Back to index of guitar pages by Donald Sauter.
Back to page of Washington Guitar Society newsletters.

(This web page originally appeared as an article in the Washington Guitar Society newsletter No. 24, January 1996.)

The Guitar in a Very Early Sears Catalog - 1894

The first Sears, Roebuck & Co. catalog, dated 1888-89, offered only watches. In the following years it was expanded to include diamonds, jewelry and silverware. The catalog dated 1894 was immensely expanded. Its cover boasted:

Cheapest Supply House on Earth
Sears, Roebuck & Co.
Consumer's Guide for 1894

An introductory message to the customers was titled "Our Combined Catalogue" and it claimed, "We have added many new lines." Indeed, the hundreds of pages seemed to offer almost everything under the sun.

This 1894 Sears, Roebuck & Co. catalog had a section for musical instruments and paraphernalia. Everything in the catalog relating to the guitar has been extracted and is presented here, in two ways. You can peruse it easily in familiar web-page format just further down. Or, you can view the material in facsimile format (as desecrated by microfilm), cut and pasted to fit on two pages:

Guitar Merchandise in the 1894 Sears Catalog (pdf)

All eight guitars offered for sale - ranging in price from $4.50 to $26.00 - were fitted with gut strings. (Steel-string guitars appeared in the catalog sometime after 1897 - by 1900 at the latest.) You should find some fun things here, like bass strings that are cheaper than the trebles!

The Musical Goods Department also including published music, including methods. So, in the spirit of a guitar trip back to the 1890s, here are a couple of pieces taken from a Septimus Winner guitar method from the time. (Find more discussion on the guitar methods in the Sears Catalog at the bottom of this page.)

"Carnival of Venice" (anonymous) (pdf)

"Woodland Echoes" (A. P. Wyman) (pdf)

The catalogs dated 1894, 1895, and Fall 1896 all contained identical material relating to the guitar, laid out in exactly the same way - although on different pages. Some material not guitar-related has been retained for the sake of context and perspective. Ellipsis in brackets [...] indicates that material not related to the guitar has been deleted from that spot. All bold-facing has been added by me. [Comments by me are given in brackets.]



Instruction book free with each guitar.
We have discontinued quotations on all imported guitars, and hereafter will handle only American made instruments. This is due to the fact that on account of the difference in climate, imported guitars will, with hardly an exception, crack and warp out of shape. On the other hand, the American instruments are made in a more scientific manner, possesses a superior tone, besides we warrant each regardless of price for ONE YEAR not to split or warp, provided no steel strings are used. Our guitars are made in the largest and best factory in this country. Every instrument is thoroughly inspected before being shipped and all are guaranteed to be perfect in scale, tone and construction.

Guitar - Our Leader.

No. 11129. Our leader. American made Guitar, standard size, back and sides made of maple and handsomely finished in imitation of either Rosewood, Mahogany, or Oak, all highly polished, yellow top, imitation ebony finger board, position dots; patent head, raised frets, warranted for one year. Price, $4.50.

No. 1130. Our Kenwood. American made, standard size, back and sides made of "quarter-sawed" oak, highly polished, finely finished cedar sounding board, walnut neck, raised frets, patent head, excellent tone and warranted not to split or warp. Weight, boxed, 25 lbs. Price each, $6.

NO. 11131. Our Columbian. American made guitar, standard size, solid mahogany back and sides, edges inlaid with celluloid, highly polished Rosewood finger board, correctly fretted, cedar neck, patent heads, manufactured expressly for us and warranted not to split or warp. Weight, boxed, 25 lbs. Price, $9.00.

No. 11132. Our "Windsor." American made, Conservatory Guitar, solid rosewood back and sides, yellow cedar top, cedar neck, ebony finger board, inlaid stripe in back, standard size, finely polished and fully warranted in every respect. Weight, boxed, 25 lbs. Each, $12.00.

11133. Our Windsor Concert Guitar. American made, same as 11132, only they are the large or concert size, each is absolutely perfect in every respect, and warranted not to split or warp. Weight, boxed, 25 lbs. Price each, $14.00.

