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English T W Bacon - Dobson style banjo

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Sep 30, 2019 - 6:34:56 AM
1220 posts since 4/25/2007

Just received my latest UK Ebay purchase. T W Bacon - Dobson style banjo. English maker T W Bacon made quite a number of these in five, six and seven string configurations. This one being an 11 inch pot 5 string. The majority of those i have come across so far have had a 12 inch pot. This one has some damage but arthritis permitting i figure repairable. Somewhat unusual for TWB it has a boat heel and rim brackets more akin to other English makers. The remaining original tension hooks and nuts are typical of those found on TWB banjos. Although not shown it retained 3 of the 5 original ivory pegs.

My guess is that steel strings were the cause of the peg head failure.








Sep 30, 2019 - 7:08:58 AM

4775 posts since 9/21/2007

I love how the English were so consistent in knocking off American patents or designs with the banjo.  In some cases (like accessories) the duplication is perfect.  But in most examples, like this one, there are enough differences to make it interesting.

The fingerboard extension plate is a good idea and I am not sure why it was not adopted by more builders when the patent expired.  FVE used them on his later flush fret banjos with frets machined into it,

Since the default "tuning" has become the bass elevated variant of standard, it would make sense to put on a plate with two more frets to increase the compass of the standard banjo.

What I love is that they did it to the end.  From Ellis plagiarizing Stewart publications and Brewster copying SSS' basic banjo form all the way to the Clifford Essex version of the Vega Vox that they announced just before WW2 ended their normal production, the English were relentless copyists.  And the best part is that they would not fess up to it! 

Oh, and they knocked off each other too.

Early published music aside, I tend to like the English designs over the US versions.  A Concert Grand to me looks much nicer than a WL #7 (which is over done in my opinion).

Sep 30, 2019 - 8:35:25 AM
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DH#52

USA

576 posts since 6/6/2007

Hmm...why the editorial? Guy’s just proud of his new purchase.

Steve

Sep 30, 2019 - 9:04:18 AM
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csacwp

USA

2408 posts since 1/15/2014

quote:
Originally posted by DH#52

Hmm...why the editorial? Guy’s just proud of his new purchase.

Steve


Because this is the Collector's Corner and we discuss banjo history here?

Sep 30, 2019 - 9:57:11 AM

DH#52

USA

576 posts since 6/6/2007

I guess I shouldn’t have been so subtle in my post, John, because it seems you’ve missed my point. I spent A LOT of years teaching in public schools where civility turned into the teachable moment more often than I wished, and I thought Joel’s comment could have been a better history lesson without the “knocking off” and “plagiarizing” and “relentless copyists” language applied to the British because they ARE pejorative in nature.

Joel is a learned person who might have ‘taught the lesson’ without those (I called them) editorial words.

Steve

Sep 30, 2019 - 10:28:08 AM

csacwp

USA

2408 posts since 1/15/2014

quote:
Originally posted by DH#52

I guess I shouldn’t have been so subtle in my post, John, because it seems you’ve missed my point. I spent A LOT of years teaching in public schools where civility turned into the teachable moment more often than I wished, and I thought Joel’s comment could have been a better history lesson without the “knocking off” and “plagiarizing” and “relentless copyists” language applied to the British because they ARE pejorative in nature.

Joel is a learned person who might have ‘taught the lesson’ without those (I called them) editorial words.

Steve


Steve, why should Joel dance around the issue when those words describe EXACTLY what happened. History needn't be be altered to suit the whims of the overly sensitive. 

Sep 30, 2019 - 10:56:06 AM

4775 posts since 9/21/2007

quote:
Originally posted by DH#52

I guess I shouldn’t have been so subtle in my post, John, because it seems you’ve missed my point. I spent A LOT of years teaching in public schools where civility turned into the teachable moment more often than I wished, and I thought Joel’s comment could have been a better history lesson without the “knocking off” and “plagiarizing” and “relentless copyists” language applied to the British because they ARE pejorative in nature.

Joel is a learned person who might have ‘taught the lesson’ without those (I called them) editorial words.

Steve


Hi Steve, given your expertise then you should know the definition of those words all of which are accurate as John stated.

