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Aug 21, 2019 - 5:27:58 PM
2 posts since 10/27/2018


Just picked up an Orpheum Tenor Harp and I'm absolutely loving it. I was curious if anyone had any other experience with this or information regarding their history / dating. The seller told me that it was from 1922 and that that was the only year Orpheum released tenor harps before moving over to Paramount. Is this info accurate? Serial # by the bridge (no serial plate inside the resonator) is 429.

Photos are attached! Any info on these tenor harps is appreciated, it is pretty sparse online!

Edited by - frostbyrne on 08/21/2019 18:33:35

Aug 22, 2019 - 10:02:06 AM

4502 posts since 3/22/2008

Never heard of Orpheum Tenor Harp. I read lots of period BMG magazines and am interested in Orpheums but not a whiff about Orpheum Tenor Harp have I seen.
Some observations.
Lange's partner, Rettberg, retired Jan. 1, 1921 and Lange became sole owner of the firm Rettberg & Lange. If you look at lots of Orpheum banjos you'll see that "Orpheum" is inlaid letter by letter in peghead. Your "Orpheum" is etched in a block.
Lange introduced Paramount banjo by advertisement in trade publication Aug. 6, 1921.
In trade advertisement Dec. 10, 1921 Lange changed company name from R&L to "Wm. L. Lange".
Meanwhile, from the beginning Lange inlaid "Paramount" etched in a block on banjo pegheads like your example (not letter for letter) except yours says "Orpheum", of course, but the etched block is a Wm. L. Lange custom as far as I can tell.
At the time the Lange firm became Lange (12/10/1921) Orpheum serial numbers were up to at least 14648 according to our serial number list so your serial number is something new. Early Paramounts have 3 digit serial numbers. The lowest Paramount serial number I have is from Tsumura a Paramount B #164 and Michael Westfall has a Paramount C #392.
All of this to say your seller could be correct that your instrument is 1922 and that for some reason Lange made up a batch of Tenor Harps late 1921/early 1922 and serial numbered them right along with his early Paramount banjos?? Would be nice to know how your seller authenticated or documented the year of manufacture for your Orpheum.
I was also wondering why make a tenor harp and speculated that it might have to do with the Hawaiian music craze underway from the mid-teens into the twenties and Lange wanted to provide a soft voice (Hawaiian?) instrument for players already accustomed to the tenor banjo?
From the trade publications I've read Lange didn't introduce the Paramount branded Tenor Harps until July 3, 1926.
Sorry to have blathered on but I find your Orpheum Harp to be really interesting.
Congratulations on bringing it home.

Aug 22, 2019 - 4:28:48 PM

2 posts since 10/27/2018

No worries about the long post, I think this thing is a real oddity too! Another user on the banjo subreddit suggested that these were using the paramount Serial # scheme. It seems like the only thing that makes sense since I don't think there are 429 of these orpheum tenor harps floating around and it doesn't match up with the orpheum numbers.

The seller didn't have much info, I am attaching an email with most of the info he was able to provide. I may reach out and see if he knows anything else.

Seller's responses are in blue:

I'm afraid I don't have the information you are seeking.

1. Are you comfortable telling me where you got the instrument from?
I owned a music store from 1971 to 2013 which I sold and the new owner decided to carry only electric instruments, I put all the vintage acoustics in storage and started to sell them last year. We used to acquire instruments in trade, at guitar shows, and auctions,

2. How did you come to the conclusion that it was from 1922? Serial number dating?
1922 is the only year Rettburg & Lange made tenor harps under the Orpheum label. All other years they were made as Paramount brand.

3. Also curious if you have any other details about its origins as I'm guessing it was a custom order of some sort.
Tenor harps were a standard catalog item from 1922 until 1929. In 1922 they were sold as an Orpheum instrument, and from 1923 to 1929 as a Paramount. Although they were officially discontinued in 1929, there may have been others that were custom ordered after 1929, but I have no evidence that that occurred.

Edited by - frostbyrne on 08/22/2019 16:29:41

Aug 23, 2019 - 2:49:50 AM

4502 posts since 3/22/2008

I have looked in two undated but ca 1920 R&L Orpheum catalogs.
No tenor harp.
I have looked in Wm. L. Lange's Oct. 1925 Orpheum & Langstile Banjos catalog.
No tenor harp.
The suggestion that the harp's serial number is a Paramount number seems plausible.

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