S. Nathaniel Adams

Documenting history as well as my experiences with repairing and restoring vintage guitars.


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1901 Arling Shaeffer Patent 674618 1917 Louis C Schermerhorn Patent 1244549 1919 Charles Graiver  Patent 1339953 Otto Mueller and Ladislav K...


Arling Shaeffer
Patent 674618


Louis C Schermerhorn
Patent 1244549


Charles Graiver 
Patent 1339953

Otto Mueller and Ladislav Kaplan

Patent 1363902


Stanley Kaplan


Jan Komis Jr


John L Martin


Daniel Mari
Patent 3,313,196



Ernie Ball
Patent 4581976

Alvin B. Clark c.1906 About Alvin Billings Clark was born on June 8th, 1822 to Elizabeth and Newton Clark in the small town of West Turin in...

Alvin B. Clark c.1906


Alvin Billings Clark was born on June 8th, 1822 to Elizabeth and Newton Clark in the small town of West Turin in New York. A town whose population is roughly the same today as it was when Clark was born. As a farming family, Alvin grew up around tools and a self-sustaining way of life. He showed a particular knack for mending tools and farm implements inspired by the positive comments that he would receive from his, usually critical, father. One of his earliest interests was in the work of Italian musicians and the craftsmen behind their instruments. The Clarks supported Alvin's desire to tinker and build but forbade him from playing the violin believing it to be a tool of the Devil.

His first violin was made around 1846 using wood sourced from the family farm. It was nicknamed "Old Dutchman" by a Methodist minister who would frequent Alvin's shop. In the 1850s, Alvin and his first wife (Julia Ellen Church) separated and he left his young son. 

By Alvin's own account, he had moved to Richmond, Indiana in 1859 or 1860 but Civil War Draft Registration Records show him residing in Canton, Iowa in 1863. Either way, he had settled in Richmond and began renting a storefront on Main Street. He erected a single sign "A. B. Clark. Violin Maker, Construction and Repairing" which was the only advertising he ever participated in.

In Richmond, he was married to Mary Jane Peebles and they had a daughter born in 1867. The art of violin building by itself wasn't enough to support Alvin and his family so he likely would've sold sheet music and supplies out of his shop. The repair work was said to provide enough to support the family although it did slow the building of his instruments. Alvin could build a violin in a month if he focused solely on the instrument and it would sell for no less than one-hundred dollars.

By 1870, he was working as a music dealer and in the 1880 census listed his occupation as a music merchant. The earliest city directory I was able to find was from 1883 and described Alvin as a violin maker and repairer of musical instruments whose shop was at 413 or 412 Main Street and he lived at 206 N 11th Street. In the mid 1890s, he moved to 310 N 9th Street and his shop was relocated on Main Street.

Around 1902, Alvin and Mary moved into 426 Main Street. In 1905, the address was listed as 430 Main. Sadly, Mary died in 1905 and Alvin left the hustle of Main Street for a home on South 5th Street where he continued his work in house number fourteen.

Alvin was featured in two different newspapers in 1906 after news broke that his very first violin, The Old Dutchman was brought to him for repair. Both intervies in the Palladium-Item and The Indianapolis Star were incredible resources on his life. At the time of writing, he had estimated that he had built over one-hundred violins and that he still was unable to play the instrument. 

The Palladium-Item had also written on Alvin that year when a Mrs George Chrisman found a violin with the name "Stradivarius" written inside and convinced the owner to let her take it to the city for evaluation. Alvin deduced that the instrument could not have been made more than 50 years ago and was a German copy.

Alvin died on September 7th, 1911 in Reid Memorial Hospital after contracting pneumonia. Sadly, he passed days before a benefit concert was set to be held as an appreciation of Alvin's life and work. He was transported to Minos Falls, New York to the home of his brother Austin for burial. The newspaper notes that some believed the concert should still been held and that his possessions should be donated to Earlham College. It doesn't appear that this was done and the committee had opted to cancel the concert instead.

The Guitar

The Richmond Item 
May 4th, 1883

The Richmond Item
May 19th, 1883

The Richmond Item
April 7th, 1883

The Richmond Item
August 31st, 1883


Alvin was also an inventor looking to improve their modern world and also amass a fortune which almost certainly would allow him to build the instruments he desired
The Richmond Item
February 22nd, 1889
  • 60,833- January 1867 - A magnetic tool to flip sheet music
  • 74,502 - February 1868 - Washing machine
  • 80,600- August 1868 - A post driver attached to a wagon
  • 120,493 - October 1871 - Improved tack for fastening curtains on carriages
  • 267,151 - November 1882 - A device for planting corn with efficiency
  • 301,676 - July 1884 - Roller skates with elastic tires and with a set of swivel wheels positioned between the front and rear wheels
  • 302,984 - August 1884 - A self-closing hinge for gates
  • 305,793 - September 1884 - A tensioned piece of metal used to secure the bolts holding railroads together
  • 411,374 - September 1889 - Harmonica holder
  • 579,042 - March 1897 - A bicycle


[1] https://www.newspapers.com/image/246681859/?terms=%22a.%20b.%20clark%22%20&match=1
[2] https://www.newspapers.com/image/465087842/?terms=a.%20b.%20clark&match=1
[3] https://www.newspapers.com/image/118638474/?terms=a.%20b.%20clark&match=1
[4] https://www.newspapers.com/image/250389680/?terms=%22a.%20b.%20clark%22%20&match=1

The Schireson Brothers Nathaniel Wise Schireson was born June 15th, 1887 in Tauroggen, Russia (now Lithuania). He travelled to Bremen, Germa...

The Schireson Brothers

Nathaniel Wise Schireson was born June 15th, 1887 in Tauroggen, Russia (now Lithuania). He travelled to Bremen, Germany to board the Kronprinz Wilhelm and arrived in New York on November 11th, 1902 [1]. Jacob Schireson was born September 3rd, 1883 also in Tauroggen. He left for the United States from Hamburg, Germany aboard the Hamburg American Line and arrived October 14th, 1904 [2]. They had seven other siblings.

