Orville’s Clients

1913 Bistolfi with harpguitar
Joseph Bistolfi and his replacement Gibson harp guitar, 1912.

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.


The South Burdick St. Studio, 1896

From 1896 to at least March of 1897, Orville’s studio was on the second floor of 114 South Burdick Street (the building on the far left). This is where he completed the set of instruments for the John W. McLouth Ideal Mandolin Orchestra.

From the collection of the Kalamazoo Valley Museum.
From the collection of the Kalamazoo Valley Museum.

The alley between the construction and the buildings is West Exchange Place. To the right of the horse and carriage (out of view of the camera) is East Exchange Place. Main Street runs behind the horse and carriage from right to left.

This photo was taken in 1907 during the construction of the Kalamazoo National Bank (the line running from top middle to bottom right is a crack in the photo plate).