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Thread: very old Ah Tau Kam Ukulele (1920s?) "discovered" in excellent condition

  1. #1
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    Default very old Ah Tau Kam Ukulele (1920s?) "discovered" in excellent condition

    So a friend whose mother grew up in Hawaii told me she had an old beat up cheap ukulele somewhere in her house that her mother had. She finally brought it over and it appears to be a Hawaii made uke, maybe from the 1920s with a "Kam" label on the headstock. It is in very good condition without cracks in the wood and some small finish fractures/scratches on the back. (Also tells me that the SF Bay Area is environment friendly to ukes since it had been sitting in the cheap unpadded case likely for decades).

    Internet search reveals it to be made by Ah Tau Kam. Little is listed for him. One tidbit is Sam Kamaka visited him when learning his craft. From a website called "Lardy's Ukulele Database":
    "Worked with Sam Chang, Bergstrom Music and possibly the Summers Bros. Also reputedly taught Sam Kamaka snr. luthiery. He was producing from about 1900 to his death in 1930. I have seen him use the brand name Na-Lei."

    Looking for more info on this if you have it. Also, can anyone give a guess on its value? I assume it is quite collectible and do not believe the owner has given any thought to selling it, but may be interested if more info is available.

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  2. #2
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    Wow, it's in very good condition. Did you get to play it?
    "Those who bring sunshine and laughter to the lives of others cannot keep it from themselves".

    Music washes from the soul, the dust of everyday living.

  3. #3
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    It is very enjoyable to play. After tuning, I realized it was tuned a step up to aDF#B and now have it tuned there. The uke is very light and has a very very bright high end sound. I compared it to a Kiwaya and a KoAloha soprano and it is all brightness (with equal volume) and fun and happy! I assume these are fifty to 90 year old strings. There is no balancing mellow sound coming from this uke.

  4. #4
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    That's a beauty - a piece of history.
    Too many ukes, but I can't stop buying!
    https://www.catskillukulelegroup.com/

  5. #5
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    From when I was looking into mint vintage, non-Martin and non-Kamaka seemed to be in the range of $500-$1,200 with $500-1,000 being individual sellers and $800-$1,500 being retailers. Just my observation from watching here, flea market, eBay, reverb etc (just like everyone else with UAS).
    I think I have pineapple UAS

    Ukes in order of purchase
    2018: Córdoba concert 15CM, Luna soprano, Islander tenor AT-4, Iriguchi concert “Ma’Alaea” - Birdseye maple top and poplar back Aug 2018
    2019: Mahalo soprano Kahiko, KoAloha koa pineapple soprano KSM-01 (made in 2012), abused but unused gold label Kamaka koa pineapple, *rough* 1930’s Kamaka “Historic Mahogany Pineapple” with Philippine mahogany and wooden peg tuners.

  6. #6
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    Received an email response from Jim Tranquada, coauthor of "The 'Ukulele, a History":

    Kam is famous for his obscurity--the phrase most commonly associated with him is "not much is known about him." I haven't done very much research myself; he was born in Honolulu in 1892, the son of Chinese immigrants. According to the 1940 census, he had only an eighth grade education. I haven't had any luck in finding him in early Honolulu directories (although I haven't mounted a major search}; he shows up in the 1930 census as a cabinetmaker, and in the 1940 census as a curio maker, in both instances working from home at 634 6th Avenue. His 1972 obituary in the Star-Bulletin identifies him as a retired ukulele maker. He's buried in the National Cemetery in Punchbowl.

    I've only seen two of his instruments, and both look like they are from the 1920s and 1930s. It seems unlikely that we would have been making 'ukulele in 1900, when he was just seven years old. As for prices. I'm sadly ignorant about such things, since I don't collect 'ukulele.

  7. #7
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    That is the nicest one I've seen pictures of. Are you going to show it off in the Bay Area? I'd love to hold it and have a strum or two, I'd bring one of my one hundred year old Martins to compare it to.
    Great attics find.
    Last edited by PetalumaRescuke; 07-26-2019 at 02:44 PM. Reason: and

  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by PetalumaRescuke View Post
    That is the nicest one I've seen pictures of. Are you going to show it off in the Bay Area? I'd love to hold it and have a strum or two, I'd bring one of my one hundred year old Martins to compare it to.
    Great attics find.
    Had not thought of doing this since it is not mine. But owner is also not a player. How does one "show it off"? Are you down the peninsula on occasion?

  9. #9
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    I misread, thinking you had it in your possession and would "showing it off" when you take it to a gathering, kanikapila or jam. assuming that as UU members you probably go to something like that.
    I seldom go father than the City these days

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by PetalumaRescuke View Post
    I misread, thinking you had it in your possession and would "showing it off" when you take it to a gathering, kanikapila or jam. assuming that as UU members you probably go to something like that.
    I seldom go father than the City these days
    I do have it currently. I go to a monthly meetup, but other participants do not seem to have much interest in the UAS side of the uke world. I think this forum has many of the diehards on neat stuff like this.

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