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    

Flatiron F5 Mandolin Bruce Weber Signed Made In UsaVintage Old Antique 1906 Gibson F2 F-2 Mandolin Free Shipping1953? Gibson A-40 MandolinLarge Antique Signed 19thc Bronze Sculpture Clock Medieval Mandolin Player, NrB Stock Unfinished Kentucky Style F Acoustic Mandolin Builder Kit Project Vintag Gibson Junior Mandolin Sty. A Jr. Md. #65130 With Origenal Gibson CaseLoar Lm220-vs Mandolin - Solid Carved Spruce & Maple - Sounds Beautiful1984 Kentucky Dawg Mandolin - #39 Of 48 Built!Vintage Favilla Bros. Marca Aquila Mandolin, High End Model, PlayableEastman Md-504 MandolinOrpheum #1 Vintage Banjo-mandolin By Lange For Repair Or RestorationHistoric 2000 Gibson F-5 Master Model MandolinAntique Vintage Old 1906 Gibson Style A4 Custom Mandolin Project Handel TunersAntique Vintage Old 1920s Weymann A Style Mandolin Brazilian Rosewood No ReserveLoar Lm220-vs Mandolin Solid Carved Spruce & Flamed Maple- Beautiful Sound Vintage 1930 Bacon Style C Mandolin Banjo Banjo-lin Made In Groton Ct W/ohscSantini F Style Mandolin, Roswood Bridge And Fretboard, Very Nice, Great PlayerEpiphone Mm-50/vs Mm50 F-style Mandolin Solid Spruce Top Flamed Mpl Molded Case The Flatiron Mandolin Model CadetEastman Md615 F-style Mandolin With Eastman Case & Mandovoodoo OptimizationFender Fm-61se Electric MandolinTacoma M2 MandolinMartin Backpacker MandolinNeat Vintage Orpheum No 1 Banjo Mandolin 6 Strings Wooden Resonator/backSavannah Sf-200-sn F Style MandolinVintage 1940's Strad-o-lin Two Point MandolinNew Acoustic F Kentucky Mandolin Builder Kit With Spruce Top W/ Mahogany Back AVintage Orpheum MandolinPampered Chef, Mandolin/mini Food Prep/wooden Bowls/bag, ApronEpiphone Bluegrass Mm-20 MandolinEastwood Guitars Mandocaster Electric MandolinBron Original Stainless Steel Mandolin SlicerPampered Chef Ultimate Mandolin #1087 New In BoxTyler Mountain Tmm 60 Mandolin For RepairEpiphone Vintage Adelphi Masterbuilt Mandolin 1940's19thc Antique 1899 O/c Oil Painting, 18thc Mandolin Player & Bar Maid, NrAntique Kent Mandolin - 60's? Kay Harmony Framus Stradolin Clone Vintage AMandolin F5- Ziricote` Landscape/spiderweb Bkm Boards - Re-saw Option For UkesFender Mandolin Acoustic/electricMandobird Viii Electric MandolinHandmade Mandolin In Hardcase. Spruce,solid Rosewood & Ebony BrdBluebird 6602 Papa Charlie (mandolin) Gypsy Woman Blues W SleeveLoar Lm-220 A5-style Mandolin With Tkl F Style HscVintage Stradolin Mandolin - Needs RepairClassic Banjolin / Banjo Mandolin With Extra Set Of StringsDragonfly Inlay Solidwood Koa Maple F5 Mandolin Handworks 4411Butterfly Inlay Solidwood Acacia Koa New Mandolin Handworks 4431Oscar Schmidt Om-10 MandolinNew Acoustic F Kentucky Mandolin Builder Kit With Spruce Top W/ Mahogany Back AParrot Inlay Solidwood Acacia Koa New Mandolin Handworks 4429Vintage Mandolin Tuners From Jon Lundberg EstateWomens Merrell Mandolin Flat Wedge Thong Sandals Sz 10 Leap Frog (green) Leather8-string Mandolin F-style Sunburst Tobacco Sandalwood Gold HardwareDelta Mandolin Kitchen Sink Single Handle Faucet 26602lf Retail $139 No Reserve!Kansas MandolinRogue 8 String Mandolin A Style Black. No Bridge. U Fix ItParrot Inlay Solidwood Acacia Koa New Mandolin Handworks 4430MandolinSuperior Mandolin Gig Bag & Planet Waves Mandolin Strap U.s.a.Antique Fancy Round Back Mandolin For Parts Or Repair