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    

Gibson 1923 Style A Snakehead Mandolin Player's Special Super Nice Great Tone!!!Most Unusual Double Guitar Mandolin - Hand Made Country Singer - 1945 - LaniGibson A-2 MandolinKentucky Model Km675 F Style Mandolin *** No Guitar Stand *** Circa 1900's Francesco Perretti & Figli Mandolin - Made In Napoli ItalyKentucky Artist F-model Mandolin -model Km-855 -vintage Amberburst -cracked NeckVintage Weymann & Sons Banjo Mandolin Restore Or PartsMint Never Used Breedlove Premier Ff MandolinVintage 1891 Early Playable Joseph Bohmann Mandolin Sweet Tone Great Woods Closing Out Kentucky Km-380 Artist A-style Mandolin Flame Maple Solid Spruce TopMartin Style 5 MandolinRare Early Vintage G.b. Walters Kay Arch Top Mandolin Circa 1930'sKentucky Mandolin Km-180sAntique Favilla Brothers 8 String Flat Back Mandolin W/ Early Marca Aquila LabelRare Antique Vega Banjo - Mandolin 1920's Little Wonder Mistake Serial # WrongEarly Vintage Flat Back Mandolin Beautiful Inlay Work Circa 1930'sSantini F-style MandolinIbanez M510-dvs A Type Acoustic Mandolin Vintage Sunburst For Parts BrokenEpiphone Mm-50e F-style Mandolin & CaseKentucky Km-550 A-style Mandolin, High-end Bridge And Setup, W/awesome Case1910s "the Gibson" Mandolin W/ Original Hard Case. Model A From 1911-1918. Vintage Mid Century Nude Playing Mandolin Cubism Painting After Pablo Picasso Mandolin Grave Creek Hand Made By Morgan &talkington Bluegrass?Eastman Mandolin Md-514 Cs Oval HoleMagnolia Pearl Anastasia Top European Cotton Embroidery English MandolinLute? Mandolin? Old And GorgeousLuthier Burgess Mandolin #70 F Style Carving Maple Art Violin Made In UsaDean Tennessee Ae - Vintage Sunburst 8-string Acoustic-electric MandolinVintage Harmony ? Mandolin For Repair Or Wall HangerVintage Rose O'neill German Action Kewpie W/ Mandolin Bottle Stopper Figurine! George Washburn Acoustic Mandolin M-is Rosewood Bridge 20 Fret Maple Neck Big Muddy M-5w Mandolin With Case - One Of A Kind - Must SeeMan Plays Banjo Woman With Mandolin 1890s Tintype PhotoStew Mac Mandolin Tuner Drill Jig Luthier Tool Mercantile Stewart MacdonaldVintage Kent Wc-26 Dearmond Monkey On A Stick Mandolin Pickup JapanVintage Glen Burton Mandolin? Beautiful Wood DesignLuthier Burgess A Style Flat Top Mandolin #72 Maple Spruce Violin Made In UsaBreedlove Oo Mandolin1920s Era Photo Negative Full Acoustic Band The Gibson Guitar Mandolin Banjo WowAntique Mandolin 8 String BanjoPossible Orpheum Or Dimitrios Alexeas A-style 8 String Mandolin With Ivory NutMandolin Wind Indigo Blue Lace Cotton Blouse Tunic Chelsea Verde 3038 Xl/1xAntique Vintage Mandolin With Decorative Butterfly & Border Inlay Maker UnknownOld Painting Early Portrait Of A Lady In Veil With MandolinRogue MandolinDean Mandolin, Bgfsf, 51463, Excellent Playing Condition, No Scratches Or DingsMandolin VintageWashburn Tobacco Sunburst MandolinVintage Kent 201 Roundback Mandolin Spruce Top Fancy Pickguard XlntMicheal Kelly Mandolin Fse Fishman PickupRecording King Ra-998 Stenciled Metal Resonator MandolinOscar Schmidt 12 String Vintage Mandolin / MandriolaMake Your Own New Top Of The Line Kentucky Mandolin Make Your Own New Top Of The Line Kentucky Mandolin Espanola Gloss Black Mandolin A-style 8 String W/ Hard Shell Case Latch & KeyMiu France 90799 Professional Stainless Steel Mandolin Slicer With Carry Case 1896 Cabinet Photo Of The Nero Womans Club - Pa? - Large Head Banjo? Mandolin?Vintage 9string Mandolin Waldzither - Good Condition - Plays And Sounds GreatSpiral Vegetable Slicer Spiralizer Veggie Fruit Chopper Mandolin Cutter ShredItaly / Greece - G. Gargano, Nice Mandolin Solos - Ex!