Incredibly Rare & Antique Martin Guitars Now for Sale!

Over the course of a mere fifteen years preceding the outbreak of the Civil War, C. F. Martin Sr., America’s first major guitar maker and the founder of C. F. Martin & Co., transformed the European guitar into a new instrument. The guitar he invented during this remarkably short period of time had all of the design and construction features that would define the iconic American flat-top guitar.

Martin emigrated to New York from his native Germany in 1833, where he began crafting elegant guitars based on the model of his Viennese mentor, Johann Georg Stauffer. But within a few years, Martin came under the influence of Spanish guitarists who were all the rage in concert halls, and started to bring Spanish elements into his own guitars. By 1843 Martin had designed the revolutionary X-bracing method of bracing the soundboard of his guitars that set the stage for the emergence of a distinctly American guitar.

In December of 2017, Vintage Instruments in Philadelphia mounted an exhibit of 35 Martin Guitars made in New York and Nazareth from c.1834 until c.1867, including several of the earliest known C. F. Martin instruments. We are now offering for sale a selection of these fine guitars which includes fine examples from each stage of Martin’s development – the original Austro-German Style of guitars he produced upon his arrival in America, his intermediate Spanish Style, and finally the earliest examples of the modern X-braced flat-top guitar. This may be one of the best opportunities to acquire well documented and very scarce early guitars.


A Spanish Guitar by Agustin Caro c.1826; Granada, Spain


This Spanish guitar by Agustin Caro exhibits the elongated tapered headstock favored by Spanish makers. Additionally, the body is more elongated and deeper than those of contemporary Austro-German makers. While the neck is made of multiple pieces of wood joined together, the sculpted heel design is quite a departure from the cone model. This heel style has become what we now call the “Spanish” heel. The guitar is engineered around 3 fan braces, as well as a straight brace one above the soundhole and another below the soundhole supported on corner blocks.

Dimensions: Total length: 940 mm
Length of back: 458 mm
Lower bout: 268 mm
Middle bout: 167 mm
Upper bout: 215 mm
Scale: 652mm (25-5/8″)

A Guitar by Johann Georg Stauffer, Vienna c.1831


This example of Stauffer’s work survives with its dated label, and is an interesting and unusual combination of Viennese design features and historical ideas. The sloping shoulders of this instrument suggests a relationship with Renaissance guitars, wald zithers and citterns. Martin utilized this body style again for some models made later in the 1850s. Stauffer used various headstock designs, including this figure-eight pattern, but he is especially remembered for his flattened scroll headstock shapes. The neck has a cone heel with a clock-key adjustment mechanism, a device used on higher high grade instruments. The pin bridge with a slight central functional section and elongated mustache extension is a Stauffer hallmark. The top bracing is minimal, with one straight brace below the soundhole and one diagonal brace just above the bridge plate.

Dimensions: Total length: 903 mm
Length of back: 432 mm
Lower bout: 298 mm
Middle bout: 168 mm
Upper bout: 237 mm
Scale: 605 mm, 23.61″

A Guitar by C. F. Martin & Schatz c.1835-37; New York


One of the very few extant and well documented C. F. Martin Sr. guitars from his early New York period: 1834-1838. The label of this guitar documents his partnership with Heinrich (Henry) Schatz, another former pupil of Georg Stauffer. The influence of their master is evident here in the Stauffer style scroll with complex and well decorated machine tuners, mustache style pin bridge, and cone heel with adjustment mechanism. Note the decorative pearl inlays around the soundhole and on the bridge, which are typical of Martin guitars of this period. The bracing of this guitar is comprised of one diagonal brace below the bridge plate, one straight brace below the soundhole, and two straight braces above the soundhole.

