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Thread: Identifying an old mandolin

  1. #1

    Default Identifying an old mandolin

    Hello -- I am new to mandolins. I bought an old mandolin at an estate sale and am trying to identify it. It has no serial numbers nor identifying information. The case it was in is in poor condition but has a logo on it, G&S Co., Challenge, Chicago. This company only made cases, not mandolins I believe. After research, a person said it is not Italian, but more likely American or maybe German. It has 49 spines and is quite beautifully made. Does anyone know how I would identify it since there is no number or mark? Does anyone know what it might be? I found a Vega that is very similar. Click image for larger version. 

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  2. #2
    Mando-Accumulator Jim Garber's Avatar
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    Default Re: Identifying an old mandolin

    I am pretty sure this is either a Washburn or American Conservatory sold/made by Lyon & Healy of Chicago around the turn of the last century or so. Either the label fell out or it was sold to retail shops to put their own label in.
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  4. #3

    Default Re: Identifying an old mandolin

    The G & S Challenge brand of case was introduced in 1928, so it may not be original to the case as the mandolin is probably as suggested by Jim Garber to be somewhat earlier than this date although Lyon & Healy bowlback mandolins were made up to the early 1920s, I believe. Ideally, it would be good to see photos that show the whole of the headstock. I would expect a mandolin of this standard to have a more refined bridge but the bridge you have may be a replacement item. Vega mandolins generally have a number stamped into the headstock.

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  6. #4

    Default Re: Identifying an old mandolin

    Click image for larger version. 

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    Thank you to both for your reply. Here are photos of the headstock.

  7. #5
    Registered User Randi Gormley's Avatar
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    Default Re: Identifying an old mandolin

    i'm no help identifying it, but use ultra light strings when you string it up. just putting that out there.
    --------------------------------
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  9. #6

    Default Re: Identifying an old mandolin

    I bought Martin Standard 400 80/20 Bronze -- think I read somewhere they were best. Thanks for advice, though -- I'll return and order the ultra light.

  10. #7

    Default Re: Identifying an old mandolin

    Having seen the headstock and its motif, I agree with Jim- either a Washburn or American Conservatory or unmarked brand from Lyon & Healy some time before or after the start of the 20th Century. The fact that there is a lot less ornamentation on the mandolin in the way of inlays etc suggests that this mandolin is a sub-brand from the company- or sold to a retailer for resale. However, with so many ribs- probably 42, the mandolin is of high quality but the price has been kept lower by eliminating the frills. The Washburn models with this number of ribs have way more inlay and much fancier tailpieces but this does not make them sound any better.

  11. #8
    Mando accumulator allenhopkins's Avatar
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    Default Re: Identifying an old mandolin

    Hmm...no strings but the bridge remains in place? Doesn't look like the original bridge -- too bulky -- and if it's staying put without string tension, apparently someone's glued it in place. Mandolin bridges are "floating," not glued to the top, but held on by string tension. That is, they're supposed to be.

    If it's glued in the right place, so that intonation's accurate, the mandolin possibly could still be played. However, usually bridges aren't positioned right on the "cant" or bend in the top. Glued bridges can also be removed, by an instrument tech who's familiar with mandolins -- if they haven't been attached with one of the new "super" glues.

    If I'm wrong, and the bridge has just been set on the top, disregard this posting.
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  13. #9
    Mando-Accumulator Jim Garber's Avatar
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    Default Re: Identifying an old mandolin

    I have a feeling that L&H when selling wholesale to music stores, pulled from their regular lines and mixed and matched different features and hardware. The OP's mandolin has a different headstock but seems somewhat similar to American Conservatory styles 608 & 605. Here's the color page and feature descriptions for various models from my 1912 catalog.
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    Jim

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  15. #10
    Full Grown and Cussin' brunello97's Avatar
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    Default Re: Identifying an old mandolin

    I think Jim is right on this. I don't think it is either a Washburn or a American Conservatory 'brand' mandolin from L+H that 'label fell out of'. Those things tended to be glued in pretty tightly and for something to 'fall out' would suggest a very particular microclimate. I'm sure it likely must have happened sometime but I think it is equally likely over-suggested.

    Jim's provision that it was an L+H model intended for jobbing out and relabeling is certainly true. But maybe it never got a label and was simply sold unlabeled? Certainly we've seen enough of these, and it isn't too hard to imagine such a scenario.

    This brings to mind an interesting discussion here not long ago about L+H and their brands. The trend of the discussion was that the L+H 'factory' might have well had a set of given 'specs' for a brand: (eg Washburn or American Conservatory), but since they had a "Ford-ian" parts system there were likely then left-over parts and left-idle bling-appliers that put together mandolins from the rest of the stuff.

    Mike E wryly refers to as "extra parts swept up".

    Hence, Jim's 'mix and match' analogy. What was in the catalog might have represented the 'ideal' model with the actual mandolins varying slightly here and there.
    We certainly see that with the American Conservatory line (which were on the whole very good mandolins) while the top of the tier Washburn mandolins show a far greater degree of consistency.

    L+H made nice mandolins at every price point. Every mandolin player should own a Washburn or American Conservatory bowlback.
    Why?
    They are ridiculously affordable for the quality. And they are very enjoyable mandolins to play. Flat out.

    Get it set up and play it, OP Lake.

    If you are new to the mandolin and want to start out on a bowlback, I salute you!
    Ignore the naysayers.

    Mick
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