I get a lot of emails concerning bowlback or "chili dipper" or "tater bug" mandolins. This was the only style of mandolin built until Gibson started to build the flatback mandolins. Many of these old bowlbacks are beautiful, with lots of pearl inlay. There were several major factories here and in Europe building thousands of mandolins, many under private labels for a music store or teacher. There are literally hundreds of brand names, with no information available on the majority of them.

There are only a very few bowlbacks that have some significant value. Any high quality presentation piece with lots of pearl, silver wire, ivory, and tortoise shell inlay will appeal to a collector if it is in good shape. Martin, Gibson and some Vega mandolins have some collector interest. Classical players look for high grade Calace, Vinaccia, and Embergher mandolins. Mandolins with fluted backs usually indicate a better grade mandolin, as does a higher number of ribs on the back.

The rest? Not a lot of monetary value - usually a few hundred dollars at best. They are not the instrument of choice for modern players, with the exception of some classical players and the Renassiance Fair crowd. I do not know much about them and do not make a market in these. However, you can use one to learn to play the mandolin! If its a family heirloom, it will look great hanging on your wall or sitting on the piano.

Please note: I do not buy, sell, appraise or have information about bowlback mandolins.

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