Total length: 916 mm
Length of back: 436 mm
Lower bout: 294 mm
Middle bout: 171 mm
Upper bout: 232 mm
Scale: 613 mm (24.13″)

A Guitar by Martin & Coupa c.1845; Cherry Hill, PA


This very fancy custom grade guitar is one of very few documented Martins with an ivory fingerboard, of which there are likely fewer than ten. It was made during the business partnership between C.F. Martin and John Coupa, a teacher who was Martin’s agent in New York City.   The ivory tied bridge is a feature inherited from Spanish guitars, but disappeared from Martin’s repertoire by the 1850s. The heel is stepped back from the plane of the back, a departure from Spanish design. Fancy Terz guitars like this were likely destined for performers and making such as small body have a generous sound would have been a challenge. This Terz has a novel version of X-bracing that was likely a response to this problem.

Dimensions: Total length: 838 mm
Length of back: 410 mm
Lower bout: 288 mm
Middle bout: 177 mm

A Guitar by C. F. Martin, c.1846; Cherry Hill, PA


C.F. Martin’s adoption of Spanish guitar design during the 1840s is especially evident in this guitar. Here, these include:

• A deeper body with a broad center bout and elongation of the lower bout
• A lightweight but strong cedar neck with a solid tapered headstock and Spanish heel-a stylized version of a violin neck
• An internal Spanish foot from the neck block down the back
• Long, narrow, rectangular ebony pyramid pin bridge, as opposed a short narrow bridge
• Heel cap on the same plane with the back
• Brazilian rosewood body with divided sides

At the same time, this guitar was built with an X-brace, very much an engineering innovation from C.F. Martin. The nickel-silver nut, an idea first implemented in the 1840s, was a luxury feature. Remarkably, family documentation shows us that the original owner of this guitar was Colonel John Darragh Wilkins, who served in the Union Army.

Dimensions: Total length: 953
Length of back: 476
Lower bout: 330
Middle bout: 203
Upper bout: 237
Scale: 628, 24-3/4″

A Guitar by C. F. Martin & Co, c. 1877, Model 2-40; Nazareth, PA


C.F. Martin incorporated his business in 1867 with his son and nephew. This guitar, made in the Nazareth workshop has both the early C.F. Martin/New York, and C.F. Martin & Co. New York brands. Having passed through decades of work establishing the family in America, the success of the business, and the pattens and engineering of his guitars, this guitar represents the full evolution of C.F. Martin’s distinctive design. This includes the tapered headstock pattern combined with a Spanish heel, X-brace top support, and his own body style. Decorative guitars such as this focus the eye on the high degree of craftsmanship exercised in the Martin workshop, although the same level of work is equally evident in every element of its construction and was the standard for every guitar they made.

Dimensions: Total length: 937 mm
Length of back: 467 mm
Lower bout: 306 mm
Middle bout: 178 mm
Upper bout: 215 mm
Scale: 624 mm, 24-5/8″

A Guitar by C. F. Martin, c.1834-5; Austro-German; New York


An Important Martin Guitar: one of very few extant and well documented C. F. Martin Sr. guitars from his early New York period: 1834-1838. The early guitars made by C.F. Martin in America reflect the designs and engineering he studied as an apprentice. This guitar has the body proportions of the Austro-German genre of instruments, as well as a mustache bridge, and an ebonized neck with cone heel and clock key adjustment mechanism. The back has a decorative birdseye maple veneer over slab cut maple. Also typical is the combination of straight braces under the top. The label in this guitar celebrates its Viennese roots:

from Vienna, Pupil of the celebrated STAUFFER
importer of
Musical Instruments

Dimensions: Total length: 911 mm
Length of back: 438 mm
Lower bout: 291 mm
Middle bout: 173 mm
Upper bout: 233 mm
Scale: 606 mm (23.88″)

A Guitar by C. F. Martin, c.1840; Terz; Cherry Hill, PA


The Terz guitar model was designed to be tuned a minor third higher than standard guitar tuning, giving guitarists a tenor voice option in an ensemble. The design of this guitar is clearly influenced by the work of Johann Georg Stauffer. The top is reinforced with three fan braces, a departure from the engineering of Viennese guitars. The back has a traditional birdseye veneer, but it is laid over walnut, a wood that was more easily sourced in America than in Europe. The original shape of the headstock of this guitar was altered to the dome shape you see here. Note the short ebony pin bridge, lacking now the mustache extensions of earlier Austro-German style bridges.

