Minstrel Banjo

For enthusiasts of early banjo

Hi--I posted this over on the collectors forum at Banjo Hangout, and wanted to post here as well--any help is appreciated!

I  just won an ebay auction for an old 19th century banjo with eagle brackets around the rim. I'd appreciate any help in IDing this along with any ideas about the possible date. I'm attaching some pics.

Thanks in advance!

Jim Jacquet

Olympia, WA

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Those same "Union Forever" castings turn up on a homemade flush-fret instrument in the museum in Woodstock, Ontario. 

Dan'l: Thank you so much for verifying that there was in fact a Thomas Donnelly in the Civil War, and from that R.I. regiment! I am aware that that doesn't confirm that the banjo itself is from the war, but it may indicate that he had it at a later date.

One question that occurrs to me: Did he survive the war? If not, then it would indicate that it was, in fact, from the war years.

Thanks again for your help!


That could be our man, alright, although that could also be a common Irish name. Thanks for taking the time to do the research!

I am also wondering how this banjo ended up being sold on ebay by the Seattle Goodwill. Wonder how many people have owned it over the years, and how it ended up on the west coast.

This is why I like old instruments--they each have a unique history!


Just tried Smakula and also Bernunzio--neither currently have the bracket hardware I need, so I will repost my email and see if anyone knows of any other sources:

I am in need of two tapered square nuts & bracket hooks for a recently acquired ~1870s banjo currently in a state of rustoration.
The hardware is all brass, with spread eagle bracket shoes common around the centennial (& later).
Below are jpgs of the hardware/banjo. The nuts are two sizes: 9/32" tapered, and 11/32" with slightly less tapering. The hooks fit a grooved tension hoop and are two lengths: 2-5/8" with the 9/32" nut; 2-3/8" with 11/32" nut. Threads I believe are 8-24 as the nuts fit the old flat stew mac hooks for grooved hoops from 20-25 years ago (I will not swear that is the correct thread size, but should not make much difference when purchasing hooks-nuts together).
If you have the shorter length hooks, that would be preferable.
Please let me know if you have what I need and price.
Thank you
Jim Jacquet
Olympia, WA


I think if you are in any kind of hurry you are going to have to re-create the taper nuts, though I believe some of the builders are using and making them so you might get lucky. There's a nice set of instructions at www.bluestemstrings.com/BluestemBanjoNutBoucher.pdf. Bill Rickard's making and selling brass hooks I believe. Thread size will probably not be the same as your originals but that's OK because when you make the taper nuts you can tap them the same as Bill's hooks. There's also an old thread on the Banjo Hangout re. making j hooks. Dave Culgan

  Dan'l--The factory that most likely produced most of the "eagle bracket" banjos is the same one that that had the contract to manufacture drums for the Union troops throughout the Civil War.  They made banjos all through the years of the Civil War.  The drums were certainly decorated with eagles.  Why not the banjos? --Rob Morrison

Think I found a source for the tapered nuts and hooks. Ordered a couple, since I am missing two. The rest are several different sizes and shapes, but at this point, I think thats part of the history of the instrument, so will probably not replace the rest.

A note about using or not using fiddle pegs on this instrument: at some point, somebody drilled out the pegholes, apparently to accomodate more modern tuners. So the holes are no longer tapered. The person doing the restoration work for me is going to fill in the holes with dowels, and re-drill and taper.

Always something with these old banjos...


Here is a bit of documentation:  the major drum manufactures in the Civil War were:  C & F Soistmann-  Ernst Vogt- Horstmann Brothers- William Boucher (many of his bare the Soistman mark so he likely bought his shells there and then finished them)  John F. Stratton Co.-  Union Manufacturing Co.- Francis Sauer & Co.- Stratton & Foote - William Ent - W S Tompkins _-White Bros. 

Of these the following are known  known to have made banjos: 

Soistman and Sinclair (possibly the same Soistman (1888)

John F. Stratton (1860-1914)

Stratton and Foote (1865)

Boucher (1845-?)

While Eagle drums were common,  I have never seen any brass hardware like these eagles on a drum.  It would be interesting if we could locate one of these makers banjos that could be dated.  

George--J. H. Buckbee made drums during the Civil War.  You can find photos of examples on the internet.--Rob Morrison.


Somewhat conveniently for our purposes there is an eagle-bracket banjo with folded wings and the "Union Forever" motto, attributed to the 1860's, currently for sale on the Bernunzio website.  The photos give a clear depiction of what these look like, if you've never seen one before.  Mr. Bernunzio wants $995.00 for this one, should you absolutely have to have one.  I have a very similar instrument, but pony sized, with a 10 inch head and a 21 inch scale length.  It is one of my favorite instruments to play despite its somewhat crude and careless construction and diminutive size.  It plays easily, looks great, and sounds just fine.  

Ok I know this is over two years old BUT I was out in California and bought a banjo with the identical brackets, hooks and square nuts. All brass. The rime was a single laminate hoop clad with very thin brass sheet. Fretless with possibly a "modern" neck, ebony violin pegs and a skin head with the words: Weber & Lloyd OL in pencil on the inside surface of the head.

I don't know how or I'd attach a jpeg.

Tom Meisenheimer

Tom--I've got three eagle bracket banjos, all three with wood rims.  Two appear to be very early, rather crudely made instruments, and the third is a bit more polished and refined.  However, I also have a photo of one exactly like the "refined" one, and it is dated 1866.  I also have a banjo with a spun brass sheet around the pot, and it is a lot more refined and substantial than any of the others.  All these were probably made at the Buckbee factory, though impossible to prove.  The thing is, they all are fun to play and didn't cost an arm and a leg.  They did, however, take a little work to make them playabe.  The important thing is to have fun with it and play it.

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