1860s J. Howard Foote
I’ve seen a few guitars with the J. Howard Foote marking, though none nearly as nice and unaltered as this. Foote was a musical instrument importer and retailer with shops in New York and Chicago, known for selling violins, banjos, and guitars. This one, like a few others I have seen, has stamped on its interior center-strip MADE BY / J. HOWARD FOOTE / NEW-YORK and CHICAGO, along with BINI'S IMPROVEMENT / PATENTED APRIL 24, 1867. It is about the size of a Martin 12-fret 0, with 24-1/2” scale. Apparently, what M. Blini was so excited about was his own personal take on Martin’s top bracing pattern; Bini obviously had some sales success as we’ve seen his “improvement” in several guitars of that period. Born in Veneto, a region of Italy, Giuseppe Bini came to the United States in 1846 to play guitar in P. T. Barnum’s American Museum, in Manhattan. He was the first Italian luthier to set up a workshop in New York and is listed in the Brooklyn City Directory in 1852. In 1867, he patented his unusual bracing system, which we see in this instrument, based on a variation of Martin’s X-pattern. It was sold by the New York manufacturer and distributor J. Howard Foote (1833–1896). Other than a few cracks that appear to have been repaired more than a hundred years ago, it is in excellent, un-altered condition. The back, with beautiful marquetry center inlay and the sides, with matching end plate, are of beautiful Brazilian rosewood; the spruce top has fancy wood marquetry around its edge and in the the rosette, The bridge is original ebony and shows no evidence of ever having been reglued, though it could use a little help now, and its genuine ivory saddle has an original groove along its length. The nut is also original and of genuine ivory, and the tuning machines are absolutely top quality of the day, with perfect, solid ivory buttons, and still work perfectly. The peghead is attached in the identical way to Martin’s at the time, invisibly joined with its own separate dovetail to the Spanish cedar neck, the preferred wood for that in the 19th century. A few old cracks in the body are a bit loose and there are some slightly loose back braces; one edge of the top is slightly loose at the lower bass bout. The action height is still as it was almost a hundred and fifty years ago and the guitar plays beautifully. It is strung with gut, standard back then; a regular nylon set may be substituted today. This guitar deserves to have its small amount of restoration work needed to be done by someone experienced with this older style of American instrument and who is well-versed in the use of hide glues. Comes with its original wood case, wonderfully lined in original patterned flannel. $1695 as is.