Herbert Ellis took Stewart published music and republished it under his own name.  He did this with over 300 pieces.  Ellis was not alone-- other publishers printed American compositions under their own names.  

What did you call it when your students would copy other's work and put their name on it?

Brewster not only stamped his name over Stewart banjos and called them his, he had Dallas build similar banjos after traveling to the US to meet with SSS and become the English agent for Stewart banjos.  Pretty nasty business.

Clifford Essex made a versions of the Fairbanks WL (Concert Grand), Farland beveled top rim (Wood hoop special), Alfred Weaver- his banjos were based on New York or Clarke pattern banjos to begain with (Metal Hoop Special), Orpheum (Paragon), Vega Vox, (Paravox).

Charles Skinner filed letter patents for a near duplication of D. E. Hartnett's Tone Bar finger rest.

The copying goes on and on.

The OP banjo is just one more example where they took a US invention that was patented (and was a popular model in its day) and copied it.

Since I have spent years in manufacture and selling consumer goods the phrase "knock off" is actually the accepted term for this.

And they were relentless copyists.

History is what it is.  

Sep 30, 2019 - 11:03:07 AM
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csacwp

USA

2408 posts since 1/15/2014

The great irony to all of this is that the British copies were often better made than the American originals. There's a reason I play Weavers instead of American made NY banjos.

Sep 30, 2019 - 11:39:30 AM
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4775 posts since 9/21/2007

quote:
Originally posted by csacwp

The great irony to all of this is that the British copies were often better made than the American originals. There's a reason I play Weavers instead of American made NY banjos.


Totally!

And the OP looks like it will be a great banjo once restored.

Oct 2, 2019 - 2:59:16 AM

1220 posts since 4/25/2007

I'm always pleased to read Joel's comments and grateful for his and others extensive research.
My main interest is English banjo makers. T W Bacon made no secret of these particular models being "Own make - Dobson Style" and invoiced them as such. What i find interesting is the way he constructed his knock off. Rather than the tone ring being seperate the whole spun over is actually one piece.
Dobson Silver Bell models appear to have been hugely popular with UK players in the 80's and Bacon was obviously an astute maker.




Oct 2, 2019 - 5:35:45 AM

m06

England

8009 posts since 10/5/2006

It would be perfectly valid and fair to say that all English banjos are in essence and basic form a borrowing from the original American model. So criticism of the copying of individual design features is pretty superfluous. If there was a patent and the patent-holder didn’t defend it or the jurisdiction did not apply outside the US that is a legal discussion not a reason to bash small luthiers who were simply trying to make a living.

However, we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that the most remarkable aspect of the earliest English banjo makers was that they did not copy the American 5-string pattern. Instead they mostly made peculiarly idiosyncratic 7-string versions of the American banjo. Despite some plausible theories we still don’t know for sure why this was the case.

BTW nice banjo Steve.

Edited by - m06 on 10/02/2019 05:50:56

Oct 2, 2019 - 7:43:45 AM

4775 posts since 9/21/2007

Thanks for the detail photos of the rim!  That is an innovative approach.  It looks like they used a taller cladding hoop and when they spun it, instead of going over the wire like normal they formed it into a Dobson bell tone ring like surface.  As stated, the English tended to improve the ideas and this seems to be consistent with that.

Oct 2, 2019 - 7:54:05 AM

4775 posts since 9/21/2007

quote:
Originally posted by m06

It would be perfectly valid and fair to say that all English banjos are in essence and basic form a borrowing from the original American model. So criticism of the copying of individual design features is pretty superfluous. If there was a patent and the patent-holder didn’t defend it or the jurisdiction did not apply outside the US that is a legal discussion not a reason to bash small luthiers who were simply trying to make a living.

However, we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that the most remarkable aspect of the earliest English banjo makers was that they did not copy the American 5-string pattern. Instead they mostly made peculiarly idiosyncratic 7-string versions of the American banjo. Despite some plausible theories we still don’t know for sure why this was the case.

BTW nice banjo Steve.


I suppose with this logic laws in general may be broken as long as the people doing it (who are just trying to make a living) are not caught.