NOTE: The "Windsor" Guitars are manufactured expressly for us in one of the very best factories in the country, and we can safely say they are the best instrument ever offered for the money.

11134 Washburn American Guitar, solid Rosewood body, mahogany or cedar neck, patent head, ebony finger board, warranted not to split or warp, standard size. Weight, boxed, 25 lbs. Each, $22.00.

11135 Washburn American Guitar, of solid rosewood body, mahogany or cedar neck, ebony finger board, inlaid, warranted not to warp or split, concert size. Weight, boxed, 25 lbs. Each, $26.00.

NOTE. - On our American Guitars gut and silk wound strings are recommended under all circumstances. The efforts of the manufacturers are directed toward the production of a rich mellow tone,

GUITARS -- Continued.

and in order to accomplish this result they use a sensitively constructed sounding board, which is not made to withstand the strain of wire strings. By using great care some of them will stand this heavy strain without serious detriment, but we wish it understood that we will not be responsible for the failure of a guitar where steel strings are used.

Capo D'Astros.

Capo D'Astro, 11136.

11136 Capo D'stros [Astros], brass with cork lined string cap and adjusting screw, like cut [i.e., picture]. Weight 3 oz. Each, 40c.
11137 Capo D'Astros, same as above, nickel plated. Weight 3 oz. Each, 50c.
NOTE. - The Capo D'Astro is used to clamp on guitar finger board at first fret to facilitate playing in flat keys.

Guitar Tail Pieces.

Tail piece, 11138.

11138 Guitar tail pieces, made of Celluloid. Each, 50c.
11139 Guitar Tail pieces, made of brass, nickel plated, (see cut). Weight 5 oz. Each, 75c.
NOTE. If steel strings are to be used on a guitar it is essential to the tone and durability of the instrument that they should be attached to a tail piece.


11140 Brown canvas, leather bound, with opening in the end for standard size guitar. Weight 5 1/2 lbs. Each, $1.75.
11141. Brown canvas, same as above, for concert size Washburn guitar. Weight 5 1/2 lbs. Each $2.
11142. Wood, half lined, with handle and hooks, for standard size guitar. Weight, boxed, 18 lbs. Each, $1.90.
11143. Wood, half lined, with lock, handle and hooks, for standard size guitar. Weight, boxed, 18 lbs. Each, $2.00.
11144. Wood, full lined, with lock, handle and spring clasp, for concert size Washburn guitar. Weight, boxed, 20 lbs. Each, $2.85.


11145. Green felt, for either standard or concert size guitars. Weight 9 ounces. Each, $1.
11146. Gossamar rubber, for standard or concert size guitars. Weight 12 ounces. Each, $1.50.
State size of guitar.


Frets, No 11147.

11147. Guitar or Banjo frets, brass, per set of 18, 20c.
11148. Guitar or Banjo frets, German silver, per set of 19[?], 30c. Weight, per set, 3 ounces.
NOTE. - We do not break sets.


Guitar Strings.

                                          Each  Per doz.
    11350, E or 1st, best quality gut....  12c     $1 25
    11351, B or 2nd, best quality gut....  12c     $1 25
    11352, G or 3rd, best quality gut....  15c     $1 60
    11353, D or 4th, silvered wire on 
            silk.........................  10c      1 00 
    11354, A or 5th, silvered wire on 
            silk.........................  10c      1 00 
    11355, E or 6th, silvered wire on 
            silk.........................  10c      1 00 
    11356, Full set of 6, 60c

Steel Guitar Strings.

                                          Each  Per doz.
    11357, E or 1st, silvered steel, best
            quality......................  02c     $0 20
    11358, B or 2nd, silvered steel, best
            quality......................  02c      0 20
    11359, G or 3d, compound silvered
            wire wound on steel and 
            silk.........................  10c      1 00
    11360, D or 4th, compound............  10c      1 00
    11361, A or 5th, compound............  10c      1 00
    11362, E or 6th, compound............  10c      1 00
    11363, Full set of 6, steel, 38c.  