In 1907, Nathan and Jacob went into business together and opened a jewelry store on 108 Commercial Street in Los Angeles, California. They lived with their two other brothers, Max and Bernard, at 330 Buena Vista [3]. A year later, all four brothers were in business together with Max having experience as a jeweler and Bernard having worked as a bank clerk previously [4]. By 1910, Nathan and Jacob had moved out and found board in the house of Abraham Finkelstein on California Street [5]. They continued to operate a jewelry store.
Spanish advertisement in La Prensa in Texas c.1919
Image Credit: Newspapers.com

Around 1914-1915, Nathan and Jacob expanded the Schireson Brothers business in a different direction and opened a musical instrument store at 340 North Main Street [6]. Their brother Max also opened his own store at 367 North Main Street and operated under the name M A Schiresohn (an early spelling of their surname) [7]. I assume it was a fairly friendly sibling rivalry. They also kept the jewelry store operating at 240 North Main Street [8]

1929 ad in the Los Angeles Evening Express
Image Credit: Newspapers.com

By 1924, the Schireson Bros music store had three locations at 349 North Main, 111 South Main, and 112 West 3rd Streets [9]

Schireson Brothers advertisement (left) behind the St Elmo Hotel C.1930
Image Credit: University of Southern California Digital Library

The Resonator Patents

On October 29th, 1931, Nathan filed for patent on a guitar with an amplifying unit inlaid into its top. Sufficient volume had always been an issue for professional musicians and the Schireson brothers believed they  had an innovation ready for market. The amplifier (or 'concavo-convex member' as he calls it) was to be made from thin aluminum formed into the shape of a bowl to reflect the sound coming from the instrument. The bridge of the guitar actually sits atop a wooden disc which rests on the rim of the aluminum bowl. Holes are drilled in the wooden disc as well as decorative holes in the top of the guitar in order to allow the sound to pass through.

A year later, Nathan had expanded on his original design to forgo the wooden plate and instead mount the bridge directly to the bottom of the aluminum resonating bowl. Anticipating the additional stress placed on the bowl, he designed a wider ring to sit under the lip of the aluminum bowl.

Schireson cone on a Kay-made tenor resonator
The patent number stamped on the cover plate

Legal Trouble

In 1937, Nathan and Jacob Schireson were brought to court by George D. Beauchamp, of the National String Instrument Corporation, who claimed that their design infringed on his patented (US1,808,756) resonator design from March of 1929 [10].
Image Credit: Google Patents

The courts found that Beauchamp's design was similar to three previous American patents "Notable among such prior patents are three to J. Dopyera, No. 1,741,453 granted December 31, 1929; No. 1,750,881 granted March 18, 1930; and No. 1,762,617 granted June 10, 1930, each for stringed musical instruments.". John Dopyera and George Beauchamp were business partners and this likely didn't have an effect on the case but was used to determine whether Beauchamp's patent was truly for a new invention [10]. 

"It is one thing to hint at or suggest the solution of a problem that advances an art, and quite another thing to solve the problem by producing an instrumentality that takes the forward step. Dopyera did the former; Beauchamp accomplished the latter." [10]

While John Dopyera set up the 'framework' for building a resonator, the court decided that Beauchamp had accomplished it and met the standards for a new invention. His invention had found commercial success with, at the time, a reported 37,000 instruments sold using his design [10]. After establishing the validity of George's patent, the court reviewed the claims of his patent as they pertained to the Schireson Brother's invention.

"The evidence shows that the defendants have commercially made and sold three types of metallic resonators for operation in combination with guitars which they also sell at their place of business in Los Angeles, Cal. The defendents' devices are marked in the record as plaintiffs' Exhibits 1, 2, and 3 respectively and have been correspondingly referred to in this suit as small bridge type, large bridge type, and grid type.

The only difference in structural aspect between the two so-called bridge types is in the diameters of bridges and the positioning of the bridge to the concavo-convex diaphragm or resonator. In the case of the small bridge type the fastening of the bridge to the resonator is by means of a screw which indents and extends through a washer and the resonator into a block. The larger type does not employ this screw and washer construction. With this dissimilarity, these two types may be described thus: "A concavo-convex thin metal resonator, presenting substantially spherical surfaces, provided with a bead, and a flat surface inwardly adjacent thereto, having a central annular bridge receiving portion formed by indenting a central part of the cone on which portion a bridge of substantial diameter is mounted, forming annular engagement therewith."

The so-called grid type also includes a thin metallic concavo-convex resonator presenting substantially spherical surfaces, provided with a bead and a flat surface inwardly adjacent thereto, above which is positioned a circular grid carrying the bridge, reinforced by transverse cleats or ribs the ends of which rest on the flat surface mentioned at intervals around the circumference of the grid. All of the resonators of defendants' construction are mounted in the guitar with bases or mouths upward instead of downwardly as shown in the patent in suit." [10]

The Small Bridge Type model appears to be referring to the second of Schireson's patents while the Large Bridge Type is unknown to me and the Grid Type is likely referring to some type of spider bridge design.

"The only claims that remain in issue in this suit that have not been discussed in relation to the structures of the defendants are claims 1, 3, and 4 of the patent in suit. In view of the findings and conclusions of infringement by defendants of claims 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9 of the Beauchamp patent, No. 1,808,756, it is considered unnecessary to discuss these three remaining claims. Suffice it to state that each of these claims contains obscure verbiage that may render these claims too uncertain upon which to predicate infringement thereof by the defendants under the record here presented. We conclude that it is not necessary for this court to pass upon any of these three claims at this time, other than to say that neither a "cover plate" feature in claim 3 nor a "transverse guard member" mentioned in claim 4 amount to invention." [10]

The grand conclusion: Nathan and Jacob Schireson had infringed upon George Beauchamp's patent and were liable for damages


Schireson resonators are relatively uncommon today due to their short production. Based off the date of the patent and the lawsuit, I'd estimate years of production to be 1931 to 1937. How many instruments they produced is also unclear, I saw a claim of 25 for the Hollywood instruments but I couldn't find any evidence to back that up. 


