J. Dyer & Bro.
by Gregg Miner
Acquisition thanks to our Harp Guitar Foundation donors
Through my Dyer Dating pages, Larson brothers fans and harp guitar aficionados know how scant our dating provenance on these instruments actually is. It is therefore a thrill to find something actually marked.
On this new 2017
discovery , a near-400-page full line Dyer catalog, “1907” is
handwritten on the spine. However,
Musical instrument firms would release catalogs at random times during them year and would often identify them as covering multiple years (though more typically they left them undated for this very reason). In this case, the catalog was clearly planned to cover 1907 and 1908 – the question is when did they get it finished? It’s entirely possible that this particular client was simply last on the list and that the catalog had been out for several months. Alternatively, the inscription could be a record of the first shipment of the catalogs much later in the year, as I find myself envisioning. Of course to prepare a catalog this size must have taken a fair amount of time – weeks? Months? And the Larson brothers’ newly-designed harp mandolins would have had to have been built and shipped to Dyer for inspection and illustrating.
The harp guitars on the other hand were (mostly) unchanged in 1907, so the decision was made to simply use the early illustrations. Similarly, with slight rewording, the text was all the same. I won’t repeat all that here; readers should first check out my article “W. J. Dyer & Bro. Symphony Harp Guitars circa 1906 Catalog.”
new catalog contains 23 new testimonials.
As with the previous catalog, none of the names sound
familiar…except for one. The
very first testimonial was written by our own Joe Stertz, owner of the 25th
Dyer harp guitar! (This is the
original source of his sentence used in a run of later Cadenza ads. See Joe
Stertz, the 25th Dyer Owner.)
Regardless of all our speculation on the timeline details alluded to above, Bob Hartman and I fully expected to find the Dyer Style 8 in this catalog, since we know at least one labeled instrument had been built before this (if not more), and the model was missing from the previous catalog.
You can imagine our disappointment to find only the same four models – Styles 4-7. As I said, the information and the illustrated cuts themselves are exactly the same as before – complete with the same errors.
As in the earlier catalog, the Style Four image is wrong (the 4 doesn’t have top binding, as the description verifies by its omission). This is the repeated Style 5 image, seen again on the next page – itself an anomaly as 5’s do not have a bound bass head.
The only significant difference in the entries of the two catalogs are price differences; the list price on the four styles had then increased by an average of over 50%. This dated catalog helped confirm that Bob and I were right about our “circa 1904 to 1906” estimate for that one.
|An interesting twist to the prices is that the new catalog survived with its original discount sheet, with the recipient’s personal wholesale terms written in the blanks. Could they really purchase Dyer harp guitars for 71% off?! Or am I interpreting this wrong?|
|The absence of their
masterpiece Style 8 harp guitar from the catalog is especially curious
in light of the fact that they included their Stetson 6-string model
that has the exact same tree-of-life inlay.
Also duplicated is the headstock inlay and the multi-colored wood
purfling (which Knutsen introduced on his pre-1900 harp guitars).
They then top this (above) with a full colored pearl inlaid, pearl fingerboard!
Oh, to imagine if they had only turned this one into a Dyer harp guitar Style 9!
Note the choice of “large” or “concert” size, and the not-insignificant list price of $137.50.
Bob Hartman states that these
Stetson guitars were also Larson-built (though stamped “J. F. Stetson
& Co / Makers,” a brand the Dyer firm apparently used no matter who
“The Larsons made
most of the Stetson brand, though a few look like Lyon & Healy (or
were they made by Harmony?). There was a reference by Michael Holmes
that in 1894 Harmony made 1,000 Stetson guitars, though I can’t
confirm any were found and that was before the timeline of the
Larson-made ones. Martin is said to have made a few in the 1920s. The
Larson made were of the same motif having no binding on the back but
from plain to pearl-top models using mostly rosewood bodies of different
small sizes. They have the burned in Stetson logo, no serial numbers,
but follow the quality and design of the Maurer line.”
The lingering question is…”Where are all these Stetsons?!” Seriously, Google it – you’ll find a handful at best, nowhere near the hundred surviving Dyer harp guitars.
The options for harp guitar
strings are also a repeat of those in the previousy catalog, with a
As before, silk & steel remain the only option, and as before only five sub-bass strings are available – even though we know of a couple 6-bass Dyers made before 1907 (though they did not advertise the fact in the BMG magazines until 1917!). I wonder if they supplied a custom thicker string for the custom 6-bass option?
It’s one thing to compare their harp guitar’s tone and volume to a concert harp, but their mandolin? I think not.
Hartman and I were especially thrilled to see images of the Dyer harp
mandolin in this catalog.
As we had predicted, it was the original version with the “backwards” lower bout point. This is the one that appeared in the September, 1908 Cadenza ad, but of which a specimen had never been seen – until 2012. That’s when one finally appeared out of the blue (giving Bob and I heart palpations) and then amazingly, two more in the next three years. (I managed to acquire the third.)
But we were most interested in the fact that the inclusion in Dyer’s 1907 catalog moved up the harp mandolin’s date by a full year. (As my Knutsen and Dyer pages have long shown, Knutsen seems to have waited until December, 1910 to put out a harp mandolin, apparently stymied by the 1896 Livermore patent. So it’s curious that Dyer and others had no qualms about doing so.)
The catalog’s Style 20 and 25 closely match the surviving specimens (only one of which has a label). I'll provide more detal on this - and more - when I update the Dyer Harp Mandolins page (currently taken down for complete rewrite).
Meanwhile, I posted this partial
report five years ago: The Dyer Optical Illusion Harp Mandolin
For those curious about how we digitized this rare document, see Do or Dyer: Archiving Harp Guitar History. Serious researchers are also welcome to contact me for access to the full 400-page catalog, which is chock full of every type of merchandise imaginable, including obscure Dyer brands.
Harpguitars.net Members may visit here to view a low resolution PDF of the entire catalog. Serious researchers feel free to contact me for a hi-res version.
If you enjoyed this article, or found it
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Harp Guitar Foundation,
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