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Thread: Family photo, NMC, looking for ID

  1. #1
    Orrig Onion HonketyHank's Avatar
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    Default Family photo, NMC, looking for ID

    Attached is a posed formal photo of my wife's great-great-great-uncle and his son. Judging from the apparant ages of father and son we guess that it is from the early to mid 1890's. We have no idea if either of the subjects actually played the banjo. But Dad's banjo looks like a decent instrument, so it (or both) may not be studio props.

    Can anyone identify the banjo(s)?

    I know I could try the Banjo Hangout board but I am known over there as someone who abandonned the 5-string banjo and thus, you know, strange and highly suspect.
    Click image for larger version. 

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    Registered User Steve Roberts's Avatar
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    Default Re: Family photo, NMC, looking for ID

    Hank

    That's a head-scratcher. At first glance Dad's banjo looks like a fancy Boston model from the early 1890s, something like a AC Fairbanks Special Electric. The inlay pattern going up the neck (1st, 3rd, 5th, 7th, 9th, 12th, 14th, 17th and final fret) is the same as this Special Electric #5 from Hank Schwartz's webpage-

    Click image for larger version. 

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    But I have never seen that peghead inlay pattern or the actual inlays in the fingerboard. I'd send a copy of the picture to Jim Bollman at the email address shown on fineoldbanjos(dot)com If anyone would know the identity of the banjo, it would be Jim.

    And why in the world would anyone abandon the 5 string banjo? It's a great instrument. Pardon me while I climb under my desk to avoid the incoming tomatoes from the mandolin world.

  3. #3
    Orrig Onion HonketyHank's Avatar
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    Default Re: Family photo, NMC, looking for ID

    The original photo that I scanned is not much better resolution than what I posted. But it looks to me like the "peghead inlay" pattern we see is really the tag ends of several strings wrapped into circles. If so, the inlay itself looks a lot simpler than your photos. Other differences I see are the tailpiece, fretboard inlay, and tuner pegs (wood?). But the peghead shape is pretty similar and they both have the same number of lugs.

    I played banjo in my teens and early twenties. Not all that well but good enough for the folk music craze in the 1960's. Clawhammer. I quit playing when I started working instead of being a student. I then carried that banjo around through a couple dozen moves thinking I would start back up again. I finally found the time to do it after I retired and got so dad-blasted frustrated trying to relearn how to play that I decided to start over again with a different instrument, entirely different right hand techniques, shorter neck, different tuning, blah blah blah. I am now a very happy being a 75 year old newbie on the mandolin.

    Sold my old 1962 Ode banjo two years ago.

    Here is a high resolution version of the photo:
    Click image for larger version. 

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    New to mando? Click this link -->Newbies to join us at the Newbies Social Group.

    Just send an email to rob.meldrum@gmail.com with "mandolin setup" in the subject line and he will email you a copy of his ebook for free (free to all mandolincafe members).

    My website and blog: honketyhank.com

  4. #4
    Registered User Steve Roberts's Avatar
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    Default Re: Family photo, NMC, looking for ID

    That picture is better, and you are correct about the wrapped string ends covering up parts of the peghead.

    Check our this Fairbanks & Cole Clipper model from about 1885:

    Click image for larger version. 

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    Those look like Maltese Cross ivory tuning pegs which were typically inlaid like Handel tuners on early Gibson and Martin mandolins. Very fancy.

    I am pretty sure this was a high-grade instrument, and it sure would be nice to find stashed away in a closet in the family homestead.

    Again, Jim Bollman is your go-to resource here. Send him that higher resolution photo.

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  6. #5
    Orrig Onion HonketyHank's Avatar
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    Default Re: Family photo, NMC, looking for ID

    Thanks for the lead on Jim Bollman. He replied right away

    Hi Henry- It would be interesting to have names of the sitters. The date is correct as both banjos are early to mid 1890s Fairbanks banjos. the father is holding a No.3 Grade Electric Fairbanks model and the son has a banjo that's definitely Fairbanks as well but the model is tough to ascertain as the peghead is off the frame. Both banjos have patent ivory tailpieces and the No.3 has ivory tuners , correct for this model. It's possible the son's banjo is a " Baby Electric ", a 9" model produced for children or smaller adults. The father's banjo was a bit difficult to identify because there are wrapped up strings obscuring the standard peghead inlays of a 3 Electric whereas the fingerboard inlays are standard , easily identifiable No.3 patterns. I initially thought this banjo might have had some custom peghead inlays until I realized what was going on with the strings. Players back in the gut string days ( pre 1910 or so ) regularly rolled up excess string lengths in case they could be used over when a string broke.

    This is an exciting photo, if the family happened to have a duplicate I'd love to buy one for my Fairbanks collection ( perhaps $100-$150 ).

    Cordially, Jim Bollman

    My wife said "who is this guy and what is he thinking of doing with that picture?" I am a bit embarrassed to reveal that I did not recognize the name. But I Googled "Jim Bollman banjo" and was overwhelmed. Here is a neat video on him and his collection: Bollman Video

    He was also the co-owner of The Music Emporium in Boston for many years until he retired, so he is a friend of Mandolin Cafe.

    Don't tell Jim, but I suspect my wife will happily give him the photo.
    New to mando? Click this link -->Newbies to join us at the Newbies Social Group.

    Just send an email to rob.meldrum@gmail.com with "mandolin setup" in the subject line and he will email you a copy of his ebook for free (free to all mandolincafe members).

    My website and blog: honketyhank.com

  7. #6
    Registered User Ranald's Avatar
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    Default Re: Family photo, NMC, looking for ID

    Quote Originally Posted by Steve Roberts View Post
    Hank

    That's a head-scratcher.
    Where were Head-Scratchers made?
    Robert Johnson's mother, describing blues musicians:
    "I never did have no trouble with him until he got big enough to be round with bigger boys and off from home. Then he used to follow all these harp blowers, mandoleen (sic) and guitar players."
    Lomax, Alan, The Land where The Blues Began, NY: Pantheon, 1993, p.14.

  8. #7
    Registered User Steve Roberts's Avatar
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    Default Re: Family photo, NMC, looking for ID

    Quote Originally Posted by Ranald View Post
    Where were Head-Scratchers made?
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