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 ARCHIVED TOPIC: British Minstrel Banjo Finds Me!


Please note this is an archived topic, so it is locked and unable to be replied to. You may, however, start a new topic and refer to this topic with a link: http://www.banjohangout.org/archive/368529

IMBanjoJim - Posted - 09/08/2020:  13:28:06


This is a fun story.
Some months ago I found an online British auction site that was auctioning off one Lot of: a minstrel banjo, a Stewart banjo, and four or five bowl-back mandolins. I only wanted the minstrel banjo, but had to bid on the whole thing. Which I did, at 3 am my time (10 am there).
I did not win, and after the initial disappointment, I got to thinking about how much it would have cost to ship all those instruments. Probably better that I lost. And what the heck would I do with four bowl-back mandolins, anyway?
Then I woke up one day a month or so later to an email from a British banjo collector (who is here on The Hangout) and who I have talked with occasionally. He said he recently won some instruments on a online auction, and was I interested in the old minstrel banjo?
Come home to Pappa! The same banjo!!!
It took awhile, but the banjo is now happily where it was meant to be. It just arrived safely today.
A short neck Minstrel banjo, 1870-ish, with a big 15 inch pot. Looks like it was made for 5 pegs at the peghead plus the short peg. There is a hole at the top of the peghead to hang it up, apparently.
3 1/2 inch deep pot, 14 big hooks (one missing), also has alternating smaller hooks, but most are missing.
15 1/2 inch neck from nut to pot.
11 1/2 inches from nut to 12th fret, so a 23 inch scale.
I am assuming this is a British Minstrel banjo, because it was in England. It's possible it was American and ended up over there.
Are people comfortable with an 1870s date, or could it be earlier?





 

IMBanjoJim - Posted - 09/08/2020:  13:30:33


And a few more photos:





 

Emiel - Posted - 09/08/2020:  14:16:06


Interesting story and interesting instrument, looks very old…

35planar - Posted - 09/08/2020:  15:38:42


15" whoa!

esmic - Posted - 09/08/2020:  19:11:53


Jim : I have a similar cello banjo, 6 string with Scottish thistle peghead, large rim -16" in my case- short scale and lady-leg neck profile. Yours is the first I've seen like it. Mine came to me from Canada's west coast, but from the obscure info on the maker's label in the rim I was able to determine it was made in Scotland. Despite looking 1870-ish, mine was made in 1891, so appearances can be deceiving.

If you are planning to play it, these large rim brutes require an oversized bridge to drive such a big head, (I made mine) and the short scale needs heavy strings. I used the wound strings from two classical guitar sets. Tune it an octave lower than a regular banjo.


IMBanjoJim - Posted - 09/08/2020:  19:36:32


quote:

Originally posted by esmic

Jim : I have a similar cello banjo, 6 string with Scottish thistle peghead, large rim -16" in my case- short scale and lady-leg neck profile. Yours is the first I've seen like it. Mine came to me from Canada's west coast, but from the obscure info on the maker's label in the rim I was able to determine it was made in Scotland. Despite looking 1870-ish, mine was made in 1891, so appearances can be deceiving.



If you are planning to play it, these large rim brutes require an oversized bridge to drive such a big head, (I made mine) and the short scale needs heavy strings. I used the wound strings from two classical guitar sets. Tune it an octave lower than a regular banjo.






That's fascinating! The only possible mark on mine is the scratched PC8 in one of the photos above. And I had never heard the phrase 'lady-leg' to describe a banjo neck. Ya really do learn something new with every banjo!

Brooklynbanjoboy - Posted - 09/09/2020:  04:03:31


Does this make your cutoff point for collecting on the cheap, or is this one of those cost overrun stories?

IMBanjoJim - Posted - 09/09/2020:  07:22:16


quote:

Originally posted by Brooklynbanjoboy

Does this make your cutoff point for collecting on the cheap, or is this one of those cost overrun stories?


 




This one was suprisingly inexpensive, relativly. There have been a few that weren't. 

IMBanjoJim - Posted - 09/09/2020:  07:24:21


quote:

Originally posted by esmic

Jim : I have a similar cello banjo, 6 string with Scottish thistle peghead, large rim -16" in my case- short scale and lady-leg neck profile. Yours is the first I've seen like it. Mine came to me from Canada's west coast, but from the obscure info on the maker's label in the rim I was able to determine it was made in Scotland. Despite looking 1870-ish, mine was made in 1891, so appearances can be deceiving.



If you are planning to play it, these large rim brutes require an oversized bridge to drive such a big head, (I made mine) and the short scale needs heavy strings. I used the wound strings from two classical guitar sets. Tune it an octave lower than a regular banjo.






Could you show a photo of the label? And is there a date on the rimstick? I know less than zero about banjos from Scotland.

G Edward Porgie - Posted - 09/09/2020:  07:28:30


Those shorter hooks between the long ones make no sense given the rest of the construction, and I suspect were a later addition.