Interestingly, the Kay Musical Instrument Company of Chicago used Schireson resonating cones. These Kay resonators appeared for a very short time in the 1930s and are usually attached to laminate maple bodies with poplar necks and pearloid faceplates. 

I've owned two (one S. S. Maxwell tenor and an Artist Deluxe six-string). Both were in a sorry state with the S. S. Maxwell missing most of its fingerboard and the Artist Deluxe having an aluminum pie tin where the Schireson cone used to be.

S. S. Maxwell tenor resonator made by Kay and using a Schireson cone

Hilariously, Kay sold those exact same bodies (minus the hardware) to Beauchamp and Dopyera for use on the National El Trovador resonators. I wonder if someone at Kay accidentally let slip some information they shouldn't have thus bringing down the Schireson Bros...


Hollywood was the brand name used for the Schireson Brothers' own line of instruments. Their resonator guitars can be identified by the "H" shaped f-holes.
"Curly Brooks" labelled Schireson resonator
Image Credit: Reverb.com - antique fretted instruments


[1] https://www.ancestry.com/discoveryui-content/view/1203203452:3998?tid=&pid=&queryId=54915665be5b200d7e74e0b7ea87f37b&_phsrc=OTJ1721&_phstart=successSource
[2] https://www.ancestry.com/discoveryui-content/view/4063912:1193?tid=182928970&pid=382500375525&queryId=cbd2501c26e27d09692607601421dcc2&_phsrc=OTJ1724&_phstart=successSource
[3] https://www.ancestry.com/discoveryui-content/view/234605665:2469?tid=182928970&pid=382500375525&queryId=91550e06137816840c78d44e45a2b076&_phsrc=OTJ1725&_phstart=successSource
[4] https://www.ancestry.com/discoveryui-content/view/227925446:2469?tid=182928970&pid=382500375525&queryId=91550e06137816840c78d44e45a2b076&_phsrc=OTJ1725&_phstart=successSource
[5] https://www.ancestry.com/discoveryui-content/view/1225572:7884?tid=182928970&pid=382500375525&queryId=91550e06137816840c78d44e45a2b076&_phsrc=OTJ1725&_phstart=successSource
[6] https://www.ancestry.com/discoveryui-content/view/232604572:2469?tid=182928970&pid=382500375418&queryId=7a5dc0c1cf3ebe65af8c1c43d7cdd629&_phsrc=OTJ1759&_phstart=successSource
[7] https://www.ancestry.com/discoveryui-content/view/235322869:2469?tid=182928970&pid=382500375418&queryId=7a5dc0c1cf3ebe65af8c1c43d7cdd629&_phsrc=OTJ1759&_phstart=successSource
[8] https://www.ancestry.com/discoveryui-content/view/226701795:2469?tid=182928970&pid=382500375418&queryId=7a5dc0c1cf3ebe65af8c1c43d7cdd629&_phsrc=OTJ1759&_phstart=successSource
[9] https://www.ancestry.com/discoveryui-content/view/1479161373:2469?tid=182928970&pid=382500375418&queryId=820d3040df94fe3095ceed74a597bf58&_phsrc=OTJ1761&_phstart=successSource
[10]  https://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=16288292738607649902&q=Beauchamp+Schireson&hl=en&as_sdt=6,26

  "4/8" Beading Plane sold by Julius Morisse & Co True manufacturer unknown About Julius Morisse was born on July 19th, 1821 i...

"4/8" Beading Plane sold by Julius Morisse & Co
True manufacturer unknown


Julius Morisse was born on July 19th, 1821 in Abbehausen, Germany (near Bremen). Immigrating to the United States in 1836, he found himself working for a successful immigrant by the name of Henry Shaw Shaw had been in the United States for about 20 years prior and amassed a small fortune in the hardware business. Shaw retired in 1840 and Morisse began working for Thomas F. Meier until 1847 when he set out to form his own company [1][12]. Julius's legacy was one of highest quality tools and was well regarded. Morisse would continue to expand and rub shoulders with like-minded men in St Louis such as Oscar J Schroeter, Charles Fach, and E. C. Simmons [7][11]. 

1850 Advertisement from St Louis Business Directory [8]


  • 1850 - 179 Third Street [8]
  • 1852 - 171 and 179 Third St (between Green/Christie St and Morgan St) [13][14]
  • 1860 - 164 and 285 Broadway [10]
  • 1864 - 165 and 285 Broadway [3]
  • 1870 - 706 Broadway [9]
  • 1872 - 708 Broadway [2]
700 Block of Broadway/Third Street
Bounded by Morgan and Green/Christie
1870 Whipple Map - Block 67  [16]
  • 1882 - 813 North 4th adjacent to the St Nicholas Hotel [5]
  • 1884 - St Nicholas Hotel destroyed by fire, Morisse suffers losses due to fire and water damage
  • 1891 - 811 North 4th [4]
800 Block of Fourth Street
Bounded by Morgan and Franklin
1870 Whipple Map of Block 94  [16]

Schroeter Bros and Death

Due to his declining health, Julius sold his company to employee and young entrepreneur Oscar Schroeter and his brother Charles who took over on July 23rd, 1891. They later purchased the company of E. C. Simmons when he retired [7].

Julius Morisse died on December 25th, 1891 from flu-induced pneumonia and his wife Caroline died two days later. Their funeral services were held at 3pm at the (long since demolished) Reformed Episcopal Church at 23rd and Pine Streets. It was described as having a long procession and the chapel being "far too small to admit all who attended". The pall-bearers were friends of the couple and include some relatively famous St Louisians: Frank Shapleigh, George S. Drake, James and E. F. Kaime, James Yeatman, Charles Scudder, (last names only from this point) Hayne , Saunders, White, Schroeter, Demcke, and Thuger. Their caskets were furnished by Smithers and Wagoner and taken to Mount Hope Cemetary in Rochester, New York for vaults. Their home at 2815 Morgan Street was willed to their housekeeper Catherine Kennedy [6].


