Minstrel Banjo

For enthusiasts of early banjo

Just got this old banjo on eBay. It was listed as homemade or folk art, which is why there were no serious bidders.

I think it is an 1870s  H.C. Dobson, before he went to the more conventional design in the 1880s.

Any thoughts, pro or con about that I.D.? Haven't taken it apart yet, so don't know if it says  Dobson inside the pot.

Jim Jacquet

​Olympia, WA

Views: 659

Comment by Strumelia on October 29, 2013 at 4:51pm

I think the neck is not the original.  It's much simpler and cruder than the fancy veneered pot.

Comment by Bell Banjos on October 29, 2013 at 7:00pm

.. but the rim does say Dobson.

Comment by Jim Jacquet on October 29, 2013 at 7:04pm
FrankenBanjo...
If thats true, somebody did a very good job--I've seen some real hack jobs, and this is factory tight.
Comment by Jim Jacquet on October 30, 2013 at 11:21am

This comment is from Tim Smith, in an email. He has repaired a similar banjo:


    Great find for that price!  Clearly, the "pot" (here the term is    used to mean "not neck")  made by the same fellows who made the very    early Dobsons.  The example I worked on is remarkably similar.  I    had to take it apart fully to correct some breaks and glue    failures.  You've already realized how to replace the head.

    It looks to me like the neck was made for that pot.  Who knows,    maybe Dobson had Buckbee make pots and he made the necks for a    while, or vice versa?  It does not appear to be homemade.  It is a    well-made neck by an expert carpenter.  I don't see anything crude    about it.  The color is lighter than the rim (rosewood veneer).     Possibly it was stripped for some reason and never refinished. We    tend to expect standardization but when that instrument was made,    there was a lot of experimentation and banjo making was a pretty    small cottage industry.   I will say that on the example that I    worked on, the rim did not seem to sit very well within the    resonator.  I didn't do any modification but the result was a    formidably high action that modern players would not accept.

    Tim

Comment by Jim Jacquet on October 30, 2013 at 2:10pm

It just occurred to me that maybe we are focusing on the wrong thing--would it help to ask who back then was making necks with that 5th peg slot? That seems to be a pretty distinguishing feature--has anyone seen something similar?

Jim

Comment by Jim Jacquet on October 31, 2013 at 1:07pm

 I think we all agree the pot is Dobson. What do you folks think of this idea about the neck: by the late 1870s, Dobson had abandoned this design, but Buckbee was probably still licensed to build them--so Buckbee put their own neck on the Dobson pot and sold them.
That would make this a late 1870s banjo, rather than early 70s.
By the way, the only 5th string neck hole similar to this one that I could find in America's Instrument is a tintype on pg. 143 from the 1860s.

Comment by Strumelia on October 31, 2013 at 1:48pm

I am by no means a banjo expert, but I have pretty good eye when it comes to antiques.  My personal informal impression (worth about two cents) is that this is an earlier fretless minstrel banjo neck, and a veneered pot from perhaps a couples decades later.  My guess is that both banjos wound up without their respective neck/pot, and that quite a bit later on some young or resourceful man put the pot and neck together, added the frets and thus made himself a banjo.  But it's just a guess.   :)

Comment by Strumelia on October 31, 2013 at 1:51pm

adding....  I think the original neck would have been fretted.  This neck looks like someone added frets to a fretless neck, at home.

Comment by Jim Jacquet on October 31, 2013 at 1:52pm

As good a theory as any! As they used to say on the PBS TV show Underwater Detectives: "But we may never know!!"

Comment by Jim Jacquet on October 31, 2013 at 1:55pm

It would have been WAY too easy for me to just find a Dobson that said Dobson...

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