E logo case lid

Close-up #43: "E"-logo cases and their manufacturers 1939–56

Epiphone was a pioneer in having their instrument cases branded with their logo – a letter "E" embossed in the lining of the lid – first announced in the 1939 catalog (see picture below). Let's have a closer look at these beautiful cases and their details. Note that only hardshell cases had the "E"-logo – while the cheaper cardboard cases were unbranded, and not discussed here.

1939 catalog cases

What I try to figure out in this excercise: Can we pin down any pattern regarding manufacturers, case models/sizes and time periods?

A note on "originality"

Vintage guitars are often described as having an "original case". But what does "original" really mean? Cases wear out and tend to get replaced during the lifetime of an instrument – often by another older case that fits the instrument. So even when an "E"-logo case appears to be of similar vintage as the guitar it comes with, the two items may have been combined later in their life – i.e.: such a case may be a vintage original Epiphone item, but not truly "original" to the actual guitar. Quite often a closer look reveals that an instrument and its case must be from slightly different periods. 

Another "originality" question: What about 1939–56 Epiphone instruments housed in a period case without "E"-logo? Non-original case? Not necessarily: From what we know, cases were usually sold by music stores as a separate accessory – and often an Epiphone retailer may also have carried other case model lines than the "E"-logo versions recommended by the instrument manufacturer. So when a 1940–50s Epiphone instrument comes in a period hardshell case without "E"-logo, it may still be the very case it was originally sold with by the dealer.

Such caveats have to be taken into account – also when dating a case based on the instrument it came with.

Case options – sizes and time periods

When the "E"-logo cases were introduced in the 1939 catalog, they were offered in an almost confusing variety:   

1939 catalog cases

However note that not every listed case option was available in every instrument size. And after WW2 the case models were significantly reduced. Below a summary – based on catalogs/pricelists and documented examples in my image library:

1939 catalog case Emperor

1941 Emperor case

Above: Genuine leather covered case No. 115, 18", plush lining, form-fitted heel area, draw catches; manufactured by Geib (with 1941 Emperor); note "E"-logo in upper bout of lid.

1941 Triumph case

Above: "Professional" series case No. 885, 17", plush lining, draw catches; manufactured by Geib (with 1941 Triumph); note "E"-logo in upper bout of lid.

1941 Triumph case

Above: "Masterbilt" series case No. 685, 17", crushed plush lining; manufactured by Lifton (with 1941 Triumph); note "E"-logo in upper bout of lid.

1944 Olympic case

Above: "Masterbilt" series case No. 583, 15", fleece lining; manufactured by Lifton (with 1944 Olympic); note "E"-logo in upper bout of lid.

For mandolins, similar style Professional plush lined (No. 632) and fleece lined (No. 532) models were offered – plus additionally two square, oblong deluxe cases (No. 830 plush / No. 831 crushed plush), see picture in 1939 catalog below. After WW2, only the Professional plush model remained.

1939 cat mando case

1940 Windsor mando case

Above: Mandolin case No. 831, crushed plush lining; manufactured by Lifton? (with 1940 Windsor).

1940 Adelphi mando case

Above: Mandolin case No. 532, fleece lining; manufactured by Lifton (with 1940 Adelphi).

Until 1941, Epiphone electric instruments were sold with the case included (see 1939 catalog picture below). "E"-logo cases for lap steels, electric banjos, etc. were listed without a model number in catalogs. By 1949 all lap steels were sold with unbranded cases.

1939 catalog case Zephyr H

1941 Zephyr Hawaiian case

Above: Lap steel case, plush lining; likely manufactured by Lifton (with 1941 Zephyr Hawaiian).

1940 Zephyr Banjo case

Above: Banjo case, fleece lining; manufactured by Lifton (with 1940 Zephyr Tenor Banjo).

Note that in the post-war period, Epiphone offered only one hardshell "E"-logo case option each in most instrument sizes – 18" (No. 110), 16" (No. 884), FT Jumbo (No. 855) and mandolin (No. 832). Exception: For 17" archtops there was a choice between two – the standard model No. 885 and the more expensive No. 105 (stitched valance, draw catches).

"E"-logo cases by manufacturer

Like most other musical instrument makers, Epiphone didn't build any cases in-house, but commissioned them from a number of specialized manufacturers who also served other instrument companies such as Gibson, Martin, etc. This subject is being discussed in the highly recommended Vintage Musical Instrument Cases FB group – an invaluable source for the identification of case manufacturers. A big thank you to Steve Kirtley for his groundbreaking musical instrument case research. I will be hyperlinking to Steve's research website in this text a lot.

We know that most Epiphone hardshell cases were manufactured by the “big 3" in the American instrument case business of the time: Geib, Harptone and Lifton. Other suppliers were possibly Ess & Ess and/or the Stone Case Co.