[1] St Louis Globe Democrat December 28th 1891 https://www.newspapers.com/image/571302087/?terms=Julius%20Morisse%20%26%20colorado&match=1
[2] https://www.ancestry.com/discoveryui-content/view/1093919239:2469?tid=182928970&pid=382472552489&queryId=76db245a16b3801a943eb6ff7662f96c&_phsrc=OTJ1583&_phstart=successSource
[3] https://www.ancestry.com/discoveryui-content/view/1094463655:2469?tid=182928970&pid=382472552489&queryId=76db245a16b3801a943eb6ff7662f96c&_phsrc=OTJ1583&_phstart=successSource
[4] https://www.ancestry.com/discoveryui-content/view/1097212879:2469?tid=182928970&pid=382472552489&queryId=76db245a16b3801a943eb6ff7662f96c&_phsrc=OTJ1583&_phstart=successSource
[5] https://www.ancestry.com/discoveryui-content/view/1097463679:2469?tid=182928970&pid=382472552489&queryId=13c142abad828d5e419c08f0b4f8064b&_phsrc=OTJ1589&_phstart=successSource
[6] St Louis Globe Democrat December 29th 1891 - https://www.newspapers.com/image/571302181/?terms=Julius%20Morisse%20%26%20colorado&match=1
[7] https://www.google.com/books/edition/The_Reality_Record_and_Builder/I7dJAQAAMAAJ?hl=en&gbpv=1&dq=Julius+Morisse+%26+Co&pg=RA11-PA1&printsec=frontcover
[8] https://www.google.com/books/edition/The_Saint_Louis_Business_Directory/_nYBAAAAYAAJ?hl=en&gbpv=1&dq=Julius+Morisse+%26+Co&pg=PA109&printsec=frontcover
[9] https://www.google.com/books/edition/A_Business_Directory_of_the_Missouri_Pac/LfQNAAAAQAAJ?hl=en&gbpv=1&dq=Julius+Morisse+%26+Co&pg=PA117&printsec=frontcover
[10] https://www.google.com/books/edition/The_Missouri_State_Gazetteer_and_Busines/s80yAQAAMAAJ?hl=en&gbpv=1&dq=Julius+Morisse+%26+Co&pg=PA521&printsec=frontcover
[11] https://www.google.com/books/edition/Encyclopedia_of_the_History_of_Missouri/tg_VAAAAMAAJ?hl=en&gbpv=1&dq=Julius+Morisse+%26+Co&pg=PA408&printsec=frontcover
[12] 1844 directory - https://www.google.com/books/edition/Green_s_St_Louis_Directory_etc/O_UBAAAAYAAJ?hl=en&gbpv=1&dq=Julius+Morisse+%26+Co&pg=PA127&printsec=frontcover
[13] https://www.google.com/books/edition/Morrison_s_St_Louis_Directory/VHhQTpx4Y7EC?hl=en&gbpv=1&dq=Julius+Morisse+%26+Co&pg=PA180&printsec=frontcover
[14] http://digital.wustl.edu/cgi/t/text/pageviewer-idx?c=whi;cc=whi;idno=whi1874.1874.001;size=s;frm=frameset;seq=34
[15] https://www.google.com/books/edition/Henry_Shaw_s_Will_Establishing_the_Misso/ThUPAAAAYAAJ?hl=en&gbpv=1&dq=Julius+Morisse+%26+Co&pg=PA15&printsec=frontcover
[16] http://digital.wustl.edu/cgi/t/text/pageviewer-idx?c=whi;cc=whi;idno=whi1870.1870.001;size=l;frm=frameset;seq=186

Manufactured in Hudson, N.C. U.S.A Administrative Office: Palco Products 15 W. 20th St. N.Y. 10011 Image Source:  Ebay - lilmels  About Palc...

Manufactured in Hudson, N.C. U.S.A
Administrative Office: Palco Products 15 W. 20th St. N.Y. 10011
Image Source: Ebay - lilmels


Palco is a relatively unknown firm, I haven't seen many of their instruments come up for sale and, by all appearances, the instruments seem to sit in a tier below even Kay and Harmony.

According to a 1966 issue of Purchaser's Guide to the Music Industries, Palco Products Co was established in 1962 and in the business of importing and manufacturing 'all types of guitars and amplifiers' with two 'featured' brand names: Douglas and Duke. That same issue lists their home office as being at 323 Oxford Road in New Rochelle, New York which is contradicted by the 1965 issue and numerous other contemporary sources which mention Room 829 of 15 W. 20th Street in New York [1][3]. 15 West 20th Street is the address that appears on the labels of all the existing instruments I can find and seems to be their primary headquarters.

Palco Products Co was run by Samuel Steele (or Steel) and besides the New York office also had two manufacturing plants in Granite Falls and Hudson, North Carolina [2][3]. Both of these towns are quite small and rural, I haven't been able to identify where the manufacturers were located. I think it is very likely that Samuel contracted the instrument building work out to furniture or carpentry businesses.

The only previous information I can find on these are from a blurb on Worthpoint from an Ebay auction. I can see a few inaccuracies just on the Kay and Harmony side and the rest of the information appears to be a bit far fetched or just incorrect. The measurements are useful but I wouldn't take the rest of this to heart
Up for bids is this VERY rare Palco all hickory "Blues Box" acoustic Parlor guitar. This guitar was made in Hudson N.C.. The company lasted only about a year and produced very few guitars. Their aim was obviously to compete with the big Chicago manufacturers of the day; Harmony/Stella and Kay, that pretty much had the market sewn up. Unlike the Harmonys, Stellas and Kays that were made of birch with maple necks, this guitar is hickory including the neck and the original finish still shines. On a scale of 1-10, I rate this an 8.5. Very few nicks and scratches for its age and the neck is straight as an arrow with a very comfortable grip...unlike the Stella "tree trunks". Zero fret wear. Original tuners have been replaced with brand new Ping machines. {The old originals will be shipped along.} I think much of its life has been spent put away. Dimensions are: 37" Length X 13" Width Lower Bout X 3 5/8" Depth. 19 frets; 12 clear of the body. Many more photos available upon request.....guitar will be pro-packed with original gig bag and shipped UPS insured. Lower 48 states only. Thanks for viewing. 

They also filed for a trademark on "Toys-A-Poppin" which was a novelty toy involving caramel corn, honestly [5]. 


