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Antique 1858 fretless Banjo. Cant find any info on the maker B. Gidmor

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Oct 4, 2019 - 4:43:30 PM
55 posts since 10/3/2019

Hello all. My name is John. New here. I have recently come across an old fretless banjo. Stamped 1858 B. Gidmor on the pot. It also has a period silver escutcheon with the initials AEJ. Its a strange set up as the banjo neck is attached to the pot itself and does not have a dowel rod. I dont have it in my hands yet but it looks to have been originally made that way. Has anyone ever come across a banjo made without a dowel? The banjo is indeed period and all original.5 string fretless and its neck is 21 1/2 inches in length.The pot is wood wrapped with metal and is 11 1/8 inches. It has a birds eye maple neck and its a big neck. It has a metal cover plate on the fret board that ends at the fifth fret. It has a bone tail piece,the original bridge,tuning pegs,real gut strings and skin head...no tears. Its really beautiful. Just that the neck is attached to the pot kinda like a guitar would be attached to its body. I am creating this post out of excitement and I will have some proper photographs soon. Any info on B. Gidmor and the said construction of that type of banjo would be great. I love it because  I am a civil war collector  and have been looking for a period banjo for a while now. I of course also play....the thing is, no dowel...its weird.

Edited by - roundcity419 on 10/04/2019 19:16:08

Oct 4, 2019 - 4:48:29 PM

55 posts since 10/3/2019

This is the best pic I have at the moment.

Oct 4, 2019 - 4:51:54 PM

55 posts since 10/3/2019

Ok here it is. More soon as I get it here.


Oct 4, 2019 - 4:54:38 PM

55 posts since 10/3/2019

Oct 4, 2019 - 9:14:01 PM

csacwp

USA

2439 posts since 1/15/2014
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Hi, do you have any higher resolution photos that aren't overlayed?

Oct 4, 2019 - 9:32:32 PM

banjonz

New Zealand

10777 posts since 6/29/2003

I can't find any reference to Gidmore in my archives. It may be that he was merely a reseller or that had instruments eith made for him or rebranded from existing makers. Others may have more info here.

Oct 4, 2019 - 10:00:14 PM
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csacwp

USA

2439 posts since 1/15/2014
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This banjo is potentially very historically significant. The spun rim was just coming into use with professional players in the late 1850s and the bolt-on neck is a known feature of the early spun NY School banjos. I would need to see higher resolution photos to tell you more, but from what I can see the hardware looks unique. If this banjo does truly date to 1858 it would have been cutting edge, but the small pot size indicates that it was not a professional stage instrument.

Oct 4, 2019 - 10:02:57 PM

55 posts since 10/3/2019

Wow thank guys. Yes I will post much more detailed photographs when I get the banjo in my hands. stay tuned.

Oct 4, 2019 - 10:21:02 PM

55 posts since 10/3/2019

Just to note this was purchased through a highly respectable Civil War collector who had recently got it from a 91 year old man who is also a serious civil war collector and owned the Banjo for decades.These folks dont mess around so I know the banjo is authentic. Given the stamped name and date on the pot it seems its the real deal. I am excited to get it and to post some more pictures. Be well everyone.

Edited by - roundcity419 on 10/04/2019 22:21:36

Oct 5, 2019 - 3:17:51 AM

1546 posts since 1/13/2012

Very interesting early banjo. Looking forward to seeing more photos. As John says, necks bolted directly to the rim were a feature of the "New York school" of banjo making. I've seen it used as late as the 1880s, on a banjo made in Albany.

Regarding B. Gidmor, I'd start with the US Census. It would help a lot if he'd also stamped his location, but the name may be unique enough that you won't have to sift through too many possibilities. Unfortunately, the 1860 census doesn't have a whole lot of information on the respondents, so it's going to be difficult to determine whether you've located the right B. Gidmor.

My guess, given the engraved plate, is that he was the maker and not the owner, but even that is just a guess.

Andy

Oct 5, 2019 - 6:57:12 AM

Bill H

USA

1277 posts since 11/7/2010

Wow. Very cool banjo. It looks like it is in beautiful condition. I'd love to hear it if you can post a sound file.

Edited by - Bill H on 10/05/2019 06:57:31

Oct 5, 2019 - 8:07:08 AM
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590 posts since 5/19/2018

Undoubtedly a very very cool banjo.

I have to put my opinion here, from what little I could see if the photos, I’m very doubtful 1858.

Aspects of the construction and hardware appear to be 10-20 years later than that.

I need also to add, that I am not an expert on any level, just handles a lot of banjos and a great deal of antiques.

I would love to eat my words on this and actually have it be 1858. If that is the case, very early banjos were a heck of a lot more sophisticated than we all thought, and this indeed is a very important instrument.

