A 150-year-old Martin acoustic is up for sale on Reverb – and it’s surprisingly attainable and 100 percent playable

c. 1880 Martin 1-21 Flat-Top
(Image credit: Reverb)

What is it about the acoustic guitar that makes it age so gracefully? Perhaps this Martin 1-21 flat top, 150 years young, can share its secret, as it has turned up for sale on Reverb.

Made in Nazareth, PA, circa 1880, this compact 13” acoustic is being listed by Retrofret Vintage Guitars out of Brooklyn, and it’s in remarkable condition, with just a little wear south of the soundhole as testament to over a century-and-a-half’s worth of strumming.

The body is peppered with the occasional ding as you might expect, and some grain splits have been repaired over the years. The original tuners have been replaced with Waverly ‘strip-style tuners from the 1950s.

c. 1880 Martin 1-21 Flat-Top

(Image credit: Reverb)

That is is still perfectly playable and here today is both a miracle of design but also of stewardship; other guitars are not so lucky – not least the 145-year-old Martin acoustic that was smashed on the set of a certain Quentin Tarantino film.

Many of this c. 1880 Martin 1-21’s contemporaries would have been ruined by players winding up a set of steel-strings on them. This one does not know just how lucky it is.

c. 1880 Martin 1-21 Flat-Top

(Image credit: Reverb)

Whoever picks it up, will. They will have a serious acoustic on their hands, safely nestled in a “coffin” guitar case that is straight out of Edgar Allan Poe. They will also have some pre-CITES Brazilian rosewood – this flat-top comprises a red spruce top, a cedar neck and ebony fingerboard, rosewood on the back and sides.

There is traditional hand-scalloped X-pattern bracing, and given the guitar’s age, you want to tread lightly with it. No Jon Gomm-style rat-a-tat on the soundboard, please. The neck has a soft V profile.

c. 1880 Martin 1-21 Flat-Top

Just look at that coffin case.  (Image credit: Reverb / Retrofret Vintage Guitars)

The guitar is finished in natural lacquer. There are not too many aesthetic flourishes. The heavily figured rosewood on the back does a lot of the talking on that front. There is a herringbone soundhole rosette, plain wood binding.

A Size 1 Martin in today’s reckoning is a couch-friendly parlor guitar but back in the 1850s when they were first made they were as big as C.F. Martin made them. Besides this being playable, available, and still in its original case, perhaps the biggest surprise here is the price.

Given how overheated the vintage market is, $6,750 for a guitar that was made when John Garfield was in the White House seems like a bargain. You can check out the listing, see more pics, or even buy this acoustic over at Reverb.

The sale recalls the story of the 150-year-old Martin guitar found by a New Zealand resident in her back room. That went on to sell to an ex-Fender CEO for around $11,000.

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Jonathan Horsley

Jonathan Horsley has been writing about guitars since 2005, playing them since 1990, and regularly contributes to publications including Guitar World, MusicRadar and Total Guitar. He uses Jazz III nylon picks, 10s during the week, 9s at the weekend, and shamefully still struggles with rhythm figure one of Van Halen’s Panama.