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Sears Supertone Celluloid Tree Of Life

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Jun 18, 2019 - 6:51:27 PM
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772 posts since 3/1/2012

I was trying to compare the real shell inlay on the 1901 Stewart Acme with the celluloid inlay on the circa 1920 Sears Supertone. Both were sold in the Sears mail order catalogs...Patches the Beagle decided to investigate, too.
From previous posts on the subject, I know Rettburg & Lange made the Supertones, but I’m wondering if other manufacturers did as well. This is the second Supertone I have owned, and seems better made than the other one.


Jun 18, 2019 - 7:19:23 PM

254 posts since 2/22/2015

Lyon and Healy made some for Sears, but I think it was before the Supertone label. I have an early Lang Supertone Century, with real pearl, I love to play.

Jun 18, 2019 - 7:33:40 PM

6 posts since 5/22/2017

I’ve wondered the same thing. I have five different supertones varying in levels of quality. I think the ones made closer to 1900 were definitely Rettburg and Lange but some of the later ones are questionable.


Jun 18, 2019 - 8:25:31 PM

772 posts since 3/1/2012

The first Supertone I owned (also a celluloid Tree Of Life) sounded so bad that I sold it. Visually they are interesting when compared to a real Tree Of Life, so I just bought this one.

Jun 19, 2019 - 3:59:36 AM

1811 posts since 4/7/2010

Oscar Schmidt is another possibility for the tree of life inlaid banjo. I've seen that inlay in one of their vintage catalogs. Of course, the TOL came from a commercial inlaid fretboard supplier, so anyone could buy a few hundred and instal them on their banjos.

Bob Smakula

Jun 19, 2019 - 6:51:59 AM
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1040 posts since 1/15/2009

One of my earliest banjos, the one in my profile photo, was a 'Supertone?' celluloid tree of life. I currently have a 'Supertone?' with the exact same tree of life pattern, except it is done with MOP and silver wire. I've always assumed they were made by Rettburg & Lange for sears and anybody else.

Just yesterday I was checking banjos at Bunenzeos website and saw a celluloid version they called a Sterling.

I like the sound of mine and play it often.


Jun 19, 2019 - 7:33:05 AM

772 posts since 3/1/2012

Both the one I used to own, and this one, have no nameplate or identifying marks. I am calling it a Sears Supertone based on the original advertisement from circa 1918.
But maybe the ones without a nameplate weren’t sold by Sears?

Jun 19, 2019 - 7:59:08 AM

772 posts since 3/1/2012

Here is the ad, circa 1918:


Jun 19, 2019 - 6:25:48 PM

772 posts since 3/1/2012

Another thought about this Tree Of Life pattern on the Supertone...the last one I owned had what was definitely celluloid inlay.This one I have now, although otherwise better constructed, actually seems to have the inlay pattern stenciled on.
Has anyone else noticed that sort of thing on theirs?
Here is a photo:


Jun 20, 2019 - 6:38:07 AM
Players Union Member



1040 posts since 1/15/2009

Over the years, there have been many BHO conversations about these banjos, but this thread has been most interesting. I had never thought of the concept of a third party making these finger-boards for a multitude of manufacturers, but it makes since.

I am a sucker for banjos with a Tree-of-Life pattern, and the celluloid version of this pattern is my favorite ever. It's graceful with out being cluttered or busy and reads well from a distance.

Jun 20, 2019 - 7:07:54 AM

4450 posts since 9/21/2007

Here is a question for you all...

When did it become "tree of life?"  All the "period" descriptions I have seen are of "vine," "vine and flower," or "vine and leaf."

I see a vine.  I don't see a tree.  I think it is a post WW2 folk era description.  A bit of presentism superimposing religion onto a secular object.

Jun 20, 2019 - 7:45:25 AM
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772 posts since 3/1/2012

Joel--for what it's worth, my friends refer to the celluloid version as The Weed Of Life.

Jun 20, 2019 - 11:30:14 AM

5882 posts since 8/28/2013

Originally posted by IMBanjoJim

Joel--for what it's worth, my friends refer to the celluloid version as The Weed Of Life.

I like that "Weed of Life," 

An old Hippie, however, might use the term for something you can smoke. Celluloid would be a little hazardous for that kind of usage.

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