Guitar Finger Boards.

Finger board, 11381?.

[Note finger board is labeled 11381 although it shows frets.]

    11381, Guitar finger board, ebony, plain
            without fret......................     $0 60
    11382, Guitar finger board, ebony, with 
            frets, weight 10 ounces...........      1 00

Guitar Bridges.

    11383 Ebony, plain, good model and finish        25c
    11384 Ebony, polished, with pearl inlaid
           ends..............................        60c
    11385 Celluloid, imitation amber, weight [?]
           ounces............................        90c

Guitar Patent Heads.

Patent head, 11386-7.

                    Weight 6 ounces.
    11386, Brass per set...........................$0 75
    11387, Nickel-plated, per set.................. 1 00

Guitar Bridge Pins.

             Weight per set of 6, 1 ounce.          Each
    11388, Ebony, polished, with pearl dot in end
            Per set of 6, 10c                         2c
    11389, Celluloid, imitation of ivory, amber or
            tortoise shell........................    3c
            Per set of 6, 15c.
    11390, Ivory, polished, pearl dot in head.....    6c
            Per set of 6, 30c.


Guitar and Banjo Music.

11627, Hamilton's Banjo Folio. A splendid collection of beautiful banjo music, suitable for amateur or artist. Contains collections for solos and duet. Full sheets [sheet] music size 40c. Postage 10 cents.

11628, "Banjoist's Budget," a grand collection of 50 jigs, hornpipes, reels, clog dances, walk-arounds, etc., etc, arranged and correctly fingered for the banjo, by A. Baner. Best collection of banjo music published. Paper covers. Price 45c. Extra by mail 5 cents.

11629, Benjamin's Amateur Mandolin and Guitar Collections. No. 1 contains 13 easy and popular pieces, arranged for mandolin or violin with guitar accompaniment, also the piano accompaniment. Price 30c. Extra by mail 4 cents.

11630, The Royal Guitar Folio, one superior collection of the latest and best guitar music, both vocal and instrumantal. Arranged in good style by the best professionals. Paper covers; each 40c. Extra by mail 10 cents.

11631, The Guitarist (vocal.) We confidently claim for this collection of guitar music a place at the head of all similar publications. It is not an instruction book, but a collection of the latest and best music, with accompaniment for the guitar. Full sheet music size, bound in cloth. Price $1.10. Extra by mail 11 cents.

11632, The Guitarist (instrumental.) A collection of new and standard waltzes, polkas, marches, etc., arranged for the guitar in the most artistic manner. Bound in cloth. Price $1.10. Extra by mail 11 cents.


11661, Carcassi's Guitar Method, complete $1.00. Extra by mail, 12 cents.

11662, Diagram School for the Guitar by J. T. Rutledge. This is the latest, and without a doubt the most complete, method for the guitar that has ever been offered to the public. It contains a thorough course of instruction, is profusely illustrated with diagrams of the finger board showing all the positions, etc., besides a fine collection of music, bound in boards. Publisher's price, $2.50, Extra by mail, 10 cents. Our price, $2.10.

11663, Ryan's True Mandolin Instructor. Publisher's price, 75c. Our price, 25c.
11664, Ryan's True Zither Instructor. Publisher's price, 70c. Our price, 25c. Extra by mail, 3 cts.
11665, Ryan's True Double Bass Instructor; publisher's price, 75c. Our price, 25c. Extra by mail, 3c.
11666, Ryan's True Occarina Instructor; publisher's price, 75c. Our price, 25c. Extra by mail, 3c.
11667, Ryan's True Harmonica Instructor; publisher's price, 75c. Our price, 25c. Extra by mail, 3c.