As mentioned, the build quality and materials of these instruments seems to fit more in the realm of builders like Jackson-Guldan and United Guitar Co. These instruments, usually, aren't highly regarded as functional guitars and bring pretty low prices (< $150) when put up for sale. 
Common Palco guitar model
Image Source: Ebay - lilmels

I found a photo of a Palco guitar with a break on the top revealing a plywood construction. The neck on this instrument is also set quite crooked to the body indicative of poor quality control. The fingerboard is painted black with soft brass frets which was economical and easy to crank out.

Image Source: Imgur.com - CBL88

The neck is an anonymous hardwood painted opaque brown with no visible pores. I suspect the timber to be poplar or sweet gum as they were very common budget neck woods and required no expensive pore filling. Regarding the claim of a hickory neck, I don't see how that would be economical or even be the best choice for the job. A hickory neck would be heavy, require a pore filling step, is notoriously tough on machinery, and a billet large enough for a neck would be pricy. All that work just to paint it brown just doesn't make sense. The tuners are typical mid to late 60s import units from Japan

Image Source: Ebay - lilmels

This instrument has a scroll decal on the body with the word 'Hickory' written in black script and, honestly, I think is where the idea that these guitars were made of hickory came from. It's far more likely that Hickory was the brand name of a distributor selling these guitars. Again the body is sprayed in an opaque burst so it doesn't make sense to use expensive hickory veneer just to hide it. There are cheaper and easier plywoods to work with

Image Source: Ebay - lilmels

The back is also sprayed opaque brown with some color variation added. The neck heel is distinctive from other manufacturers of the era and left quite blocky.

Image Source: Ebay - lilmels


[1] 1966 Purchaser's Guide to the Music Industries - I purchased a subscription to the Music Trades Magazine which gave me access to their limited digital archives
[1] 1966 Piano Trade Magazine - https://www.google.com/books/edition/PTM/n7lYAAAAMAAJ?hl=en&gbpv=1&bsq=%22palco%20products%22%20
[2] 1966 Buyers Guide to the Piano Organ and General Music https://www.google.com/books/edition/Buyer_s_Guide_to_the_Piano_Organ_and_Gen/AY85AAAAMAAJ?hl=en&gbpv=1&bsq=palco
[3] 1965 Purchasers Guide to the Music Industries https://www.google.com/books/edition/The_Purchaser_s_Guide_to_the_Music_Indus/csAgAQAAIAAJ?hl=en&gbpv=1&kptab=overview&bsq=palco
[5] https://tsdr.uspto.gov/documentviewer?caseId=sn60789774&docId=ORC20060427211134#docIndex=0&page=1

Lion Banjo Ad from The Cadenza  from 1895 [2] About The Lion Banjo Manufacturing Company was incorporated in March of 1893 and settled in th...

Lion Banjo Ad from The Cadenza from 1895 [2]


The Lion Banjo Manufacturing Company was incorporated in March of 1893 and settled in the small town of Rock Rapids, Iowa[1]. Its officers were President H. G. McMillan, Vice-President F. M. Thompson, general manager H. C. Middlebrooke, and secretary H. B. Pierce. The stockholders were 16 individuals owning from $500 to $9000 worth  of stock in the company to comprise the initial capital of $35,000. McMillan boasted "We could have disposed of the stock just about as easily had the capital been placed at $50,000 instead of $35,000" in an interview for The Rock Rapids Review. He continued that the company had already gathered $10,000 in orders prior to the factory even being constructed [3]. The men brought with them some experienced luthiers for the purposes of training a local workforce to operate the plant [10].

According to a local genealogy website, Middlebrooke and McMillan went to Minneapolis around 1891 to find the financial backing to start the factory [3].

Gearing up for the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago, Lion Banjo Mfg Co began building five ornate instruments to present along with their standard line. They were described as having necks made of Hungarian Ash, inlaid in mother of pearl, gold, and silver [4]. In total, twenty-one instruments went to Chicago on behalf of Rock Rapids and Lion Banjo Co [5].

The factory employed around 25-30 people and even had a small strike in July of 1893 when two men failed to show for work and were fired [13]. Seven other men, from Chicago, refused to work and were given the ultimatum of returning to their benches or losing their jobs. They went back to work [14].

In March of 1894, the factory reported building 46 instruments in the last week having shipped them to Los Angeles, CA, Galesburg, IL, and Mitchell, SD [12]. Since January 10th, they had built and shipped over 150 instruments [16]. In July, they had deemed their machinery and tools "too rough" for the quality of work they were intending and briefly closed to take stock and purchase replacements [11].

The Lion Banjo Manufacturing Company shut down for good in May of 1895 for reasons unknown [15]. But in December of 1896, Sherriff James Kemplay advertised in the local papers that a sale would take place on December 18th for the contents of the factory and the company's patents. The judgement was the result of a court case ruled in the favor of A. M. Getty and resulted in a debt of $2278.08 [8].

The Factory

Luckily, the very thorough, Sanborn map company had passed through Rock Rapids a number of times and the 1899 map captured the factory although they noted that it was closed. The main building was a two story, wood frame structure with a long single story warehouse and a small coal shed. The building was heated with stoves and there were no lights. Sanborn Co noted "Mach'y all in water power" which didn't mean much to me until I found a description in a 1960 issue of the Lyon County Reporter. The tools were powered by the municipal water supply using a 'special nozzle to produce pressure' which explains how a building 1000ft from the river accomplished that[7].

The factory appears on page 2 of the 1899 Sanborn Map
Situated on Boone St between 7th and 8th streets
Image Credit: Library of Congress

Now to find out where the factory was situated. 7th and 8th Streets both run through a neighborhood about a half dozen blocks south of the main strip which can't be right. So I overlaid the Sanborn map onto a satellite photo of Rock Rapids and figured that the East-West streets were renumbered. Boone and Greene are still there but 7th and 8th Streets have been renumbered First and N 2nd. Using that, I saw that the lot is currently home to a strip mall and the present location of the factory is parking lot.


