Is Your Ukulele Stamped
“Oliver Ditson Co.”?

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Submissions of information, pictures, and feedback for the website will be gratefully received. Ditson catalogs from 1915 – 1930, period photographs of people playing Ditson ukuleles, and Ditson ukulele instruction books and sheet music from that period are of particular interest.

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Oliver Ditson built a successful retail empire publishing sheet music and later selling instruments in Boston.  Expansion followed and he set up his sons with branch stores in other large cities, including the Chas. H. Ditson store in New York City.  1915 brought the Hawaiian music boom and massive ukulele sales.  To satisfy demand, Ditson stocked ukuleles from several makers, including a range specially made for them by C.F. Martin & Co., and stamped with the Ditson brand.

Harry L. Hunt, manager of the New York branch, recognized the growing ukulele trend in his travels and buying trips.  His keen interest helped push Martin into full-scale ukulele production in 1915, with Ditson their first and largest customer.  Hunt corresponded frequently with Martin to develop and refine the product range.  He specified the wide-waisted dreadnought shape for instruments made for his Chas.  Ditson store, and supplied a Nunes taropatch to Martin for reference in creating their line of 8 string taropatch models.  Ditson received the first taropatches made by Martin, and the very first Style 5K ukulele.

The Boston branch waited until 1918 to start ordering ukuleles from Martin, and chose the standard Martin shape stamped with the Ditson brand.  Oliver Ditson bought far fewer Martin-made ukuleles than Chas. Ditson and by 1927, orders from both stores had tapered off, with the company closing its doors soon after in 1931.

What Makes a Ditson Ukulele Special?

The slightly larger air chamber and dreadnought body shape of the “Ditson Model” ukuleles produce an unusually fine tone.  Projection and volume are exceptional.  Although a century has passed, professional musicians and hobbyist players still seek out Ditson ukuleles for their unique sound and feel.  The longevity of these instruments is testament to the quality and crafstmanship of Frank Henry Martin’s factory.

Many details, aside from the body shape, distinguish Ditsons from regular Martin ukuleles.  Ditson often fit their own tuners, usually Champion friction pegs, in place of the standard Martin wood pegs.  For this, Hunt specified a slightly thicker headstock.  Fingerboard differences include adding side position markers, some orders with inlay at the 3rd fret, and moving the 9th fret marker to the 10th.  Ditson focused almost exclusively on mahogany ukuleles and ordered some with a specially polished “antique” finish which was fashionable at the time.  The striking appearance, excellent sound, and heritage of Martin’s golden era of ukulele building make each Ditson ukulele a special and historic item.


  • 1856

    Oliver Ditson & Co. formed in Boston

  • 1906

    British battleship HMS Dreadnought launched

  • December 1907

    Martin makes its first 6 ukuleles for Bergstrom Music in Honolulu

  • February 21, 1914

    Harry Hunt quoted in Music Trade Review saying “we have experienced a really surprising demand for ukuleles”

  • Late 1915

    Martin begins ukulele production at Hunt’s urging

  • December 7, 1915

    First shipment of Martin ukuleles to Chas. Ditson

  • May 31, 1916

    Serial numbered ukulele #129 shipped to Chas Ditson

  • Late 1916

    Hunt specifies dreadnought shape for his New York store

  • August 14, 1916

    First shipment of taropatches from Martin, one regular and one Ditson model

  • December 1916

    Martin returns a Nunes taropatch to Chas Ditson, which had been sent to aid the development of the Martin taropatch

  • 1918

    Oliver Ditson Co. in Boston places first order for Martin ukuleles, specifying the standard Martin shape

  • April 25, 1918

    Chas. Ditson orders 24 ukuleles in the standard Martin shape

  • 1919

    Peak year of production for the dreadnought shaped Ditson model ukulele

  • 1920

    Ditson publishes Bickford Method for Ukulele, featuring author Vahdah Olcott Bickford playing a 1916-17 Style 3 Ditson model on the cover

  • November 28, 1921

    Martin books order for “one koa uke Ditson model made up in a design to retail at $50”, the earliest known 5K ukulele of any type

  • December 22, 1921

    The prototype 5K is shipped “charged on memo” to Chas. Ditson

  • January 26, 1922

    Martin books order from Oliver Ditson for one 5K on approval, to ship in 2 or 3 weeks

  • January 30, 1922

    Chas. Ditson orders two more 5K Ditson model ukuleles

  • February 2, 1922

    Harry Hunt writes Martin regarding the sale of the prototype Ditson 5K ukulele for “a fifty dollar bill”

  • 1922

    Martin announces introduction of Style 0 and Style 5K ukuleles

  • July 28, 1925

    Martin stamp replaces Ditson stamp on headstock, Ditson still stamped inside ukulele

  • November 27, 1925

    Chas. Ditson orders two of the new concert size ukulele in Style 1 with the standard Martin shape

  • January 18, 1926

    Chas. Ditson places large order for Ditson models: 100 Style 0, 100 Style 1, 50 Style 2, and 50 Style 3

  • August 16, 1926

    Chas. Ditson orders six 5K models

  • October 28, 1929

    Black Monday, stock market crashes

  • 1930

    New York Ditson building sold and retail space leased back

  • November 26, 1930

    The last Ditson dreadnought guitar shipped to Chas. Ditson

  • 1931

    Oliver Ditson Co. sold

  • 2015 published, to honor the 100th anniversary of Ditson Ukulele production


Introduced 1915

Mahogany body with rosewood top binding and 12 fret fingerboard. A hot seller as the plainest & cheapest model when introduced. The most common Ditson ukulele with over 1000 made. Very few made from Hawaiian Koa wood as Style 1K in 1921.

Style 2

Mahogany body with contrasting ivoroid binding on front and back, 12 fret fingerboard.  Mid-priced model produced in smaller quantities than Style 1.  A lovely balance between ornamentation and function.

Style 3

Mahogany body with multi-ply binding front and back. Body and headstock inlaid with ivoroid. 17 fret fingerboard with pearl inlay and center stripe. Top of the line, Martin’s fanciest model until the introduction of Style 5 in late 1921.

Introduced 1921-22

Unbound mahogany body, 12 fret fingerboard with single dot markers at frets 5, 7, and 10. Introduced in 1922 as a plainer and cheaper model at the bottom of the range and became Ditson’s most frequently ordered model from that point forward.

First made December 1921. Hawaiian Koa body inlaid with pearl on front and back. Bound fingerboard with fancy pearl position markers. Inlaid headstock and patent pegs. The fanciest and most expensive model.