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Thread: Help identifying an old bowlback

  1. #1

    Default Help identifying an old bowlback

    Hi,

    Any ideas about the maker/age? American made? Budget model?

    Would the star have been added to the headstock after-market?

    Thanks!

    E
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  2. #2

    Default Re: Help identifying an old bowlback

    The tailpiece is American so that means the mandolin is US made and it is a budget model. The star on the headstock was used by mail order companies and I think both Wards and Sears, Roebuck used this emblem at some point. I have seen that headstock before but I cannot identify the maker. Vega used a larger star but that incorporated the name in it.

  3. #3

    Default Re: Help identifying an old bowlback

    Thanks for the info. It's been a fun little restoration project. Almost ready to string it up (waiting for extra light strings to ar and see how it sounds.

    Already eye-balling some better quality Italian jobs online...

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  5. #4

    Default Re: Help identifying an old bowlback

    Seeing the original tuners might help date it- assuming they are strip tuners. Oscar Schmidt did make some mandolins with a similar headstock shape but the company used so many styles.

  6. #5
    Full Grown and Cussin' brunello97's Avatar
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    Default Re: Help identifying an old bowlback

    Quote Originally Posted by NickR View Post
    Seeing the original tuners might help date it- assuming they are strip tuners. Oscar Schmidt did make some mandolins with a similar headstock shape but the company used so many styles.
    I've heard that headstock shape referred to as the "open book" which took me a little while to catch on to. Pretty funny.

    It's the classic headstock shape that Vinaccia used for ever and so one can imagine its influence on other makers.


    Mick
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  8. #6
    Moderator MikeEdgerton's Avatar
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    Default Re: Help identifying an old bowlback

    The 944 under the tailpiece was probably a catalog number. I'm surprised it was stamped there. I'm kind of leaning towards Harmony as the possible builder. The scratch plate and body shape are similar to some more expensive Harmony built Supertone's and I know they basically used any shape for the headstock they wanted to at the time. As Nick stated I'd like to see the tuners. I'm assuming they had different shaft lengths to accommodate that bulge on the headstock.

    I'm not sure if anyone else used the term Open Book Headstock to define that style before Gibson used it in the famous lawsuit of the 70's. This would prove it was being used well before Gibson started using it.
    "It's comparable to playing a cheese slicer."
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  10. #7
    Registered User DavidKOS's Avatar
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    Default Re: Help identifying an old bowlback

    Quote Originally Posted by Ethrash View Post
    Budget model?

    Would the star have been added to the headstock after-market?

    E
    I've seen a few old bowlbacks with a similar star.

    As for "Budget model? ", well, sort of, not a lot of ribs nor decorations, but I've seen a lot lower grade ones too.

  11. #8

    Default Re: Help identifying an old bowlback

    I saved these old Sears ads- one predates the arrival of the brand "Supertone" and is early 1900s while the other uses the name and I believe dates from after the time Sears bought Harmony- late teens. You can see the mandolins have that "scooped" headstock top- but more pronounced than Regal used, and these are Harmony mandolins. The earlier ad may feature some Harmony mandolins prior to the firm's purchase by Sears but we see posts asking for identification of mandolins that have the headstock shape with the bulge. I mentioned that the mandolin is "budget" as I believe it to be from a mail order retailer but as David says that does not mean it is super-cheap but lower end- basic tailpiece, few staves etc but nicely made- not like a novelty instrument made for tourists in Naples might be.

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  13. #9
    Full Grown and Cussin' brunello97's Avatar
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    Default Re: Help identifying an old bowlback

    Quote Originally Posted by NickR View Post
    I saved these old Sears ads- one predates the arrival of the brand "Supertone" and is early 1900s while the other uses the name and I believe dates from after the time Sears bought Harmony- late teens. You can see the mandolins have that "scooped" headstock top- but more pronounced than Regal used, and these are Harmony mandolins. The earlier ad may feature some Harmony mandolins prior to the firm's purchase by Sears but we see posts asking for identification of mandolins that have the headstock shape with the bulge. I mentioned that the mandolin is "budget" as I believe it to be from a mail order retailer but as David says that does not mean it is super-cheap but lower end- basic tailpiece, few staves etc but nicely made- not like a novelty instrument made for tourists in Naples might be.

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    Great post, Nick.

    Hmm. The back of the bowlback on the lower left of your last ad looks very similar to a bowl folks here were trying to determine the provenance of.
    I'll need a little time to dig around for that.

    What's impressive (or sobering) to me is the quality level of the rosewood used on even the modest mandolins of this era. It is superb.

    We went on a visit to a furniture museum collection in Grand Rapids, Michigan back in the late winter. (I caught the Covid there but that's another story.)
    GR has long been a furniture producing center.

    What we saw stacked up in a setting similar to the final scene in "Raiders of the Lost Ark" was a warehouse with rack after rack of rosewood furniture of all kinds: from four poster beds to bars to cabinets to pianos to you name it.

