hello. Just picked up this old banjo. No markings. 38 brackets, 11" pot, about 23" neck, talon tailpiece. Came from the mountains of Virginia. the head looks kind of like a buckbee, but I have seen some other info about George Washburns using the talon tailpiece. Any thoughts appreciated.
how should I clean it up to keep it as original as possible, but playable?
The ubiquitous catalog Buckbee--probably the most commonly played banjo 1880-1920. The tailpiece, tuners, etc. were probably added later. I sell these periodically for $300-$500 depending on condition: youtu.be/8MIVzc74Ypg
The banjo is a low end Lyon & Healy. The telltale detail is the shoes. Their manufacturing technique was patented. They were made by producing a long bar with the shoes profile, then slicing off lengths for individual shoes, and other machining to get them to fit the banjo.
Though It is possible that Lyon and Healy could have sold the hardware to Buckbee, my call is the banjo was Chicago made, not New Your City.
I wouldn't do anything other than brush off the dust and wipe a thin coat of oil over the wood. If I really wanted to cover up the wear spots in the fingerboard, I'd just carefully brush on a little bit of black India ink before letting that dry and the rubbing in a little oil.