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 chipboard cases were not Epiphone-branded, 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 when an old Epiphone guitar comes with an old "E"-logo case, the two items may actually have been combined later in their life – i.e.: while the case is a vintage original Epiphone item, it may not be the one the guitar was originally sold with. 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 an overview – based on catalogs/pricelists and documented examples in my image library:

1939 catalog case Emperor

1941 Emperor case

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

1950 ZDR case by Harptone

Above: Case No. 105, 17", alligator-style keratol covered, plush lining, neck rest at headstock, stitched lid valance, draw catches (with 1950 Zephyr DeLuxe Regent); manufactured by Harptone; note "E"-logo in waist area of the lid.

1940 Triumph case 1940 Triumph case

Above: "Professional" series case No. 885, 17", alligator-style keratol covered, plush lining, neck rest at headstock, draw catches (with 1940 Triumph); manufactured by Geib; note "E"-logo in upper bout of lid.

Harptone case 1948

Above: "Professional" series case No. 884, 16", keratol covered, plush lining, no neck rest, spring catches (with 1948 Blackstone); manufactured by Harptone; note "E"-logo in waist area of lid.

16966 Triumph case Lifton 16966 Triumph case Lifton

Above: "Masterbilt" series case No. 685, 17", keratol covered, crushed plush lining, no neck rest (came with 1940 Triumph); manufactured by Lifton; note "E"-logo in upper bout of lid (hard to see in the curly plush, but you feel the raised logo when touching).  

1944 Olympic case

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

Mandolins: for models with teardrop or two-point body shape, cases with plush lining (No. 632) and fleece lining (No. 532) were offered. For the high-end models with scroll body, there was a choice between two oblong deluxe cases with form-fitted interior (No. 830 with plush lining, and No. 831 with crushed plush) – see picture in 1939 catalog below.
After WW2, only the plush lined case No. 632 remained, typically without "E"-logo under the lid.

1939 cat mando case

1940 Windsor mando case

Above: Mandolin case No. 831, keratol covered, form-fitted interior, crushed plush lining (with 1940 Windsor); likely manufactured by Lifton; the "E"-logo is hard to see in the curly plush.

1940 Adelphi mando case

Above: Mandolin case No. 532, keratol covered, fleece lining, no neck rest (with 1940 Adelphi); manufactured by Lifton.

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, alligator-style keratol covered, plush lining (with 1941 Zephyr Hawaiian); likely manufactured by Lifton.

1940 Zephyr Banjo case

Above: "Masterbilt" series banjo case, keratol covered, fleece lining, no neck rest (with 1940 Zephyr Tenor Banjo); manufactured by Lifton.

Note that in the post-war period Epiphone reduced their case options: For most instrument sizes only one hardshell "E"-logo case model was offered – 18" (No. 110), 16" (No. 884), FT Jumbo (No. 855) and mandolin (No. 632). 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.

Based on our image database of Epiphone instruments accompanied by original "E"-logo cases, we can assume that most of them were manufactured by the “big 3" in the American instrument case business of the time: Geib, Harptone and Lifton. Another supplier was Frost & Stone / Stone Case Co.

How can the manufacturer of a case be identified? Often not an easy task, because most "E"-logo cases don't show the name of the manufacturer anywhere (only few examples have a Lifton badge or Harptone label). 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 shape of the neck 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 pattern ("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.

When comparing the "E"-logos in the lid lining we noticed certain details in the shape and position which seem to be specific to the respective case manufacturers – thus helping their identification: 

E-logo Lifton

Above: "E"-logo in cases made by Lifton; positioned in the upper bout of the lid; slim horseshoe shape with fairly long crossbar end at the left.

E-logo Geib

Above: "E"-logo in cases made by Geib; typically positioned in the upper bout of the lid (rarely in the waist); slightly fatter horseshoe shape with short crossbar end at the left.

E-logo Harptone

Above: "E"-logo in cases made by Harptone; positioned in the waist area of the lid; circular shape with short crossbar end at the left.

E-logo Stone

Above: "E"-logo in cases made by Frost & Stone; positioned in the waist area of the lid; circular shape with very small aperture, curved arms almost touching crossbar.

