This photo of Orville’s work bench was taken by professional photographer Henry G. Dornbush in 1900 and appeared in the Aug/Sep 1937 issue of Gibson’s in-house magazine “Mastertone” along with a written article. It also appeared in Julius Bellson’s 1973 book, “The Story of Gibson.” It was taken at Orville’s studio at 104 East Main Street.
Henry was the forth of five sons born to Geert Doorenbos. The family emigrated to the United States from The Netherlands in 1881 when Henry was about two years old. In 1894, at the age of 15, Henry apprenticed at the photographic studio of Frank P. Ford at 119 South Burdick. By 1896, Orville had moved into a studio across the street. This is probably when and where Henry met him.
Orville had been advertising instrument repair since at least 1897. The photo shows two instruments on the far right, one small guitar and one mandolin/banjo, that he must have been repairing for customers.
Also, note the violin rib garland hanging on the rack at the center of the photo and the lyre pattern hanging on the wall above. Evidently, Orville had been making violins and lyre-mandolins by 1900.
The photo also shows a collection of hand saws and metal C-clamps hanging on the rack. A large case of awls and chisels leans against the wall. The F-style mandolin on the left sits on top of a small wooden case. And a pitcher and small glass bottle sit on the table at the far right.
The photo also shows what appears to be a guitar case laying below the guitar on the left.
In all, this photo shows four A style mandolins (one is on a stand just inside the left edge of the photo), three F style mandolins, two guitars, one violin rib garland, one lyre pattern, and two non-Gibson repairs. All this production at one moment in time in 1900. Thank you, Henry Dornbush.
Joseph Bistolfi, a touring musician born in Italy and living in the United States, was one of Orville’s best clients. He commissioned his first Gibson, an 18 string harp guitar for which he paid $150.00, in November 1900.
The instrument body was made of Brazilian walnut, the top ebonized Washington cedar. It also had intricate mother of pearl inlays. This harp guitar took Orville 30 days of continuous work to complete at his East Main Street studio and was reportedly the seventh of its kind that he had made.
Unfortunately, the harp guitar in the photo is not the one commissioned in 1900. Mr. Bistolfi lost his cache of musical instruments along with all his worldly belongings in a Pennsylvania boarding house fire in 1905. More than likely his Orville made harp guitar was amongst those destroyed. Having returned to his room late at night, he was able to warn all other residents in time to get everyone out safely. The boarding house was reduced to ashes.
Even though the Gibson Mandolin-Guitar Manufacturing Company had been making instruments for about two years by 1905, I seriously doubt that Mr. Bistolfi would have accepted a replacement piece that wasn’t made exclusively by Orville himself. I feel Orville would have also insisted upon it. Gregg Miner has dated the one in the photo to early 1906.
Orville applied for his patent on May 11, 1895. Three months later, in August, this article appeared in the Kalamazoo Telegraph. The editor of the Telegraph was William L Eaton, a fellow stage brother of Orville’s who often wrote about and reviewed their stage activities. Taking this relationship into consideration, I feel the information in this article can be taken at face value.
Why Orville did not remain the in-house luthier at The Barrow’s Music Company is not known. But there are clues as to what may have been the reason. In 1891, Barrow’s became the Michigan selling agent for Waldo banjos and guitars. In 1895, they began manufacturing the Waldo brand themselves. This may have been a point of contention between Orville and Barrow’s as to whose name and whose design would prevail.
The length of time Orville was employed by Barrow’s is not known. It might have been a day, a week, or maybe a month. But in the September Saginaw newspapers, Barrow’s was still advertising the Waldo brand and design. My guess is that this information is buried somewhere in their business records, if those still exist.
Barrow’s continued to manufacture a more traditional line of instruments and was later reorganized as the Waldo Manufacturing Company.
From his studio in Kalamazoo, Orville continued to flourish as an individual craftsman and serve an ever growing elite clientele.
On the left is a well known photograph of Orville wearing a band uniform with a snare drum sitting next to him. Nothing was previously known about this photo except that it was indeed Orville Gibson.
The Research: The original copy of the photograph on the left has the stamp of the Adolphus Van Sickle studio of Kalamazoo, Michigan on the back. Gibson descendants have dated the photo to around 1875.
The photo on the right was a little more difficult. First of all, the Scott & Sabin clothing store, seen in the background, ceased operations in mid-1877. So the photo had to have been taken during the time they were in business. Next, the only band in the village of Kalamazoo that actually had uniforms at this time was the Knights Templar Commandery Band. It was formed in 1872 and originally had 13 members.
The photo on the right is estimated to have been taken between 1872 (when the band was formed) and 1877 (when Scott & Sabin ceased doing business).
The uniforms in both photos are a match. The dating of each photo is consistent. And…is that a young Orville Gibson standing at the center back with his snare drum?
Both photos are courtesy of the Clarence L. Miller Family History Room, Kalamazoo Public Library, Kalamazoo, Michigan.