Vintage musical instruments can sometimes be quite valuable, especially if they're rare, custom or special editions, and in good condition. If you're lucky, you can determine the value of a vintage mandolin by doing a little research. However, it often takes a bit of examination to better determine an accurate value. Keep in mind that the model, make, year made, condition of the instrument, originality, scarcity, market demand and playability all factor in to what your mandolin is worth.
Look for the antique mandolin's serial number, which may be inside the soundhole, and the company name on the headstock. Print or paint may wear away with time, so see if any faint impressions of letters or partial words remain.
Determine who made your vintage mandolin. Some makers are more popular than others and can affect the value, especially to collectors. Some makes often sought by collectors include Vega, Gibson or Martin, whereas a classical mandolin player may prefer something more like a Embergher, Vinaccia or Calace.
Note your vintage mandolin's body shape, whether it's the usual lute form or different; whether it has a bowl back or flat back and how large it is. Most antique mandolins have bowl-shaped backs made of a number of wooden ribs, and lutelike, teardrop-shaped bodies. Mandolins of an unusual shape are more identifiable and often more valuable.
Check aesthetic features like the shape of the pickguard, the tailpiece cover and inlays or ornaments. Again, these items may increase the value of your mandolin. Many vintage bowl back mandolins had a lot of pearl inlays. You can also find silver wire, tortoise shell and invory inlays.
Count the number of ribs your antique mandolin has, if it's a bowl-back. A higher number of ribs on the back indicates a higher grade of mandolin and can add to the value.
Identify the types of woods used for your antique mandolin's top, back, fretboard and headstock.
Search for information on when the particular features of your mandolin came into use, to help determine how old it may be. Generally, the older a musical instrument, the more valuable it is.
Realize that without specific identifying information, you'll need to go by features to get a ballpark range of years in which mandolin makers produced instruments like yours, and get an estimated value of the instrument.
Go to the "Blue Book of Mandolins" website. Click on the manufacturer's name for a list and see if there is information about the value of your vintage mandolin. Several Chicago-based retailers sold mandolins all over the world at the turn of the century, so if all else fails try looking at information online about the mandolins Lyon & Healy, Regal, Kay or Harmony sold and what they are worth today. When all else fails, Google the word "mandolin" and as much of the serial number and company name as you have. See if information on the model comes up, such as year of manufacture, and see if there's any information on how valuable the instrument might be.
Only a limited few vintage bowl back mandolins have a significant value, however, collectors will usually be interested in any that are in good shape.