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 Lifton Manufacturing Company in New York City NY (factory located in Brooklyn) became a case supplier for Epiphone around 1935. The vast majority of "E"-logo cases we see showing up can be identified as made by this company: Lifton-made Epiphone hardshell cases can be found over the entire 1939–56 period – in all guitar sizes (18", 17", 16", 15", FT/Hawaiian models) and also for other instrument types. All of the fleece-lined "E"-logo cases (seen until the mid-1940s) appear to be manufactured by Lifton.

1955 FT 110 case by Lifton

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

2. Geib, Inc. 

Since the 1920s, many hardshell cases for Epiphone instruments were manufactured by the Geib & Schaefer company in Chicago IL – renamed Geib, Inc. by 1937. Geib seem to have made "E"-logo cases mostly in the large 18" Emperor size – from 1939 until c. 1950. Some Geib-made "E"-logo cases in size 17" have shown up, with instruments from the early '40s – but only in very low numbers.

1946 Emperor case by Geib

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

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

The "Bull's Head" brand of instrument cases goes back to the Maulbetsch & Whittemore Company, founded 1886 in Newark NJ. By 1929 the Harptone Mfg. Co., based in Newark NJ, became the owner of the "Bull's Head" brand. Epiphone had used "Bull's Head" cases since the 1920s. Harptone-made "E"-logo cases show up with instruments from the post-war period only, starting c. 1948 – in archtop guitar sizes 17" and 16".

1950s Harptone case

Above: No. 884 case, 16", keratol covered, plush lining, neck rest at headstock, draw catches; manufactured by Harptone, early 1950s; note triangular shape of lid arch. This example bears a label at the middle hinge with Harptone's "Bull's Head" logo and claim "The Standard of Musicians for Over 60 Years" – referring to the brand's start in 1886. On Harptone cases the "E"-logo is placed in the waist area of the lid.

4. Frost & Stone / Stone Case Co.

Finally, there are some "E"-logo cases which appear to be from a different manufacturer than the "big 3" mentioned above – in size 17" only, showing up with instruments from around 1949–50 until the mid-'50s. Their features suggest that they were made by Frost & Stone, located in Brooklyn NY. Case manufacturer Frost & Stone was founded around 1912 in NYC. When the company was split after a lawsuit in June 1954, a business named "Stone Case Co." continued to make guitar cases.

1951 ZDR case by Stone

Above: No. 885 case, 17", keratol covered, plush lining, neck rest at headstock (with 1951 Zephyr DeLuxe Regent); manufactured by Frost & Stone; the low-profile neck rest near the headstock is typical for this maker; note "8" shape of lid arch (somewhat similar to Lifton). On Frost & Stone cases 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,
Frost & Stone
17" 985 1941–45 plush, genuine leather Lifton
17" 885 1939–56 plush Lifton, Geib, Harptone,
Frost & Stone
17" 785 1939–41 fleece Lifton
17" 685 1939–45 crushed plush Lifton
17" 585 1939–45 fleece Lifton
16" 884 1939–56 plush Lifton, Harptone
16" 684 1939–45 crushed plush Lifton
16" 584 1939–45 fleece Lifton
15" 683 1939–45 crushed plush Lifton
15" 583 1939–45 fleece Lifton
FT 16" 855 1939–56 plush Lifton
FT 16" 755 1939–42 crushed plush Lifton
FT 16" 655 1939–42 fleece Lifton
FT 15" 637 1939–45 fleece Lifton
FT 14" 627 1939–45 fleece Lifton
Haw 16" HA2 1939–41 crushed plush Lifton
Haw 16" HA1 1939–41 fleece Lifton
Mando  830 1939–42 oblong, plush Lifton
Mando 831 1939–42 oblong, crushed plush Lifton
Mando 632 1939–44 plush Lifton
Mando 532 1939–44 fleece Lifton
Banjo - 1939–42 fleece Lifton
Steel - 1939–42 plush Lifton
Steel - 1939–48 fleece Lifton

More info and pics about individual case models on the Models page.

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

(Dec 13, 2018 – with later updates)