Readers of my book Floating Strings: The Remarkable Story of the Harp Guitar in America will likely recall the (truly remarkable) story of J. Hopkins Flinn, who in large part “invented” the American harp guitar. That’s him below, with my hypothetical mockups of his original iterations and the Jenkins factory “Harwood” model instrument it inspired.

That’s just to refresh your memory. The topic of this article is a rare c.1897 cabinet card acquired by the Harp Guitar Foundation last year:

Immediately spotting the early pre-1890 model Harwood on the right, I next wondered what the curious instrument on the left might be. Let’s take a look:

With the discovery of the image above, there are now four known images of these early “slab neck harp attachment” model Harwoods (no surviving instruments have yet been found). Note that while each has the trademark “Harwood” bone fret marker at the end of the neck, each is slightly different. Specifically, soundhole size, precise placement of the bridges, and most noticeably, the sub-bass “slab: itself. Some are rather crude and largely two-dimensional while others are more ornately carved.

The fifth instrument, while clearly inspired by its bandmate next to it, appears to have been a “one-off” – a wholly original and one-of-a-kind instrument built by an amateur.

But then, why did it look so familiar to me?!  I could’ve sworn I’d seen something like this before.

And so, a quick search of my own web site revealed:

Ah, I had seen it before! The photos above had been on the site since 2007, when I snagged them from an auction listing.

Even more fascinating was that the auction instrument was in fact, the very instrument in the c.1897 image! It had long ago lost its original tailpiece and bridge, and someone had converted it to a six-string, but all the other elements remain, including the inlays and sub-bass slab with its distinctive routed carvings and small holes which once contained tiny decorative jewels or similar.

Did the builder not have the funds to obtain his own Harwood? Perhaps he was tinkerer and wanted to have fun with his own take on his quartet partner’s instrument? We can never know; we can just enjoy this particular example of “folk art” meets “fine harp guitar artistry.” More interesting is that by 1897 neither harp guitarist felt the need to upgrade to any of the more current harp guitar offerings with longer, more logical sub-bass strings (Harwood or otherwise).

As a musical program with the same image came with the cabinet card, we are lucky enough to lean the names of our two guitarists/harp guitarists: B. H. Chappell and H. Carpenter.  I was hoping that one or the other might have been a professional named in Jenkins’ catalog testimonials, but no such luck. Nor did any newspaper searches turn up anything.

What I did find was that the “Wheelway League” where the quartet gave their concert was located in Indianapolis, Indiana. Do you know who else was in Indiana? That’s right, the Regal Manufacturing Company.

Again, in Floating Strings and on my Regal page I discuss how the Wulschner Company’s own Regal harp guitar was modeled after the original Harwood “slab-neck.” Yet it appeared about a dozen years later, first introduced most likely in 1898. I have always wondered: Why did they revisit such an anachronism?

Could it possibly be related to the fact that the Serenaders played Indianapolis on June 23 1897, and that interested parties from Wulschner went to catch the show where they got their own first glimpse of an (older) American harp guitar? To me, the timing seems a bit too coincidental…and would certainly go a long way toward explaining Regal’s late entry (and unusual model choice) into the harp guitar game!

This short article would have ended here, except for the fact that just as I received the Serenaders cabinet card and program, I stumbled across this book on eBay. I had never seen it, nor heard of collector Steven Miller, so purchased it. (Note for Googlers that this Steven is not “The Joker” Steve Miller, who has his own guitar collection.)

And what did I see upon opening the very first page?

Yes! Steven was the lucky 2007 auction winner, acquiring both the once-harp-guitar and his own copy of the program. He never knew until our recent correspondence that the other player was using a Harwood by Jenkins but is glad to have a little more history. As are we to know that the instrument is in good hands! Steven, of Burnsville NC, has a rather extensive collection of American plucked and bowed strings from the late 1800s to WWII and is working on an expanded book of his collection and the historical perspective it provides. I’m looking forward to it!