Early 20th-Century Painted Cigar Box Mandolin

Value (2010) | $1,200 Retail

I bought this little cigar box guitar at a garage sale perhaps two years ago, and I think I paid $20 for it. I got it because it appealed to me, being from South Florida, obviously, a lot of the Cubans, the Havana ribbon label on it. So I had hoped it was doubly collectible being a folklore instrument.

It's a mandolin.


And it's eight strings. To the average person, this looks like a very humble little thing and can't imagine why most people would be interested in it, but it represents the ingenuity of people back in the early 1900s, Depression, and the fact that it's made out of a cigar box doesn't necessarily mean that it's Cuban. The origins of an instrument like this are not exactly certain. I mean, it could have easily been made in Florida. It could have been made anywhere in the Blue Ridge Mountains. I haven't seen things like this in other parts of the country, but I'm sure they were made there also. Basically, this was made by somebody who wanted a mandolin, and all they had was a cigar box and a bunch of wood and some wire. This particular instrument is interesting because it's got some paint decoration on the front part of it. The bridge is made out of a piece of paper. If you'll look at these holes right here, I think at one time it probably had some kind of a fretboard on it, because otherwise, to play it, you know, you would just be sliding back and forth on the fingerboard. And since that time, it looks like it's been notched out up in here, but that could even be wear. It had a nut right here, and the strings were guided down through that. They even put this brass plate on here to reinforce it. But the story, to me, of this is the fact that it represents a time period in our country when people made do with things. That little bit of paint on there, to me, makes it a thing of beauty also.

Like someone took pride and decorated it, imagination.

The market for these has changed drastically in the last, say, five years. Back five or ten years ago, this might have been worth, you know, a couple of hundred dollars. Now, they've become so collectible because they're showing up in museums and people are publishing articles about them, that at a good show, I would not be surprised to see a retail price on this of $1,200.

Get out. Wow, Ken, that's amazing. That is amazing.

Appraisal Details

Ken Farmer LLC
Charlottesville, VA
Appraised value (2010)
$1,200 Retail
Miami Beach, FL (July 10, 2010)
Folk Art
Paint , Wood

Executive producer Marsha Bemko shares her tips for getting the most out of ANTIQUES ROADSHOW.

Value can change: The value of an item is dependent upon many things, including the condition of the object itself, trends in the market for that kind of object, and the location where the item will be sold. These are just some of the reasons why the answer to the question "What's it worth?" is so often "It depends."

Note the date: Take note of the date the appraisal was recorded. This information appears in the upper left corner of the page, with the label "Appraised On." Values change over time according to market forces, so the current value of the item could be higher, lower, or the same as when our expert first appraised it.

Context is key: Listen carefully. Most of our experts will give appraisal values in context. For example, you'll often hear them say what an item is worth "at auction," or "retail," or "for insurance purposes" (replacement value). Retail prices are different from wholesale prices. Often an auctioneer will talk about what she knows best: the auction market. A shop owner will usually talk about what he knows best: the retail price he'd place on the object in his shop. And though there are no hard and fast rules, an object's auction price can often be half its retail value; yet for other objects, an auction price could be higher than retail. As a rule, however, retail and insurance/replacement values are about the same.

Verbal approximations: The values given by the experts on ANTIQUES ROADSHOW are considered "verbal approximations of value." Technically, an "appraisal" is a legal document, generally for insurance purposes, written by a qualified expert and paid for by the owner of the item. An appraisal usually involves an extensive amount of research to establish authenticity, provenance, composition, method of construction, and other important attributes of a particular object.

Opinion of value: As with all appraisals, the verbal approximations of value given at ROADSHOW events are our experts' opinions formed from their knowledge of antiques and collectibles, market trends, and other factors. Although our valuations are based on research and experience, opinions can, and sometimes do, vary among experts.

Appraiser affiliations: Finally, the affiliation of the appraiser may have changed since the appraisal was recorded. To see current contact information for an appraiser in the ROADSHOW Archive, click on the link below the appraiser's picture. Our Appraiser Index also contains a complete list of active ROADSHOW appraisers and their contact details and biographies.