Total length: 813 mm
Length of back: 389 mm
Lower bout: 289 mm
Middle bout: 165 mm
Upper bout: 213 mm
Scale: 562 mm

A Guitar by C. F. Martin, c.1859-64; Model: 2-1/2-40;

Cherry Hill/Nazareth, PA


The popular size 2 and 2-1/2 guitars came in many variations. This guitar is similar to the 2-1/2-34 also exhibited here. The small differences that made it a grade 40 include the pearl trim around the top. Clearly, as C.F. Martin standardized models, he recognized that consumers preferences for decoration and price necessitated offering a variety of options.

Dimensions: Total length: 924
Length of back: 455
Lower bout: 298
Middle bout: 178
Upper bout: 213
Scale: 621 24-1/2″

“What an amazing building! What’s its history?”

As many of you who have visited us know, Vintage Instruments occupies a very unique building in Center City, Philadelphia. As a result, we are often asked about the history of the house and its former tenants. We’ve compiled the history of the building as we know it for all who are interested in learning more about our lovely shop at 507 South Broad Street.

Established in 1974 by Frederick W. Oster, Vintage Instruments is America’s largest and most eclectic shop specializing in old and antique acoustic musical instruments. Our specialties begin with fine Violin Family instruments, ranging to vintage guitars, banjos, mandolins and ukuleles. We also work with nineteenth-century woodwinds and brass, and a wide range of historical instruments. In addition to instruments, the shop carries a fine selection of strings, accessories and cases.

EntryLightIn 2008 the shop moved from its previous nineteenth century building to the current premises at 507 South Broad Street, the area known as the “Avenue of the Arts.” This building was designed by architect George Pearson and showcases the Aesthetic style then in vogue in London and the East Coast of the United States. Construction began in 1882 and the building was likely finished in 1886, which was when the wallpaper hangers signed one of the walls they were finishing with their names, dates, and their home addresses. The building was commissioned by James Dundas Lippincott and Alice Lippincott as an extension to their home next door at 509 South Broad Street. Telltale evidence of doorways in the walls showed that the two buildings were originally connected. However, they may have been separated from one another as early as 1894, and certainly by 1906.

Much of the interior woodwork, from doors to moldings, and wall paneling were likely milled on site. Other details, such as the tiles and leaded glass were likely made in American workshops. For instance, many of the decorative tiles have the mark of J.&J.G. Low Art Tile works of Chelsea, Massachusetts.

Although interior photos of the building showing the original decor have yet to surface, the building is now furnished with period appropriate reproduction wallpaper by Bradbury and Bradbury. Among these is their republication of a wallpaper designed by Christopher Dresser of London, and first exhibited at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia.

The stained glass ceiling, visible from all three floors of the shop


Alice was born in Georgia in 1846 but grew up in Princeton, New Jersey. Her family’s AliceLippincottItalianate home later was acquired by Princeton University in 1878 and is now known as Prospect House. James was born in 1840 in Philadelphia. He graduated from Princeton University in 1861 with a Bachelor of Arts. James Dundas Lippincott and Alice Potter were married in 1867. James and Alice were both from wealthy families. The Dundas family had substantial holdings in coal lands in Pennsylvania. Even after their marriage, Alice received an annuity from her father’s estate. While the couple could have continued to live in the Lippincott’s grand “Yellow Mansion” at Broad and Walnut, in March of 1875 they purchased the properties at 509 and 507 South Broad Street. The deeds to both of these properties were in Alice’s name. Perhaps she used her inheritance, or maybe James was concerned about protecting them from the protracted legal battles he was involved in concerning the probate of his great uncle James Dundas’ estate between 1871 and 1888.