It is not bashing-- it is historical fact.  These English builders straight up copied American designs. I am not talking about general forms of the banjo-- these are very specific things.

 They could have imported American banjos (SSS tried to work on those relationships and some did like CE who brought in Fairbanks banjos before making the Concert Grand) but instead they chose to copy.

There is also the issue of published compositions and claiming them as ones own. That is straight up stealing, which is what Herbert Ellis (and others did).


Yes you are correct, the 6+ string banjos were specifically English in pattern.  What is interesting is that while the WL and Dobson tone rings are still being produced, there is nearly no demand for 6+ string fret less banjos and I am unaware of any current makers of that pattern.  They are obsolete.

Thoughts on why that is?

Oct 2, 2019 - 8:30:03 AM

117 posts since 11/20/2017

U.K. 6 and 7 string banjos were to enable the guitarists of the day to get the new craze banjo sound, the guitar was all ready well established in the U.K. prior to the introduction of the early banjo playing minstrel groups. So these banjos were hybrids to enable the guitarist to play the banjo instantly.

Oct 2, 2019 - 9:38:44 AM
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csacwp

USA

2408 posts since 1/15/2014

quote:
Originally posted by kiteflyer

U.K. 6 and 7 string banjos were to enable the guitarists of the day to get the new craze banjo sound, the guitar was all ready well established in the U.K. prior to the introduction of the early banjo playing minstrel groups. So these banjos were hybrids to enable the guitarist to play the banjo instantly.


While plausible there is no evidence of this, and we do have evidence that these banjos were not tuned like guitars but like regular banjos with additional basses.

Oct 2, 2019 - 9:45:59 AM

117 posts since 11/20/2017

So what, Innovation is the spice of life!

Oct 2, 2019 - 9:53:57 AM
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1539 posts since 1/13/2012

quote:
Originally posted by Joel Hooks
quote:
Originally posted by m06

It would be perfectly valid and fair to say that all English banjos are in essence and basic form a borrowing from the original American model. So criticism of the copying of individual design features is pretty superfluous. If there was a patent and the patent-holder didn’t defend it or the jurisdiction did not apply outside the US that is a legal discussion not a reason to bash small luthiers who were simply trying to make a living.

However, we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that the most remarkable aspect of the earliest English banjo makers was that they did not copy the American 5-string pattern. Instead they mostly made peculiarly idiosyncratic 7-string versions of the American banjo. Despite some plausible theories we still don’t know for sure why this was the case.

BTW nice banjo Steve.


I suppose with this logic laws in general may be broken as long as the people doing it (who are just trying to make a living) are not caught.

It is not bashing-- it is historical fact.  These English builders straight up copied American designs. I am not talking about general forms of the banjo-- these are very specific things.

 They could have imported American banjos (SSS tried to work on those relationships and some did like CE who brought in Fairbanks banjos before making the Concert Grand) but instead they chose to copy.

There is also the issue of published compositions and claiming them as ones own. That is straight up stealing, which is what Herbert Ellis (and others did).


Yes you are correct, the 6+ string banjos were specifically English in pattern.  What is interesting is that while the WL and Dobson tone rings are still being produced, there is nearly no demand for 6+ string fret less banjos and I am unaware of any current makers of that pattern.  They are obsolete.

Thoughts on why that is?

 


 

US patents have no jurisdiction outside of the US. If an idea is a good one, it shouldn't be surprising that someone would copy it, and if they are outside of the US there is no law to stop them.

I would suspect that English makers copied American banjos (rather than importing them) primarily for financial reasons, ie. there was probably more money to be made in domestically producing instruments than in importing them. Simple capitalism, which, unfortunately, often brings out the worst in people.

Oct 2, 2019 - 9:59:43 AM

1902 posts since 1/16/2010

ya, cool banjo! Cant wait to hear it when you've got it all fixed up!

Oct 3, 2019 - 12:44:38 AM

m06

England

8009 posts since 10/5/2006

quote:
Originally posted by kiteflyer

U.K. 6 and 7 string banjos were to enable the guitarists of the day to get the new craze banjo sound, the guitar was all ready well established in the U.K. prior to the introduction of the early banjo playing minstrel groups. So these banjos were hybrids to enable the guitarist to play the banjo instantly.


