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    

Unusual Vintage Gibson MandolinVintage Kay Mandolin Guitar W/ Mop Inlay & Kluson Deluxe Tuners, NrThe Flatiron Koa 2k Mandolin Pre Gibson Early 1980'sVintage National Style 1 Mandolin 1937 Metal BodyVintage Gibson Mandolin Gibson 1918 A1 MandolinThe Aria F-5 MandolinAntique Early 20thc Wunderlich Mop Inlaid 8-string Arch Back Mandolin NrLoar Lm520 F-style Mandolin & Gig Bag -solid Carved Spruce & Maple -sounds GreatLoar Lm520-vs F-style Mandolin & Hard Case, No Reserve - Capo, Strings, & StrapBeautifully Inlaid F-style MandolinGibson A-40 MandolinKentucky Km-171 Mandolin W/ Vinyl Case + New Strings (used, Excellent Condition)Kay Kraft Vintage MandolinThe Loar Lm-600-vs MandolinFender Mandolin Fm-100 - No ReserveDelta 26602lf Mandolin Single Handle Kitchen Faucet Chrome 91827Breedlove American Series Oo Mandolin - Mint W/ Hard Shell CaseRare Vintage Solid Metal Dixie 4 Sting Ukulele Mandolin Made In Usa 21 InchNew Mf-20 Revival F-style Mandolin - All Solid Carved Spruce & Maple - !!wow!!Samick Artist Series Abilene Sm 450 F-style Mandolin With CaseVintage Antique Bowl Back Potato Bug Mandolin For Project Or Parts Cool Tuners!Vintage Stromberg Voisinet-bruno "the Vernon" Mandolin1967 Gibson Em-200 Electric MandolinAmerican Made Mandolin Circa 1920New Acoustic F Kentucky Mandolin Builder Kit With Spruce Top W/ Mahogany Back ACustom Built Mandolin - Beautiful Wood, Great ToneVintage Dearmond 500 Mandolin Banjo Monkey Stick Pickup  6.50kVintage Orpheum MandolinGieb Vintage Mandolin CaseNew Morgan Monroe Mfm-55-bk "black Grass" Mandolin - "f" Style W Gig Bag $779.951912 Vintage Gibson "a" Mandolin With Era Case And Bone Saddle, Martin StringsC.f. Martin MandolinSavannah A - Model Sa 100 MandolinNew Acoustic F Kentucky Mandolin Builder Kit With Spruce Top W/ Mahogany Back AVintage 4 String Mandolin Banjo InstrumentKansas MandolinVintage Mandolin - Ussr Occupied GermanyVintage De Wicks Mandolin Or Ukulele NeckBird Inlay Solidwood Acacia Koa New Mandolin Handworks 4441Pampered Chef Ultimate Slice And Grate # 1085 Mandolin Slicer Grater New NibJohnson Ma-100 A-model Mandolin Instrument For Parts - RepairableAntique 19th Cenury Bronze & Marble Figural Clock Whimsical Mandolin Goddess Epiphone Mandobird Iv MandolinBrand New Morgan Monroe Rocky Top "f" Style Mandolin - $379.95Aero-case Flight Case For Guitar, Mandolin,fiddle Etc.Used Vintage MandolinVintage 8 String George Washburn Mandolin Inlayed Mother Of Pearl Needs RepairButterfly Inlay Solidwood Acacia Koa New Mandolin Handworks 4443Combination Mandolin/fiddle Road CaseNew Schaller A-model Mandolin Tuners (nickel)Rogue Rm-100a Mandolin With F HolesGrover F Style Mandolin Tuners GoldArt Deco Cambridge Peach Glass Mandolin Flower Frog Lady Figurine Caprice BowlBoulder Gig Bag - Alpine Series, F Mandolin, Green Parrot Inlay Solidwood Acacia Koa New Mandolin Handworks 4430Schaller F Style Mandolin Tuners NickelVintage German Nymphenburg Frankenthal Carl Theodore Figurine Mandolin PlayerWaylon Jennings, Country Music Singer, Guitar, Mandolin, Outlaw, Poster W/coaVintage Mandolin With A Story And No Reserve Lqqk