AndrewD - Posted - 09/09/2020:  07:42:56


quote:

Originally posted by G Edward Porgie

Those shorter hooks between the long ones make no sense given the rest of the construction, and I suspect were a later addition.






When the frets were added (if they're not original? ). Interesting to see a split fret at the 4th as well as the 2nd.

esmic - Posted - 09/09/2020:  08:20:47


The label is paper, hand lettered in ink. It reads :

Arch'd Plenderleith

Borland Ecclestone

Maker 1891

Research revealed Archibald Plenderleith was a mid- to-latter 19th century tenant farmer; his farm outside the village of Ecclestone, Scotland was known as Borland. (It is identified on 19th century maps and largely unchanged on Google Earth views today.) He was an avid curler and marksman. As a young man, he entered the Scottish militia. His remarkable, winning marksmanship at numerous shooting competitions between regiments, both regional and international, earned him trophies, platters, even presentation grade firearms. He entered service as a "ranker". Through his marksmanship successes, he was elevated to sergeant, the highest rank attainable for a man of his class. When this banjo was built, 1891, he was 65, long retired from the military and perhaps even from farming. But he was obviously a skilled banjo maker.



Your banjo's long hooks appear to fasten to shoes that loop around the bottom edge of the rim, the same as the shoes on my banjo.

Yours also appears to share a one piece mahogany or rosewood neck, same unusual profile, very similar peghead shape and profile. These and other similarities make one wonder whether both banjos share a common origin.



I agree with George that the through-the-rim shoes and shorter hooks are not original to your banjo. The frets are likely not original as well.


Edited by - esmic on 09/09/2020 08:25:48

Alvin Conder - Posted - 09/09/2020:  14:46:54


Well that one is unique on many levels.

Minstrel Banjos from Scotland....never even entered my mind.

Great find!

IMBanjoJim - Posted - 09/09/2020:  17:07:59


Just noticed that the inside of the skin head also says PC8, just like the scratched heel. Any ideas what that could mean?



 

boyer - Posted - 09/12/2020:  07:26:40


I notice that the peghead is in the shape of the Scottish thistle. That's cool.

IMBanjoJim - Posted - 09/12/2020:  09:29:23


quote:

Originally posted by boyer

I notice that the peghead is in the shape of the Scottish thistle. That's cool.






Well, that could be a clue as to it's origin, but after reading your comment, I Googled Scottish Thistle, and for the life of me, I see no resemblance.

Alvin Conder - Posted - 09/12/2020:  09:50:09


Jim - Boyer is spot on. I have seen many stylized designs of Scottish thistsles, and your peghead is right on point with that design.

Somewhere in my house I have an old “Thistle Glass”. Used specifically for drinking Scotch. If I can find it, I’ll post a picture of it. If I recall the shape correctly, it could have been used as a template to your peghead.

Love that banjo. BTW- congrats on the book.

IMBanjoJim - Posted - 09/12/2020:  10:13:15


quote:

Originally posted by Alvin Conder

Jim - Boyer is spot on. I have seen many stylized designs of Scottish thistsles, and your peghead is right on point with that design.



Somewhere in my house I have an old “Thistle Glass”. Used specifically for drinking Scotch. If I can find it, I’ll post a picture of it. If I recall the shape correctly, it could have been used as a template to your peghead.



Love that banjo. BTW- congrats on the book.






Have you noticed how much better your playing sounds after drinking that Scotch? I'm a Guinness man, myself, and believe me, it helps! lol

mike gregory - Posted - 09/12/2020:  10:18:19


Corn granulations on getting the banjo.
(See attachment)
And for those who wonder why that neck style is given that name, see the other attachment.


Alvin Conder - Posted - 09/12/2020:  10:40:26


Here is a sample of the drinking glasses. These are not mine, mine are in a cabinet somewhere...guess I don’t drink too much single malt anymore... but they are 19th Century Scottish Thistle glasses. Officially referred to as Thistle dram glasses.

Looks like your artisan may have been a little influenced by the glass, or what was in it.

Dram Glass - lady leg, just a thought.



 

IMBanjoJim - Posted - 09/13/2020:  18:40:45


Taped off, and sprayed a bit of WD40 on the nuts and hooks. Nuts were totally frozen on. Was eventually able to get them all of, but it was a struggle. Soaked them all in a tray of WD, but tomorrow will go to the store for a bottle of Coke, and soak them some more.

Used beeswax on the neck and pot, and Some of that Mother’s Polish on the metal tension ring and the metal on the fretboard. Fretboard did not clean up much. Had somewhat better luck on the tension ring, although there appears to be a stress fracture Going most of the way thru. Hopefully it will hold ok, otherwise I will have to make another.

I DID discover something interesting.scratched into the pot, under where the rimstick pokes through is what looks like a name: RSB STROBY as far as I can make out. I wish whoever did that had scratched in a date, too! Heres a few photos; maybe you can make decipher it.


