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Welcome to The Vintage Banjo Maker: a comprehensive reference of antique banjo makers for your banjo addiction.


Find out more about this archive on our about page and you can read about our latest additions and interesting facts right here on the blog. Have a look at the menu to search for banjo makers alphabetically, and please get in touch to share your own banjo knowledge at [email protected]

By nguiver, Nov 19 2020 04:29PM

During the last decade of the 19th century there were 5 well respected manufacturers of Banjos, doing business between #161 and #187 Tremont Street, Boston, a distance of about 750 ft between them.

Pelton #161

Robinson #170

Cole #179

Gatcombe #181

Fairbanks #187

A little further into town at #86, part of the Tremont Temple Baptist Church, was Thompson and Odell.

The Church was made famous 30 year earlier when there, in 1867, Charles Dickens read from Pickwick Papers and a Christmas Carol in a 2-hour recital.

T&O moved into # 523 Washington Street (parallel to Tremont Street) about the time of the 1893 fire when the Church burned down; Cole moved into #786 Washington Street a little further out of town, close to OR Chase.

Is it any wonder that all these makers banjos bear striking similarities? they probably sat in the pub on a Friday night discussing their new ideas, playing their instruments.

No doubt the different makers had specialities and other skills like engraving, plating and fret cutting, possibly subcontracted and surely not all of them were making the metal pots patented by O.R. Chase in 1882, where he was well established at #698 Washington Street.

In 1856 Ira Chase and H Lincoln Chase of Chase Brothers and Co., published a book on patent ornamental woven or wrought iron railings, entrance gates, and window guards: Their “warerooms” were at 383 Washington Street. Was O. R. a son? With significant metal working skills was he capitalising on the latest fashion in musical instruments? Was the Chase manufacturing facility at #698?

The Tremont

Pictures on this page are of a derelict instrument that was acquired from an auction and they displays a lot of history, as well as playing wear, and it tempts us discover its origins from around the 1880's.

While it has a peghead shape and inlay similar to a G C Dobson Victor the hardware could have been the fore runner of the Washburn Imperial although the brackets are almost certainly Boston,

One assumes the model name is “Tremont 45 1/2”. Perhaps someone could enlighten us as to what that is all about ... as its not the scale. Click on the images to see them full size.

By nguiver, Nov 19 2020 04:25PM

In this day and age research into most subjects can start with the internet .. but sometimes what is posted is simply perpetuating a myth. A classic case is John Clamp of Newcastle who AP Sharp stated in BMG .. he was told … “made only about 30 banjos in his whole lifetime”.

This “word of mouth” comment has become history and a Clamp banjo was offered at auction, in NY in 2015 at several thousands of dollars because it was so rare and the AP Sharp comments were used to justify the valuation, nether the less is was a very nice example.

A copy of a John Clamp price list was recently discovered which had over 30 combinations of pot sizes, stringing’s and styles .. with bespoke instruments being made within 21 days from order. He also bought up several children on the proceeds of these “30 banjos” .. Draw your own conclusions .. as we can now .. because of this wonderful research tool.

By nguiver, Nov 19 2020 04:21PM

Soon after the end of American Civil War (1865) intensive development of the banjo started in both the USA and England. In London William Temlett (Snr) had established a workshop in 1864, and he patented the idea of a closed back banjo with a suspended sound box in 1869.

The biggest influence on the development of the banjo from the European side came from the Zither. The Morning Post London May 1849 records ... Max Homeier the celebrate Zither performer was resident in the Strand and available to be booked by Gentry and Nobility for Parties, Dejeuners and Concerts.

an instrument emanating from the Tyrol region (of the Alps) “appears to be a sort of guitar with metallic strings laid flat upon a table"

24th Nov 1883 in The Era, Alf Wood, Negro Comedian, banjo Soloist is sole agent for The Temlett Banjo. The Severn Oaks Chronical in December 1892 reported that Mr Arthur Doody received a well-earned encore for his zither banjo solo “Home Sweet Home”

The zither banjo created a totally different type of sound with its steel strings, closed back and geared tuners and in 9 years the description "zither banjo" had come into general use.

Having identified there was a clear difference in sound on 14th Sept 1897 W Covill Cheltenham advertised WE Temlett high class Zither and ordinary Banjos.

At its peak Arthur Wilmshurst was consistently producing the best quality zither banjos; his metal fretwork cover to the wooden pot kept the pot perfectly circular so the action never suffered, he still used the neck clamp (as used on ordinary banjos ..) on the internal perch pole (dowel stick), a thick ebony fret board and laminated peg head.

By nguiver, Nov 19 2020 04:20PM

1842 .. John Tyler was US President, slavery was not going to be abolished in the USA for another 23 years . 7 years earlier was the battle of Alamo in the Texas War for Independence, Charles Dickens was writing his American Notes: and the banjo had arrived in England through Liverpool.