    Rainforests of the stuff.

    So access to these materials for the Chicago and Michigan producers was likely very ready and likely not at the premium one might guess nowadays.

    The historian / docent at the museum noted the material connection between Gibson in Kalamazoo and the furniture folks in Grand Rapids, without providing specifics.

    Mick
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  14. #10

    Default Re: Help identifying an old bowlback

    "GR has long been a furniture producing center." Is that where Kellogg's gets the stuff they sell in their boxes- the wood shavings?

    Edit: I think this mandolin- which has a star in the headstock may well be a Sears vended Harmony which has many features similar to one of the mandolins in that other ad I posted- the one with the Supertone heading. It has the headstock shape and the butterfly. I will send the ad to the seller.

    https://www.ebay.com/itm/23467740813...Bk9SR4as49HwYA

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    Last edited by NickR; Sep-28-2022 at 12:36pm.

  15. #11
    Full Grown and Cussin' brunello97's Avatar
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    Default Re: Help identifying an old bowlback

    Quote Originally Posted by NickR View Post
    "GR has long been a furniture producing center." Is that where Kellogg's gets the stuff they sell in their boxes- the wood shavings?
    Perhaps. But with the glut of corn produced here in the Midwest, it would likely be the other way around.

    Furniture folks in Grand Rapids looking for ways to make corn / soy / sorghum based furniture.

    They're already experimenting with it for seat covers, etc.

    Maybe mold some mandolin bowls out of it, too.

    Mick
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  16. #12

    Default Re: Help identifying an old bowlback

    Comes around again. Photo is Henry Ford’s prototype “soybean plastic” car, 1941. There was only one, and then everything Ford switched to armaments. Supposedly was some sort of phenolic using soy fibers, perhaps like Micarta. Mandolin bowls definitely possible, but like the wiring in your new car, mice might try to eat it.

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  17. #13

    Default Re: Help identifying an old bowlback

    Thanks for all the great info! Nick, those Sears catalog shots were super helpful- it definitely appears I have "The Illinois" model, 9 ribs (but- "imitation mahogany neck?") I've attached a photo of the tuning heads.

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    I recently purchase (eBay) what looks like the "Our 20th Century Mandolin" model, though mine doesn't have 21 ribs, it has more like 16 ribs. It also has the "open book" headstock and the butterfly is a bit smaller.

    When it arrives, I'll swap the tailpieces, maybe even swap the tuning heads (I don't like the look of those plates on the fancier model) and maybe put the Illinois back on the market once I've got them both strung up and playable... unless of course the nicer model plays/sounds better than the cheaper one!

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  19. #14

    Default Re: Help identifying an old bowlback

    I wonder what happened to Henry Ford's soybean car? I ask because at that time, Kluson was using soya for tuner buttons and they were prone to button rot!

    Ed, I think your other mandolin you have just posted is from Oscar Schmidt. This may be an OS mandolin: https://jakewildwood.blogspot.com/20...-bowlback.html

    Edit: Those tuners you posted from mandolin one- I saw the same variety on this "doctored" bowlback that has been dated 1905-1915 which is also an Oscar Schmidt made mandolin which as I wrote before is possibly also an OS mandolin. https://jakewildwood.blogspot.com/20...-mandolin.html
    Last edited by NickR; Sep-29-2022 at 4:19am.

  20. #15

    Default Re: Help identifying an old bowlback

    The Ford was intentionally destroyed, common fate for concept cars, unfortunately. It is not unusual, even for mass production by large companies to use materials that have unknown longevity, toxicity or environmental properties. Mice do eat soy wiring! Many plastics, like celluloid, change composition and fail. Some have no UV resistance and disintegrate outdoors. The wonder material, asbestos, is incorporated in seemingly everything: its virtue (and danger) is inertness.
    Instruments mostly aren’t problematical except for contact allergies or contracting MAS!

  21. #16

    Default Re: Help identifying an old bowlback

    Mando #2 arrived - the one that resembles the Harmony "Our Century" model but with a bulged headstock.
    I really like it! There are 19 ribs (plus the two wider pieces on either side, that meet up with I guess the sort of "belt", so maybe they're counted
    as ribs also?)

    1. Can someone suggest a good source for an appropriate bridge? I guess I'd want rosewood/bone (and a matching bone nut) since the fingerboard
    is rosewood.

    2. I also need to replace 3 missing mother-of-peal inlay bits. Sourcing for old/recycled bits like that, by any chance?

    3. Opinions? Should I keep the lyre shaped tailpiece it currently has attached, or swap it for the clamshell from my other mandolin? The Lyre is etched with "Pat'd Oct 26 '86", which surprised me because- due to the nice condition of the chrome- I thought was a much newer add-on. But perhaps this tailpiece is an earlier manufactured part (if indeed the mandolin is from the 1900s) that was added on later? Initially I was leaning towards the less-busy looking clamshell, but I'm on the fence. Maybe the mandolin is earlier than the 1900s and this is an original part?


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