That's one theory.

However, to date there is no evidence from research to back this up. And as John mentioned, there is evidence that early English 7-string banjos were not tuned similarly to a guitar which does undermine the reasoning of that particular theory.

Though the guitar was existent in England prior to the manufacture of the early 7-string banjos, there is also no sociological evidence to support a belief that a pre-existent 'community of guitarists' neatly adopted the banjo. In the 1840's when American performers toured the banjo in English venues the weapon of choice for itinerant English musicians (and had been for over a century) was generally the fiddle.

To fully understand what was going on we need to study who was playing those early 7-strings. And evidence certainly indicates a somewhat different uptake and cross-section than was the case in the post-1870's 'banjo craze'. There is anecdotal evidence that young people with no previous musical background took up the banjo. There are numerous references to young apprentices getting into trouble with employers for picking when they should've been working. people with little money and low status for whom the earliest plain 7-string banjos were probably affordable and accessible and in some cases home-made. To paint that in the simplest, broadest terms - research into the the social commentary of the time reveals that the early banjos played by English musicians were regarded as the domain of 'the commonest sort', and were frequently referred to in print in scathing language typical of the snobbery of dominant Victorian society.

The later banjo craze in England was to a large extent the 'rehabilitation' of the banjo from the relative 'invisibility' of street and tavern and it's introduction into, adoption as a novelty, 'elevation' and acceptance by 'decent' society - this can be seen in the notable inclusion of women players. Of course there are individual exceptions to any broad pattern. But no social phenomenon in England, especially in the Victorian period, can be fully understood without reference to our rigidly stratified and separated social structure...including the banjo. To that end the uptake and assimilation of the banjo as a musical instrument in England was subject to a more stringent and determinist environment and social forces than elsewhere. That shaped the banjos 19th century use and history here.

Edited by - m06 on 10/03/2019 00:57:05

Oct 3, 2019 - 1:08:38 AM

m06

England

8009 posts since 10/5/2006

quote:
Originally posted by Joel Hooks

>Yes you are correct, the 6+ string banjos were specifically English in pattern.  What is interesting is that while the WL and Dobson tone rings are still being produced, there is nearly no demand for 6+ string fret less banjos and I am unaware of any current makers of that pattern.  They are obsolete.

Thoughts on why that is?<


Categorically? No, we don't know for sure. Currently we can only surmise.

Until we better understand the 'who, why and what' of the earliest 7-string banjo phase in England we won't be able to answer that question.

The shift in social and cultural influence across that period 1870-1940 is certainly in the mix. The demise of the 6 and 7-string banjo also has to be seen in conjunction with the general shift in popularity of the banjo after the banjo craze era. The banjo found a temporary ne w home in jazz bands, but the radical advent of a fast-moving mass popular culture brought vast competition for people's attention.

Talented enthusiasts do, in small numbers, still play the fingerstyle banjo music popular here in the 1890's and early 1900's. One such event takes place every year in a village hall 30 yards from my front door. I guess that music left a bigger footprint and accessible resource from which to draw. The near total obsolesence of the 6 and 7-string banjo probably relates to the fact that it is nigh on impossible to sustain and continue what we have lost and no longer know.

My hope is we can rediscover that small but unique aspect of the banjos history and make it available.

Edited by - m06 on 10/03/2019 01:29:14

Oct 3, 2019 - 2:02:39 AM

117 posts since 11/20/2017

Whilst I understand the grist of academic debate and also appreciate it, sometimes a pragmatic approach can yield dividends.
I remember reading somewhere, I think it was Sharpe, that the "Banjolin" or "Mandolin banjo" allowed the Mandolin player to instantly replicate the banjo sound, surely this principal could also apply to a guitarist.
The guitar was a familiar instrument in early Victorian England, not so I believe in America prior to the arrival of C.F. Martin and others in the 1830,s.
The early minstrel groups of the 1840,s-1850,s brought the American instrument the banjo to the U.K.
Using common sense a guitarist could easily adapt to a seven string banjo if used in an open tuning, the only difficulty he may encounter is adapting to the down picking style so popular to the early days.
Both our own home grown early "stage" banjo players such as Cave, and Macnay, who were proficient on the guitar adapted to the down picking style, it was what the early audiences wanted, that syncopated sound.
I know, not an academic approach, but never the less food for thought!

