My mysterious vintage ukulele (What is it?)

hendulele

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IMG_4472.jpg

I found this lovely soprano on eBay several months ago, advertised as a 1920s Gibson. The price was right, considering condition, and I bought it. I haven't regretted it for a minute. It's an amazing player even with the obvious issues (dings, a chip of the surface missing at the larger part of the bout, and general signs of being decades old).

But I've been obsessed with learning more about its identity.

It says "Gibson" nowhere on the instrument. Even though the headstock looks like a 1920s Gibson, the 17-fret fingerboard, the friction pegs, and the rosette are identical to the ones on this 1920s Gibson Eddie Scher showed off in Ukulele magazine. (Although I'm not sure Gibson made a 0-series uke, but no biggie.)

Instead, the headstock has a metal logo indicating it's "The Olympian." And there are labels on the back of the headstock and inside the instrument saying it was sold at the Black, Derges & Marshall store in Peoria, Illinois. (That store opened locations in 1920 and 1923, according to a couple of archived newspaper clippings I found.)

I contacted the historical museum in Peoria to see if there was more information about the retailer other that what I could find -- they primarily sold phonographs and some other instruments, and it's not clear how long they were in business. No response, sadly.

I also found in Lardy Fatboy's database a description of Olympian and learned that it was part of the Targ & Dinner wholesale instrument empire in Chicago. T&D sold a lot of rebranded ukes, but it's not clear if Gibson was one of its suppliers.

Who knows? Gibson supposedly produced so many specialized batches. ... Maybe Black, Derges & Marshall ordered a bunch to sell in their stores and relabeled them.

The stories this uke could tell, I suppose.

It gives every uke I own a run for its money, including my Depression-era Martin.

If any of you historians happen to have any insights, I'd be in your debt. Not for money, but some psychic currency.

Google photo album link here:

https://photos.google.com/album/AF1QipNmnyW2A2rxKFVb2NeP0YvNN3LLKdXeVQ-CxHPu

Thanks!
 
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chris667

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Definitely a ukulele.

As to the provenance, does it really matter? It may be a Gibson, it might not. It doesn't really matter if you like it. The people who were making them 100 years ago wouldn't care whose label they put on the headstock.

Enjoy it, it looks lovely. The essence of a ukulele.
 

hendulele

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Definitely a ukulele.

As to the provenance, does it really matter? It may be a Gibson, it might not. It doesn't really matter if you like it. The people who were making them 100 years ago wouldn't care whose label they put on the headstock.

Enjoy it, it looks lovely. The essence of a ukulele.

Thanks. In another life or lives, I probably was a cat!
 

Doug W

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The link didn't work for me. Did someone refinish it along the way?
 

hendulele

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The link didn't work for me. Did someone refinish it along the way?

Sorry the link didn't work. As far as I know, the bridge may have been reglued. There definitely are some indications of a repair, but it never was completely overhauled. Also it looks as if it hasn't had cracks. So maybe it was really well cared for. Sure plays like it!
 

kerneltime

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View attachment 127178

I found this lovely soprano on eBay several months ago, advertised as a 1920s Gibson. The price was right, considering condition, and I bought it. I haven't regretted it for a minute. It's an amazing player even with the obvious issues (dings, a chip of the surface missing at the larger part of the bout, and general signs of being decades old).

But I've been obsessed with learning more about its identity.

It says "Gibson" nowhere on the instrument. Even though the headstock looks like a 1920s Gibson, the 17-fret fingerboard, the friction pegs, and the rosette are identical to the ones on this 1920s Gibson Eddie Scher showed off in Ukulele magazine. (Although I'm not sure Gibson made a 0-series uke, but no biggie.)

Instead, the headstock has a metal logo indicating it's "The Olympian." And there are labels on the back of the headstock and inside the instrument saying it was sold at the Black, Derges & Marshall store in Peoria, Illinois. (That store opened locations in 1920 and 1923, according to a couple of archived newspaper clippings I found.)

I contacted the historical museum in Peoria to see if there was more information about the retailer other that what I could find -- they primarily sold phonographs and some other instruments, and it's not clear how long they were in business. No response, sadly.

I also found in Lardy Fatboy's database a description of Olympian and learned that it was part of the Targ & Dinner wholesale instrument empire in Chicago. T&D sold a lot of rebranded ukes, but it's not clear if Gibson was one of its suppliers.

Who knows? Gibson supposedly produced so many specialized batches. ... Maybe Black, Derges & Marshall ordered a bunch to sell in their stores and relabeled them.

The stories this uke could tell, I suppose.

It gives every uke I own a run for its money, including my Depression-era Martin.

If any of you historians happen to have any insights, I'd be in your debt. Not for money, but some psychic currency.

Google photo album link here:

https://photos.google.com/album/AF1QipNmnyW2A2rxKFVb2NeP0YvNN3LLKdXeVQ-CxHPu

Thanks!
You can try mailing folks at retro frets or gryphon strings to see if they know..
 

hendulele

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I would have no doubt it was Gibson made. It is tough as there is a lot less info out there for their builds than for Martin. Send to Jake Wildwood for his thoughts. You can see one that he posted about some time ago

https://jakewildwood.blogspot.com/2011/09/c1930-gibson-style-1-ss-stewart-ukulele.html

Thanks! I was thinking of Jake (I subscribe to his YouTube channel). The headstock label on his blog is a dead ringer for the Olympian on mine. Guess I know what I need to do ...