In honor of the Banjo Collector's Gathering (aka 19th Century Banjo Gathering aka Banjo Geekathon) coming to Baltimore in two weeks and my recent article about the BCG in the Old Time Herald, I thought I'd post some of the pictures from last year.
These instruments are all in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City.
The banjo above is pretty crude, but made in the later part of 19th century, according to the Met. It is like a tack-head banjo in that the skin is secured by nails, but they are on a separate hoop from the rest of the rim. The Museum lists the following for the provenance (origin) of the instrument:
""This specimen represents the prototype of the modern circular banjo. It was constructed by an old negro on a platation in Georgia and is the form that was originally in common use among plantation negroes. The body is made from the rim of a sieve; the hide was cured from a goat raised by the negro, and the wood of the neck from a tree of his own planting. Frances Morris " - Catalogue of the Crosbhy Brown Collection of Musical Instruments
Below is what it would look like if a fiddle and a banjo had a baby.
Above is a so-called "Patent Banjo" made by Hercules McCord in 1884. This is most likely the only one ever made based on a specific patent of how to tighten the drum head. Basically the bolt in the back has wire for each little spoke that tightens a screw that tightens the head of the banjo.
Above is a very intricate banjo with a wood resonator that has marquetry on the back and shell inlays around the edge.
Above is another 19th century banjo that has an early, primitive system for tensioning the banjo head. If you don't know anything about the banjo, that whole thing is pretty important because when the calf or goat skin head gets damp (think humid south-east summers or just rain), it gets droopy and the sound is dead. Being able to tighten the head always gives a brighter, louder sound.
Someone at the Met suggested that this banjo was made by the same African American man who made the first banjo at the top of this post, but no such provenance is indicated on the Met's website or catalog.
It was pretty cool to see those instruments (and more that aren't pictured here!), but the down side? No one got to play them so we have no idea how they sound...
Come in, the stacks are open.
Away from prying eyes, damaging light, and pilfering hands, the most special collections are kept in closed stacks. You need an appointment to view the objects, letters, and books that open a door to the past.