Triumph 7039 front

Close-up #7: 1933(?) Triumph SN 7039

The Triumph was part of Epiphone's original 1931 lineup of Masterbilt archtop guitars and stayed in production until the sale of the company to CMI/Gibson in 1957 (and even after that). According to our research, the Triumph was one of Epiphone's bestsellers – with likely more than 5000 units produced during the years of the original New York company.

The photos here (received from the owner) show an instrument with the typical features of the earliest version of this model, as shown in the 1932 catalog pictured below.

1932 catalog Triumph

The 1931-32 Triumph held rank 3 in Epiphone's model hierarchy, with a price of $125.  It had an Auditorium size body (=15 1/2" wide) with a carved spruce top and 2-piece carved walnut back, both highlighted with a sunburst finish, ...

Triumph 7039 back

... and sported the iconic asymmetrical Masterbilt headstock with engraved pearl banners, a feature reserved to Epiphone's higher models. 

Triumph 7039 head

Triumph 7039 tuners

The tuners on this example are modern replacements.

However I found older photos of this very guitar when it was for sale at archtop.com, one of the world's leading sellers of archtop guitars.

Those photos show the original clipped-plate tuners with metal buttons which look similar to Grovers but bear no name. These machines are believed to have been manufactured by Waverly.

These tuners were used on different Epiphone models from 1931 until 1936 – gold-plated on high-end models, with plastic buttons on lower models.
  Triumph 7039 original tuners

The label inside the guitar is the "silver oval" type which was used on Masterbilt instruments until 1934 – a label not bearing any model info or serial number. On early Epiphones, the serial number is usually stamped into the wood next to the label. The SN of this Triumph is clearly readable: "7039" – which is rather a surprise! Why?

Triumph 7039 label

According to our research, a SN around 7000 indicates a manufacturing date of late 1933. Now, when looking at surviving Triumph examples of the early 1930s we notice that the model specs changed significantly: Around early 1933 the Triumph got "upgraded" to the Grand Auditorium size (16 3/8" wide) of the higher models DeLuxe and Broadway, Triumph SN 6437 being the earliest documented example. At this occasion the headstock design was "downgraded" to the simpler rounded peak shape with engraved banners instead of pearl inlays, a feature of lower models. Also the  fretboard inlays were simplified, from the distinctive paired diamonds in a "zigzag" pattern to plain dots. And the back of the Triumph was now a pressed laminated plate stained brown instead of carved 2-piece walnut with sunburst. Furthermore, the trapeze tailpiece changed around the same time on all models, from the early "reverse" type with the strings wrapping over the bar to the design which became standard for decades.

All documented Triumphs in the SN range 6437 to 7259 show these changed features – except two: The example with SN 7039 shown here, and also Triumph SN 7038 (just one SN lower!) has the same early features. (Interestingly, there is also Royal SN 7013 "close by" which similarly sports an headstock with white banners and a "reverse" tailpiece typical for a 1931–32 example.)

How can this mismatch of features and SN be explained? We can only speculate: Were these guitars actually among the first built in 1931 and intended to have a 50xx serial number – however the Epiphone worker applying the serial number mistakenly grabbed for a punch stamp with a "7" instead of a "5"? Or were these early, unnumbered examples which received a much later SN when finally offered for sale in 1933? Or were these guitars actually built in 1933 as suggested by their SNs, but with specs and parts of 1931–32 models?

The first of above scenarios seems most feasible to me – but well, we will probably never know.  

(Oct 7, 2016)