Edited by - IMBanjoJim on 09/13/2020 18:41:37





 

TriMD180 - Posted - 09/13/2020:  19:53:23


quote:

Originally posted by IMBanjoJim

Taped off, and sprayed a bit of WD40 on the nuts and hooks. Nuts were totally frozen on. Was eventually able to get them all of, but it was a struggle. Soaked them all in a tray of WD, but tomorrow will go to the store for a bottle of Coke, and soak them some more.

Used beeswax on the neck and pot, and Some of that Mother’s Polish on the metal tension ring and the metal on the fretboard. Fretboard did not clean up much. Had somewhat better luck on the tension ring, although there appears to be a stress fracture Going most of the way thru. Hopefully it will hold ok, otherwise I will have to make another.

I DID discover something interesting.scratched into the pot, under where the rimstick pokes through is what looks like a name: RSB STROBY as far as I can make out. I wish whoever did that had scratched in a date, too! Heres a few photos; maybe you can make decipher it.






Such a cool old banjo! I love finding hidden secrets when you pull these things apart to clean them up! Great find!

IMBanjoJim - Posted - 09/13/2020:  19:58:16


Yup! I learn something new with each banjo!

IMBanjoJim - Posted - 09/25/2020:  13:54:27


Well, the old tension ring was brittle, and snapped in half. Stopped by the hardware store this morning, and bought two pieces of brass. Luthier friend and I bent, and cut and riveted. The result is tight, but hopefully useable. We also cut down and re-drilled the pegs. Next step is to try to wrestle the skin on. After that it is just a matter of sanding and fitting the nut. And then...a banjo!




IMBanjoJim - Posted - 09/27/2020:  16:21:30


Well, the new skin head was wrestled on, and the neck is now back on as well! Going to wait 24 hours for the head to dry, then string it up.




Alvin Conder - Posted - 09/28/2020:  07:06:12


Another one back to life!

Here’s to another 100 + years of music on this instrument.

Thank you for your searches and restorations that you have done on your many instruments.

Future players and collectors will very much appreciate it.

IMBanjoJim - Posted - 09/28/2020:  09:19:35


quote:

Originally posted by Alvin Conder

Another one back to life!



Here’s to another 100 + years of music on this instrument.



Thank you for your searches and restorations that you have done on your many instruments.



Future players and collectors will very much appreciate it.






Just imagine if I had used my mind for good, instead of evil...



 

Clifton Hicks - Posted - 09/29/2020:  10:47:30


Looks very British made to me. The bottom-mounted brackets and 15" rim diameter scream pre-1880.

The peg head really does look like it was intended to represent a thistle flower.

IMBanjoJim - Posted - 10/03/2020:  15:50:22


And...all strung up:



 

Brooklynbanjoboy - Posted - 10/03/2020:  15:52:57


Wow. That looks incredible. And these things are drawn to you, how, magnetically?

IMBanjoJim - Posted - 10/03/2020:  16:32:31


quote:

Originally posted by Brooklynbanjoboy

Wow. That looks incredible. And these things are drawn to you, how, magnetically?






Back in college (lo, these many decades ago), I took a basic B&W Photography course, and wanted to set up a darkroom in the 3rd floor bathroom. Started asking neighbors, uncles, people on the street, etc. for old darkroom equipment. Ended up with 9 perfectly good enlargers. A friend in the class said I didn't find photo gear--I attracted it.



Trying to develop that super power with banjos...

flatfootjohnny - Posted - 10/04/2020:  03:25:28


Was the ladys leg neck shape an English thing? Ive seen quite a few pictures of old Tunbridgeware banjos with that neck shape.

AlanQ - Posted - 10/05/2020:  04:24:16


quote:

Originally posted by IMBanjoJim

And...all strung up:






Hi Jim,



I have an interesting item with an identical headstock to your 'thistlle' banjo. I posted it some years ago on another forum. It had the shadow of a label inside which was identical in size and shape to Shawn's intact label for Plenderleith posted above. I believe the Plenderleith who made these was an amateur maker I think borne out by my example.  I don't know which Plenderleith made them but a later member of the family was involved in another field of interest for me, i.e. archaeology.


Brooklynbanjoboy - Posted - 10/05/2020:  04:27:45


If I've missed it, sorry - but have you posted sound files anywhere, Jim?

IMBanjoJim - Posted - 10/05/2020:  08:03:13


quote:

Originally posted by AlanQ

quote:

Originally posted by IMBanjoJim

And...all strung up:






Hi Jim,



I have an interesting item with an identical headstock to your 'thistlle' banjo. I posted it some years ago on another forum. It had the shadow of a label inside which was identical in size and shape to Shawn's intact label for Plenderleith posted above. I believe the Plenderleith who made these was an amateur maker I think borne out by my example.  I don't know which Plenderleith made them but a later member of the family was involved in another field of interest for me, i.e. archaeology.






That's fascinating! Look where the short string peg is!



Can you post a photo of the label?

IMBanjoJim - Posted - 10/05/2020:  16:35:17


quote:

Originally posted by Brooklynbanjoboy

If I've missed it, sorry - but have you posted sound files anywhere, Jim?






Here ya go, Lew:



 


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