John C is without question a expert, so I would love to be in complete agreement, but I do have my doubts. let’s get better photos and have others chime in.

Oct 5, 2019 - 8:17:28 AM
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1517 posts since 12/26/2007

For what it's worth, here's a writeup on that banjo from the Gunsight Antiques website:

"antique Fretless 5-String Open Back Banjo While our photographs will best describe this pleasing antique 5 string fretless banjo we will offer that the birds eye maple neck measures approximately 21 ½ inches in length and features an inletted metal plate on the finger board reaching from the headstock to the thumb string tuning peg. Four of the five strings are of natural gut with the 5th string being of vintage wound steel. The wooden rim or pot is metal covered and measures approximately 11 1/8 inches in diameter with 20 brackets. The tailpiece is of bone with a nicely shaped wood bridge. While we can shed no light on the rather crudely hand stamped B. Gidmor 1858 on the inner rim, the banjo does sport a clearly period silver escutcheon with script AEJ. The instrument offers pleasing evidence of age and demonstrates a number of 19th century characteristics that will be familiar to students of the early fretless banjo." 

link includes some better-resolution pictures:  https://gunsightantiques.com/5052/PictPage/3924285206.html

Oct 5, 2019 - 9:34:11 AM

m06

England

8110 posts since 10/5/2006

I have an English-made oak and ash flush fret 7-string with a simple early spunover rim that resembles the one on the banjo in your photos. However mine has far fewer hooks and a much cruder tension hoop and would seem likely to date from a decade later than 1858.

Fascinating if this banjo’s origin and date can be verified.

Edited by - m06 on 10/05/2019 09:37:47

Oct 5, 2019 - 9:55:39 AM
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csacwp

USA

2439 posts since 1/15/2014
Online Now

quote:
Originally posted by Alvin Conder

Undoubtedly a very very cool banjo.

I have to put my opinion here, from what little I could see if the photos, I’m very doubtful 1858.

Aspects of the construction and hardware appear to be 10-20 years later than that.

I need also to add, that I am not an expert on any level, just handles a lot of banjos and a great deal of antiques.

I would love to eat my words on this and actually have it be 1858. If that is the case, very early banjos were a heck of a lot more sophisticated than we all thought, and this indeed is a very important instrument.

John C is without question a expert, so I would love to be in complete agreement, but I do have my doubts. let’s get better photos and have others chime in.


I share your doubts for a number of reasons and would normally estimate a banjo like this to date to the 1870s. There were banjos like this as early as the very late 1850s but it would be an incrediblely rare find. It is hardly representative of the typical Civil War era instrument. 

As for the date stamp, I'm looking forward to better photos. I'm always skeptical of dates in the rim like this... Civil War and wild west antique shops are notorious for faking this stuff. I know if numerous banjos with fake provenance sold by similar outlets. That doesn't mean this one is fake, but one has to be careful.

Oct 5, 2019 - 10:05:31 AM

117 posts since 11/20/2017

I agree with what Alvin has said. I am not comfortable with the neck to body ratio, also the fact that the neat nickel plated body and hardware does not sit right for the date.
I could be wrong as my main collecting line was early English banjos, but I had many a mismatch go through my hands, nothing to deceive but perhaps an upgrade for whatever reason.
better photos would clear this up. How was the tailpiece anchored, and the neck metal overlay for lower positions wear, not familiar on English banjos but not unknown. When did it appear on American banjos?

Oct 5, 2019 - 10:35:46 AM

55 posts since 10/3/2019

Gonna be a week or so before I get it. Yes It came from Gunsight antiques. I have delt with these folks for many years. They are true professionals. While not antique instrument dealers they have had many antique banjos and the 91 year old man it came from wont give me his name because he doesnt want people to know he is selling. Yes its a weird banjo. I have no doubt its authentic.Though I will leave it in the hands of experts to determine once I can get more detailed photographs. Also,where would the best place be to take this banjo for survey? Any suggestions? It would be nice for a true historian to look it over personally.

Edited by - roundcity419 on 10/05/2019 10:45:34

Oct 5, 2019 - 11:40:30 AM

55 posts since 10/3/2019

Could the short scale neck be due to the fact that the assumed standard tuning for the banjo at the time was "A"?

Oct 5, 2019 - 11:46:42 AM

csacwp

USA

2439 posts since 1/15/2014
Online Now

quote:
Originally posted by roundcity419

Gonna be a week or so before I get it. Yes It came from Gunsight antiques. I have delt with these folks for many years. They are true professionals. While not antique instrument dealers they have had many antique banjos and the 91 year old man it came from wont give me his name because he doesnt want people to know he is selling. Yes its a weird banjo. I have no doubt its authentic.Though I will leave it in the hands of experts to determine once I can get more detailed photographs. Also,where would the best place be to take this banjo for survey? Any suggestions? It would be nice for a true historian to look it over personally.


