shutdown as the dividing line. Before the date stamp for a short time, there was a three digit stamp- and I will post one below on one of Jake Wildwood's instruments which shows this mystery number- I think it is 657 on this label.
    Interesting to know the Harmony Stella mandolin is from circa 1963.

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    Here below is another of Jake's guitars and it shows the first F32 stamp- but it is in tht bigger oval shape as the one above.

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  23. #21
    Moderator MikeEdgerton's Avatar
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    Default Re: ISO info Re: Vintage Stella Mandolin

    I figured it was early 60's because I was buying Harmony tenors at that time and the finish was almost the same on them.
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    "Bargain instruments are no bargains if you can't play them". These are the words of J. Garber.

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