James exercised no profession, though he did keep an office at 400 Locust street. The couple were known as prominent socialites, and they kept themselves busy as philanthropists who supported a large variety of institutions and causes financially and as board members. The couple were especially interested in supporting early education and medical programs serving all levels of society. A special concert was held January 6, 1888 in their home for which 500 people purchased tickets at $2/person to hear a program of music in support of the Cooking School. The presentation included D.C. Everest’s violin solos and banjo selections by female pupils of Mr. T.J. Armstrong. In 1894 Alice was elected as one of the first women overseers of the Penn University Museum. Sadly, that same year Alice took ill and died during the couple’s annual summer sojourn to Bar Harbor, Maine. Her funeral took place July 25th at 11:00 am in their home at 509 South Broad St.

The Yellow Mansion

After Alice’s death James returned to the Yellow Mansion a few blocks north at Broad and Walnut Streets where his mother Agnes still lived. In 1902 Agnes died two weeks after suffering a fall from slipping on a rug. She left to James the bulk of her five million dollar (that’s 1902 dollars!) estate. Then, in 1904 James married Isabelle Armstrong, the society editor for a Washington, D.C. newspaper and daughter of Brig General Frank C. Armstrong. Fourteen months later, James became ill and died of pneumonia on March 6, 1905. Although Isabel had the Yellow Mansion thoroughly renovated and refitted after their marriage, she sold it a few months after James’ death and it was replaced by the office buildings that remain on the site today

Isabel Armstrong Lippincott moved to 204 Rittenhouse Square. This Lippincott house was called the “White Mansion.” The house had two of the columns from the Yellow House, and many Lippincott portraits. On March 20, 1909 she remarried Archibald Barklie, a banker in NY and NJ. After the honeymoon they went to their home in Bar Harbor, and then on to live in Washington, D.C.

James Dundas and Alice Lippincott are buried together in a crypt at Laurel Hill cemetery in Philadelphia.

Find A Grave Link for Alice:

Find A Grave link for James Dundas


An Interview with Fred Oster: Vintage Martins & the Authentic Series

Fav2I am a big fan of the Martin Authentic guitar series.  They show a real understanding and appreciation for the most classic Martin models, from the inside out. Constructing these guitars using traditional approaches like hide glue, identifying and reproducing the detailed engineering of the instruments, and using torrefied wood to bring us as close as possible to the sound of old wood has resulted in instruments that can give more players the experience of making music with these great instruments.

In my collection, I have original versions of both the 00-18 Authentic 1931 and the OM-28 Authentic 1931, and they are among my favorite guitars. Here’s why:

00-18 1931

I had been looking for a 1931 00-18 for a while when I found mine.  For me, the 00 12-fret body is the ideal size in terms of the combination of comfort and great tone:  even if it didn’t have great tone it would be comfortable to play, and if it wasn’t comfortable it would have great tone – but it has both. The neck is a perfect fit too, not too small and not too large.  It feels good in my hand and still has enough spacing at the nut and saddle for fingerpicking.  The ebony rod in the neck makes it feel really light, and that balances out the little extra weight from the width that I like for getting around the fingerboard.
The 1931 00-18 is like the culmination of lots of ideas that were developing over the years, all brought together in one beautiful package of design and function.  The combination of the belly bridge, the shape and size of the guard, the ratio of the upper and lower bouts.   To me, it’s like art.
Link to specs for 00-18 1931 Authentic:

OM-28 1931

My OM-28 is special to me in part because it was one of Mike Seeger’s guitars. Mike’s primary guidepost in choosing guitars was tone. He had this instrument for many years and played it extensively in his own gigs and with the New Lost City Ramblers because it was so versatile.
The OM-28 has an amazing strength of sound, with push and focus. I can fingerpick it and flatpick it. It may not have as much deep bass as a Dreadnought, but it has everything else.
Mike strung the OM with medium tension strings, and thus the OM-28 Authentic 1931 guitars are setup with Mediums. I kept his strings on the guitar for a long time, keeping it tuned down and playing with a capo, but now I have it strung with light guage strings. When I play the OM-28, it brings back good memories of Mike and his music.


Link to specs for OM-28 Authentic 1931: