The late great Michael Holmes (May 24, 1941 – Feb 18, 2016) was 14 years my senior. While I was just discovering the acoustic guitar and instrumental music in High School in 1971, he was founding Mugwumps, his self-produced journal that was years ahead of its time (this was 8 years before the seminal Frets Magazine debuted). In 1997, he took Mugwumps online, where the family keeps it archived today. At that same time, you could (and still can!) get back issues of his journal through Elderly Instruments.
Mike and I became friends and colleagues after I had released my 1995 A Christmas Collection, and he had read my two extensive booklets of information. Expert that he was, he had a few comments and corrections (much stemming from the fact that he didn’t seem to realize that I was foremost a humorist)!
Over the many years of Harpguitars.net, I would query him often about clues or topics, as his files and knowledge were extensive. From time to time, he’d send me some rare treasure unsolicited – sometimes leading to an entirely new research project. Frustratingly, his provenance was often buried deep, or consisted only of his handwritten notes describing a long-lost piece of library microfiche. I can’t begin to imagine recreating his steps today, even with the Internet. Though he finally published his labor of love – the Index to Patents and Patentees of Acoustic, Fretted Stringed Musical Instruments 1831 to 1949, I still think of that monumental stringed instrument encyclopedia he had in his head.
Back in May, I wrote about stumbling on the Mugwumps issue with his harp guitar article (back in the Chicago suburbs, with my dad and brother, above).
Of course, all the instruments in it have long been known on Harpguitars.net – but it was amazing to see what Michael had awareness of and access to all the way back in June, 1981 (this was two years before I would acquire my first harp guitar)! I can’t imagine what folks back then thought of some of his finds: not just Gibson and Dyers, but the Martin harp mandolin? The Harmony?! Then there’s the first appearance of the bizarre c.1900 Angelo Mannello that Matt Umanov has owned since the 1960s (until just last year when he finally sold the curious instrument).
As I don’t see this 38-year-old issue available for purchase, here’s my PDF scan for posterity. (If anyone would like the original, just let me know privately).
Please enjoy this little trip down memory lane.
I worked for Michael in the 1970s – I built a line of basic open back frailing banjos for him, the “Minalco” line, which was an acronym for Michael and Albert company (I can’t remember who the Albert was – he was not onsite) as well as also doing various instrument repairs for him. I also contributed a minor article and some drawings to Mugwumps. I bought a few instruments from Michael back then, they were not great but they were what I could afford at the time. I saw many very, very interesting things pass through the office in the basement of his home. I’m sorry he’s gone. I left the DC area in 1984 and then tried to contact him to maybe help me source acetate sheets which have all but disappeared. This was in the 1990s and he was up in Massachusetts with the banjo camp being a major focus.
Thanks for sharing. Great story as usual.