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    

Gibson Mandolin F4 Vintage 1922 W/ Original Case1903-04 Type A Gibson MandolinVintage Mandolin & Case & Pick - Neat Music Room Display - Wall HangerThe Loar Lm-600-vs Mandolin Sunburst Michael Kelly Mandolin Acoustic And ElectricGibson Showcase MandolinVintage 1917 The Gibson H-1 Mandola Mandolin By Gibson Antique Pre War W/case Vintage Silvertone Mandolin Project-needs Some Tlc,1960'sEpiphone Mandobird Viii - Classic - 8 String Electric Mandolin-w/ Gigbag~fornasetti Milano Mandolin Musical Instruments Vintage Plate With Hanger ItalyEpiphone Mandolin Mm-50/vs Mm-50 Vs With Case Nice!!!! No Reserve!! $1 Lyon & Healy Original Mandolin Tailpiece Ca. 1920Eastwood Mandocaster ~ Electric Mandolin ~ W/ Strap, Tuner, Pick & Extra Strings Solid Kentucky Style Luithier Do It Yourself Acoustic F-model MandolinVintage 1969 Harmony Electric Batwing Mandolin Dearmond Goldfoil Pickup HardcaseVintage Lonestar Roma Mexico Made Mandolin - W/ Nice Tkl Hard CaseLot Of 3 Electric Mandolin Bodies Handmade 2 Finished, One Unfinished Project Solid Kentucky Style Luithier Do It Yourself Acoustic F-model MandolinCustomer Return - F Mandolin Do It Yourself Kit Spruce Top W/ Mahogany BackC Montana Mandolin Elm 100 With 3 New Dean Markley Stings Quilt CaseRigel A1+ Deluxe Mandolin, Accoustic-electric W Tweed Case - Lower Price!Mandolin Washburn Oscar Schmidt With Case No Reserve2nd Stock - Ole Buck Bluegrass F Mandolin Spruce Top W/ Mahogany BackGretsch G9320 New Yorker Deluxe Acoustic-electric Mandolin 3 Tone Sunburst Mandolin For Fixing UpGalveston Mdl 25wEastman Md 315 Mandolin W/hardshell Case & Lakota Leathers StrapEpiphone Mandobird Iv Electric Four String Mandolin W/ Gig BagRare Vienna Porcelain Enamel Ruege Music Trinket Box Mandolin Vintage/antiqueMandolin - 6 String - 20.5" Long - Used - Unknown BrandEarly 20c Italian Portrait Painting Woman Playing Mandolin Signed By CorbelliniJohnson Ma-115e Madison Electric Mandolin#2085 Epiphone Mm50e F Style Mandolin Parts Luther Project Ufix Level 4 Used Diy# Rogue Mandolin With Nice Padded Gig BagJohnson Ma450 Octave Mandolin & Gig BagHarmony Batwing Mandolin + Hsc 1970 Made In UsaRare Vintage Action Kewpie With Mandolin & Basket - Rose Oneill & Sticker !!!Crestwood Acorn Bowl Back Mandolin Made In Japan W CaseLot Of 4 Mandolin Picks * Red Bear * Golden Gate * Wegen * Dawg * BluegrassVintage Midland Bowl Back Mandolin Taterbug W/caseVintage C1970-80's Musical Instrument Miscellaneous Parts Lot & FilesVintage Bowl Back Mandolin Taterbug Mandolin Tonewood Kit3 In 1 Spiral Vegetable Slicer Spiralizer Fruit Chopper Mandolin Cutter Shred UsJaccard Stainless Steel Safe Hands Mandolin Slicer W/ 7 BladesMandle Unsigned Harlequin Minstrel Mandolin Opal Glass Rhinestone Pin Brooch TlcVintage Mandolin W/a Good Aged Patina'd LookGlobal - Mandolin - Model M100 - 28 Inches Long - 8 StringSpiral Vegetable & Fruit Slicer Spiralizer Chopper Mandolin Cutter Shred PeelerMorgan Monroe Legacy Dragonfly 8 String Electric Mandolin Vintage Photograph Guitar Mandolin Orchestra 1920's C. 1895, Mandolin And Guitar Trio, Springfield, Ohio, The Snapshot GalleryNib Pampered Chef Simple Slicer Mandolin W/ Guard & Seasons Best Cookbook Sound Sensor Guitar Pickup Bridge Plate Transducer Violin Ukulele Music MandolinBilly Flynn Chicago Blues Mandolin Signed Vintage Flower Micro Mosaic Pin Mandolin Roses Lute Guitar BroochPampered Chef Leifheit Mandolin GraterDollhouse Size Musical Instrument Miniature Mandolin With Case Dean Markley Light Gauge Phos Bronze Mandolin Strings1 Cent Cd Gifts - Nashville Mandolin Ensemble