A Gibson catalog of the 1920s called the Florentine “The World’s Finest, Most Luxurious Banjo” and proclaimed that “Orchestra leaders rejoice when their banjoist comes on the job with a ‘Florentine‘; theatre audiences marvel at the sparkling beauty, recording companies are delighted with the tone and radio fans are amazed at the clarity and brilliance of the banjo as they tune in.”
In 1928, five plectrum Florentines were ordered by professional banjoists and Gibson endorsers John Mitchell (1899-1981) and Bill Mitchell (1901-1965) who, as the Mitchell Brothers, were noted performers on the B.F. Keith Circuit of vaudeville theaters in the United States and Canada and also recorded for Victor. In the 1930s they teamed up with early country singer/songwriter Carson Robison and did three tours of England where, according to a 1958 newspaper article, “they found themselves celebrities, whisked off to the ‘stately homes’ tucked under ermine lap robes in Rolls Royces.” The Mitchell Brothers’ Florentines were factory order numbers #8936-1, #8936-2, #8936-3, and #8936-4, all of which they used in their performances, as well as #8936-5, which was ordered for their younger brother Baker Mitchell (1909-1984).
While the other four Mitchell Brothers Florentines conformed to standard specifications for the model, PB-Florentine Mastertone #8936-5, seen here, was custom-ordered with ornamentation based on the crest of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity, of which all three Mitchell Brothers were members. Its other appointments are typical of the Florentine model in “white holly” finish and include “checkerboard” binding on the resonator and neck as seen on Gibson’s style 6 Mastertone. As also seen on PB-Florentine Mastertone #8936-1 and PB-Florentine Mastertone #8936-2, the truss-rod cover features the factory personalization “Mitchell Brothers”.
The Mitchell Brothers were pictured in Gibson’s full-color catalog spread featuring the top-of-the-line Bella Voce and Florentine models, and also endorsed a budget-level banjo made by Gibson for sale in the Montgomery Ward catalog in 1938.
Thanks to Baker Mitchell, Jr. for providing photos of this historically significant banjo along with information on his uncles’ career. Montgomery Ward catalog scan courtesy of Paul Fox.