Chapter 10.5 – Salustiano De La Cova (1816 to 1862?)

In the 1850's Martin sold a number of guitars to a certain Salustiano De La Cova of Panama (see Table 114). De La Cova operated his own commission merchant company in Panama, which was involved in transporting mail and freight between New York and California, and was also the Panama agent for the Adams' Express Co. for many years. De La Cova also had business interests in Peru, Havana, New York, Boston and Spain and travelled extensively between these locations.


Figure 411

De La Cova Advertisement in the Daily Alta California Dated June 14, 18531


Table 114

Martin Guitars Purchased by S. De La Cova from 1852 to 1855


The 1852 guitar ordered by De La Cova was meant for Lieutenant George M. Totten USN. In 1852 Totten was on a medical furlough from the Navy and was captain of the Pacific Mail Steamship Co. steamer "Tennessee" operating between Panama and San Francisco2,3,4. (Lieutenant Totten died on August 1, 1857 at Mendham, New Jersey5.)

During one of his visits to New York De La Cova wrote the following to C. F. Martin Jr. on December 15, 1852:

"Please send me p. 1st opportunity, as I have none, a bundle of 1st tripe strings of the very best Italian medium thickness as this weather is too damp & hot & spoils them very soon. Take care they are not too thick as I cannot use them here.

Remember me particularly to your father & family & Mrs. Coupa if you see her, saying that I may have the pleasure of seeing them all next May.

Please call on Messrs. Adams & Co. for the amount of the strings & if you have something good of that description, send two packs of 30 strings each."

This letter is interesting as it not only comments on quality problems of gut strings of the period but also suggests, as will be confirmed in his later letters, that De La Cova was more than just an acquaintance to C. F. Martin Sr. and John B. Coupa. It is known De La Cova visited New York in 18356 and 18417 and, with his obvious interest in guitars, would certainly have been known to C. F. Martin, as well as John C0upa. There is even a record that he became a naturalized U. S. citizen in 18438 although his main residence appears to have been in Havana, Cuba.

On March 16, 1853 De La Cova wrote to C. F Martin Sr. from Panama:

"I send you today pr Adams & Co. Express one of my two guitars to your address say: "C. F. Martin, music store, Fulton Street, N. York". I shall be there in April next & see if you have invented something better, when I shall exchange with you, You will perceive the varnish in the bottom of the sound board has half gone to the devil I think. You better make it right at once giving it a new varnish front & back. The old one of Pages (the one I constantly use, that one being too hard in the fingering) I shall keep with me, it also wants many repairs which I hope you'll make very soon for I shall not be able to stay with you but 3 to 4 days, the(n) on my return from Europe I may stay longer.

I hope my guitars may arrive safe. Give my best love to your lady & children.

Would you believe "a friend" to whom I sold the little guitar Coupa sent me to Lima, has not yet paid $25 balance of sale; he has only owed me the money since my arrival here in July 1849!!!!! I sold it to him for $70 this currency which is 18% less in American Gold. What a place this for fine guitars & purchasers!!!!!"

The mention of the "music store on Fulton Street" might suggest that De La Cova had not been in touch with Martin for some time but more likely it just let Martin know he could find the two guitars at the Adams Co. Express Office under that address. On May 23, 1853 Martin sold  a guitar to De La Cova in New York so he must have thought Martin had "invented something better". The guitar had a size 1 body and appointments like a style 26 instrument. However, it commanded a price of $35 because it was supplied with a neck screw.

On May 28, 1853 De La Cova was in New York and sent C. F. Martin Sr. the following letter:

"I send you my old & lovely pet guitar. I believe it need s new box - the lock of this one id bad. I send you the key with it. How do you like those old pegs of Pages? I send them in because they do not fit now. I hope I'll see you in August next when I come. I am off at 12 a. m. today.

God bless you, may you be happy & prosperous. Same all your family.

I shall take good care with the guitar you had the kindness to send me as loan with your son & try to get you $35 in not $40 for it."

Evidently, Martin loaned De La Cova the 1-26 guitar with the neck screw for his trip to Europe.

De a Cova was again in New York when he wrote to C. F. Martin Sr. on November 29, 1853:

"I arrtoday & hasten to inform you that I sh'd be most happy to see you down with my two guitars & receive yours which has been so much admired in Europe by every one who has seen it & heard it, even in Spain. I want you to take a dinner with me. I am staying at the same old place where your son met me, Judson's Hotel 61 Broadway. I don't know whether I will stay here 3 or 4 days before I go to Boston on some business visit.

We'll have a long, very long talk about fold, old things & old times."

After his return from his business trip to Europe, De La Cova desired to meet up with C. F. Martin Sr. to return the borrowed 1-26 guitar and also to pick up the two guitars he had sent to Martin for repairs (an old Martin guitar and an old Pages guitar).

De La Cova must have been quite concerned he might not be able to meet with C. F. Martin because he wrote again on Dec. 1, 1853:

"I'm waitg for you. I hope you recd my letter of the 28th ulto. I am in Judson's Hotel 61 Broadway. I have to go to Boston for 2 days, but shall not start in three days yet. When can I expect to see you? I want you to take a dinner with me without fail. I have your guitar ready for you. Have you my  two ready? I want to send the one with the round plate of Martin & Co. well packed to Panama & the old Pages I will take with me to Havana (after 17 years!!!!)

Whenever you come if I am not in my hotel, enquire next door no.  59 Adams & Co. Express & they will tell you my whereabouts; come soon, I want to see you very bad after 10 years!! No wonder I have not had time yet to see the Cryistal (sic) Palace & that beauty (I suppose) of your own manufactory."

An interesting comment in the letter is the reference to the fancy guitar that Martin made for the 1853 Crystal Palace Exhibition in New York.

