Antique and Vintage Mandolins

Although many fans of electric-guitar god Jimmy Page only know the mandolin as the high-pitched, plucky sounding background instrument in Led Zeppelin’s “The Battle of Evermore,” the mandolin was largely responsible for the spread of the guitar in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and was itself a major musical phenomenon. The craze began in the 1880s, when a group of Spanish musicians took Boston and New York by storm playing bandurrias, an instrument that resembles the mandolin in several respects.

The mandolin was an easy instrument to popularize, given the role of music in society at the time. In an era before iTunes, CDs, 8-track tapes, vinyl records, or even radios, being able to play an instrument was a highly desirable social skill—those who could play at home would be able to entertain friends and family without having to go to an expensive show or concert.

People who grew up without a music education in working- or middle-class families knew that instruments like the piano and the violin required an early start, so they largely resigned themselves to musical illiteracy. The mandolin, however, promised a way out. Mandolin manufacturers like Gibson sent representatives called teacher agents out into towns to stir up interest. The teacher agents would find a few people who already played the violin and would teach them to play the mandolin, since the two instruments have the same tuning.

Teacher agents would then organize a performance to be given by those they had taught. These concerts were generally fairly impressive, which allowed the representatives to pitch the mandolin to audience members as something they, too, could learn—these performers had only been playing for a few weeks, and look at all they could do!

Soon, mandolin orchestras performing popular classical songs were widespread. These orchestras often included up to 50 or 60 pieces, including mandolins, guitars, mandolas (the mandolin equivalent of the viola), mandocellos (the mandolin equivalent of the cello), and mando-basses. In fact, one of these orchestras was still active in New York City into the 1950s.

For collectors today, mandolins made by Gibson are by far the most desirable. While still owned by Orville H. Gibson himself, Gibson began manufacturing mandolins in Kalamazoo, Michigan, in 1894 with great success, and in 1898 he received a patent for a mandolin design.

Gibson sold his company in 1902, but the Gibson Mandolin and Guitar Company (as it was then known), continued to manufacture mandolins. Instruments made from the 1890s to the late 1900s are most prized by collectors, though many musicians consider them lacking in volume and tone. For such aficionados, the 1909 Gibson F-style mandolins are the first ones with a good, “modern” tone...

The absolute zenith of mandolin design came in the 1920s, thanks to an acoustic engineer at Gibson named Lloyd Loar. His F-5 model is considered the best mandolin ever produced, and those with Loar’s signature on the label inside command the highest prices of any mandolins on the market, thanks both to their superb construction and their selection by the pantheon of famous American mandolin players, including the legendary Bill Monroe.

Aside from the F-5, Gibson’s F-7, F-10, and F-12 from the 1930s are rare, too, though less valuable. Gibson also manufactured mandolas, mandocellos, mando-basses, and even mando-lutes. Mandolas and mandocellas are quite rare, and collectors tend to value them more than their equivalent mandolin models, with the exception of Loar-signed mandolins.

Martin and Epiphone also produced mandolins, mandolas, and mandocellos, many of which were high-quality instruments and are quite sought after today. Martin’s Style 20 and Style 30 are rare and well made, but still not as collectible as the Gibsons. No company in the United States in the early 20th century could challenge Gibson’s dominance in the mandolin market.

Throughout the 1920s, though, even as Gibson was producing some of the best mandolins ever made, mandolins were falling out of favor. Once the accessible instrument of choice, the mandolin began to be replaced in the national spotlight by an exotic new instrument that was even easier to play—the ukulele.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Mandolin Cafe

Mandolin Cafe

Launched in 1995, Mandolin Cafe brings together anyone with an interest in mandolins—from players and teachers to… [read review or visit site]

First published as a folk music magazine in 1971 by Michael I. Holmes before going online in 1997, Mugwumps is a no… [read review or visit site]

National Music Museum

National Music Museum

The National Music Museum, which is located at the University of South Dakota in Vermillion, features 15,000 instru… [read review or visit site]

