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Thread: 1920ish Martin built? For S.S. Stewart

  1. #1

    Default 1920ish Martin built? For S.S. Stewart

    I picked up a 20s bowl back mandolin labeled S.S. Stewart for a song, did some research and also talked to my brother whom is a very good luthier.......and I am pretty sure this is one of the Martin built mandos.
    Is anyone here aware of how to verify this one way or another?

  2. #2

    Default Re: 1920ish Martin built? For S.S. Stewart

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  3. #3

    Default 1920 something Martin built? For S.S. Stewart

    Picked up this old bowl back labeled SS Stewart and after research and asking my brother that is a good luthier. I think this is Built by Martin. Does anyone know how to verify on÷ way or the other on this?
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    Default Re: 1920ish Martin built? For S.S. Stewart

    The Martin history book does briefly mention that Martin did make "ukuleles and related instruments" for S.S. Stewart from 1923 to 1925. However, there is no reference to mandolins in their statement.

    I would say that it is doubtful that your instrument was made by Martin. Here are a couple of reasons:

    1. By 1923, when the Stewart connection was established, Martin was getting out of the bowl back business. They had discontinued most of their bowl back models, except for the plain models. Only 110 Martin branded bowl backs were made between 1923 and 1925. No bowl backs were built after 1925.

    2. Although the shape of the body bears some resemblance to the Martin shape, the shape of the head on your mandolin is not consistent with the shapes used on Martin mandolins. And although Martin did briefly use front-loaded tuners, they had abandoned them around 1900 or shortly after.

    A couple of other things to check:

    Virtually all instruments that Martin made for other companies had either the Martin stamp, the contracting company's stamp, or both stamped into the wood. This stamp should appear either on the back of the peghead, or somewhere inside, visible through the sound hole. I don't think that any reliable authority would confirm a bowl back mandolin to be made by Martin without such a stamp.

    Also, all Martin bowl backs were built with old-fashioned bar frets. If your mandolin has T frets, it was definitely not made by Martin.

    Mike Longworth gives the following measurements for Martin bowl backs:
    Body length: 12"
    Width: 7 3/4"
    Depth: 5 3/16"
    Sound hole size: 1 3/4" x 2 3/4"
    Width of fingerboard at the nut: 1 3/16"
    Width of fingerboard at the 12th fret: 1 9/16"
    Scale length: 13"

    If any of the dimensions of your mandolin are not very close to the above figures, that would also be confirmation that it did not come from the Martin factory.
    Last edited by rcc56; Apr-14-2021 at 12:17am.

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    Default Re: 1920 something Martin built? For S.S. Stewart

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    Default Re: 1920 something Martin built? For S.S. Stewart

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    Default Re: 1920 something Martin built? For S.S. Stewart

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    Default Re: 1920ish Martin built? For S.S. Stewart

    Thanks, rcc56's for the detailed response.

    This is an tricky example as Martins mandolins tend to look pretty much like Martins irrespective of the label.

    I have seen numerous mandolins that Martin has made for other 'labels' (and owned several) and agree...they always look like Martins. It seems pretty likely that they used the same bowl / body forms that they used for their own mandolins and then modified some details to set them apart. Sometimes none.

    The body and top detailing does look Martin-like, though I don't recall seeing later era Martins with top mounted tuners.

    I guess there's the odd chance that this is NOS that Martin was clearing out in the '20s and selling off to distributors like Stewart (something L+H did for years) but that would be stretching things without more clear evidence from the mandolin detailing itself.

    I owned a Martin made / Stewart labeled "B" style flatback, and have some others SS labeled Martins in my files, so it does seem that "....related instruments" included at least some mandolins.

    The Martin headstock to neck joint is also a location where their particular (and identifiable) detailing often showed up. Could you post some back and side photos of the mandolin, GratefulDad?

    Mick
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    Default Re: 1920ish Martin built? For S.S. Stewart

    To affirm what rcc56 said above, I've never seen an instrument made by Martin for another company that didn't have the Martin stamp on it someplace visible.
    "Bargain instruments are no bargains if you can't play them". These are the words of J. Garber.

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    Default Re: 1920ish Martin built? For S.S. Stewart

    I merged these two threads.
    "Bargain instruments are no bargains if you can't play them". These are the words of J. Garber.

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    Default Re: 1920ish Martin built? For S.S. Stewart

    Your mandolin has T frets, which is enough non-Martin evidence for me. Martin did not use T frets until 1934, and by that time, bowl backs had been out of production for 9 years.

    Additionally, there is no stamp on the back of the head and you have not mentioned a stamp visible inside the mandolin. The peghead shape and tuners are atypical of Martin work, and they did not make a standard model with ~14 rosewood ribs.

    In my opinion, it was not built by Martin.
    Last edited by rcc56; Apr-14-2021 at 10:32am.

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    Default Re: 1920ish Martin built? For S.S. Stewart

    Quote Originally Posted by rcc56 View Post
    In my opinion, it was not built by Martin.
    And just to avoid further confusion down the line, it wasn't "possibly built by Martin", either.

    Mick
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    Default Re: 1920ish Martin built? For S.S. Stewart

    I might as well throw this out there too. I think it was built closer to 00 than 20.
    "Bargain instruments are no bargains if you can't play them". These are the words of J. Garber.

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    Default Re: 1920ish Martin built? For S.S. Stewart

    The tuners would make one think so. But possibly a little later.

    A brief history of the Stewart name: S.S. Stewart started building banjos in 1878. He opened a factory in Philadelphia, improved and developed the instruments, and became America's premier banjo maker for about 15 years. I do not believe that he built other instruments. He went into partnership with George Bauer due to ill health in 1898, and passed the following year.

    After Stewart's passing, George Bauer ran Stewart's sons out of the business and had the Stewart company by himself from 1901 until 1911. During that period, the quality of the Stewart banjos declined noticeably. He sold banjos, a few guitars, and supposedly some mandolins, but I do not recall a Stewart and Bauer mandolin ever coming to my attention. Some of the guitars had characteristics reminiscent of instruments made by Lyon & Healy.

    Bauer went belly up in 1911, and a company called Keenophone acquired the name, then sold it to Buegeleisen and Jacobson in 1914 or '15.

    My guess is that most Stewart mandolins would have been built during the Keenophone and B & J days. B & J did not manufacture their own instruments. They contracted the work to companies such as Lyon and Healy, and possibly to Oscar Schmidt and others.

    I had a Victoria flat back mandolin made for B & J pass through my hands a few years ago. Like the OP's mandolin, it had a small body; and it sounded quite good. My guess is that it was built in either the NY area or Chicago..
    Last edited by rcc56; Apr-14-2021 at 7:35pm.

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    Default Re: 1920ish Martin built? For S.S. Stewart

    There's a "Stewart and Bauer" mandolin currently at Gryphon which they date at 1905.

    The label just lists "George Bauer" but the monogram on the back of the headstock looks like an S and B superimposed.

    Mick
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    Default Re: 1920ish Martin built? For S.S. Stewart

    Once the S S Stewart label was bought by Buegeleisen & Jacobson (B & J), you found it on a variety of instruments made by different builders, and distributed by B & J. I had a "Fred Stewart" (Fred was Samuel Stewart's eldest son) tenor banjo that looked very much like an Epiphone, probably late '20's. "S S Stewart"-labeled instruments were bought by B & J from Gibson, C F Martin, Lange, Regal, Harmony, and probably other makers. Of course, "S S Stewart" instruments made by premier builders like Gibson and Martin, would bring more on the market than those made by, say, Harmony.

    However, I've never run across any instrument other than open-back banjos, that were attributed to the original S S Stewart Co.
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  20. #17

    Default Re: 1920ish Martin built? For S.S. Stewart

    Not necessarily related to the OP's mandolin but the Bauer/Stewart headstock you posted is very similar to one of my Martucci made mandolins. Maybe evidence that my Great Grandfather built instruments for other Philadelphia labels besides Weymann.
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    Default Re: 1920ish Martin built? For S.S. Stewart

    Quote Originally Posted by Martucci View Post
    Not necessarily related to the OP's mandolin but the Bauer/Stewart headstock you posted is very similar to one of my Martucci made mandolins. Maybe evidence that my Great Grandfather built instruments for other Philadelphia labels besides Weymann.
    Very much so. I apologize for forgetting about your GGF in this case, but remember now, from previous discussions.

    The Philadephia / NJ / NY mandolin making scene was likely a lot more nuanced and intertwined than folks who just rely on "labels" would guess.
    The label doesn't necessarily mean much but little details could mean a lot more such as you suggest.

    Mick
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    Mando-Accumulator Jim Garber's Avatar
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    Default Re: 1920ish Martin built? For S.S. Stewart

    I agree. Not a Martin. Weymann did use front mounted tuners FWIW.
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    Default Re: 1920ish Martin built? For S.S. Stewart

    Not finding much more info out there I have seen a few listed as martin built ss stewart and are pretty similar to mine. The measurements are dead on to the martin measurements listed above. I tried looking inside for the serial number it's covered with paper. I picked at the paper a bit to see if I could remove it, may have to remove the top to get to it.Click image for larger version. 

