While doing some family history research, the topic of musical instruments came up. The only historical one we still have in the family is my great-grandmother's mandolin, purchased from Sears Roebuck around 1900. My grandfather purchased a violin from Sears Roebuck in 1910, at age 14, with money he had saved from selling eggs, but it unfortunately disappeared long ago.
Just for fun, I thought I might look into buying a circa 1910 Sears Roebuck violin, if such instruments even ever show up on auction sites or at vintage instrument dealers. Part of the problem is that they were, for the most part, relatively inexpensive violins and are thus less likely to have survived for 100 years. I'm guessing those that have survived don't bring much money and thus most vintage dealers probably wouldn't be interested in buying and selling them.
Anwyay, I just wondered if anyone knew much about the violins Sears was selling in those years. Would they have had the Sears Roebuck name on them? Any name? Does anyone know who would have been making the instruments for Sears? When looking around on the internet, I'm not even quite sure what to search for, besides "Sears Roebuck violin".
My sister does have a reproduction of the 1897 Sears catalog, and the next time I am visiting her I'll check that out, but in the meantime I just thought I'd ask here.
Next up is my great-great-uncle's banjo, but I'll let the folks over on BanjoHangout work on that one.
Sears and many other catalog dealers sold factory instruments made for the most part in that part of central Europe that became Germany in 1871. By "factory" I mean typically a small shop employing one or two dozen people (sometimes less) who split up the work. One would do the scrolls, another the back, another the sides, another the purfling, and so on through final finishing. These instruments were available in several price grades and in several styles, e.g. copies of different famous makers such as Stainer, or Strad. Very similar to the way Chinese violins are being sold nowadays.
Some had names branded on the back near the heel, and others had some sort of name or brand ( Soloist, Conservatory, Symphony, etc.) on a carved plate at the back of the peghead. I have seen some dark finished instruments that were very good with these sorts of identifications, but by 1900, the typical reddish-orange varnish with blonde corners was pretty much everywhere. These fiddles still turn up often on eBay, and possibly here on the FHO as well, usually in the $200-400 price range depending on condition. Tens of thousands of these were sold in the USA before WW1, which put a stop to German imports for awhile.
I don't think that I have ever seen one of these dated as to manufacture but sometimes they have repair tags inside that offer some sense of age.
"Not being able to play very well is a good substitute for not having good taste." -Eddie Adcock