You can show it to me if you live anywhere near Washington D.C. I'd be happy to look it over. 

Oct 5, 2019 - 11:48:21 AM

csacwp

USA

2439 posts since 1/15/2014
Online Now

quote:
Originally posted by roundcity419

Could the short scale neck be due to the fact that the assumed standard tuning for the banjo at the time was "A"?


The A tuning was lower than standard, not higher. If anything I would expect the neck to be longer. The pot is very small for 1858, though I don't think it looks very disproportionate.  

As far as the cladding goes, the first American banjos to feature it were made in the late 1850s. That said, I have other doubts about this banjo. If you paid ~$700 for it then I think you made out fine regardless of the date.

Edited by - csacwp on 10/05/2019 11:51:58

Oct 5, 2019 - 12:01:31 PM

csacwp

USA

2439 posts since 1/15/2014
Online Now

quote:
Originally posted by kiteflyer

I agree with what Alvin has said. I am not comfortable with the neck to body ratio, also the fact that the neat nickel plated body and hardware does not sit right for the date.
I could be wrong as my main collecting line was early English banjos, but I had many a mismatch go through my hands, nothing to deceive but perhaps an upgrade for whatever reason.
better photos would clear this up. How was the tailpiece anchored, and the neck metal overlay for lower positions wear, not familiar on English banjos but not unknown. When did it appear on American banjos?


There are a number of features that indicate  that this banjo may have been cobbled together, and the number of brackets, rim size, and tailpiece are suspicious and point to a later date if manufacture. So do the hooks, which appear to be uniformly machined (though they could be replacements). What struck me upon first viewing was the bolt-on neck, early style of cladding, and idiosyncratic hardware, all of which might indicate an early Civil War era clad banjo. The peghead isn't NY School though like I would expect it to be. As it stands now I think this might be a parts banjo or an original instrument from the 1870s. The stamped number on the rim isn't necessarily a date and I look forward to a clear photo of it. 

Edited by - csacwp on 10/05/2019 12:09:25

Oct 5, 2019 - 12:20:52 PM

204 posts since 6/23/2013

The clading does not appear to me to be done by spinning but rather a bump & form type of process.

Oct 5, 2019 - 12:34:05 PM

csacwp

USA

2439 posts since 1/15/2014
Online Now

quote:
Originally posted by joe28675

The clading does not appear to me to be done by spinning but rather a bump & form type of process.


Yes, exactly. 

Oct 5, 2019 - 12:37:43 PM

55 posts since 10/3/2019

All great observations from a crapy photo. Thank you. I jumped the gun and posted this before I even got it. I should have it this week. I am glad to see it generate interest and get brains thinking. Whatever it is,I am happy with my purchase and I have not even received it yet haha. If indeed not as rare as it may have been thought than it should be playable and played. I am sure it would need a new skin head if the current one has significant age and neck adjustment. Though if it is an important banjo than I probably shouldnt change a thing on it if I am being correct. We all shall see soon. Also Mr. Cohen,I would be glad to bring it to Washington. I have been wanting to visit the Smithsonian there for some time now. Recently my father has had interest in going. So it may happen.Me and the old man on vacation.

Edited by - roundcity419 on 10/05/2019 12:39:11

Oct 5, 2019 - 12:51:45 PM

csacwp

USA

2439 posts since 1/15/2014
Online Now

quote:
Originally posted by roundcity419

All great observations from a crapy photo. Thank you. I jumped the gun and posted this before I even got it. I should have it this week. I am glad to see it generate interest and get brains thinking. Whatever it is,I am happy with my purchase and I have not even received it yet haha. If indeed not as rare as it may have been thought than it should be playable and played. I am sure it would need a new skin head if the current one has significant age and neck adjustment. Though if it is an important banjo than I probably shouldnt change a thing on it if I am being correct. We all shall see soon. Also Mr. Cohen,I would be glad to bring it to Washington. I have been wanting to visit the Smithsonian there for some time now. Recently my father has had interest in going. So it may happen.Me and the old man on vacation.


The old head may be fine... You'll have to wait and see if it has leatherized or not. It's hard to get good skins these days. When you're ready I can recommend some period string gauges for you. Keep me in the loop about your travel plans.

Even if this banjo isn't from 1858 it is still a rare instrument and likely a one-off. 

Edited by - csacwp on 10/05/2019 12:52:17

Oct 5, 2019 - 1:59:55 PM
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csacwp

USA

2439 posts since 1/15/2014
Online Now

By the way, I would really advise against making any neck angle changes unless someone messed with it in the past and it needs correcting. Just be aware that action and bridge preferences back in the day were very different than they are now.

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