Style 17 - 2 1/2 Guitars

1891 Martin Style 17 - 2 1/2

Color: Natural, Rating: 9.25, Sold (ID# 01455)
Call to Inquire: (818) 222-4113


Mark Twain’s Guitar of Choice.


1891 Martin Style 17 - 2 1/2.


This exceptionally fine 1891 Martin acoustic 'Parlor' guitar weighs just 2.40 lbs. and has a 11 3/4 inch wide and 3 3/8 inch deep Brazilian rosewood, ladder-braced' body with five-ply binding and natural spruce top with green-and-white rope-pattern ring surrounded by four thin black rings. Ebonized maple neck with 'ice-cream cone' heel and a scale length of 24 1/2 inches. The nut width is just over 1 3/4 inches and the 'V' neck profile is nice and thin with 0.79 inches at the first fret and just 0.87 inches at the ninth fret. Slotted ebonized maple headstock with original three-a-side open-back brass strip tuners with rear-facing oval ivory buttons. Ebony fretboard with eighteen original thin frets and neck joint at twelfth fret. Original-style bone saddle on ebony 'Pyramid' base with the six original black with circular white top bridge-pins. The date of manufacture "6/91" (June 1891) is marked in pencil on the underside of the spruce top. The body is stamped "C.F. Martin & Co., New York" on the inside center strip and on the neck block. The back of the body (just by the 'Ice Cream Cone' hell is stamped  "C.F. Martin / New York". This extremely beautiful one-hundred and twenty-one year old guitar is most certainly one of the cleanest example extant. It has been fully restored by Hugh J. Hansen (see below) and is housed in its original two-latch shaped wooden 'coffin' case with brass handle and purple 'padded' felt lining (9.00). Inside the case (on the top) is the original rectangular white paper label printed in black with C.F. Martin & Co., / Manufacturers of / Guitars, Etc. / Size of G "2 1/2" (in black ink) No. of Qual "17" (in black ink).

When we acquired this fine little guitar it was in need of a neck re-set and also a bridge replacement. We sent the guitar to master luthier Hugh J. Hansen in Nashville who has miraculously restored the instrument to its full original glory. His invoice shows the following work carried out: "Reset neck - ice cream cone heel - Reattach and reinforce neck barrel to heel; Remove and reglue fretboard + reinforce neck with carbon fiber strips; Plane/radius fretboard and refret with bar frets (reuse original frets); Remove bridge plate overlay and original bridge plate, flatten top, and install new maple bridge plate - also repair crushed ladder brace with carbon fiber/spruce; Repair enlarged bridge pin holes in top, and plug 9 screw holes in bridge gluing surface; Touch up finish damage from oversized bridge; Make replica ebony pyramid bridge; Make new bone notched saddle; Glue side crack; Restring and set up for gut (nylon) strings".

In October, 1856, C.F. Martin & Co., established in New York in 1833 but since located in Nazareth, Pennsylvania, introduced its Style 17. It originally came in two sizes,  3 and, as here, 2 ½. Not too many years afterward the guitar attracted the attention of an up-and-coming journalist and future novelist.
"Mark Twain, one of America's greatest literary legends, was a passionate guitarist and singer during the 19th century's Romantic era. His songs were woven with graphic stream-of-consciousness imagery, and his musical styles included gospel, slavery blues, love songs, political satire, folk, and burlesque. Twain obtained a Martin guitar, style 2 1/2-17, shortly after the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861.
“Twain played his Martin frequently-for the newspaper men of the Nevada Territories, the miners of California's Gold Rush, passengers aboard the clipper ship Ajax bound for the Hawaiian Islands, and the willing women of the West. On December 15, 1866, he sailed from San Francisco on the steamer America to New York via Panama to seek fortune, in his words, "leaving more friends behind than any newspaper man that sailed out of the Golden Gate." He had become a national celebrity and was listed on the ship's manifest as Mark Twain, barkeeper. On the Martin's coffin case was a shipping label bearing his nom de plume and destination written in his own hand: "Mr. M. Twain, New York” (Bianca Soros, The Museum of Modern Instruments, May 1999).
"Style 17 was one of the very first Martin styles to become clearly defined. The first examples appeared in the sales record for Oct. 23, 1856. ON that date Martin sold two of the 2 1/2-17 variety and one 3-17" (Longworth, p. 36)
"By the early 1870s Martin was producing a line of guitars in standard sizes and ornamentation. Most styles were specific to certain body sizes…He identified the sizes by numbers that he had begun to use with some customers in the 1850s, namely from largest to smallest: 0,1,2, 21/2, 3. His own printed description reads 'No. 3 - Small Size. No. 2 1/2 and 2 - Ladie's Size. No. 1 - Large Size. No. 9 - Largest Concert Size…'
"Martin signaled the degree of ornamentation by a second number, from the style 17, the simplest, through the 42, which was richly decorated with pearl" (Gura, C.F. Martin and His Guitars, p. 156).
In 1898, a 2 1/2 - 17 sold for $36.
The "coffin" case is an extraordinary piece of craftsmanship, viz: the maker ingeniously integrated posts into inner lip of the base’s  rim that stand in relief approximately an eight of an inch so that when the case is closed the top remains firmly in place without  possibility of shimmy. This "Coffin" case likely made by Augustus Clewell, from a family of fine woodworkers living nearby that Martin employed at the Nazareth factory. Clewell was paid $1.25 per case.
The label inside this guitar reads "C.F. Martin & Sons -New York";  sold through Zoebisch & Sons, which, until 1898, had been the sole distributor of C.F. Martin instruments. From 1898 forward, the Martin label reads, "C.F. Martin & Co. - Nazareth, Pa, site of the Martin factory
"Style 17 was another early Martin style that evolved from a common model of the 1850s. It was usually made only in sizes 2 1/2 and 3, and on the first Martin price list it was the least expensive style offered. It kept that position until Style 15 was introduced almost a century later. Martin was always trying to find ways to make the Style 17 models more economically, in an effort to keep prices low. As a result there have been more changes to this style than to any of the other original Martin Styles." (Richard Johnston & Dick Boak. Martin Guitars: A Technical Reference, p.57).
Style 17, though well-known today as an all-mahogany guitar, had rosewood back and sides and a spruce top in the 1800s; its trim included colored-wood purfling around the soundhole and severeal layers of wood binding with rosewood on the outermost layer." (Walter Carter. The Martin Book, p. 17).
Twain’s Martin 2 ½-17 survives, a testament as much to it’s durability as to its status as the treasure of one of America’s national treasures. Twain originally paid $10 for it. The guitar was acquired in the mid-1990s by collector Hank Risen.  "It's one of the best-sounding guitars I've ever played,” he says. It is now valued at $15,000,000.

Our 1891 2 1/2-17 is one of the best-sounding guitars we’ve ever heard. It is priced considerably lower than Mark Twain’s.

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