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Thread: Laberte et Magnié mandolin of uncertain vintage

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    Registered User Denis Kearns's Avatar
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    Default Laberte et Magnié mandolin of uncertain vintage

    Hi All - I’m trying to figure out the vintage of the French Laberte et Magnié mandolin which I picked up this morning via a local ad. The sides and back are mahogany laminate and the cant top is spruce laminate, which I didn’t realize till I got home. I had fun yakking with the seller (not a musician) who was helping an elderly woman clean out years of accumulated stuff. She didn’t play and no additional information was available. The four remaining strings were rusty, but otherwise the mandolin was in decent condition and the neck appears straight. I tuned up a couple of strings and it sounded OK, so worth the price of admission ($100, didn’t bother to haggle). There’s a little separation of the back near the tailpiece, which has only four posts. The tuners are solid brass and one is slightly bent. The inlaid pickguard is relatively thick and of an unusual shape. The mandolin has a zero fret and a “Batman” headstock. Below are a few photos
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    From the internet, I’ve gleaned the following: The name Laberte et Magnié, was first used in 1927, eight years after the luthier Fourier Magnié joined the Laberte family business. The Laberte family had been making violin instruments from about 1780 in Mirecourt, a commune (not the American kind!) in NE France, known for lace-making and the manufacture of musical instruments (and also the home of the Musée de la lutherie et de l'archèterie française for those of you who are world travelers). During WWII, instrument factories and tooling were destroyed and post-war rebuilding for The Laberte company was ultimately not successful. Production declined in the 1950s and the company finally disbanded in 1968. Laberte violins are generally considered to be high quality instruments.

    So the question I have is, “When was this mandolin made?” The youngest would be late 1931, because the label says “Grand Prix Paris 1931”, in reference to the company receiving the Grand Prix for their Stradivox Magné, a phonograph, during the “Exposition coloniale internationale" (International Colonial Exhibition), which was a six-month exhibition that “attempted to display the diverse cultures and immense resources of France’s colonial possessions”. In 1935, the company also won a Grand Prix award in the similarly-themed exhibition of colonial possessions, this time in Brussels and hosted by Belgium. I have no information whether this subsequent award led to a change in Laberte et Magnié guitar and mandolin labels. To me, the brass tuners and the inlaied pickguard suggest pre-war construction. The use of laminate for back, sides, and top was not uncommon for lower-priced pre-war instruments. After reading about the Laberte family, I was surprised that they would use laminate for any of their instruments, but this choice may have been more a reflection of the depressed economy than anything else. At one point, I thought that maybe this mandolin could possibly have been built in the early 1950s; however, I can find no information that would indicate that Laberte et Magnié even made mandolins after WWII and I kinda thought that cant tops were a sign of earlier construction. The tailpiece at first seemed to be a replacement, but is similar in design to what they used for their “1931” guitars. My mandolin does not match any of the mandolins in their 1919 or 1931 catalog. My current guess is that the mandolin was made sometime between 1932 and the early 1940s when the fighting reached Mirecourt and production shut down.

    Given the Café’s collected abundance of mandolin knowledge, plus the expertise of our European contingent, I would really appreciate any info, musings, cogent argument, unhinged speculation, and/or knowledge about the remarkable folks at Laberte et Magnié and their mandolin and guitar production. There’s a fair amount of online information about their violins, but only a limited bit about their guitars and almost none on mandolins. I did find copies of their 1919 and 1931 catalogues. Also, please feel free to contribute your two cents (or 0.02 Euro) concerning the build date of this interesting bit of mandolin history.

    Thanks!
    - Denis

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  3. #2
    Full Grown and Cussin' brunello97's Avatar
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    Default Re: Laberte et Magnié mandolin of uncertain vintage

    Fair play to you, Denis.

    From the side view you have shown it looks like the neck might be in favorable playing condition.
    There seems room in the bridge for adjustments if needed.

    There have been numerous discussion here on French and particularly Mirecourt mandolins, with some wonderful postings of catalogs and pages from them.

    You might venture a "Mirecourt" search to see what turns up.