Having shut its doors and gone to auction in late 1896, the building remained vacant  even up to 1899 when Sanborn surveyed the town. In 1902, Leicher Brothers opened a wagon and carriage shop in the "banjo factory" building [5]. By 1907, it was home to the Anchor Concrete and Stone Company [6]. The Sanborn company returned in 1913 to survey the town again and found the building occupied with a paint shop on the 1st floor, a carpenters shop in the warehouse, and all the unsold and incomplete inventory

1913 Sanborn Map
I can only surmise that there word didn't get out far enough (Sioux Falls is the closest city, 32 miles away), there wasn't enough interest among the locals, and America was on the tail end of a financial crisis. So the remains of Middlebrooke's grand venture and Rock Rapid's most promising business sat collecting dust for over 15 years.

In 1916, C. W. Bradley purchased the lot with the intention of renovating the building into apartments and stumbled across a cache of 100 completed guitars and banjos along with 'enough parts for that many more'. Allegedly, the remaining tooling was still up there as well 3 mahogany planks that were valued at $125. Bradley passed out (or sold at a pittance) many of the completed instruments and reached out to Chicago musical giant Lyon and Healy to sell the remaining stock. What else remained on the second floor is unknown but its likely that the factory closed abruptly as the court case was lost and everything unsold was shoved to the second floor and left. Bradley's apartments renovated the original factory building and added a white cement exterior [9].

The factory building managed to survive, hidden under the stucco and additions, until 1995 when the Rock Rapids City Council led a large movement for modernization and tore down the structure [17].


A description of an existing catalog found in the mid 1940s describes the Hawkeye banjo, in styles A and B, from $25-41 as well as the Middlebrooke banjo in two styles ranging from $25-60. The Middlebrooke Special sold up to $75 while a more affordable model, named the Columbus, retailed for $18. Lion also sold the Middlebrooke guitar banjo, Middlebrooke banjorine, banjorette, banjo mandolin, and a line of guitars.


So far, I have only found one reference on the internet to an existing Lion Mfg Co guitar which was sold at auction. This instrument has a spruce top over Brazilian Rosewood back and sides. The neck is mahogany, inlays are pearl, and the fingerboard could be ebony or dyed hardwood. The instrument looks professional and like a nice example of what they built. The auction house provided no specifics on the bracing inside the guitar.

Image Credit: Invaluable.com - Guernsey's Auction

Red ink stamp for the Lion Banjo Mfg Co
Image Credit: Invaluable.com - Guernsey's Auction


One of Middlebrooke's inventions was a banjo neck attachment that did not use the standard 'dowel stick' which he was not fond of. 


Hobart C. Middlebrooke, general manager, was a prolific inventor and held a number of patents for improvements in banjos. 


In 1891, Middlebrooke patented a banjo with organ reeds inlaid into the pot as well as up the neck which were designed to be tuned and provide sympathetic sounds.


At the same time, he also patented a fingerboard with a unique scallop intended to allow the instrument to ring out louder without fret rattle and make it easier to play.


In 1892, he patented a tailpiece which held the strings in a standard claw (Fig 3.) but passed them down through a plate (Fig 4.) which aligned the strings to the correct distance from each other and also added downward pressure.


In 1893, he patented a banjo neck fitted with a channel for the 5th string to pass through so it could be tuned at the headstock instead of its usual location. 


In 1894, he patented this wild banjo with a neck that folds in on itself at the 10th fret in order to facilitate transportation. The butt end of the hinge was actually designed to be the 10th fret. It also had a 5th string tuning peg that could recede into the neck of the instrument to keep it out of the way. He also designed these 'arms' which connected to the heel of the neck and supported the metal pot. He was not a fan of 'dowel stick' neck joints.


[1] https://www.google.com/books/edition/The_National_Corporation_Reporter/gJRDAQAAMAAJ?hl=en&gbpv=1&dq=%22lion+banjo%22+co&pg=PA104&printsec=frontcover
[2] https://www.digitalguitararchive.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/Cadenza-02-01.pdf
[3] https://rockrapids.advantage-preservation.com/viewer/?k=banjo&i=f&d=01011883-12312021&m=between&ord=k1&fn=review_usa_iowa_rock_rapids_18930126_english_1&df=1&dt=10
[4] https://rockrapids.advantage-preservation.com/viewer/?k=banjo&i=f&d=01011883-12312021&m=between&ord=k1&fn=lyon_county_reporter_usa_iowa_rock_rapids_18930602_english_1&df=1&dt=10
[5] https://rockrapids.advantage-preservation.com/viewer/?k=banjo&i=f&d=01011883-12312021&m=between&ord=k1&fn=lyon_county_reporter_usa_iowa_rock_rapids_18930512_english_1&df=11&dt=20
[6] https://www.loc.gov/resource/g4154rm.g028071907/?sp=2&r=0.437,0.078,0.579,0.356,0
[7] https://rockrapids.advantage-preservation.com/viewer/?k=banjo&i=f&d=01011883-12312021&m=between&ord=k1&fn=lyon_county_reporter_usa_iowa_rock_rapids_19600822_english_5&df=11&dt=20
[8] https://rockrapids.advantage-preservation.com/viewer/?k=banjo&i=f&d=01011883-12312021&m=between&ord=k1&fn=lyon_county_reporter_usa_iowa_rock_rapids_18961203_english_7&df=31&dt=40
[9] https://rockrapids.advantage-preservation.com/viewer/?k=banjo&i=f&d=01011883-12312021&m=between&ord=k1&fn=lyon_county_reporter_usa_iowa_rock_rapids_19560220_english_2&df=21&dt=30
[10] https://rockrapids.advantage-preservation.com/viewer/?k=banjo&i=f&d=01011883-12312021&m=between&ord=k1&fn=lyon_county_reporter_usa_iowa_rock_rapids_19430923_english_6&df=1&dt=10
[11] https://rockrapids.advantage-preservation.com/viewer/?k=lion%20banjo&i=f&d=01011883-12312021&m=between&ord=k1&fn=lyon_county_reporter_usa_iowa_rock_rapids_19740722_english_2&df=11&dt=20
[13] http://iagenweb.org/lyon/bookhist/buncombe/blizz2.htm
[14] https://rockrapids.advantage-preservation.com/viewer/?i=f&d=01011883-12312021&e=lion%20banjo&m=between&ord=e1&fn=lyon_county_reporter_usa_iowa_rock_rapids_20030723_english_5&df=11&dt=20
[15] https://rockrapids.advantage-preservation.com/viewer/?i=f&d=01011883-12312021&e=lion%20banjo&m=between&ord=e1&fn=review_usa_iowa_rock_rapids_18950523_english_5&df=11&dt=20
[16] https://rockrapids.advantage-preservation.com/viewer/?i=f&d=01011883-12312021&e=lion%20banjo&m=between&ord=e1&fn=lyon_county_reporter_usa_iowa_rock_rapids_18940301_english_1&df=21&dt=30
[17] https://rockrapids.advantage-preservation.com/viewer/?i=f&d=01011883-12312021&e=lion%20banjo&m=between&ord=e1&fn=lyon_county_reporter_usa_iowa_rock_rapids_19951227_english_1&df=21&dt=30

