One person's view of it: Those in the reenacting hobby who care about detail are guided by "PEC" (practical/everyday/common) based on period documents or at least period accounts. The ones who "really care" about detail rightly prefer a pattern based on an actual surviving sample. They don't really like "'it could have been done that way."
So depending on your inclinations as to what's important, you could at least follow PEC to the level that suits you, in decending order from "really care" to "care."
1) home or shop-made banjos were the most practical and likely most numerous in the field, so you pattern from an surviving home or shop-made bag if you can find one, with strict attention to the fabric, seams, and coating formulas.
2) there were factory made banjos in the field as well, photos prove it (and with better construction more of them have survived compared to home or shop mades) so you pattern on a surviving factory banjo bag if you can find one, with strict attention to the fabric, seams, and coating formulas.
3) you pattern on a surviving factory guitar bag but alter the shape to fit a banjo, with strict attention to the fabric, seams, and coating formulas.
4) you design your own pattern, with strict attention to typical period fabric, seams, and coating formulas.
5) you design you own pattern, with some attention to typical period fabric, seams, and coating formulas.
After all that, I think it should be pointed out that most reenactors are not in the "care greatly" about detail category but merely the "care" about detail category.
Another thing to mention is that a bag protects only against undue moisture, which in the day was also accomplished merely by keeping the thing under a tent or wagon tarp when the weather turned bad.
For the campaign oriented banjo player, the contest is between weight verses protection. I want to go light, but I also don't want to wreck my tackhead. (My tackhead weighs a mere three pounds.)
For dry events, I'm not at all worried about toting my banjo without any form of covering. However, for wet / humid events, I want some form of covering. For these events, the banjo doesn't stay in tune unless I'm camped out at someone's fire. The benefits of having a banjo are outweighed by burdens of protecting a virtually unplayable instrument.
At my last event, a living history at the Vicksburg Nat'l Battlefield Park, it was cold and wet. I was able to keep the banjo in tune in the low forties / upper thirties temps, but my fingers were too frozen to play triplets. For the couple times I was slightly able to play, I should have just left the banjo in the vehicle and not bothered.
At night, I tuck the banjo into my blanket. I do my best to keep the drum inside my minimal covers.
Here's a link to a photo of me at a military living history held at Chickamauga a few years ago.
I took the sling from my musket as a sling for the banjo. I used the looped portion of the sling to attach inside the drum on the rod. I ran the sling over my shoulder and attached the musket sling's hook to the leather which holds the tailpiece. It's a simple mechanism which works rather well. (I tried inserting the photo into my post with mixed success so I have included a simple link.)
There is a video on utube which has the infantry marching down a road. I am visible for a moment or so. If you look carefully, the neck and head of the banjo can just barely be seen dangling off my left side. Since the video is taken from the right, there's no way to see how well the drum rides on my back. That little can be seen is part of the point of mentioning it. It's not a big deal to tote on my back even with all my gear. The video isn't very exciting, but here's the link :
I enter the picture at 52 seconds. I'm wearing the same uniform as pictured below and am speaking to an officer wearing a light frock coat.
I'll be at the Kirby Smith: In the Van campaign event this August in Eastern Tennessee. I am being very much encouraged by the event organizer to have a case which can be placed in one of the wagons. I'll be making a coffin case from 3/4" pine. I think Jim Moffett posted some photos on this forum of a pine case he saw in some museum. My greater concern isn't having the case at the event. It's getting it and my musket to the event as I must fly. (It's only 2500 miles between here and East Tennessee.) The cost of bringing both onto a plane or shipping one of them makes bringing a banjo a real pain.
Added to the transportation issue is that I take the banjo as a carry-on. I play banjo while waiting for flights as it's a great way to make time pass. I've received many complements on the soft sound of the gut strings tuned down. So, I'd be paying $25 per flight for the privilege of carting a pine box which doesn't hold very much stuff.
So, you can see I really don't want to make a coffin case as it's going to be a hassle at the event and getting it to the event. Small price to pay to play ...
- Silas Tackitt
This is a good question. As a foot soldier on the march, I want things to be as light as possible. I would be tempted to carry a gourd banjo, since it is so much lighter than a hoop one. I have often thought that in Frank Vizetelly's camp picture, that the banjo Sam Sweeny is playing is a gourd, in spite of it being a war time drawing. Any other thoughts out there on that? Sweeny was Cavalry, so it would be easier for him to cart a banjo around with him.
In any event, I would consider simply wrapping my banjo in a gum blanket or oil cloth. The weight of a case would be something that I would not want to deal with, unless I could put the instrument on a wagon of some sort.
Don, John, Silas -
Back to PEC, a real soldier on campaign, particularly an infantryman also carrying his gun and all - wouldn't typically carry anything bigger than a harmonica or jaw harp, and lots of them did. As reenactors we can tramp around with banjos etc., and we do, but is that PEC?
Cavalry (ala banjo player Sam Sweeney) and Artillery had at least forage wagons because of the horses, and maybe a staff wagon, if you could talk some non-com or commissioned into letting you throw a stringed instrument aboard for the ride. Even Infantry had supply wagons in the rear unless they were on quick march.
Winter camp or extended duty to protect bridges etc. a different matter, but you didn't need a case for your instrument in that event.
Another solution is to join the growing ranks of civilian reenactors. The benefits include more time to play the ol' cremona, and less time spent guarding the firewood; no two am picket duty; and more time spent with charming female living historians.
Sorry, can't answer your question - only you can answer that depending on your priority. What is your purpose in designing and providing these cases?
If it helps, I would estimate that most reenactor, living history, or just early instrument musicians concerned about authenticity are practical enough to appreciate a case of a style and construction that could have been made back in the day. John, Silas and myself made our own banjos so probably are in that category (fellas?). Banjos and cases were never gov't issue.
I would guess most of the posters here aren't reenactors and are wondering what this post is all about. Playing and studying Minstrel music is where it's at.
Still, there will be some reenactors who are very concerned about authenticity who would need to see a case patterned off an actual surviving example and made of documented material and coating formula. Museum docents and instrument collectors same thing.
Re: "Several musician reenactors have asked us to develop a reasonable banjo case alternative to a modern gig bag or hard-shell banjo case. I would say that my customers want a case that is functional and authentic enough to NOT attract disapproval."
Pretty clear your purpose then, hope we helped.
I've gone campaign style reenacting as well, but I think you've made a good call in addressing the needs of musician reenactors generally. With the effort you're putting into it, you'd probably like to sell more than two ;)
btw by coating formula I was of course referring to the formula for your oil-cloth, as you said that was the way you were going with this.