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Lyon & Healy’s Musical Strings

Located in the Trade Literature Collection at the National Museum of American History Library are several catalogs by Lyon & Healy, a musical instrument manufacturing company. Today Lyon & Healy is known primarily for their harps, but the company's beginnings included sheet music, uniforms, and a variety of musical instruments.

This 1891-92 catalog entitled Catalogue of Musical Merchandise depicts violins, guitars, harps, mandolins, and other instruments. One particular page illustrates four fancy inlaid violins. One of these, Number 51, shown here, is described as being decorated with "Decalcomania Pictures on Back, Dark Red Color, Highly Polished, Inlaid Edges."  Decalcomania is the process of transferring engravings and prints onto three dimensional surfaces through the aid of a flexible transfer material. This technique was more popularly used on pottery in the nineteenth century. The price for this violin, as listed in the catalog, was $5.50.  The other violins, shown here, varied from $5 to $11.

Lyon & Healy, Chicago, IL.  Catalogue of Musical Merchandise, 1891-92, page IV, Violins.

Also shown in this catalog are a number of guitars, two of which are the "Arion" and the "American Conservatory" guitars. The "Arion" is made from several different types of wood, including solid mahogany, Brazilian cedar, and rosewood. According to the catalog, the guitar "will not crack, warp nor shrink," and Lyon & Healy states that because they believe in "its absolute correctness we are prepared to stake our reputation." The "Arion" guitar had a price range of $18.33 to $19.58. The "American Conservatory" guitar is constructed of rosewood and Brazilian cedar and has a stripe down the back. The guitar is "French Polished," which is a process of using shellac to give it a glossy finish. Though incredibly beautiful, this process of polishing wood tends to make it more susceptible to damage. The "American Conservatory" guitar, shown here, sold for $25.

Lyon & Healy, Chicago, IL.  Catalogue of Musical Merchandise, 1891-92, page VI,
"Arion" Guitar and "American Conservatory" Guitar.

This 1891-92 trade catalog, Catalogue of Musical Merchandise, by Lyon & Healy can be found in the Trade Literature Collection at the National Museum of American History Library. For more images from this catalog, check out the Galaxy of Images.

Wondering about Lyon & Healy's other products? Especially band uniforms? Stay tuned for an upcoming blog post on that topic.

—Alexia MacClain and Molly Reynolds



  1. Peter Adams

    How do I obtain a photocopy of the Lyon & Healy 1891 catalog? I live in California. I am writing a history of Lyon & Healy, and 1891 was the year when this firm began manufacturing brass wind instruments.
    Thank you,
    Peter Adams

  2. Spearcarrier

    I do wish I could just read the whole catalog. We suspect we have an Arian; it was in a shed for dozens of years, and if it is an Arian it’s true. It didn’t warp, crack or shrink. I just strung it yesterday.

    But I need to see the front of the blasted thing, and going to the website is always a fruitless of circling for nothing.

    • Hi there! Feel free to reach out to our National Museum of American History Library for more information about this trade literature. They may be able to provide you with additional images from the catalog:


      Erin Rushing
      Outreach Librarian

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