Oct 3, 2019 - 6:45:17 AM

m06

England

8009 posts since 10/5/2006

In a strange way, the earliest uptake of the banjo in England in the late 1840's,1850's and 1860's, and anecdotal pointers to the youth element to that activity, has nascent parallels with the pattern of grass roots street culture we associate with the late 20th century. Though it was directly physically influenced by the arrival of the new American instrument, it's early manufacture here was very low key and it's use by the lowest status of folks within their narrowly proscribed environment went largely below the radar. Key identifiers of most modern urban street culture.

The later uptake by wider society and especially the lower middle and middle classes from the 1870's is not unlike how the initially 'invisible' (and initially denigrated) street culture in our society eventually becomes popularised, commercialised and assimilated into the mainstream. Expensive 'glamping' at festivals, anyone? 

The essential requirement for hard evidence ensures that we do not rely on conjecture and assumption. But we also have to scrutinise the nature of the evidence to avoid over-emphasising the importance of what we find. There are printed English banjo songsters that date from the late 1840's and very early 1850's. They give us one reference for repertoire. We should never take single sources as representative of a whole. Particularly when other sources give additional and contrary indication.

It is a fascinating area for research and the time period of the early banjo overlaps with much else that had a huge effect on the cultural activity of us ordinary English folk.

Edited by - m06 on 10/03/2019 06:49:24

Oct 3, 2019 - 8:38:33 AM

m06

England

8009 posts since 10/5/2006

It’s also supportable to say that published songsters were themselves a commercial opportunity provided by the hugely popular touring American banjo players/groups of the 1840’s and 50’s. Inevitably their content reflects those novel performances, a new American repertoire and that eager English audience. That is certainly evidence, but only of one specific type; they tell us nothing about the new instruments contact with and use in relation to a pre-existing English repertoire. For evidence of early banjo activity here that diverged from the new American repertoire and minstrelsy we have to scour sources far less overt and easily accessed than printed songsters.

And in that early context where American influence and mimicry was prevelant we are still left with the conundrum of the English addition of two more strings.

Edited by - m06 on 10/03/2019 08:52:41

Oct 6, 2019 - 1:18:08 AM

m06

England

8009 posts since 10/5/2006

To cast further reasonable doubt on the guitar theory for the addition of 2 extra strings to the English banjo we need to look closely and understand the guitar context in England in c.1830's and 1840's.

What this analysis highlights is the critical importance and relevance of research that includes a sociological approach. Though cheap guitars (18 shillings) had become available in the England of the 1840's most guitars of that period cost upward of 3 guineas. That represented at least one month's salary for even a relatively comfortable worker and way beyond the means of the more numerous poorer sort of industrial or agricultural labourer. Consequently the early 1800's guitar in England was predominantly the hobby and entertainment of the relatively affluent not the working class. This is reflected in the fact that guitar concerts and tutors were located disproportionately in affluent areas of cities and towns e.g. Clifton in Bristol, Cheltenham and Bath. Well-bred and well-educated women also notably and disproportionately feature as players of the early English guitars, many of whom offered guitar teaching when applying for positions as governesses in middle and upper class households.

Socially the early to mid-19th century English guitar profile is very different from the profile of people we have (so far) found playing the earliest English-made banjos. A world apart.

Edited by - m06 on 10/06/2019 01:33:38

Oct 6, 2019 - 2:17:06 AM

1220 posts since 4/25/2007

Cost of the T W Bacon - Dobson Style banjo in the late 1880's was approximately 7 Guineas.

Oct 6, 2019 - 7:47:03 AM

117 posts since 11/20/2017

You can still buy a 6 string banjo today. The advertising blurb reads " A high grade instrument that sounds like a banjo but plays like a guitar."
I would think that this adds to my approach on the additions of the 2 base strings, in this instance hanging on to the drone string would be the greater mystery.
Mike, what price a Welsh Harp in the 1850,s, or for that matter a fiddle, both popular instruments in the booming industrial towns of South Wales.

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