Earlier in 1834 reference to a banjo appeared in the Dublin Weekly Mail with the immortal line “ ‘ O! corn-stalks and Jews harps!” said Daemon after worrying on his seat during the .. overture by the orchestra; “Will they tune their banjos all night, and never get to playin?”

26th January 1839 The Leeds Times advertised The Royal Illusionists Address which included The Unequalled ANTI-FANDANGO-DANCE. Banjo jig and Jim Crow Jump Dance, by a "New Laid Egg". James Low had been performing this very same banjo/dance show in New York in March 1838.

26th February 1842 ER Harper, the American Comedian was performing at the Royal Amphitheatre, Liverpool in a production called The Court Jester, for 10 days. He is credited with writing “Jim Along Josey” in 1838, and later in his schedule he was on stage at the Queens Theatre Liverpool on the 22nd October 1842 playing his Louisiana Banjo Melodies, on his New- invented Banjo .. songs like Lucy Lucy Long and Jim along Josey .. as originally introduced by him on both sides of the Atlantic.

In March 1842 JW Sweeny made the crossing from New York to Liverpool with The American Circus. Their first performance was also in the Royal Amphitheatre, Liverpool on 28th March. The show was made up of horse riding skills and gymnastic exercises interspersed with other performers.

Sweeny’s role was to entertain the crowd during intervals and on Thursday 31st March 1842 “The Liverpool Mail” reported .. A company of equestrians arrived from the United States …. We have only space to notice the racy and original negro singing of Mr Sweeny, who accompanied himself on the banjo, or mandolin. His instrumentation is excellent and his self-possession, while the house was convulsed with laughter …, was irresistibly comic ... encored three times.

ER Harper was an established comedian who wrote for and played the banjo, and bought the banjo into the UK one month before Sweeny. However Sweeny was part of a major tour and was primarily a banjo performer and dancer and gained faster recognition on the instrument than Harper.

Clearly they got to see each other’s performances as they we both in Liverpool at the same time at the beginning and end of 1842, and played some of the same tunes.

The rhetoric in the advertisements for their subsequent performances grows through the year as they both try to claim to be “the first”, and they were by no means the only ones performing the music of the American Negro.

However, it now appears that James Low (Uncle Jim Lowe?) was 3 years ahead of them both.

By nguiver, Nov 19 2020 04:18PM

Well built in Philadelphia (note the rosewood pot) around 1886 this 130 year old Samuel Stewart Piccolo travelled the world and ended up in the year of the 800th anniversary of the Signing of the Magna Carta, in Wallingford, Oxfordshire, UK.

Time for a bit of timely UK history, the Magna Carta was the first statement of human rights in World History and the document was signed at Runnymede on the River Thames on 15th June 1215. Only 4 towns are specifically mentioned in Magna Cart (as being excluded from the rights it imparted) all were places that were strategically important to King John in 1215. Lancaster controlling the crossing of the River Ribble going North up the West coast of England, Nottingham crossing the River Trent going North up the East coast, Boulogne for crossing to Normandy (France) and Wallingford controlling access over the River Thames to London from the South.

Wallingford was also the home of Agatha Christie for 40 years and she is buried in a local churchyard in the Village of Cholsey.

Lastly of interest to those on the newer side of the pond is that Judge William Blackstone wrote his “Commentaries on the Laws of England” while living in Wallingford, completed and published in 1769. The “Commentaries” played their part in the drafting of the American Constitution.

Back to the Piccolo... it left Philadelphia and travelled west to Kohler and Chase in San Francisco, a large retailer and distributor of quality musical instruments. Kohler and Chase started as a toy and music shop opened by Andrew Kohler in 1850. Quincy Chase was born in 1830 in Maine but the attraction of the Gold Rush saw him take the six month boat trip round the Horn to San Francisco in 1853 where he joined Andrew Kohler’s business as a clerk. He soon became a partner and by 1860 business was booming such that they had to move to bigger and bigger premises three times, over the next 20 years.

Kohler and Chase were large distributors of pianos and organs and The Robinson Piano Company had set up in China and Hong Kong. Walter Robinson was born in Liverpool UK in 1860 and became a merchant plying his interest in musical instruments between the UK, US, Hong Kong, Shanghai and Singapore. Interestingly though the first record of the Robinson Piano Company occurs in jury records in 1899 a full 13 years after our Piccolo was made. .... and then it travelled by what ever route 25,000 miles or more, who knows, and ends being sold in the UK.

For tailpieces: Michael Holmes article on Mugwumps


Antique/Vintage Banjos at auction Collectors Weekly


Banjoleles on David Sims Ukulele Corner


Hank Schwartz site on the history of Fairbanks


Banjo Hangout


Smakulas Fretted


National instruments