    I would venture that most of the experience here is certainly with American and Italian mandolins and to some extent German / Markneuekirchen mandolins/

    I would also encourage you to take the initiative and post what you might have from Laberte et Magnie catalogs to help build our collective knowledge base here.


    I'm no graphic design expert, but I would hazard a guess that given the type font used on your label that your "mid 30s to late 40s" range is pretty savvy.

    Before and after that range we see distinctly different type fonts on labels.

    My hunch, like yours, is earlier. Who would tout a 1931 prize in 1940 or 1950?


    Those fat frets ought to be a ringer though.

    Please post what you have on L et M and let's hope this conversation expands.


    Mick
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    Default Re: Laberte et Magnié mandolin of uncertain vintage

    We had quite a ding-dong going with this Couesnon mandolin- the OP was certain it was of a certain vintage while others were less sure. The tuners are known as Delarouelle units. I think this mandolin is more likely to be 1930s. Mick questions why with a 1931 prize such labels would be used 20 years on but WW2 did intervene curtailing production and the company may had had a large stash to work through.

    https://www.mandolincafe.com/forum/t...on-a-mirecourt

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    Default Re: Laberte et Magnié mandolin of uncertain vintage

    Thanks Mick & Nick for your thoughts and information. I should have expected something related in the archives, but was more fixated on the folks at Laberte et Magnié rather than the rest of the luthiers in Mirecourt. I did read a lot of web pages about the commune, but neglected to look it up in the Cafe (eventually, I’ll learn!). Thanks for the thread link and the correct name of the tuners (spelled incorrectly elsewhere on the web). Will work on getting the catalog info into the Cafe’s archives. Hope to string the mandolin up today and see how it plays - and maybe I’ll finally post a video of me playing something….

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    Full Grown and Cussin' brunello97's Avatar
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    Default Re: Laberte et Magnié mandolin of uncertain vintage

    Quote Originally Posted by NickR View Post
    Mick questions why with a 1931 prize such labels would be used 20 years on but WW2 did intervene curtailing production and the company may had had a large stash to work through.

    https://www.mandolincafe.com/forum/t...on-a-mirecourt
    A large stash of labels to work through? That might be a quick postwar fix.

    I used to play in a little (now sadly defunct) accordion gruppo with a woman who was a graphic designer for GM. She designed the chrome nameplates for automobiles and trucks.

    She was a wizard with type fonts, their history, development and use. She could look at a label or packaging or magazines and identify the type style and have a pretty good idea of when it was in fashion and in use, and then out of fashion.

    I was amazed, but maybe I shouldn't have been. She was an expert in her field.

    The very "Modern" nature of this label: no serifs, no slant, no embellishments of any kind, likely date it very particularly, I bet.

    It looks quite like th label fonts used in the late 30s and postwar Catania, eg. Indelicato et al.
    But there weren't many left there after the war.


    Mick
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    Default Re: Laberte et Magnié mandolin of uncertain vintage

    The French wrote the book on some aspects of modernism and Deco pretty early. The seminal Paris 1925 expo put things front and center. Even the stogy British, the same year, were aware of sea changes and some of their posters showed it. How about the add-on ‘France’ sticker; I know sometimes the country of origin international agreements help dating, but I don’t know about France.
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    Registered User Charles E.'s Avatar
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    Default Re: Laberte et Magnié mandolin of uncertain vintage

    To my knowledge, the additional "France" sticker, denoted instruments meant for export.
    Charley

    A bunch of stuff with four strings

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    Default Re: Laberte et Magnié mandolin of uncertain vintage

    According to the look of the tuners and my experience with Mirecourt instruments, it dates back to post WWII area.

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    Default Re: Laberte et Magnié mandolin of uncertain vintage

    The sides and back are mahogany laminate and the cant top is spruce laminate, which I didn’t realize till I got home.
    Are you sure about that? I would think it unusual to use laminated wood back in the 1930s and my guess is that it might be cheaper to use solid woods since there is less labor involved. I do know that Selmer instruments did use laminates and perhaps you are right, but how did you determine the fact since it looks like the top and rosette are both bound?

