Bid on rare Monroe memorabilia

Original Bill Monroe F-5 peghead overlay, being auctioned on December 3, 2009 at Christies in New YorkMandolin Cafe has a story about an auction being conducted by Christie’s in New York on December 3 that should be of interest to mandolinists and collectors of Bill Monroe memorabilia.

The Country Music Sale on 12/3 includes the framed, original peghead overlay from Monroe’s 1923 Loar-signed F-5 mandolin. In a fit of pique, he had gouged out the word Gibson from the mandolin’s headstock after he was dissatisfied by some repair work they did on his instrument.

From the piece by Bill Graham at Mandolin Cafe:

The gouge became part of both Monroe’s and the instrument’s legends.

He sent the mandolin to the Gibson factory at Kalamazoo in the early 1950s, most accounts have 1951 or 1952. According to Smith, Monroe wanted the neck reset, new frets and fingerboard, new tuning pegs, a new bridge and refinishing. Gibson kept the instrument about four months, a short time to wait on a luthier for a hobby musician, but a long wait for a touring pro like Monroe who probably didn’t fritter money on extra mandolins in those days.

Gibson expert Roger Siminoff remembers that the neck may have been cracked.

Either way, when Monroe once again had the mandolin, both Smith and Siminoff say only the neck work had been done. So out came the pocket knife, onto the floor in little shavings went “Gibson,” with “The” remaining intact above it.

Monroe felt he’d prompted a lot of bluegrass musicians to buy Gibson mandolins, so he deserved better, Smith said.

But bluegrass music wasn’t yet big and a price boom in American-made acoustic instruments was decades away.

“Bear in mind that in the 1950’s, no one at Gibson really knew who Bill Monroe was,” Siminoff said. “He was just some guy with an early Gibson mandolin.”

The headstock was fully restored in 1980 after Gibson and Monroe buried the hatchet, and though they offered the original overlay to Bill afterwards, he said that Gibson could keep it. Graham quotes the folks at Christie’s estimating the auction sale at $5,000-7,000.

Read all the details and the tale of this storied mandolin at Mandolin Cafe.

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About the Author

John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.