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 A Mandolin Oval Hole "orville" Label 1908Vintage Antique Mandolin Banjo, Banjolin, Vega?Loar Lm-600 Bk Mandolin C2011 In Excellent Condition. CasedGibson H-1 Mandolin,very Old Needs RebuiltTacoma M1 Solid Spruce MandolinExcellent!! Condition Breedlove American Series Ff 2 Tone Sunburst MandolinMichael Kelly Legacy Deluxe Mandolin Acoustic/electric Fishman OhscStradolin Rare Deluxe Mandolin Strad-o-lin Super Clean Blonde Nrsv1998 Ovation Mm68 Mandolin Acoustic / Electric 8-string - Barely Used ** Nice **Lonestar Santiago Cuatro By Paracho Elite Violin / Mandolin Puerto Rico! No ResvAlvarez A-800 MandolinAntique Victorian Portrait O/c Oil Painting, Spanish Woman, Shawl & MandolinGorgeous Vintage 1950's Gibson Mandolin Em-150 P90 OhscIbanez 522 - 2 Point Mandolin - Vintage And AwesomeVintage MandolinMandolin Hardshell Case Gibson F Body Style Mandolin Hardshell CaseGibson Kalamazoo Mandolin Sunburst 1940'sVintage 8 String Bowl Back Mandolin "sweet"Oscar Schmidt By Washburn Om10ewh Acoustic-electric A-style Mandolin WhiteUsed Epiphone Mm-30 MandolinVintage Mandolin String Instrument Fox? Instruction Book, Priced To Sell 1924 Gibson A Jr Snakehead Mandolin - RestoredVintage 1913 Gibson Model A Mandolin Excellent ConditionCapodimonte Swarovski Crystal & 24k Gilt Gold Mandolin Figurine By V.sabadinMartin Backpacker Mandolin W/original Gig Bag Vintage 1885 Early Playable Bruno Mandolin Loud Bright Tone Made In Germany Ibanez M522s F-style Mandolin, Solid Spruce Top, Brown Sunburst High GlossTacoma M-1e Mandolin W/ Pickup M1e Mle Made In Usa Cracked *19th.century Oil Painting On Canvas A Young Lady Playing The MandolinMandolin Wind Indigo Blue & Lace Hippie Cotton Blouse Tunic Chelsea Verde 3038 LSummit A MandolinJohnson Mf-100 "f" Style Florentine Mandolin W / Case! Very Clean! No Reserve!!!Banjo Mandolin.........!!!!!Kentucky Km-150 MandolinFender Fm-52e Electric MandolinMandolin Hardshell Case F Body And A Body Style Heavy Duty Wood And Tolex CoverVantage Mandolin "a" Style Acoustic Beautiful Sunburst Finish! No Reserve!!!!!!!Espanola F-style Electric Mandolin 8-string Sunburst Finish! Nice! No Reserve!!!Miscellaneous Tuners, Ferrules, Fret Wire, For Guitar, Mandolin, Ukelele, BanjoVintage A Style Supertone Mandolin 8 String Inlaid Border Musical InstrumentEpiphone Mandolin Mm-20 Sunburst 1914 Gibson A4 Handel Mandolin TunersMandolin - Ovation Acoustic/electric 1916 Gibson Style A 8 String Mandolin W/ Original CaseFender Mandocaster Solid Body Electric MandolinVintage American Walnut Banjo Mandolin Banjolin Chicago ? 1930'sAntoniotsai,floral Mop Inlay Solid Maple & Spruce F5 Mandolin Handmade Md4520 Washburn F-style Mandolin Acoustic Guitar Hardshell CaseVintage Set Of Mandolin Tuners Gears And Bell Brand Tailpiece From A Regal Vintage Mandolin A-style Guitar Wooden 8 Stings 24" X 9"Cute! Womens "merrell - Mandolin" Leather Sandals - Shoe Size Us 7 MAntique 8-string Bowlback Mandolin W/ Mother Of Pearl Inlays- Project/repairOrnate 25" Marqueted 8-string Mandolin W/ Inlays #aKentucky Km-160 MandolinBanjo Mandolin, Banjolin Miu France 90799 Professional Stainless Steel Mandolin Slicer With Carry Case Silvertone Vintage Mandolin - 40-50'sRogue Rm100a MandolinBowlback Mandolin - Joseph BohmannYank Rachell - Mandolin Blues Lp - Delmark Vg++