This circa 1893 guitar is wonderful in its own right, but it’s also a connection to what was once one of St. Paul’s most venerable institutions: the musical instrument retailer W.J. Dyer & Bro.
William John Dyer was born in London, England, in 1841, and made his way to Faribault, Minnesota, in 1869. After a brief stint as a music teacher, Dyer and his brother, C.E., opened a music store. Two years later, the brothers moved to St. Paul.
The Dyer store grew quickly, opening a Minneapolis location in 1880, and advertising the sale of everything from pianos and organs, to guitars and mandolins, to band instruments and music books. By 1891, Dyer was said to be the largest music store west of Chicago. The firm even branded its own line of instruments, though they were built by other companies. All told, Dyer catered to Minnesotans’ musical needs for more than 70 years.
As for this particular instrument, it’s a Size 1-21 parlor guitar made by C.F. Martin & Company of Nazareth, Pennsylvania. The guitar features a Brazilian rosewood body with a spruce top, and is decorated with an ornate herringbone pattern in the rosette around the soundhole. At 37 1/2 inches long by 12 3/4 inches wide, the guitar is small by today’s standards. (The modern Martin D-28 measures 40 3/4 inches long by 15 3/4 inches wide.) As the “parlor” name implies, this instrument was meant for quiet playing at home, and did not need the volume that comes with a larger body. The guitar probably sold for around $40.00, and came complete with a wooden case – also in our collection.
Though W.J. Dyer & Bro. may be a memory, C.F. Martin remains in business, having just celebrated its 175th anniversary in 2008. The company’s guitars continue to be some of the most respected in the industry.
Matt Anderson, Picker and Objects Curator