I'm not familiar with dating Gibson banjo s. This one is Serial # 11001A-2, Ball-bearing suspended tubular tone ring with 59 holes. 24 hooks, ivoroid pick guard and wire armrest. Scale length 19 3/8". I'm told it may be an early TB3. I'd like to know the year of manufacture and get an idea of value.
That FON is not listed in Spann, but I do have notes of a previous report. The A suffix, indicates it is likely the first TB-3 from 1924. The finish color seem unusual, perhaps some better photos of the back of the neck and side of the rim would help. Otherwise, it looks to be in great shape.
Early TB 3, 1922-24 probably 1924. That's not really a ball-bearing tone ring, although it is supported on balls but not the later springs, and doesn't have the brazed-on ring which made the 1925-6 models look like arch top banjos .This one has a 10 1/2 inch rim which is not as thick as the later Gibson banjos. Many of these had what is known as a "Trapdoor"--a flat flush mounted resonator with a hinged section that could be positioned either open or closed. Check the rim for three screw holes, as the trapdoor was mounted that way. These early Gibsons are not as sought after as the later models because they don't convert well to 5 string banjos and are not what bluegrass people are looking for. It's nice that you have the original tailpiece cover, which goes missing most of the time, and also have the pickguard. A nice banjo, but not a really valuable one.
As for the solid (no springs) ball bearings, they are to my thought similar to the concept in Electrics/Whyte Ladies, and even more like many Morrison, and some Washburns, of having a fairly solid tone ring with a multi- point mounting to the wood rim. I am not sure of the acoustic concept, but it certainly was a "thing". No relation of course to Whyte Laydie gin (which was a new thing to me). On these banjos, as mentioned, there are no springs but simply a series of ball bearings set into holes drilled about the rim which the hollow tube rests against.
Sorry, I don't have any info for you, but I just wanted to ask, what was the purpose of ball bearings supporting the tone ring?
I'm certainly not an expert, but I believe the springs and ball bearings underneath the tone ring were an attempt to keep the skin head taught depending on fluctuations in humidity. No plastic heads invented yet.
Or like so many other "inventions and patents" surrounding banjos in the early part of the last century, it could've been the latest miracle "tone enhancer."
Just an opinion.. a solid tone ring fit in a shallow groove on the rim would have a somewhat muted ring when the strings were plucked or strummed, when the tone ring rest at points on the ball-bearing arrangement, could this possibly aid in the vibration of the tone ring, and thus the quality of sound produced (un-muted).. thoughts.?? kb
Probably a theory prevalent at the time and spread about as gospel by a marketing department.
There may be some wisdom here, though. There are many who say they've improved their banjos by making certain the tone ring is a slip-fit and doesn't bind on the rim. (Stelling's wedge design kind of disagrees with that notion, though.)