Photos and information about the Muriel Davis Gibson harp guitar with serial #2502 can be found on Mandolin Archive here… http://www.mandolinarchive.com/gibson/serial/2502
and on harpguitars.net here… http://www.harpguitars.net/history/month_hg/month-hg-3-07.htm
Thanks to the expertise of Gregg Miner and Benoit Meulle-Stef at harpguitars.net, we get a detailed tour of the Muriel Davis Gibson harp guitar. Their attention to, and examination of, the evidence gleaned from this specimen is fascinating.
If this instrument was in fact completed in 1902, it would be virtually all Orville’s work. We can presume that Orville himself would have been working on instruments between October 10, 1902 when the company was formed and mid December when the company finally received all of its factory machines and possibly hired additional employees. I believe that only Orville could have made such an exquisite “company” harp guitar at this point in time.
If it was completed in 1903, I feel others may have contributed in an apprentice sort of way, but that it is still, for all intents and purposes, an Orville-made instrument.
Let’s move on to the provenance, but first let me preface by saying that the following is in no way a reflection on anyone involved and should not deter anyone from providing the story that was passed down from generation to generation. ALL information is important when considering and establishing provenance.
This may be where it gets dry for some readers. But it’s still important. Having been a genealogist for over 40 years, my first task when tracing someone’s family tree is to verify the information given to me by my client. If I have been given names and dates, I want to see and verify the evidence and documentation for myself before I move on.
Unfortunately, family stories can get skewed over time. Such is the case with the Muriel Davis Gibson. That doesn’t mean there is no truth or value in them. It’s my job to separate truth (my grandfather told me he didn’t like his first wife-the one we never knew about) from fact (I found their marriage record), and lore (they actually got divorced before he married my grandmother).
First, let’s get certain things out of the way. The San Francisco Symphony did not exist before 1911 and there is no Mr. Phillips that can be documented as a conductor. There were several college orchestras in the area around 1902-1906. It’s possible the original owner conducted one of those, but no conductor named Phillips has been found yet.
Now, let’s move on to the earthquake…
First, if the harp guitar was in fact damaged in the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, it had to have been physically located within the damage zone around ground zero. So we find out how far away from the epicenter damage was reported. This geographic area is the focus of our research.
Next, who were the known harp guitar players in the San Francisco area in 1902-1906? Can any be shown to have sold their instrument before or after the earthquake through newspaper advertisements? This may indicate that a professional musician owned it. In other words, “Notice – Gibson harp guitar for sale. I’m buying a bigger one.” Or after, “I can’t play this Gibson harp guitar anymore. The damage cannot be repaired to my satisfaction. I’m going to sell it.” This would be in contrast to a hobbyist musician who says, “Gibson harp guitar for sale. Damaged headstock. Need money for college.”
Then…can we connect any known harp guitar players geographically to any homes/music venues in the area around the time of the quake? And did this person know, or have a connection to, the Muriel Davis family?
If Muriel received it prior to the quake it may have been too personal a gift to have been sold, despite its damage. Thus it stayed in the family. In others words, “Damn, the beautiful Gibson harp guitar that I bought for my bride from “the previous owner” was damaged in the earthquake.” and “Oh, my beloved husband, I can’t bear to part with it. If you sell it, you’re toast.”
So…Scenario #1 – A professional musician living in the San Francisco area purchased it and played it until it was damaged in the 1906 earthquake and eventually sold it to the Muriel Davis family.
Scenario #2 – A member of the soon-to-be Muriel Davis family purchased it from a professional musician prior to 1906, it was given to Muriel, and then damaged during the quake.
Scenario #3 – Someone simply broke it and did not ‘fess up.’