This is an answer to a query on a small Maccaferri Islander guitar from a good friend and contributor Paul Hostetter.

Mario Maccaferris Plastic Inventions

Mario Maccaferri got into plastics with a vengeance during and right after WWII. His initial impetus was to make a plastic clarinet reed, since his usual business was REAL cane reeds. His source for cane was in France, and during the war, his supply was eliminated. So he tried injection-molded plastic. They weren't great, but a few key people (like Benny Goodman) endorsed them. He was on his way.

After the war, he resumed using real cane but a few folks continued to demand his plastic reeds. In the meantime, he had all this injection-molding equipment, so he started making other things. Bathroom tile, clothespins, grills for air conditioners, you name it. He started doing very well.

But he was an instrument maker at heart. Thru the reed event, and because of his rep as a guitarmaker, he met Arthur Godfrey, a then-famous radio and TV personality, who played the uke. It was his trademark. He told Mario if he could make a uke that sold for $2, Godfrey would sell a million. Mario went one better, he made one with little push buttons on the fingerboard so you didn't have to learn chords. It sold more than a million. Then Mario tried guitars, only he was serious. He made two models he considered true musical instruments, not toys or novelties. Everyone laughed at him anyway. He made and didn't sell millions.

Meanwhile, the cash was rolling in from all his other endeavors, so it didn't matter. The ukes paid for it all. He also made Mickey Mouse ukes, with the ears part of the body. He made Mickey Mouse uke-shaped music boxes, with little cranks on the side (wish I still had mine) for the terminally untalented. He teamed up with a toy manufacturer and made other dimestore musical instruments like a cheesy little electric organ. That company was called Emenee, which is M & E, right? I don't know who was the E, but I do know the M. And he made lots of novelty guitars like the Islander, the Romancer (I have one of those too), and a host of others. ALL of this was in the 50's.

So throughout that decade he had multiple ventures going on all at once. I think the plastic guitars died out around 1960 or so. His French-American Reed company kept on going, and his plastics company kept going. In the latter years of his life, he started collaborating with luthiers to bring his old wooden guitar designs to life, with mixed results. He also worked on a plastic violin that he was sure would be the real thing for students (I have one: it's not). One was played at his funeral.

About two years before he died, he decided to dispense with a warehouse full of Romancers, Islanders, etc. plus all those serious plastic guitars that he couldn't sell and had been languishing there. The market was flooded. The fancy ones went for $65 (2 for $100) plus shipping, the less expensive ones went for like $20. In a jiffy they were all gone. A couple of shops stocked up and still have some. Top price for any now, in original packaging, is maybe $100.

So cherish your little Islander, with its pictures of tropical fun. They're pretty cool. I don't think it's quite like having inherited a Stradivari violin, I don't think you'll retire on the proceeds, but they're a nice thing.

All the best from way out west.

Paul Hostetter

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