Louis was born in Paris to Sicilian parents. His father Vincenzo was a violin maker who moved the family to London in or around 1789. Having been raised in England and trained as a violin maker, Louis may have avoided becoming unduly influenced by the prevailing Italian and French schools of guitar construction. It was arguably the insular Spanish makers who exerted the greatest influence on the development and design of his guitars.
Panormo opened his first shop at 43 Monmouth Street in 1808. By February 7, 1817, he had moved his workshop to the West End, evidenced by the Morning Post recording the sale of music by Francis Panormo (Louis’s brother) “at Lewis Panormo’s Musical Instrument Warehouse, no. 26 High-Street Bloomsbury.” There is only one surviving guitar from this period – the 1816 Panormo in this collection, and although there is no street number given on the label, it is likely that this guitar was made at the Bloomsbury address.
The first guitars made in Panormo’s workshop coincided with the arrival from Paris in 1815 of the famed Catalan guitarist, Fernando Sor, and an examination of the 1816 guitar in the Austin-Marie Collection immediately reveals the Spanish influence. The back and sides are made of rosewood as opposed to maple – the preferred wood used by British luthiers. The internal construction, except the bracing, is Spanish. (Panormo’s early soundboards are ladder braced, but he later adopted the fan bracing pattern used by the Spanish makers.) The 1816 guitar also has several features that Panormo continued to use throughout his career: the internal individual glue blocks for the soundboard, the continuous linings for the back, and Panormo’s unique unscrewable strap button.
The next known guitars made by Panormo date from 1822 onward and have fully printed labels (a few reliable individuals claim to have seen an 1817 decades ago, but its whereabouts are unknown). Guitar makers typically added serial numbers (beginning with a round number) at the start of their career to provide an estimate of the number of instruments they had produced.
Apparently, Panormo’s numbering system did not reflect the quantity of guitars the firm had manufactured. Panormo changed the first digit each year by one; for example, guitars made in 1823 were numbered in the 400 range, those in 1824 in the 500s and so on, until 1828 when the famous “The only Maker of Guitars in the Spanish style” label was introduced, using another numbering system altogether, though still not reflecting the quantity of guitars that had been produced.
An impressive roster of London-based guitarists played Louis Panormo’s instrument, including Antonio Trinitario Huerta, Phillipe Verini, Madame Pratten, Stanislaus Sczepanowski, and probably Zani de Ferranti and Karl Eulenstein. There was also an association between Fernando Sor and Louis’ brother, Joseph Panormo. Sor mentions Joseph years later in his Méthode pour la Guitare, and Joseph, in turn, mentions Sor on the label of an extant guitar made in partnership with Antonio Bruno. The label reads: “Joseph Panormo & Antonio Bruno, Makers to the Celebrated Mr. Sor, No. 52 King Street, Soho, London.” This guitar, however, is a French-style instrument and wouldn’t be an example of the much-discussed (and Sor inspired) Spanish style, widely assumed to have emerged from the Sor-Panormo collaboration.
Sor left London in late 1822 or possibly at the beginning of 1823, so we must assume that Joseph made guitars in consultation with him before then, but no guitar labelled by Joseph survives from the period of Sor’s sojourn in London. It is therefore probable that Joseph was working for Louis Panormo & Co. at 26 High Street, Bloomsbury (a possible location for Sor’s contacts with the Panormos).
As the earliest known and perhaps first guitar built by Louis Panormo, the 1816 instrument in the Austin-Marie Collection is historically significant.