Most watched eBay auctions    

Gibson Mandolin A Model Snakehead Loar Era Solid Kentucky Style Luithier Do It Yourself Acoustic F-model Mandolin Vintage 25" 8-string Rene Gerome Artisan-luthier Rm 738 Electric Mandolin Antique Pietro Raffini Bowl Back Mandolin - Highly DecoratedAmerican Girl Felicity MandolinGibson F-5 Master Model Mandolin1917 Gibson A4 Mandolin With Case And Music - No Reserve!Mandolin Banjo Converted To Ukulele Banjo Ballantyne Glasgow Vgc (wh_0018)Vintage Hummel Goebel Festival Harmony Angel Mandolin 172/0 1984 Figurine 8" MibMandolin For PartsVintage Mandolin - 8 String Bowl Back "potato Bug" Bugback W/case MayflowerNew York Pro Mandolin, Sunburst, Model Ma 007, Mahogany Sides/backAmeritage A Or F Mandolin Case Burgundy W/silver Hardware Black Inside Usd Good The Loar Lm-700-vs Supreme Mandolin ~ Professional Set-upVintage 1940's Strad-o-lin MandolinAndares 8 String Mandolin Pear Shape With Carrying CaseAntonio- Floral Inlaid Classical Bowl Back 8 Strings Solid Mandolin-case 47071984 Gene Ivey F5 Style Mandolin #4 Hand Made In Ider AlabamaWashburn Vintage M118swk Mandolin With Lr Baggs Pickup And CaseBill Bailey (comedian) Signed Mandolin - All Proceeds To Charity Vintage Genuine Santacilla Mandolin 8 String P M I Corp Ny Antique 12 Stringed Insturment Guitar? Uke? Mandolin? Fender Concert Tone A52e Mandolin 8 Strings Acoustic W/pickup Great ConditionVintage Salad Bowl 4-string Mandolin / Guitar / Banjo Cybenik Italian Mandolin New In BoxMicro Mosaic Mandolin Shape Brooch .Antoniotsai-planet Inlaid-solidwood Maple-spruce-f5 Mandolin Handmade-bag Md4701Mandolin F Style Like An F-5 Plays Great! New York Pro No Reserve Free ShippingStagg M20 Mandolin 0804/1008Fred Kelly Picks Finger Delrin Freedom Medium Guitar Bass Banjo Mandolin 3 PackLot Of 2 Antique Early Mandolins Original-estate Fresh Parts Restore NrStoneman Backpacking/hiking/travel/student Mandolin Usa!Antique *peru* Stringed Insturment Guitar? Uke? Mandolin? Ibanez M510ebs Mandolin W/ Soft Case, Strap, And PicksVintage 30s 40s 50s Original Micro Mosaic Mandolin Brooch Italian Vintage Wooden Mandolin Guitar With Extra Strings In Brown Case3 Pack Fred Kelly Picks Poly Freedom Finger Picks Large Guitar Banjo MandolinPampered Chef Ultimate Mandolin Early Antique Banjo Mandolin "banjolin" Signed By Early Folk Band LoomisRare - Musikalia Dr. Alfio Leone Italy - 8 String Banjo Mandolin - ? Vintage ? Acoustic Piezo Contact Microphone Pickup For Guitar Violin Mandolin Ukulele S2Michael Kelly A-style Mandolin Mkasolidstb - Tobacco BurstSale! Michael Kelly A-style Solid Mandolin, Tobacco Sunburst Finish, MkasolidtbsVintage Photo Mandolin & Martin Guitar Country Western Bluegrass Music 74771578 Rpm Perfect 15413 Majestic Dance Orch. Lady Play Your Mandolin/lou Gold 1930Antoniotsai,floral Inlay Handmade,solid Rose Wood Fingerboard Mandolin Part Mf97Rover Rm-35b "festival Series" Black A-model 8 String Mandolin Serial # 0300888Grover Mandolin Tuners Model 308fvn F StyleAnne Easley Hand Painted Chicken Egg Angel With Mandolin, Mint W/standVintage Music Box Mandolin Inlaid With Metal And Color Mother Of Pearl #eNew Irin Portable Waterproof Oxford Cloth Mandolin Gig Bag Case BlackMulti-functional 12 In 1 Mandolin Vegetable Slicer, Food Chopper, Fruit CutterBlack Mini Guitar Pickups Transducer For Acoustic Guitar Banjo Ukulele MandolinF5 Style Mandolin,solid Curl Maple,eagle Mop Inlaid,shiny Polish,bf5mi13Fender Fm-52e Sunburst Acoustic Electric Mandolin Made In Korea Excellent!2 Fontanini Depose Italy Cherub Ornaments # 265 Flute # 65 Mandolin Spider MarkVintage Photo Country Western Bluegrass Band Guitar & Mandolin Music 747850Beginning Mandolin Solos By William Bay And Frank Zucco. Bonus Mandolin ChordsChristmas Angel Music Mandolin Donkey Dog Vintage Card 50's Not Postcard /kMandolin Nut - 32 X 6.7 X 6.2 Mm 1pc ( 2-2 )