1920s Howard 3456

A number of guitars and mandolins survive bearing the label of Eugene Howard. They look much like the work of various Chicago builders, particularly Lyon & Healy and the Larson Brothers. The same label design appeared alongside Howard-brand instruments in the Wurlitzer catalog for a few years in the early 20th century. Some historians have concluded that Wurlitzer distributed instruments built by Eugene Howard, and that once the logo stopped appearing alongside the brand in catalogs ca. 1910, Wurlitzer adopted Howard as its own in-house brand. In fact, nothing changed when the label disappeared – because Eugene Howard never existed.

The brand name was apparently a corruption of Howard Eugene Wurlitzer, who ran his family’s eponymous company during those years. This has caused confusion in more recent times, with people speculating on the odds of Cincinnati hosting a Howard Eugene and a Eugene Howard both involved in the instrument trade. The latter, in fact, was never more than a brand, and aside from the logo it was generally shortened to Howard right from the beginning. For a time, Wurlitzer’s catalogs reproduced the labels of several in-house brands including Raymond and Midland. None of the others had a first name, so there was no confusion that “Raymond” was the name of a particular luthier. The identification of Eugene Howard as “maker” on the label was not uncommon at the time; any number of distributors and retailers described their instruments as “our own make” or something similar when in reality they were farmed out.

Alas, none of this reveals the true builder(s) of Eugene Howard instruments. While small numbers of Wurlitzer products came from Weymann and Martin over the years, most came from the mass-producers of Chicago. This mandolin is most likely a product of the Harmony factory – an unusually fancy and well-built instrument for them, but the details are a reasonably good match. It was an unusually fancy instrument for Wurlitzer, with a pearl fretboard plus extra pearl trim on the top and back. Aside from some warping of the top it shows no damage or repairs, and even the engraved fret markers are quite fresh. This mandolin appears to match the description of model 3456; the body shape shown in the catalog is slightly different, but this may be a result of using a drawing rather than a photograph.