When do you think these first came into being. I've read different dates ranging from the late 1850s to the 1870s. It seems that different materials have been used as well- spun aluminum, brass, and iron. I wonder if one material predates another or if they all appeared at around the same time. Check out the banjo in the photos I attached. It appears to be from the 1860s-1870s, although I'm not sure which, and it combines some early and later features. The headstock looks similar to that of a Dobson, and the banjo has some characteristics of NY manufacture. Maybe it's an early Dobson Silver Bell? If I remember correctly that design was patented in 1858.
Dan'l--. I was referring to the "minstrel" banjos being produced now. My other point was that the Dobson's paid to put their names on the banjos made by others for them. They were not financing banjos, however similar to theirs, without their name. Branding was certainly alive and well in the 19th century, regardless of whether or not the term marketing applied as used today.
What was Swaim Stewarts "agenda?"
Are you referencing the "classical era" of the banjo that never happened?
Rob - That's not quite right to say that "it has always been thus... it's called marketing" regarding Minstrel-era banjos. Calculated marketing really wasn't the effective norm until the 20th century, and more so middle to late 20th century. Using a modern filter to evaluate period instruments may miss the probable truth of these old instruments.
Many of the least expensive items of the day, including banjos, were just as likely to be of high quality (with features like real metal cladding making for stable hoops) as they were to be low quality (with imitation metal "cladding" and unstable hoops) yet both would sell at near the same price. True enough, some builders would copy or attempt to copy a competitor's feature, but that's only a sort of prototype to serious marketing after all.
The founders and owners of manufacturing enterprises themselves were the ones making build and promotion decisions based on gut-feeling, guessed-at opportunity, or even an agenda (SS Stewart). They didn't yet call on a product development or marketing staff to study and calculate what was actually the most effective level of product quality, price point, or advertising investment to proceed with.
Your Daniel Boone hat became a Davy Crockett hat in the much later, and more calculated, age of Madison Avenue.