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    

The Loar F Style Mandolin Lm-700-vs Upgraded Tuners And Bridge Flatiron Gibson Gibson Project MandolinRare C.f. Martin 1919 8-string MandolinHandmade F5 Mandolin In Hardcase.carved Top & Back, Ebony Brd With Shell InlaysMandocaster Fender Electric MandolinKentucky Artist A-model Mandolin Model Km-161 In Honey BlackVintage Harmony Sunburst Acoustic Electric Mandolin 1970s*brand New* Loar Lm520-vs Mandolin + Case + Strings + Shoulder StrapFlatiron Mandolin - Model 2k - With Hard Shell CaseVintage 1920's Mandolin ~ Solid Braz.rosewood ~ Original CaseAntique Gibson Banjo MandolinMorgan Monroe Rocky Top Series Mms-2 Mandolin/hard CaseKentucky Km630 S MandolinMandolin Dixon-right Handed - 8 Strings - Acoustic Mandolin - Musical InstrumentInteresting Novelty Antiques Lorgnettes Miniature Frame Childs Rattle MandolinLoar Lm220-vs A5 Style Mandolin Solid Carved Spruce & Maple- !plays Awesome!Original The Gibson Mandolin-guitar Company Catalog J 1917Antique Vintage Washburn Bowl-back 'tater' MandolinRover Rm-75 F Model Solid Handcarved Mandolin (sunburst Finish)Vintage Down South Banjo Mandolin Banjolele 8 String Antique Banjo UkuleleTwo Strad-o-lin Mandolin Tuner Strips For Parts Or Repair Pick GuardHummel: Goebel 172, Festival Harmony, Angel With MandolinEastman Md 515 MandolinVintage Harmony Mandolin / Solid Spruce Top/ 100%us / Luthierized / Sweet & LoudA-style Mandolin. Dubova Mandolin.Kentucky Km 180s MandolinLoar Lm 400 Series MandolinVintage Ca 1905 Playable Bruno Mandolin Larson Brothers Made Loud Bright ToneMandolin Vintage F-12 Gibson Ovation Applause Electric Mandolin Mae 148 *with Hard Case*Epiphone Bluegrass Mm-20 MandolinMichael Kelly Legacy Plus Solid Wood Mandolin With Hardshell CaseVintage Small Antique 8 String Mandolin ? Banjo Musical InstrumentChuck Margi Sudler Artisan Dollhouse Miniature Harp Mandolin Zither 1/12 MusicalC. 1910 Vega Banjo, Bandolin, Banjolin, Mandolin, 8 Strings Tu-ba-phoneMandolinTrinity College Tm-325 MandolinEpiphone A-style MandolinRogue Rm-101a MandolinStagg M20 MandolinOld - Antique Mandolin With CaseNib Japanese Mandolin Benriner Box Never OpenedFender Fm-52e Acoustic Electric MandolinWashburn Vintage M-2s-sb Mandolin **sold As-is** Previously RepairedFender Mandolin Fm-53s Sb Acoustic With Hard Shell CaseVintage Supertone Round Back Mandolin #356 ~ For RestorationHummel Goebel 453 - The Accompanist, Angel With Mandolin, Tmk6 !! Rare National Valco Triolian Resonator Mandolin Estate Find No ReserveVintage 1940s Columbia Mandolin Made In UsaBirds Inlay Solidwood Mahogany F4 Mandolin Handworks 4368Vintage/antique Bowl Back Mandolin For Parts/repairKuhn Rikon Mandolin Slicer Set Of 2 Polka Dot RedLoar Lm-400 MandolinIbanez M510edvs MandolinLot / 5 Old Vintage Antique Unique Kitchen Utensils Beater Mixer Slicer MandolinMorgan Monroe Mva-1 MandolinNew In Box Norpro V-slicer / Grater, Mandolin Slicer; 6 BladesEpiphone Mm-30/as Sunburst 8 String Acoustic MandolinHard Rock Cafe Pin Lisbon Map Mandolin NibHigh Quality Vintage Banjo Mandolin Favilla Bros. Ex. Cond. No Reserve