How can the manufacturer of an Epiphone branded case be identified? Often not an easy task, because most "E"-logo cases don't show the name of the manufacturer anywhere (only some of the cases made by Lifton were branded with the maker's badge inside). Therefore, identification of the maker has to be based on a number of typical construction features such as the shape of the case lid arch – see the guide below by Steve Kirtley.

Case identification (c) Steve Kirtley

There are a number of other details which help identification – e.g. location and type of the head rest, pocket hinge, lining seams, hardware, etc. – but I won't go into too many nerdy details here...

Note that the imitation leather covering varied in color (brown, black) and appearance ("alligator", "spanish leather", etc.). The same applies for the color of the interior lining. Since we see these variations on cases across different manufacturers, they don't help much with their identification.

Below a summary of my findings regarding manufacturers of the “E”-logo cases (1939–56), based on documented instruments in the Registry database and my photo library:

1. Lifton Mfg. Co.

The vast majority of "E"-logo cases we see showing up can be identified as made by the Lifton Manufacturing Company in New York City NY (factory located in Brooklyn). Lifton-made Epiphone hardshell cases can be found over the entire 1939–56 period, and in all guitar sizes (18", 17", 16", 15", and FT models). Virtually all fleece-lined "E"-logo cases (seen until c. 1944) appear to be manufactured by Lifton.

1955 FT 110 case by Lifton

Above: No. 855 case, 16" FT, plush lining; manufactured by Lifton (with 1955 FT 110); this example with Lifton badge on the typically deep neck rest; note "8" shape of lid arch; on Lifton cases the "E"-logo is positioned in the upper bout of the lid.

2. Geib, Inc. 

In the early 1930s, many if not most hardshell cases for Epiphone instruments were made by the Geib & Schaefer company in Chicago IL – renamed Geib, Inc. by 1937. In later years, Geib seem to have  made "E"-logo cases mostly in the large 18" Emperor size – from 1939 into the early 1950s. (Only very few smaller size Geib cases with "E" logo from the '40s are documented.)

1946 Emperor case by Geib

Above: No. 110 case, 18", plush lining; manufactured by Geib (with 1946 Emperor); note long, narrow ridge shape of lid arch; on Geib cases the "E"-logo is typically positioned in the upper bout of the lid.

3. Harptone Mfg. Co. (Bull's Head)

1950 ZDR case by Harptone

Above: No. 105 case, 17", plush lining, stitched lid valance, draw catches; manufactured by Harptone (with 1950 Zephyr DeLuxe Regent); note triangular shape of lid arch; on Harptone cases the "E"-logo is positioned in the waist area of the lid.

4. Other – Ess & Ess / Stone Case Co.(?)

There are also "E"-logo cases which appear to be from an other manufacturer than the previously mentioned "big 3", showing up with instruments from around 1949–50 until the mid-'50s – in archtop size 17" only. Their features suggest that they were possibly made by either Ess & Ess Mfg. or the Stone Case Co., both located in Brooklyn NY.

1951 ZDR case by Stone

Above: No. 885 case, 17", plush lining; possibly manufactured by either Ess & Ess or Stone (with 1951 Zephyr DeLuxe Regent); the smallish neck rest is typical for Ess & Ess and Stone cases; note "8" shape of lid arch similar to Lifton; however here the "E"-logo is positioned in the waist area of the lid.

"E"-logo case models at a glance

Size No.
Years    
Typical features Typ. manufacturers
18" 115  1939–46 plush, genuine leather Lifton, Geib
18" 110 1946–56 plush, stitched by '48 Lifton, Geib
17" 105 1948–56 plush, stitched valance Lifton; Harptone
17" 995 1941–42 plush, genuine leather Lifton
17" 885 1939–56 plush Lifton; Harptone; other
17" 785 1939–41 fleece Lifton
17" 685 1939–44 crushed plush Lifton
17" 585 1939–44 fleece Lifton
16" 884 1939–56 plush Lifton; Harptone
16" 684 1939–44 crushed plush Lifton
16" 584 1939–44 fleece Lifton
15" 683 1939–44 crushed plush Lifton
15" 583 1939–44 fleece Lifton
FT 16" 855 1939–56 plush Lifton
FT 16" 655 1939–44 fleece Lifton
FT 15" 637 1939–44 fleece Lifton
FT 14" 627 1939–44 fleece Lifton
Mando  830 1939–44 oblong, plush Lifton?
Mando 831 1939–44 oblong, crushed plush Lifton?
Mando 632 1939–56 plush Lifton
Mando 532 1939–44 fleece Lifton
Banjo - 1939–42 fleece Lifton
Steel - 1939–48 plush Lifton?
Steel - 1939–48 fleece Lifton?

Note: This overview is subject to updates whenever new evidence surfaces.

(Dec 13, 2018 – with later updates)