Minstrel Banjo

For enthusiasts of early banjo

The history, or appropriate period accuracy, of these has been something I have tried to track down off and on.

I often see them referenced to as "originally came on Stewart and other 19th century banjos" or "perfect for nylon or gut strings." Even as bold as "good for minstrel banjos" (suggesting early banjos).

The University of Rochester's collection of Banjo and Guitar Journal is not complete. I have been able to fill early gaps from the LOC but not later issues. The last issue in this collection is Dec. & Jan 1899-1900. This is after S.S.S. is dead, the partnership of his sons with George Bauer, and the marketing of the Monogram series of instruments, subcontracted and not made by the Stewart manufactory. By this time the company of S.S.S. was not long for existence.

None of the available issues contain a description or advertisement for these bridges. Late issues still push the two footed maple Stewart make.

So, my question is, what is the origin of this design? Who and when was it marketed? Is there a patent associated with it?

One place I can document it is in The Banjo Entertainers by Schreyer, page 179 a photo of McGrath and Page. It is dated to the early 1900's and there dress is consistent with this date, as late as the teens. That puts this bridge at the earliest that I can find, the 20th century.

Does anyone perhaps have an old advertisement or other contemporary documentation that predates the 20th century?


Sorry, forgot to sign my name,

Joel Hooks.

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Issues of The Cadenza from the turn of the Century have ads for five-footed Cole bridges. Here's what the ad says, with many pictures of the bridge (sorry I can't paste it here, I'm not that computer-savvy)

...BE SURE...
That the Banjo Bridge you buy has Five Feet.
Pat. April 11 1899 COLE
See those five feet? the Hit of the Century.
All others are imitations.
Cole Direct Vibration Banjo Bridge
Every string has a direct vibration to the head
That is where the COLE BRIDGE gets its TONE QUALITY.
Ask your dealer for them or send 15c to
W. A. Cole 197 Tremont St., Boston Mass. for sample.
Thanks Carl, I've got it...

"Having thus described my invention, what I claim is new..."

As a notorious student of the Banjo and Guitar Journal, I have noticed that Stewart advertised Champion pegs several months before a patent was granted.

Folks can use whatever it takes to move product. Wahmaker and Civil War venders do it all the time.

It would be nice if a colloction of The Cadenza was made available in PDF format.
I don't know if my link will show up, so if not, cut and paste.


I share the interest in bridges, and am delighted to find this discussion!

The Cole style bridge also shows up in a catalogue reprint for the Cole banjo, dated by the publisher 1910 (the latest date I find internally is 1904, for a another bridge patent, the Grover non tip).

The illustration shows a bridge marked "PAT.APRIL 11 1899," consistent with the patent above.

The instruments featured in the work also use this bridge, with the high end "Cole's Eclipse" models, interestingly, using two of them!

The pictured bridge has feet which, as in the patent drawing, flare in, unlike those in the replica.

The same style bridge often shows off marked, with a brand or stamp, "S.S. Stewart" in a nice 19th century font, sometimes with the size (1/2', 5/8") also stamped on the side, and occasionally with "Germany" on one end.

And these are commonly found for four string instruments, more often than for five.

With absolutely no evidence, I have felt these to be from later than the first years on the 20th century, maybe post WW I/1920s (I have a couple of Paramount style bridges with the same S.S. Stewart makings, along with "wondertone" in script on the reverse, for four stingers.)

At any rate, it seems the Cole's bridge was around for a while, mostly in the 20th century.

It is interesting that the theory of having a direct route for each string, is contrary to that of violins, whose bridges have an opening which blocks this!

I think the replicas are attractive, well finished, and give a good sound, even with wire strings, but would not generally use them on an early (mid 19th century style) banjo.
Perfect for your Whyte Laydie!
But they are nice, and are probably the closest to appropriate for any "off the rack" bridge, which is enough to account for their popularity and use.

In addition to the later design of this bridge, it is made of hard maple.
The only early suggestions I have run into, in several period method books, are to use a soft wood, pine or cedar, for the bridge, and I have grown to prefer the sound these material provide, and it is quicker and easier to work if one is making own's own with limited shop tools.

David Swarens

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