    I will check my files later for other info I have when I can get to my computer.
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    Default Re: Laberte et Magnié mandolin of uncertain vintage

    Below are a couple of photos which to me, indicate laminate construction. The first shows the inside edge of the sound hole. At first I thought this might be a small patch added to strengthen the sound hole, but it’s continuous to the bracing. The second photo shows the edge of the back which sure looks like laminate to me. Third photo is the back, which reminds me of a piece of Luan plywood. Have not yet strung it up, since, in an attempt to lower the action a little, I ended up cutting the E slots too deep. Argh!!!
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    I was surprised at the use of laminate, and especially for what to me looks like a laminate top. I should dig out a small mirror and get a better look at the inside.

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    Registered User Denis Kearns's Avatar
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    Default Re: Laberte et Magnié mandolin of uncertain vintage

    Quote Originally Posted by Alban Havidson View Post
    According to the look of the tuners and my experience with Mirecourt instruments, it dates back to post WWII area.
    So, maybe it’s from the early 50s, which might explain the use of laminate, and incidentally, would make it the same vintage as me.

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    Default Re: Laberte et Magnié mandolin of uncertain vintage

    Laminated is quite uncommon by French luthiers except for high grade gipsy guitar makers. Low grade maple is more usual. Reinforcement under the soundhole is common in the making.

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    Default Re: Laberte et Magnié mandolin of uncertain vintage

    I mean for Bach and sides. I never encountered laminated for the top on those.

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    Default Re: Laberte et Magnié mandolin of uncertain vintage

    I suspect what you see at the edge of the soundhole is a patch - probably rectangular and butting up against braces. If you feel all round inside you might find an edge, or be able to feel that at the other side of the brace the top is thinner.

    I think this because a laminate that thick seems way too much for a mandolin. But of course, I'm just guessing from one picture.

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    Default Re: Laberte et Magnié mandolin of uncertain vintage

    The mirror and strong light are needed in any event to check for loose braces before you tune the thing up. If you see the same grain pattern inside and out, especially contrasty areas, it isn’t laminate.
    Speaking of which, it seems that laminate is considered an inferior material, only found on low-end products, but this is not entirely supportable, either from ecological or mechanical considerations. Thin material not subject to cracking; use of exotic veneers, use of woods difficult or impossible to handle as solids. Some things, like arched, carved-top instruments are restricted to solids, but “high grade gypsy guitars” provides a demonstration that solid wood isn’t the best for everything.

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    Mando-Accumulator Jim Garber's Avatar
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    Default Re: Laberte et Magnié mandolin of uncertain vintage

    I do have a few Laberte catalogues in my files but the latest one is from 1919. They do mention Carmencita models in all of the catalogs but it is hard to find out whether those were just sold in their shop and made elsewhere. My guess is the latter since their main concentration was violin family instruments. According to my Henley book of violin makers they added Magnie to their name around 1925 when they joined the Fourier-Magnie Firm.

    The Carmencita and other flattop mandolins in these catalogues do not resemble the OP's mandolin. And, of course, he is right that they would be post 1931 anyway.

    FWIW here, listed on Reverb, is a Carmencita guitar with the same label.

    And our friend Dave Hynds has some examples of other mandolins sold by Laberte-Humbert circa 1905, but no Carmencitas.
    Last edited by Jim Garber; Aug-08-2022 at 5:24pm.
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    Registered User Denis Kearns's Avatar
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    Default Re: Laberte et Magnié mandolin of uncertain vintage

    Well, I went out and got a new mirror with a flexible arm and took a look at the inside of the top. Everything looks like it’s solid spruce. I don’t understand why it looks like laminate at the edge of the sound hole, but everywhere else is indicative of solid wood. The grain on the spruce is small and very even, so difficult to match patterns, but I can see the seam between the two pieces joined to make the top and the inside is obviously tightly grained spruce. I also used a rag on the end of a wire to apply instrument lemon oil to some inside areas of the back and sides of the mandolin in order to get a better view of the grain. This, in an attempt to compare grain in the mahogany between inside and outside, but again, I was hampered by very narrow and straight grain in the mahogany with little unique patterns.

    Bottom line, I have a strong feeling that the top is solid, but I still think that the back and sides are probably laminate. It appears that the back is composed of three layers, with the center one twice the thickness of outer.

    Have not yet strung it up, but happy to report that the bracing looks good.

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