SAMUEL C. OSBORN Mfg. Co. (1916 – 1922) SammO and SammoS labeled instruments

SAMUEL C. OSBORN (1875 – 1922)
(From information obtained from Music Trade Review and Presto as well as the 1920 Samuel Osborne Mfg. Co. Catalog).

(Related Post: SAMUEL C. OSBORN ‘SammO’ All Koa Guitar c.1920)

The life of the Samuel C. Osborn Manufacturing Company is a short one, barely 6 years.  The company made stringed instruments and specialized in koa wood guitars and ukuleles under the SammO and SammoS labels.  They also sold mandolins, ukulele banjos and pianoettes (a form of zither). Different sites on the web will tell you the company started in 1897, but this is not the case as there is a small paragraph in the MUSIC TRADE REVIEW (1916) reporting on the company’s incorporation in 1916.  This is backed up from text in the 1920 Osborn catalog).

Samuel Osborn was a self made man with great ambition. Born in 1875 he started work in a lumber camp and entered a hardware store as a clerk at the age of 13. At 18, after leaving the hardware store he sold insurance, after which he became a traveling salesman selling various merchandise.  Around the turn of the century, in his mid 20’s he finally settled in the music industry when he developed a plan for teaching music in classes and distributing instruments direct to the public, The Osborn Conservatory of Music was born.

It states in the 1920 Samuel C. Osborn Mfg. Co. catalog that at the time of the San Francisco earthquake in 1906 that he was the owner of 3 large music stores in Oakland, San Francisco and Los Angeles, as well as his conservatories which were now “throughout the United States”.  It further goes on to say that his conservatories on the west coast had over 8,500 students, all requiring instruments.

Samuel C. Osborn says that his disappointment with the quality of instruments he was buying led him to start his own company, Samuel C. Osborn Mfg. Co. in Chicago in 1916.  He stated that his philosophy was that quality would always come before price, and because of this he seemed to have had a reputation of manufacturing quality instruments.  The address of his company for the first 4 years was the Masonic Temple in Chicago, and it is uncertain if he made instruments there or if that was his showroom.

The Osborn company was one of the first mainland companies to specialize in Koa instruments.  As well as an all koa guitar he sold koa mandolins and ukuleles.  He also sold instruments made from birch, rosewood and mahogany.

In 1919 he moved his business into a modern 3 storey factory between Sacramento Boulevard and Chicago Avenue in Chicago, which he boasted as the largest of its kind in the country.  However he still kept his showroom premises at the Masonic Temple.

It seems the reason for the new factory was to get into the piano manufacturing business.  He had the idea that pianos could be made cheaply and efficiently employing Henry Ford’s production line techniques.  This was greeted with a certain amount of skepticism from within the industry,  but he was certain he could produce a baby grand piano for $350, and placed advertisements for pre-orders for the instruments.

Osborn Piano Ad Music Trade Review 1921
Osborn Piano Ad Music Trade Review 1921

By 1921 the company was in financial trouble and narrowly avoided bankruptcy when Samuel Osborn convinced his creditors he would reorganization of the company.  However sadly, in 1922 at the age of 47, soon after his pianos started coming off the production line, he died unexpectedly following an operation for appendicitis.  Almost immediately the company went into bankruptcy and what remained was sold at auction in 1923.

It’s interesting that there is an article in the MUSIC TRADE REVIEW immediately following his death talking about the mistakes Samuel C. Osborn had made in assuming that pianos could be made with a production line method.  However a year later that mood changed:

“When the little grand piano appeared it was at once seen that it was in some important respects something of an innovation. Practical piano makers, who examined it, expressed the opinion that someone had introduced something really new. Especially the case construction and iron plate presented good points, and evidently, too, the actual cost of production could be cut in an appreciable degree”.  PRESTO Aug 25, 1923 p. 9.

When several manufacturers then tried to capitalize on the design and acquire some of the manufacturing equipment that Samuel Osborn had developed they found that it had been sold as scrap!

There is some doubt that the Samuel C. Osborn Mfg. Co. made all the stringed instruments that carried the company’s label.  I have been told that their mandolins are similar to typical factory builds by other Chicago manufacturers, such as Harmony and Regal, and it’s more than possible that some of their instruments were produced by other factories on a contract basis, especially in the earlier years.  Also the Osborn Pianoette (a form of Zither) appears to have been made by the Oscar Schmidt Company.  However from reading all the articles in the MUSIC TRADE REVIEW and PRESTO and the Osborn catalog I do think that the company must have produced some if not a lot of their stringed instruments, particularly koa ukuleles and guitars. The SammO guitar I have (post to follow) is definitely not an Oscar Schmidt made instrument and has its own distinctive shape.  I’d like to hear from anyone who knows more on this.


The ‘SammO’ Trademark seems to be the original trademark and was used on all instruments before 1920.  After 1920 it was used on instruments that were not made from koa, even rosewood instruments. The ‘SammoS’ Trademark seems to have been brought into use after 1920, and was predominately used for koa instruments, however there were exceptions.

There was also some doubt as to whether The Samuel C. Osborne Mfg. Co. even had a factory at all.  However I managed to find the building that was illustrated on the cover of their 1920 catalog, still standing in Chicago, some 90 years on.  I like how the drawing on the catalog makes the building seem much bigger than it is!

