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Thread: Looking for Mandolin ID Feedback

  1. #1

    Default Looking for Mandolin ID Feedback

    I've done about as much research as I can, so I'm casting my net into this group to see what comes back. Through a series of musical competitions within my family, I decided to buy a mandolin and learn to play it. Love it! My father-in-law found out and said he had a bowlback mandolin his father played while in a college band. Other than it being his father's, he had no more info about it. I got an itch to trace its roots.

    I initially thought it was a L&H Washburn. The description I pulled from the Internet, from this forum and from Pleijsier's Prewar book made it fit the Style 73 Washburn: 17 frets, 11 ribs, tortoise celluloid pickguard and, most notably, the herringbone trim around the top and sound hole. However, there are only three pearl inlays at the 5, 7 and 10 frets where Washburns of that style had four, and two of them are more decorative than any Washburns I've seen. Also not matching were the shape of the pickguard (different cut where it meets the sound hole), the shape of the headstock (more squared off at the corners) and the tailpiece, which I have yet to find anything close to matching on any manufacturer. The only identifying mark is the 4-digit number stamped on the top of the headstock. There are no other labels, serial numbers, or patent number to be found. It doesn't appear that the inside was covered with a cloth lining, which may or may not make a difference.

    I've looked at L&H, Thompson & Odell, Grauphner & Meyers, etc...nothing fits 100%. Just from it being his father's and his father being in college around 1905, I'm confident it's at least 115 years old. I had new strings put on, and it sounds decent enough. Any help in tracking down a manufacturer would be a huge help.
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  2. #2
    Moderator MikeEdgerton's Avatar
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    Default Re: Looking for Mandolin ID Feedback

    The number may be a catalog number for a mail order house like sears and not a serial number. It looks very much like a Chicago built instrument by L&H or Harmony. It seems similar to one of these L&H models. This is Jim Garber's American Conservatory catalog page.
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    "It's comparable to playing a cheese slicer."
    --M. Stillion

    "Bargain instruments are no bargains if you can't play them"
    --J. Garber

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  4. #3
    Registered User John Soper's Avatar
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    Default Re: Looking for Mandolin ID Feedback

    Make sure that you put really light gauge strings on this mandolin!

  5. #4

    Default Re: Looking for Mandolin ID Feedback

    Quote Originally Posted by MikeEdgerton View Post
    The number may be a catalog number for a mail order house like sears and not a serial number. It looks very much like a Chicago built instrument by L&H or Harmony. It seems similar to one of these L&H models. This is Jim Garber's American Conservatory catalog page.
    "It seems similar..." has been my mantra for a week now. Every time one or two things match a particular manufacturer, something stands out that says it's not. From what I've read there seems to have been a mandolin craze during the time period this was made, so I'm leaning toward this mandolin being a knock-off from a small company. The two things that stand out for me that I thought would give me direction, though, are the fret board inlays and the tailpiece, which appear to be unique insofar as I haven't come across anything resembling them - either together or separately. Especially the tailpiece, and I've researched every 4-stringed instrument from that era. It's giving me a great run through history, so I'd love to see more clues like this coming in.

  6. #5
    Moderator MikeEdgerton's Avatar
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    Default Re: Looking for Mandolin ID Feedback

    The tailpiece is common, sold by jobbers to builders all over the country. The pearl, the binding, all were common parts. The number of staves identify it as an entry level instrument.

    There weren't really any knock offs back then, there were simply instrument builders and they were concentrated in Chicago. That doesn't mean there weren't any in other towns, but Chicago was the middle of the country population and transportation wise. The trains left for the rest of the country from there. It's not a real unique instrument. Lyon and Healy made huge numbers of bowlback mandolins at that time as did Harmony.

    What should identify the maker is the shape of the bowl and the scratchplate. The fretboard markers mean very little as they built what was ordered. The headstock shape was not uncommon either. You can't look at it with the same eyes you look at a modern instrument.
    "It's comparable to playing a cheese slicer."
    --M. Stillion

    "Bargain instruments are no bargains if you can't play them"
    --J. Garber

  7. #6

    Default Re: Looking for Mandolin ID Feedback

    Quote Originally Posted by MikeEdgerton View Post
    The tailpiece is common, sold by jobbers to builders all over the country. The pearl, the binding, all were common parts. The number of staves identify it as an entry level instrument.

    There weren't really any knock offs back then, there were simply instrument builders and they were concentrated in Chicago. That doesn't mean there weren't any in other towns, but Chicago was the middle of the country population and transportation wise. The trains left for the rest of the country from there. It's not a real unique instrument. Lyon and Healy made huge numbers of bowlback mandolins at that time as did Harmony.

    What should identify the maker is the shape of the bowl and the scratchplate. The fretboard markers mean very little as they built what was ordered. The headstock shape was not uncommon either. You can't look at it with the same eyes you look at a modern instrument.
    Thanks for the follow-up. It really helped clear up some of my questions. I'm sure my father-in-law will be very happy to get this sort of background info as the instrument means a lot to him as an heirloom. He's 93, and my goals were to get some history and then play it for him so he could hear it one more time. Half the battle is done!

  8. #7
    Mando-Accumulator Jim Garber's Avatar
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    Default Re: Looking for Mandolin ID Feedback

    My guess is that this may be an American Conservatory or made by or for Lyon and Healy but it also looks to me that it is possible that more recently someone worked on this and added the fretboard inlays, stripped and refinished the neck or possibly the whole body. The inlaid pickguard would have been tortoise celluloid and not usually rosewood inlaid. The peghead shape is odd. Quick look says typical of L&H lower end lines but closer look says different, with beveled ends. This could also have been done by the more recent overhaul but I am not sure why there would be a number stamped in the end of the headstock. I don't think L&H did that although Vega did but they didn't use that shape. Possibly it was a different shape like the Vega and Martins with a hold in the middle and the end part broke off. The luthier might have restamped the serial number for historical purposes. If my theory is at all correct, I wild say that the luthier who did the work was more than competent and did a good job.
    Jim

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