Minstrel Banjo

For enthusiasts of early banjo

I'm researching Ladies Banjos for a display.  So far, I've determined that a "Ladies Banjo" has short scale or neck length, generally has a pot smaller than 11" in diameter, and the whole idea of a "Ladies Banjo" is pretty much a marketing device of banjo sellers from the late 1800's.  J.A. Todd patented a banjo pot with internal hooks in 1893, stating:  

"In the construction of the ordinary banjo, outside hooks and brackets are universally used, which is one great objection, as they are liable to catch in a persons clothing and tear the same,and it is especially the case when the person playing is one of the female sex, as she generally wears thinner and finer fabrics than the male sex.

Now the banjo constructed on my plan has not any of the above mentioned objections, because the hooks, screw nuts, and all parts liable to catch and wear when coming in contact with personal wearing material are contained within the rim, and entirely out of the way.

I do not use any brackets in the construction of my invention. It is not necessary to do so, as will be seen by referring to the accompanying drawings."

........ which might make his patent appropriate for a Ladies Banjo" ;)

Right now I'm researching newspaper content in the Library of Congress and have turned up an interesting timeline: minstrelsy before the American Civil War (Sweeney, Emmett), advertising for banjo lessons (earliest lessons for Ladies by Fred Converse in 1858), lots of banjo clubs and then a banjo craze for society ladies (early 1880's), first newspaper mention of a "Ladies Banjo" (made by Haynes) in 1882, published distinction between "stage" and "Parlor" banjos in 1885.

I'm curious if anyone here has any additional input on the phenomenon of "Ladies Banjos".

FYI, I'm posting some of the newspaper clippings and images of 19th century women banjo players on my facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/Yellowstone-Jewelry-642715152503917/photos....  Some newspaper clippings about shows by Emmett, Sweeney, and a minstrel show put on by P.T. Barnum.

Thanks..... I look forward to comments..........

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Jim Bollman at the Music Emporium told me that my Fairbanks & Cole was probably a ladies banjo or a child's banjo. It has a 24" scale.


According to the serial number and mugwumps the estimated date of manufacture is about 1890. Unfortunately, I picked it up at a rummage sale, so I have no history of the instrument.

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