The following works by Sep. Winner are all 1893 edition, condensed and revised. Extra by mail, 2 cents:
11670, Winner's Instruction Book for Accordion; retail price, 25c. Our price 12c.
11671, Winner's Instruction Book for Organ; retail price, 25c. Our price 12c.
11672, Winner's Instruction Book for Violin; retail price, 25c. Our price 12c.
11673, Winner's Instruction Book for Guitar; retail price, 25c. Our price 12c.
11674, Winner's Instruction Book for Banjo; retail price, 25c. Our price 12c.


11678, Winner's Primary School for Accordian, Organ, Violin, Guitar, Banjo, Flute, Fife, Violoncello, Clarionet and Cornet. Not condensed; unabridged. (Specify for which instrument book is wanted.) Price per volume, 18c. Extra by mail, 3c.


11680, Instruction Book of Chords for the guitar. A new system of learning to play the chords of the guitar without notes or teacher. Each, 25c. Extra by mail, 1c.

11681, Instruction Book of Chords for Banjo; publisher's price, 50c. Our price, 25c. Extra by mail, 1c.

Guitar Methods in the Sears Catalog

The Library of Congress (LC) has about 10 different "Septimus Winner" guitar methods, the earliest dating from 1858. It's not obvious which, if any, correspond to either of the ones offered in the 1894 Sears Catalog. None have the exact title, Winner's Instruction Book for the Guitar which is offered in the catalog for $0.12. Perhaps it was the same or similar to one in the LC collection called Winner's Self Instructor for the Guitar, copyright 1887, which is 16 pages long.

The 1894 Sears catalog also offered Winner's Primary School for Guitar - "not condensed, unabridged" - for $0.18. LC does have a method by this name, copyright 1872, but it is 80 pages long which would have made its price about $0.75, based on comparisons with similar publications.

LC does not appear to have a copy of Diagram School for the Guitar by J. T. Rutledge listed in the Sears catalog. It does have a copy of Ryan's True Guitar but somehow Sears, Roebuck did not offer this one among its Ryan's True... Instructor series.

In any case, I've included two pieces from Winner's Primary School for the Guitar, "Carnival Of Venice" and "Woodland Echoes", to give you a flavor of what would have been coming out of your $12 Windsor (catalog no. 11132) back in 1894.

"Carnival of Venice" (anonymous) (pdf)

"Woodland Echoes" (A. P. Wyman) (pdf)

Notes on the music (m=measure, bt=beat): C7 implies position only, not barre. -3 implies guide finger only, not glissando. For both pieces here, I have supplied an "original", and a fully fingered version.

Carnival Of Venice:
- Original only had fingerings in m31-m39, which I have renotated and observed, except in m33, which called for position C11 on bt4.
- m6, m43 bt4: Rhythm dot added.
- Grace notes connect to the main note by glissando (or pull-off). Does anyone have a tip on performing the double-stop glissandos in which the starting and ending finger formations differ?

Woodland Echoes:
- Original had no fingerings.
- m4 bt1: low F and 8th rest added.
- m6 bt1: 8th rest added.
- Grace notes are cross-string to the main note.
- I believe there should be a "pickup" to m10 as there is to m14.

Do you know what gives these pieces that old-fashioned, clunky look? The music was not engraved onto metal plates. The music was set up with movable music type. Take a close look. You'll see that the notes, the stems, the beams, the rests, the dynamics, even the staff lines themselves are made up of individual pieces of type. Just think about what that entails. According to Ted Ross ("The Art of Music Engraving"), "It is said that a measure containing 8 consecutive notes in 3/4 time, and with a tenor clef, contains 75 different pieces of type... It is not too difficult to understand why it takes 4 or 5 years of training to be able to set music by type."


Thanks (plus a rant)

The catalog material was transcribed from very difficult to read copies made from microfilm. The mere fact that anybody is left alive today is all the proof we need that a time machine will never be invented. Future researchers infuriated by 20th century microfilm will have taken no prisoners . . .

Anyhow, thanks go out to the Library of Congress, and to taxpayers everywhere.


Contact Donald Sauter: send an email; view guestbook; sign guestbook.
Back to Donald Sauter's main page.
Back to the top of this page.