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    Default Re: 1920ish Martin built? For S.S. Stewart

    What they might be listed as what they actually are can be two different things. You have answer from some very knowledgeable people here. It's not a Martin built instrument.
    "Bargain instruments are no bargains if you can't play them". These are the words of J. Garber.

  26. #22

    Default Re: 1920ish Martin built? For S.S. Stewart

    This mandolin has been identified by the assessor/repairer as a Martin made S S Stewart bowlback. The headstock shape is the same as the concurrent Style B flatback from Martin.

    https://jakewildwood.blogspot.com/20...-bowlback.html

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    Default Re: 1920ish Martin built? For S.S. Stewart

    Quote Originally Posted by NickR View Post
    This mandolin has been identified by the assessor/repairer as a Martin made S S Stewart bowlback. The headstock shape is the same as the concurrent Style B flatback from Martin.

    https://jakewildwood.blogspot.com/20...-bowlback.html
    I generally respect Jake's assessment but sometimes he is a bit too confident in his pronouncements:
    Very cool! Here's a c.1920s (probably c.1923-1925) bowlback mandolin, almost undoubtedly made by CF Martin in Nazareth, PA, for B&J (who owned the SS Stewart brand name at the time). It bears no markings (serial numbers, style numbers, etc.) that would guarantee that it's a Martin-made instrument, but Martin's fingerprints are all over it... body style, finish style, build (and build quality), binding and decorative details, diamond-shaped volute on back of headstock... etc.
    <snip>
    Rosewood fretboard... and curiously enough this actually has tanged frets, rather than typical (for the time) Martin-style bar frets, which is slightly unconvincing to me for a Martin ID, though everything else seems to fit (it even has side dots). I suppose it's possible they could have been replaced?
    I never use that phrase "undoubtedly" or definitely because I know I can definitely eat those words.

    A number of years ago there was an amazing thread about Handel tuners and multiple posters quoted an erroneous web site that said they were made in Handelsburg (or some other Germanic-sounding town name) that didn't exist. This is the danger of "undoubtedly." Perhaps better to say "in my opinion" or "I feel..." This was similar to the bogus H.L. Mencken Bathtub hoax: he wrote a joke piece about the origin of the bathtub that everyone quoted from then on, even to this day. Or, closer to home that Lyon & Healy pickguards and headstock covers were made of vulcanized rubber. They were made of vulcanized fibre a plastic similar to bakelite that was formulated mid 19th century.

    In any case, Jake's example is a bit closer to Martin style in terms of features, most notably, the neck and headstock shape. The OP's do not match those parts. The neck and headstock do not look like that of any Martin mandolin.

    From Johnston & Boak's Martin Guitars: A Technical Reference in the instruments made by Martin for other firms section, page 226:
    This list of special-brand customers is complete as far as Martin's written records are concerned, and it is doubtful that the company made instruments under any names other than those listed here. ... Although Martin often made minor changes in the outward appearance of instruments made to be sold under other names, the interior construction remained the same. The characteristic neck and end blocks, linings, and braces make it easy to identify an instrument made in Nazareth.
    In any case, whenever we exhaust the topic here, I would suggest that the OP contact Martin directly and see what the historically-minded people there think.
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    Default Re: 1920ish Martin built? For S.S. Stewart

    Quote Originally Posted by Jim Garber View Post

    In any case, Jake's example is a bit closer to Martin style in terms of features, most notably, the neck and headstock shape. The OP's do not match those parts. The neck and headstock do not look like that of any Martin mandolin.
    I don't really think there is much room for further debate here. If the OP wants to believe he has a Martin then.....

    We've gone through this type of discussion many many times here where folks want to will a mandolin to be a Martin, a Vinaccia or (mercy, mercy, mercy) a Larson.

    Yes, Martin made some mandolins for SStewart labels. They didn't make GratefulDad's.

    If y'all want to quibble further, have at it. Why not enjoy the mandolin for what it is?

    Mick
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    Default Re: 1920ish Martin built? For S.S. Stewart

    How many of you remember the debate a couple of years ago over the flat-top octave mandolin that a had pasted-in Gibson/Virzi Bros. label that somebody had cut out from an old trade magazine ad??

    The sad thing was that I believe that instrument went up for sale on ebay and somebody got conned.

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