1935 Weymann Mandolin

Untangling the relationship between instrument manufacturers, distributors and brand names can be challenging under the most favorable of circumstances. A single brand might appear on instruments by half a dozen different manufacturers; sometimes the same model was sourced from different factories in different years. Some companies built instruments under their own names and also under many others, and some manufacturers were not above distributing instruments built by their competitors. Most of the time, identification of the manufacturer is fairly simple; one has to compare body shapes and decorative elements to sort the Harmonies, Kays and Regals.

The builder of this mandolin, however, remains an enigma. Many mandolins from this builder are known; they’re often referred to as “Stradolins”, but this is actually just one of the many brands under which they were sold. The Strad-O-Lin name was owned by Peter Sorkin, an instrument distributor from NYC who also owned a number of other brands including Orpheum, Premier, Stadium and Beltone. Sorkin sourced their instruments from a few different manufacturers including Kay and United Guitars.

The source of their mandolins has been the subject of considerable debate. It’s generally agreed that they came from a builder in the New York City area; a number of builders have been suggested, including United, Favilla, and the Homenick Brothers. One catalog lists a high-end model personally made by P. J. Homenick, but it does not look like all run-of-the-mill Stradolins came from this source. The mandolins were available for at least twenty years, from the mid 1930s to the mid 1950s. They were mostly affordable but surprisingly solid and good-sounding instruments, usually with solid, pressed tops but occasionally carved instead. All seem to have segmented f-holes, though the exact shape changed over time. Many have inlayed pinstripe purfling instead of binding.

Stradolins were sold in numerous catalogs under a variety of brands. This one was sold by the Weymann company after they ceased manufacturing their own instruments. A stamp inside reads “Oct 4 1935”, presumably the day the instrument was assembled. Weymann’s own guitars, mandolins and banjos were among the best available, but the company’s fortunes tanked during the Depression and it was no longer viable to keep the factory going. Because their manufacturing business grew out of their store in Philadelphia, the company was able to fall back on retail and survive for a considerable amount of time, but it never resumed manufacturing. A late 1930s catalog features a line of Weymann guitars built by Harmony, a significant step down in quality from the company’s previous output.

If the mandolins were also a step below Weymann’s “mandolutes” of the 1910s and 1920s, they were at least serviceable instruments. This one features a pressed top and a back made from some rather nice bookmatched maple. The pinstripe decoration is typical of mid-grade Stradolins, and the instrument has survived in fairly clean condition with no damage or replacement parts.