Image Source:  Ebay - wcmcsea About The seller, wcmcsea, began by pointing out that the label inside the instrument was difficult to read bu...

Image Source: Ebay - wcmcsea


The seller, wcmcsea, began by pointing out that the label inside the instrument was difficult to read but his best guess was 'Made by John E. Person, 70 Wega St., Jamestown, N.Y.' After doing a little preliminary digging and coming up short, I asked if I could get a closer photo of the label to which he kindly obliged. The label is faded and dirty but I fiddled around with some contrast settings and moved closer and further from my computer until my eyes started putting together the text.

Image Source: Ebay - wcmcsea

The first line reads "Made by:" which is fairly easy to see. The second line starts off a bit iffy, the first letter could be an "I", a "T", or a "J" and is followed by an "O" and two letters which look like "n". There is a space and then an uppercase "E" for a middle initial which was either circled in pencil or has been highlighted by a water spot. The last name starts with "Pers" and the last two letters have given me a lot of trouble in deciphering. I'm reading it as "Jonn E. Persea"

The third line reads "79 Wega St." which gave both the seller and I a bit of confusion as Wega Street does not (and has never) existed in Jamestown. It is likely referring to Vega Street which had been around since the late 1800s, at least, and does have a house numbered 79. Finally, "Jamestown, N.Y." is printed on the last line.

I don't have the instrument in my hands and can only go off of the photo I received of the label and what the seller had determined the label to say. I like to think, perhaps naively, that if I had the guitar in my hands I could discern more from the label with the proper light and angles.

Who is this man?

His Address

Trying to crack this case, I decided to delve into the one piece of information I knew for sure, the address. As I mentioned above, Wega Street does not exist and I searched city directories going back as far as 1891 and only ever found Vega Street. I do believe Wega to be a typo or a miscommunication stemming from an accent (Jamestown had a decent Swedish immigrant population). Vega Street is numbered, present day, from 2 Vega Street at the corner of Vega and Willard to 114 Vega Street (north of what is drawn on the Sanborn map).

The house currently at 79 Vega was built in 1895 and the street does not appear to have been renumbered (and old maps show that there was a structure in this same place) so I'm confident the address points to the same building.

1896 Sanborn Map
Vega Street is not mapped (lot 79 is marked with an X)
Library of Congress

I went through New York Heritage - Digital Collections who have a nice collection of city directories (1875-1916) and I jotted down the people who occupied the home at 79 Vega through the years.

Occupants of 79 Vega Street

  • 1900 
    • Andrew J Peterson
    • Charles A Carlson
    • Arvid H. L. Johnson
  • 1902
    • Andrew J Peterson
  • 1904
    • Andrew J Peterson
    • John Malm
  • 1906
    • Charles F. Danielson
    • John Malm
  • 1908
    • Charles Danielson
    • Mrs Adeline Malm
  • 1910
    • Elof G. Almeer
    • Mrs Adeline Malm
  • 1912
    • Charles F. Danielson
    • Mrs Adeline Malm
  • 1914
    • Same
  • 1916
    • Same

His Name

So the initial guess from the seller was John E Person and I saw something that looked like John E Persea. With a foolish amount of determination, I started combing through the city directories on Ancestry.com, which are consistently available from 1920 to 1960.

Unfortunately John Person only is listed in 1924 through 1928 and he lived at 315 W 8th which was downtown. So I expanded my search for Persson, Pearson, and anything else that seemed promising. I found a number of John and John E Pearsons who, quite confusingly, often married women named Hilda...