De La Cova wrote to C. F. Martin Sr. from Havana on January 29, 1854 requesting some very interesting strings made by Martin:

"Here I am since the 18th Inst. & shall leave in a week.

I have seen Crucet my old friend & he desires to some of your strings which I have promised him & now beg of you vizt:

1 doz 6s  good silk & gold wire (6th strings)

1½ doz 5s        (5th strings)

2½ doz 4s        (4th strings)

Please send them to H. Dixon of Messrs Adams & Co. New York, he will pay you them when you send the bill.

My guitar has a crack 5 inches in length. I believe in R. Road from Baltimore to Charleston. Is this not too bad!!!"

From the early ledger books it is known Martin bought "golddraht" (gold wire) for making wound strings. The "gold wire" reference likely means gold plated steel wire. The purchasing records are missing for most of the period between 1840 and 1890 but it appears Martin continued to make strings of "gold wire" until at least the middle 1850's.

The last guitar Martin sold to De La Cova was an “octav” guitar that he purchased on August 6, 1855. It is not known what is meant by “octav” as Martin left no description in the ledgers.

De La Cova wrote to C. F. Martin Sr. from Panama on October 2, 1855 with some unusual requests for altering the "octav" guitar he purchased in August 1855:

"I made an awful mistake with that little guitar I asked you for in June & now return thr(u)' my friends Freeman & Co. & wish you to correct same.

Instead of putting the 12th fret in the edge of the guitar circles as now is, the 9th fret should be there and the 12th fret near the mouth of the guitar &  by these means, you could afford to make the frets much wider (than) they now are, there are no human fingers thin enough to be placed thereon. Another improvement is to place the bridge near an inch lower down, than where now is as I don't think it would give a bad look to the guitar & this would afford us more room to make the frets a little wider & easier to the left hand besides making the handle a little wider, putting the strings  little more separate or apart from each other. If the whole body of the guitar or the sounding box was a little higher than it is now, it would sound much better. If you would after reflecting in these improvements, find them correct & do them for me I should be under many thanks to you for if I must speak (to) you candidly, as the guitar now stands, it is perfectly useless to me as playing on it is utterly out of the question. You will notice the varnish has been a little scratched with the piece of horn which is sometimes required to play with. Could you revarnish it? Do, if you please."

On September 3, 1857 De La Cova booked passage on the SS Central America9 bound from Panama to Havana. The SS Central America was a 280-foot sidewheel steamer that operated between Central America and New York. After De La Cova disembarked in Havana the ship continued on to New York but was caught in a hurricane off the Carolina coast and sank on September 12, 1857. The SS Central America went down carrying 10 short tons of gold from the California gold fields. It is fortunate that De La Cova did not have pressing business in New York at that time because 425 of the 578 passengers and crew on board were lost in the sinking.

On November 5, 1857 De La Cova wrote to C. F. Martin Sr. from Havana:

"I wrote you last month begging you to send me my guitar to Freeman & Co. N. Y. as I suppose you must have finished it ever since the month of Augt & I cannot conceive why has it has been delayed so long  it keeps me in the greatest anxiety for you know I w'd not take any money for that Instrument as neither for yours tho' I would replace it, but not so with that of Pagés.

I hope ere this reached you that you have sent it to Freeman & Co. Express with the bill.

I' doing nothing yet & shall not commence to work before next January most likely. Times are very bad here with the panic here & in the U.S. which has caused a few failures, but I hope all will pass over soon."

In this letter De La Cova is bemoaning the state of the market resulting from the Panic of 1857. It is ironic that the gold lost in the sinking of the SS Central America was one of the contributing factors to the Panic of 1857.

The last letter to C. F. Martin from De La Cova was written in Panama on July 20, 1858:

"I hope this may reach you in time to send me ½ dozen more of the 3d  pure silver wire & silk strings that is to say, instead of one  dozen ordered, send on 1½ dozen.

I hope you've tried the experiment & found it super-magnificent. I am anxious to receive these strings with the others ordered in my last to you, to see how does that splendid Spanish silk turn out. I think I shall be off for Peru again in about a month from this & hope to get those strings from you before I go.

Gallegos repaired your guitar of mine very well."

The New York Times correspondent in Panama reported on February 25, 1862 that "... Mr. S. DE LA COVA, of Havana, for many years agent of Adams' Express Company in Panama, lately died at Chorrillos, in Peru..." 

It may be that De La Cova did die in Peru in 1862 but the ship's manifest for the steam ship "Eagle" recorded that a "S. De La Cova" landed in New York on June 24, 1864 after a voyage from Havana. His age was noted as 46 and his occupation as "merchant" so this could well be Salustiano De La Cova.

Taken altogether De La Cova appears to have been a family friend of both C. F. Martin and John B. Coupa. He certainly had a more interesting business relationship with C. F. Martin than is usual for other guitar players and dealers. De La Cova certainly had the resources to indulge his interest in guitars and C. F. Martin and John Coupa may have valued his connections with international business.



  1. Daily Alta California, Volume 4, Number 164, June 14, 1853, page 2
  2. October 18, 1851, Daily Alta California, San Francisco, California - ARRIVAL OF THE TENNESSEE!
  3. March 16, 1852, Daily Alta California, San Francisco, California - P.M.S.S. Tennessee, San Francisco Bar, Monday, March 14, 1852
  4. November 7, 1852, Daily Alta California San Francisco, California - ARRIVAL OF THE TENNESSEE!
  5. Obituary for Lieutenant George M. Totten, Sacramento Daily Union, Sacramento, California, September 1, 1857
  6. From New York ship's manifest, December 15, 1835
  7. From New York ship's manifest for the Barque Louisa, May 4, 1841
  8. New York Naturalization Record, May 6, 1843

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