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

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About Edward C. Brownson was born August 25, 1863 in New York City to Walter and Alice Brownson. The family did not settle in New York but o...

Edward C Brownson - Toledo, Ohio


Edward C. Brownson was born August 25, 1863 in New York City to Walter and Alice Brownson. The family did not settle in New York but over the coming years moved to Ohio, St. Louis, Missouri, and finally back to Ohio. His father worked in the railroad industry and his mother kept house. He had three siblings: an older brother George, older sister Irene, and younger sister Grace. Edward also took odd jobs, he worked as a printer while the family lived in St. Louis.

I am not certain of how and when Edward became interested in manufacturing musical instruments as it was often a family trade. If your father was a violin builder, there was a good chance you'd learn too.

The earliest mention of his foray into lutherie is from the 1895 Toledo City Directory. Edward was listed as a guitar maker living at 632 Hicks Street. Hicks Street is no more but through the Ohio Web Library I was able to find it in an old Sanborn fire insurance map. I held that map up to a modern Toledo map and determined that Palmwood Avenue is the current name of Hicks Street. It was a two story frame dwelling with a back room and porch as well as a small shed at the rear of the property. The house was owned by Edward's father, Walter, and he lived there until ____. Walter was an interesting figure, he ran a company called the Electro-Chemical Ring Company from about 1900 until his death. More on that later.

1895 Toledo City Directory
Brownson's residence on Hicks Street from an 1895 Sanborn map
Image Credit: OAKS - Kent State University
Brownson's home on 632 Palmwood Avenue c. 2011
Image Credit: Google Maps

Brownson & Beals (1897 - 1899)

Folkway Music listed a guitar labeled "The Brownson" which had a paper label in splendid condition. It mentions "guitars, mandolins, & harp guitars" being manufactured by "Brownson & Beals" with their office at 632 Hicks Street.Guitar Works Ltd, in their 2021 Youtube video of their 1907 Brownson, shared their research and noted that Beals referred to Elmer W. Beals, a piano finisher. 

I learned that Beals grew up in Detroit, Michigan and indeed worked as a piano finisher [3]. This title was likely referring to the job of carefully french polishing completed pianos in preparation for their sale. It is a delicate skill and one that requires an eye for detail and muscular endurance. He moved to Toledo in 1896 and by 1897 had gone into business with Brownson and moved into his house [4][5]. But by 1899 Beals had moved back to Detroit and later founded Beals & Co, a firm I have not yet researched [6][7]. 

Image Credit: Folkway Music

Image Credit: Folkway Music

The bottom left of the label says "Factory Cor. Wells & Washington Sts" which is on the opposite diagonal corner of the block that Brownson's house was located at. The factory did not exist in 1895 when the Sanborn map company charted the block but there was four parcels that sat undeveloped. The exact address of the factory and what it looked like is unknown but I'm surprised they managed to build a manufacturing structure in the middle of a residential neighborhood.

Here is the corner of Wells and Washington c.1895

Corner of Wells and Washington
Image Credit: OAKS - Kent State University

Brownson & Grosswiller (1900-1901)

After the departure of Beals, Brownson went into business with another as seen in the 1900 Toledo city directory. His new partner was Clarence Grosswiller and their firm, aptly named "Brownson & Grosswiller" was still based out of 632 Hicks Street. Clarence was 16, nearly twenty years younger than Brownson, and fresh out of school. Unlike Beals, he remained at his parents' home and did not move to Hicks Street [11].

1900 Toledo City Directory [10]

1900 Toledo City Directory [10]

Evidently this partnership fell apart as the 1901 city directory lists Edward as a photographer at The Spitzer Building and Clarence as a clerk at his father's plumbing supply wholesaler. Clarence would later go on to become the Vice President of his father's company before his tragic death in 1911.

Independent Builds (1901-1908?)

Edward continued to work as a photographer and lived with his parents as they moved from Hicks Street to 13th Street around 1902 [12]. 

Guitar Works Ltd came into the possession of this 1907 Brownson jumbo guitar which is a sharp departure from his work as Brownson & Beals. Its unusual size and quirky appointments wouldn't look out of place on a Joseph Bohmann guitar but are surprising for this small builder. The guitar is covered in intricate pearl inlays on every fret position as well as precisely cut abalone triangles binding the top and soundhole rosette. The neck is a wild 15-piece laminate of maple and walnut and the mahogany body has a huge 17" lower bout. 

The attribution for this instrument is penciled onto the top and explains that the guitar was started in May of 1903 and finished in December of 1907. We might explain this length of time by the level of detail in the instrument, especially if he continued to produce others, as well as his limited time working as a photographer. This guitar would've been his magnum opus 

Image Credit: Reverb - Guitar Works Ltd

This guitar needs new tuners, stat
Image Credit: Reverb - Guitar Works Ltd

Electro-Chemical Ring Co. (1908-?)

In 1908, Edward left his job as a photographer and joined his father's business venture at 15th and Jefferson in downtown Toledo. Walter had proclaimed himself to be a 'medical electrician' and produced rings which they claimed could cure diseases caused "by acid in the blood". Seriously. Walter died in 1919 and left the business to Edward who continued to list himself as the proprietor of the business all the way up until the 1930 Federal census despite the company last appearing in the City Directory in 1920. 
1897 description of Walter's company from
"Toledo. Its motto: ambition, preseverance and public spirit" [13]

Image Credit: Bibliophagist

Later Life

Edward Brownson retired out to Kearney, Michigan at an unknown date but he appears in the 1950 census as living in that area. Once again he surprises us as he is incarcerated at the time of the census and I am unable to figure out what he did. He died on August 10th, 1950 while in prison [8][9]



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