Johns of Jamestown

  • 1922 
    • John E Pearson - Carpenter -  Lived at 101 Johnson Street
  • 1924
    • John Person - 'lab' - 315 W 8th
    • John E Pearson - Carpenter - 101 Johnson St
    • John Pearson - Polisher at Crescent Tool Co -  200 E 2nd St
  • 1926
    • John Person - Furniture Worker - 315 W 8th
    • John Pearson - Finisher at Dalhstrom Metallic Door Co - 315 W 8th
    • John Pearson - Clerk - 27 Anderson 
    • John E Pearson - Carpenter/Contractor - 101 Johnson
    • John E Pearson - Crescent Tool Co - 27 Anderson
    • John E Pearson - Sheet Metalworker at Dalhstrom Metallic Door Co - 107 E 2nd
  • 1928
    • John Person - Furniture Worker - 315 W 8th
    • John Peason [sic] -Metal Worker - 107 E 2nd
    • John E Peason [sic] - Crescent Tool Co - 27 Anderson
    • John E Pearson - Junior Clerk - 27 Anderson
  • 1930
    • John Pearson - Metal Worker DMD Co - 45 S Main
    • John E Pearson - Machine Operator at Crescent Tool Co - 27 Anderson
    • John E Pearson -Metal Worker DMD Co - 112 W 7th
  • 1932
    • John Pearson - Toolmaker - 38 Chapman
    • John E Pearson - 73 Johnson
    • John E Pearson - Cabinetmaker - 206-1/2 Chandler
    • John E Pearson - DMD Co - 7 Beechview Avenue
    • John E Pearson - Machine Operator - 27 Anderson
  • 1934
    • John Pearson - Sander at DMD Co - 30 Anderson
    • John Pearson - Woodworker - 73 Johnson
    • John E Pearson - Carpenter - 73 Johnson
    • John E Pearson - Machinist - 27 Anderson
    • John E Pearson - Welder - 129 Johnson
    • John L Pearson - Cabinet Maker - 74 Forest Avenue
  • 1936
    • John Pearson - Carpenter - 73 Johnson
    • John Pearson - Sander - 59 Vega
    • John E Pearson - DMD Co - 27 Anderson
    • John E Pearson - Welder - 70 Sturges Apt 4
    • John L Pearson - Carpenter -74 Forest Avenue
  • 1937
    • John Pearson - 586 E 2nd
    • John Pearson - Polisher - 207 Prendergast Ave
    • John Pearson - Sander DMD Co - 59 Vega
    • John E Pearson  - 27 Anderson
    • John E Pearson - Assembler - 70 Sturges Apt 4
    • John L Pearson - Carpenter -74 Forest Avenue
  • 1939
    • John Pearson - Lab - 120 E 2nd 
    • John Pearson - DMD Co - 59 Vega
    • John E Pearson - 27 Anderson
    • John E Pearson - Lab - 337 Willard
    • John E Pearson - 74 Forest Ave
  • 1944
    • John Pearson - 207 Spring
    • John E Pearson - City Fireman - 1101 Ensign
    • John E Pearson - Inspector - 27 Anderson
    • John L Pearson - Die Maker - 16 Broadhead Ave
    • John L Pearson - Furniture Worker -74 Forest Ave
  • 1946
    • John E Pearson - Inspector - 27 Anderson
    • John L Pearson - Furniture Worker - 74 Forest Avenue
For posterity, I jumped ahead and checked some random years up until 1960 and John E Pearson (inspector), John L Pearson (furniture worker), and John E Pearson (fireman) were the only 3 John Pearsons in town. There were no people named John Person either.

John Pearson - 59 Vega Street

Finally, in the year 1936 we hit our first clue with Mr John Pearson (middle initial unknown) who lived at 59 Vega Street until 1939. It is possible that he lived at 30 Anderson as early as 1934 and moved to Vega Street later but I can't confirm that entry is tied to him and not another JP. His 3 to 5 year span in Jamestown managed to miss the US census, NY census, and WWII draft registration which I have found to be crucial for tying names to people, occupations, and locations. I've got nearly nothing from this guy except what he did.

His occupation was as a sander at the Dalhstrom Metallic Door Company in town which, unsurprisingly, produced doors and decorative trim out of sheet metal. It was quite innovative for the time and a copy of the 1923 Dalhstrom Metallic Door Co Catalog on Archive.org confirmed they did not work with wood. 

The vast majority of the luthiers I've researched came from an instrument building family (usually traced back to Europe), worked in an instrument factory, or had a strong background in fine woodworking like cabinet making. Having no discernable background in any of these makes it unlikely, in my opinion, that he would've had the knowledge or tools to build a guitar. 

That said, if we assume that he was the builder of this instrument then I'm going to say that whoever was working the printing press seriously botched this order. The label had John's last name misspelled, his street misspelled, and the wrong house number. Then John still decided to glue the blatantly incorrect label into his finished instrument? 


I don't know. This instrument has beaten me, I cannot definitively say I know who made it.


With proper identification unlikely to happen, I'm going to dive into the instrument itself because its fairly interesting.

The guitar has a mahogany neck with a slotted headstock that looks vaguely styled after a Martin. The slots in the headstock are nicely done but have a hint of human touch in their uneven sizing and tuner location. The top of the headstock is shaped quite crudely. The nut is roughly cut out of  a dyed wood.

The headstock slots are done quite nice and you can tell they were done by hand. Unusually, the headstock shape is quite crude and uneven which doesn't match the care taken on the body at all. Finally, the pattern of checking in the finish indicates a nitrocellulose and not shellac finish.

The tuning machines date to about the 1920s and are of a good quality, likely coming from New York City. They aren't a perfect fit on the headstock as you see they overhand over the back of the headstock near the bottom. Without seeing the wood underneath for extra screw holes, I cannot say for certain that they are original.

The back of the headstock again shows the nicely shaped slots which just a bit of variation in their size and shape. Interestingly, halfway down the headstock you can see a seam where the headstock was built from two pieces of mahogany glued end to end (hopefully using a scarf joint for strength).

Below that, around the middle of the 1st fret, is an unusual line of what looks to be putty or chewed up wood separating the headstock from the rest of neck. I pray it is just a decorative strip and not all the way through as that is a terrible spot for a butt joint (which are already a weak joint). Past that, is the main section of the neck comprised of two pieces of mahogany with a rosewood center strip and decorative quarter-circles at the corners. 

We haven't even passed the 3rd fret and already there are four pieces of mahogany used in the construction of the neck. Curious.

This pattern is replicated around the 10th or 11th fret where the center strip ends and the heel, another separate piece of mahogany, begins. The end of the heel has enough of a color difference that I think there is another piece of mahogany grafted on as well. I can see where the heel cap used to be (probably fell off) and the shiny residue of new glue that was used to reattach the neck.

Having seen and heard of no other instruments from this builder, its hard to say whether this whole neck construction is original or was part of a creative repair later on.

The top is spruce with black and white wood purfling on the edges, herringbone for the outer rosette ring, black and white for the inner, and rope wood binding on the soundhole. Simply and classy. The bridge is a replacement and other photos show it is lifting. It appears quite tall and has a 1/8" bone saddle with modern steel-string compensation filed into it.

The guitar has an upper bout width of 10-1/4" with a lower bout width of 13" which fits into the parlor guitar size except with a slightly wider upper bout than we'd expect from a steel string. Perhaps a bit of classical influence led to the larger upper bout.

The back is very nice flamed mahogany with a divided herringbone inlay and what appears to be evidence of lamination. So it would appear the back is a three piece laminate of mahogany-some white wood-and mahogany again. But John left the lamination edges exposed which does give the illusion of purfling.