Minstrel Banjo

For enthusiasts of early banjo

I decided to drive down to Cape Cod today to do some hiking, and on the way I purchased this banjo from an antique dealer I know in Worcester.  It appears to be a homemade/carpenter made/Buckbee instrument from the 1860s-1880s, although I am leaning towards the 1860s for a few reasons.  First, there are only six tension hooks.   The dowel goes through the body, and the neck is attached to the pot with three screws, not two.  It appears there was something else drilled into the pot at one point near where the neck attaches to the body.  The brass plate on the fingerboard seems to have been a repair to smooth out the fretboard.  The neck is perfectly straight.  Two of the five pegs are original (see pictures), and are crudely hand carved.  The neck is also hand carved.  It has pretty small brass eagles on it, and it appears the rest of the metal is brass as well.  The pot is pretty out of round (it appears to have had an 11'' diameter when it was round), but the head is fitted well, and the banjo plays and sounds great, and has a large, deep, clear sound that rings like a bell.  When you strum it, it resonates so much that it kicks you in the stomach..  After all these years, it has a lot to say!  I've been looking for a Civil War era "camp" banjo or homemade banjo, and this is the most primitive instrument I've been able to find.  It's also the only Buckbee-like banjo I could find with only six tension hooks.

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Very cool! I'm jealous!

I have two banjos from the 1870s, and both have brass on the lower fretboard--think it was just done to make a slicker surface to note the banjo on.

You got a keeper!

Jim Jacquet

author of An Informal History Of The Banjo,

an ebook available on Amazon.

John--This banjo appears to be one of the composite marriages of a pot and neck from different banjos. The odd thing about the pot is the metal cladding on an instrument with only six manufactured hooks and eagle shoes.  Great find.  That is my kind of banjo. 

Rob, have you seen any banjos like this before with six hooks and (poorly) clad rim?  Also, what about those tuning pegs!?

There were some Charles W. Reynolds who served in the Civil War.  I plan on checking the handwriting in the head to that on any draft documents I can find.  I have no idea if the head is original, or why Charles Wayne Reynolds signed the head twice.  The name doesn't seem to have been very common.

I stand by my thought that the brass plate on the fingerboard is not original to the neck.  I've attached a couple of images that hopefully show this as well as I can see it with my own eyes.  Before the plate was attached, pits in the fingerboard were filled with wood to even out the board.  Additionally, the brass plate is not perfectly rectangular and curves both inwards and outwards to fit the neck perfectly.  When the banjo is tuned to D, the plate is only long enough to cover the notes up to C# on the high A string, which isn't exactly convenient.  If I had added the plate, I would have made it long enough to reach the fifth string peg.

John--Your eagle castings are slightly different from those on a banjo of mine that I'm certain is a Buckbee, and that, if not made in the 1860's, is at least the exact same model that was.  It was common practice back then to affix metal plates over the fingerboard to prevent divots.  I've never seen a crude metal cladding on a banjo pot like yours before, but then I'm always seeing new things.  Eagle bracket banjos with as few as four or six hooks appeared in the 1895-1896 Pollman instrument catalogue, but they hadn't really changed much, if at all from those made  much earlier and were probably a byproduct of inexpensive interchangeable parts and cheap labor and materials. 

Do you have a link to the catalog?  It sounds very interesting.

John--It took me a while, but I figured it out.  Google "Ring the Banjar."  Click on the book on the Amazon site.  Click on "Look Inside."  At the bottom of "Look Inside" there will be a little window that says "search."  Type "p. 19" in the window.  Click on the little icon to the right of the search window.  The catalogue page should appear.

Rob, thanks a lot! The eagles in that catalogue are the same, but the banjos have different headstocks and do not have the crude spun over rim. Also, the banjo with four brackets is a piccolo. It is possible my banjo is homemade but utilizes some parts ordered from Buckbee.

John--All my 1860-1870's factory made banjos have square headstocks.  The 1880's banjos or  later  have some form of figure eight or "double bubble" headstocks.

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