In 1732 the Duke of Lorraine, recognizing the town’s burgeoning instrument-making industry, created a charter to regulate the luthier trade. Over the next two centuries production evolved from single-family workshops, to families working together, to small factories, and by the latter part of the nineteenth century, culminated in the largest operator in France: Jérôme Thibouville-Lamy & Company, which boasted four factories and retail outlets in Paris, London, and New York.
The ornate presentation guitar in the Austin-Marie Collection boasting a bridge depicting a Bald Eagle lined with stars, was built in Mirecourt. The fretboard and headstock with matching rosette are veneered with mother of pearl masterfully engraved with ornate filigree framing scenes of Lady Liberty, the American flag, and a shielded Bald Eagle. The back and sides are made of rosewood.
The Americana themes may seem out of keeping with a guitar manufactured in France, and adding to the mystery is the absence of a luthier’s label or stamp identifying the maker. Guitars made in Mirecourt were frequently unmarked but when they were, the family name was often used, making an exact attribution more difficult. Fortunately, most families and larger operators had telltale design and construction styles that make for easier identification. The “Americana” guitar in this collection has all the hallmarks of the guitars made in the workshop of Aubry-Maire.
According to Senier de Ridder, Joseph Aubry (1801–1867) married a “Miss Maire” in 1824 and subsequently built guitars under the hyphenated name of Aubry-Maire (using a hyphenated brand name arising from a marriage or joint venture was a common practice in Mirecourt). They further speculate that Joseph was a relative of Antoine Aubry, who was employed by the famed Parisian luthier Nicolas Lambert during the mid-eighteenth century, and believe Antoine returned to Mirecourt following Lambert’s death in 1759.
Typical design elements found in the guitars by Aubry-Maire are clearly evident in the Americana guitar. These include rosewood back and sides, a fretboard and headstock veneered with engraved mother of pearl with matching rosette, a dome-shaped head, a V-shaped neck-to-head joint, and internal braces that taper from the center to where they intersect and enter the linings.
Dating the Mirecourt guitar is more of a challenge. The Americana themes and ornate embellishments suggest it may have been a special order for an American client. It may have also been a presentation guitar for display at one of the ten world’s fairs and exhibitions held in the United States during the second half of the nineteenth century. America’s World’s Fairs included Philadelphia in 1876 and Chicago in 1893, and the eight major exhibitions held between 1853 and 1898 were hosted by major cities including New York, New Orleans, and San Francisco.
Another strong possibility, based on nearly identical design elements, would have the guitar built by Jacques Aubry who went to work for Jérôme Thibouville-Lamy & Company in or around 1890. It is conjectured that Jacques brought with him the Aubry-Maire construction templates, as J.T.L. guitars mirror the Aubry-Maire design from this period. When comparing the Aubry-Maire Americana guitar to the 1892 J.T.L. guitar in this collection, it is plausible that Jacques Aubry might very well have been the builder. We can only speculate.