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]

Mugwumps.com

Mugwumps.com

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    

Rare 1942 Collectors Gibson F-5 F5 Mandolin Kalamazoo Fleur-de-lis 5020g 40'sGibson 1930's Sunburst Mandolin A-50 With Original CaseDouble Body Style - Diy Unfinished Project Luthier Electric Guitar Mandolin Kit!The Loar Lm-520 Hand-carved F-model Acoustic MandolinVintage Harmony Monterey Mandolin 1958 Fine Condition Great Player New Hard CaseF 5 Style Fullerton Mandolin Gibson TypeMandolin Wind Indigo Blue & Lace Hippie Cotton Blouse Tunic Chelsea Verde 3038 SKentucky Km160s A Style Mandolin Sunburst With Electric Pickup W/hard Case Antoniotsai,angel Inlay Solid Maple &spruce F5 Mandolin Handmade,soft Bag Md4562Gibson Factory Case For Mandolin - Vintage -exc., Great Interior, Original KeysVegetable Spiral Slicer Spiralizer Veggie Fruit Chopper Mandolin Cutter ShredEarly 8 String Banjo Mandolin Kentucky A-style MandolinOld Mandolin Banjo Gibson Girls Wa Cole Boston Ny 8 String New Solid Kentucky Style F Mandolin Do It Yourself KitFancy Pearl Inlay Potato Bug Bowl-back Sicilian Mandolin - For Restoration***customer Return*** Used Kentucky Mandolin Kit #4 - ProjectSavannah Sa-100 Sunburst Mandolin1947 Martin A Style MandolinMichael Kelly F Type Mandolin Electric8 String Mandolin, Natural Color In Orig Box With Vinyl Carry CasePractial Senior Adjustable Folding Stand Holder For Ukulele Violin Mandolin Antoniotsai,parrot Inlay Classical Bowl Back 8 Strings Solidwood Mandolin Md4578Vintage Deluxe Mandolin Tuners Tuning Machines Very Fancy With Pearl Buttons OldMid-30s Gibson "kalamazoo" Mandolin, In Pieces, Crudely Refinished, Needs PartsCarlo Robelli 8 String Mandolin 27.5" 8-string Rogue Mandolin W/ Soft CaseOscar Schmidt Washburn Mandolin BodyMid-missouri M-4 MandolinBlue Vegetable Spiral Slicer Spirelli Kitchenspiralizer Julienne Cutter MandolinAntoniotsai,parrot Inlay Classical Bowl Back 8 Strings Solidwood Mandolin Md4570Banjolin 1900s Dulcetta John Grey Sons Mandolin Eagle Painted Leather Head RareVintage Bowl Back Mandolin, Needs RepairNew Brand 8 String Mandolin-banjo Merrell Mandolin Shoes Sandals Toe Loop Black Leather 38 7m EucByers Choice Caroler ~ Colonial Man With Mandolin 2004Vintage Gold Tone Rhinestone R Mandle Mandolin/lute 4.5" [j57-19]Costumes De Villageois Native Dress Mandolin Smyrne Smyrna Izmir Turkey PostcardPortable Senior Folding Stand For Ukulele / Violin / MandolinStrad A Lin Mandolin In The FiftysSpiral Vegetable Slicer Spiralizer Veggie Fruit Chopper Mandolin Cutter ShredSavannah Electric Mandolin A Style New! Mando Sa115e Never Played!!!Large Antique Porcelain Two Women Piano, Mandolin, & Man RenaissanceVintage Mandolin1940s Project Maybe Regal Supro Teisco Gibson HarmonyVintage Teardrop Mandolin Restore Project Repair PartsAntoniotsai, Floral Inlay Handmade, Rose Wood Fingerboard Mandolin Parts Mf110 Bron Mandolin Slicer, Stainless Steel, With 4 Attachment BladesVintage Perfume 2 Pianos, Mandolin & Notebook - Grandmother's EstateGoebel Hummel Figurine Sounds Of The Mandolin #438 Tmk 7 Mint Condition Vintage 1971 Avon Mandolin For Perfume GlaceVintage Green Tupperware~ Cheese Grater~mandolin~ Slicer~ Bowl With Lid~eucWaylon Jennings, Country Music Singer, Guitar, Mandolin, 18x24 Poster W/coaMandolin Notes To Tabs Changes Musical Notes To Mandolin Tablature.Star Sun MandolinSoldiers Outside Building Playing Guitar+mandolin* Old Rppc Music Photo PostcardWaylon Jennings, Country Music Singer, Guitar, Mandolin, 11x17 Print W/coaGoebel Hummel #438 "sounds Of The Mandolin" Figure Tmk6 With BoxEstate Vintage Avon Moonwind Perfume Glace' Guitar Mandolin 2.5"8ft Golden Brass Fretwire For Mandolin Banjo Cigar Box Guitar 1.5mmVintage Violin & Mandolin Strings In Packages - Lot Of 4 Violin & 8 Mandolin