Minstrel Banjo

For enthusiasts of early banjo

I'm not sure if this is minstrel-era or not, but the price was right and it's now a part of my collection.  It's a whopping 17'' in diameter!  My initial thought was "how could it not be a minstrel tambourine with these dimensions!?", but I'll let the experts decide.  It turned up at an estate sale in Illinois, and the woman I purchased it from was told at the sale that it is Italian, although nothing more was known about it, and there is nothing on the tambourine linking it to Italy.   The rim is in good shape and could take a new head, but I'll probably leave it as is.

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I did a pretty extensive search online for them.  They must be pretty reclusive.  Maybe that's why there are so few surviving tambourines we know of... there are a few collectors out there living in their parent's basement hoarding all of them. ;)


You might try getting in touch with this fellow.

Yes I thought of him too, Wes.  He has a great extensive site and vast drum-specific knowledge.

I got in touch with Dr. Robinson and here is what he had to say:


The jingles are small and on the one’s I have seen they were much larger but that isn’t necessarily a rule. The tacking on of the head is a Chinese technology.  It appears to be old but the arrangement of the jingles in three areas with a single long slot for each area is strange.  It seems too uniform to have been done by hand. I have a modern made Italian tamburello with jingles in clumped areas likes that (on mine 4 areas).
It is far too large to hold flat like modern tambourines. This must have been held in the upright position just like see in the old flyers and how tambourine is played in many parts of Europe in folk music (Italy, Spain).
I can tell you that this is nothing like the tambourines made in Italy and England during the salon music period from 1799-1840 by people like Joseph Dale, Sr. and Tebaldo Monzani. Based on that I would concur that this was American made. Some of that salon music was published in Boston but I have never found evidence that the style of tambourine playing came with it. It predates the minstrel music and would link up nicely historically speaking if that indeed were the case. Many of the performers in England were of various African American descent. The jingles on the one you have are very different from those UK/Italian made ones from that period. I haven’t seen German silver jingles from that period. The ones available now are always hammered. The hole that the jingle pin goes through seems overly large but on cheaper jingles this can occur due to wear."

He obviously knows his stuff!   Great info!

When he says "It predates the minstrel music and would link up nicely historically speaking if that indeed were the case." I think by "it" he means the "the style of tambourine playing" he is taking about right before that in the previous sentence.  That's a bit confusing- but i don't think he means that your tambourine predates minstrel music.  I think he means the older upright position playing style commonly seen with larger tambourines predates minstrel... and also used with larger hand held frame drums.

Great that you contacted him!    :)

I think he means the Italian/English Salon music era, not the style.  The style never died out and is still common in a number of European music traditions.  

Hey yeah you may be right about that John.

Yes that style is older, but is most definitely used (and truly needed once you get above 16" diamter) even today in tambourine/frame drum playing all over the world, not only in europe.   Never went extinct.  Many frame drums (tambourines without the jingles) are held and played vertically in the lap out of necessity once they pass a certain size.  Unless the style includes twirlng, tossing/weighting up and down to sound the jingles like with the Daf.

Hey, this is cool.  Glad you commented on this Richard- and it's good to have a knowledgeable percussion person around here.

  I also got a kick out of reading the blast-from-the-past posts from a few years ago.  =8-o   ...lolol

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