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Early dated Mountain Banjer (1922-1923)

Posted by cbcarlisle on Friday, March 21, 2014

For those who missed it here is a report on an early, dated, example from a related style of western North Carolina mountain banjers. Pix are in my "1923 Mountain Banjer" folder. [Or go to ] I recently acquired an interesting old mountain banjer which is signed and dated. On the dark head, the name "W. I. Hawthorne," and "May 15, 1922," (plus 1923 and some other indecipherable but, perhaps recoverable, letters) are written. The initials W I H are also stamped on each side of the heel, likely indicating he was the actual maker. I obtained it from Mountain City TN; the story is that it was bought ca. 2000 from a man in Avery County NC and it was built by his uncle who lived in West Jefferson (Ashe Cty). The neck, top and back are made of walnut; the center layer seems to be a splint of oak or hickory. The instrument is 34" long, with a 10.5" pot. The most distinctive thing about the banjer is the neck treatment and its join to the pot. There is an unusual combination of angular facets near the heel changing to a round cross-section at the fifth peg. There is a resemblance in the angular neck treatment to my banjer found in Winston-Salem and one from "Western North Carolina" in the Museum of Appalachia. The Winston-Salem banjer also has a (different but similar) dovetail joint at the heel. There is a nice star cutout in the back, a well-made (commercial?) metal tailpiece, external bolts joining the top and back, with pronged metal chair sliders covering the bolt heads on the top, resembling the more massive hardware sometimes found on these instruments. It is partially fretted - an old job - with narrow frets but some marks on the flat surface seem to indicate previous use without them. There are not many old mountain banjers around and so few that can be dated that I feel justified in reporting this example. Perhaps someone in the area can take up the search from here. [From various genealogical sources I was able to trace only one W(illiam) I(ngram) Hawthorne (1889-1967) of North Carolina but he was born in Philadelphia, was in turn a farmer, minister, and jeweler, and lived, from the 1920s, in Charlotte. Not quite convincing enough to be certain he was the right fellow. I submit this for anyone following up on the ground. Perhaps the place to start would be West Jefferson. (Very small town.)]

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