August 24, 2020.
In the late 1800s, James H. Buckbee was one of the top New York banjo makers. He supplied instruments to other companies, which marketed them under their own house brands. Buckbee sold his business to Lange and William P. Rettberg in 1897, and they introduced the well-respected Orpheum-brand banjos.
In around 1921 Lange apparently took over the business and sold both Orpheum and Paramount banjos. When the guitar overtook the banjo in the 1930s, Lange added Paramount guitars to his line. He is reported to have marketed some Orpheum-brand guitars, but this is not certain and nothing is known of them.
Lange weathered the Great Depression but went out of business in 1941 or ’42. In 1944 the Orpheum brand name was picked up by New York distributor Maurice Lipsky, who applied it to both guitars and banjos.
In the 1950s, Lipsky marketed Orpheum electric archtops and little Les Paul-sized electric hollow-bodies, which look very much like those made by United (formerly Oscar Schmidt) in Jersey City, the source of many similar Premier guitars sold by Sorkin, Lipsky’s competitor at the time.
In the early 1960s, Lipsky began to use the Orpheum name on guitars imported from Japan, but the name doesn’t seem to have survived beyond the big crash of 1968.
Other sources suggest that Orpheum Guitars were produced by CMI (Chicago Musical Instruments) who produced Harmony, Silvertone and many other brands.
Almost all of the above text is from the Unofficial Guitar Forum (www.umgf.com) to whom I am most grateful.
This Orpheum archtop from approx. 1961 is fitted with one DeArmond Model 55 pickup at the neck, screwfixed directly to the guitar’s top (B0625 Photo courtesy of Rivington Guitars, New York, NY 10003).