"Such a library as ours would not only contain books and current periodicals,
but there would be...articles of historic, scientific, and artistic interest."
~ Frank C. Patten, Head Librarian of Rosenberg Library, 1904 - 1934
The Library accepted its first museum piece shortly after it opened in 1904. Since then, thousands of rare and interesting objects from around the world have been added to the collection. Displayed in these pages are the Library's "Treasures of the Month."
August 2010 "Treasure of the Month"
A mandolin is a musical instrument which is plucked or strummed and belongs to the lute family of instruments. It is typically constructed with a hollow wooden body, flat fretted fingerboard, floating bridge, tailpiece to which the strings are attached, and a mechanical tuning machine to accommodate either four or six pairs of metal strings. Because of its smaller size and higher pitch, the mandolin uses paired strings (as opposed to guitars which only require single strings) to provide a fuller and more continuous sound. Neapolitan mandolins evolved in Naples, Italy from the mandore, a soprano lute, in the early seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. They are informally called “tater bugs” in the U.S. because of their resemblance to the potato bug.
Mandolins enjoyed great popularity in Europe in the 1850s, in vogue with exotic instruments like zithers and ukuleles, but their greatest popularity emerged as Italian immigrants arrived on the east coast in the late 1800s. By 1897, Chicago-based Montgomery Ward’s catalog boasted its “phenomenal growth in mandolin trade,” while another Chicago manufacturer, Lyon and Healy, proclaimed, “At any time you can find in our factory upwards of 10,000 mandolins in various stages of construction.” Mandolin orchestras formed at schools and colleges, and mandolin ensembles toured the vaudeville circuit. Shop girls who couldn’t afford mandolins were often said to carry mandolin cases around town to give the impression they were Society Ladies trained in music.
In Galveston, mandolin orchestras first emerged in the late 1800s. Professor Tilbery of Paris placed ads in the Galveston Daily News seeking students for his Mandolin Band. The Young Ladies Mandolin Club formed in the early 1900s while the B. G. G. Mandolin Club met at the YMCA. Devour’s Mandolin Orchestra was Galveston’s largest mandolin orchestra in the 1920s. Radio station WFAA even hosted weekly recordings of The Mandolin Club in 1927.
After World War I, popularity of the mandolin waned as ragtime and jazz grabbed the attention of American audiences. The instrument remained popular in Italian communities, but it wasn’t until the emergence of bluegrass after World War II that the mandolin was revived. Today, mandolins are still prominent instruments in the bluegrass sound, including the growing newgrass movement with notable artists such as Nickel Creek and Leon Russell of ZZ Top. The mandolin has also been adopted by all forms of rock music since the 1960s. Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones performed mandolin on many of Led Zeppelin’s songs; David Grisman of the Grateful Dead played mandolin on two of the band’s most popular songs, “Friend of the Devil” and “Ripple,” making mandolin a favorite of later jam bands like Phish, The String Cheese Incident, and the Dave Matthews Band. Jethro Tull, Rod Stewart, Yes, and The Band were all fans of the mandolin’s sound. Most recently, today’s bands like The White Stripes, R.E.M., The Black Crowes, Muse, Flogging Molly, and even Green Day are all frequent fans of this treasured instrument.
The Treasure of the Month is located on the library’s historic second floor near the East Entrance. It can be viewed during regular library hours, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday. For more information, please contact the Museum Office at 409-763-8854 x 125.