Osborn Factory Today - Google Earth
Osborn Factory Today – Google Earth
Osborn Catalog Cover c.1920 Courtesy
Osborn Catalog Cover c.1920 Courtesy



Did I say the OSBORNE Company also made Zithers?

I received photos of one of their Zithers from a reader in France:

Samuel C. Osborn Mfg.Co. Zither
Close-up of Osborn Zither label

If anyone is interested this Zither is for sale, email me and I will put you in touch with the owner.


UPDATE 11 MAY 2021:

A reader, Joe Reed, sent me some photos of his SammO mandolin.  This will date most likely to about 1920.  With Joe’s permission I’m sharing the photos here:


Thank you,   Charles Robinson

30 thoughts on “SAMUEL C. OSBORN Mfg. Co. (1916 – 1922) SammO and SammoS labeled instruments

  1. The old Osborne factory at 2950 West Chicago Avenue in Chicago is now home to Classick Studios, a hotshot recording studio. I hope to score a Sammo guitar this weekend. Thank you for the information!

    1. Thanks Chris, I must admit I got a bit of a buz when I found out the building was still there and changed very little!

  2. What a good read. We still have my grandmother’s baby grand piano which my mom says is an Osborn. Too bad it has been repainted a few times over the years and I cannot see the branding any longer.

  3. Hi,
    I’ll call it even. You used my pictures (The decals and “Mick”) I swiped your article. Lol Nice research.
    That one was beyond repair. I still have the front and back on the wall, sides and neck are around. I just got one today that needs a total restore but is all there. I found your article looking into the new one.
    Take care,

    1. My apologies John. I’d saved your pics at some time and didn’t have a record of the source. Thanks for being understanding. I really liked the look of that guitar, if you have all those parts it could probably be restored but it wmay take more money than what it was worth. If you’d like to share photos of your new Sam C Osborn I’d love to see them. Promise I won’t use without permission :). All the best, Charles.

  4. Hello,
    In France, I have an instrument (Zhiter) from this company.
    If somebody is interested to buy it, I can send fotos.

    1. Hi Straumann, if you send me some photos I will post one or 2 photos on that Osborn blog and say it is for sale if anyone is interested. I’m interested to see them also. Regards, Charles

    1. Hi! What was your opinion on the ukes? I’m thinking about getting a Sammo uke in good condition! Do they actually sound good, or is it more of a historical piece?

      1. Hi Brad. I’ve never heard one play, you could go to one of the many uke blogs and see if a uke player who owns one can give you an idea. Sorry I cannot be of any more help..Regards Charles

  5. Hi again Chris. Thank you very much. There is some good information on that link in Chris’s comment about Samuel C. Osborne on these interesting instruments. Regards Charles

  6. I have been offered an osborn baby grand. Are they a good piano? This one is in great shape. Only thing wrong is an ivory cover came off one key. Still have the ivory cover.

    1. Hi Rick, I received your inquiry about the Osborn Baby Grand. Sorry I have no idea of their quality, All I can suggest is to contact a piano guy who may know more about them. Once again sorry I cannot be of more help.

    2. Hi Charles & Rick ~ I have also been offered a mahogany Osborn baby grand. Did you find out if they are considered good pianos? Thank you!

      1. Hi Oona, I’ll pass your email address and this message onto Rick, he may have found out some information about them. Charles

  7. Hi. Thanks for posting all this info. I recently acquired a SammO mandolin with the triangle logo. Looks to me exactly like the Martin mandos of that era. Still plays great after all these years.

    1. Hi Joe, if you send me a few photos maybe I can include in the post, all the best, Charles (Update: see photos of Joe’s Mandolin at the end of the article above)

      1. My name is Vince I just came across a SammO All Koa parlor guitar. It might be early than 1920. It has one up side down triangle on the head stock. It has roping around the guitar just like the one someone posted. The roping go’s around the center hole of the guitar. That’s it the one you posted has circles around the roping. The one I have doses not. A couple of cracks on the body. That’s it everything else looks good. Can someone help to determine what year and value. Thank you.

        1. Hi Lester, If you think it is pre-1920 it is not going to be earlier than 1916. I sorry I don’t know the values of these guitars but it will depend on condition. If you send me some photos I maybe able to date it more accurately. All the best, Charles

  8. I sent you some pictures of the guitar. You never got back to me. I hope everything is going well. If I sent it to the wrong E mail please let me know. Thank you. Vincent Lester.

    1. Hi Vincent, I did send you a reply:
      Hi Lester,

      Sorry I didn’t get back to you, I’ve been pre-occupied lately. It’s a great guitar you have there. I think if you say it is Cir.1920 it’s probably as close as you are going to get. I cannot remember if it had a serial number on top of the headstock or not?

      Value? Really hard for me to tell as I’m not a valuer, however being all koa it has to be about $400 or in that ballpark before restoration, maybe more, but as I say, I am not a valuer. The problem is everyone wants Martins and Gibsons and this lesser known brand gets overlooked. All the best Charles

  9. So much interesting information – thank you so much! (I don’t even have any Sammo related instrument and no questions about value.)

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