Banjo Hangout Logo
Banjo Hangout Logo

Premier Sponsors

459
Banjo Lovers Online


Want to hide these Google ads? Join the Players Union!
Oct 17, 2019 - 7:33:23 AM
likes this
1516 posts since 12/26/2007

I've always assumed that the dull grey, soft metal inlays in some Buckbee banjos is pewter. I found a Lyon & Healy Columbus quad-centennial banjo that is going to need replacement of a fair amount of the metal. Is anyone personally familiar with the soft grey metal inlays? I've ordered a sheet of 0.040" pewter to check out, but would like to get confirmation on the metal used, if possible.




Oct 17, 2019 - 7:36:58 AM

176 posts since 4/11/2019

My lab just a got an X-Ray Fluorescence Spectrophotometer.

Its set up to do Titanium and Zinc now, but it would give you a pretty good answer.

And the testing is non destructive!

Oct 17, 2019 - 7:47:04 AM

1516 posts since 12/26/2007

Knows - tnx for the input. I'm sorta hoping I can get info from someone who has already gone through the identification process. Let's see what the collective BHO wisdom comes up with. According to the www, old pewter is an alloy of tin and lead, modern pewter may contain tin, copper & antimony. Bright pewter can be patinated with liver of sulfur (potassium sulfide), which is also used to patinate silver.

Oct 17, 2019 - 7:50:15 AM

6247 posts since 8/28/2013

I worked on one of those "1492" banjos once, but it was in better condition and the metal was intact so I really didn't bother to research that aspect (it was the pearl piecesand some bits of copper that had to be replaced).

Pewter sounds like a good guess, but I think it's also possible from the look of that metal that it may heve been plain lead. Lead is easy to work and dulls to the same gray over the years. No one knew or cared much about toxic metals back then.

Don't expect this banjo to be very good. The one I worked on was basically a budget banjo with fancy, poorly done inlays to make it desireble (kind of like those Volkswagons whose owners doctored them up with fake Rolls-Royce grills) and sounded pretty crummy.

Oct 17, 2019 - 7:50:27 AM

69 posts since 10/8/2018

quote:
Originally posted by Mark Ralston

I've always assumed that the dull grey, soft metal inlays in some Buckbee banjos is pewter. I found a Lyon & Healy Columbus quad-centennial banjo that is going to need replacement of a fair amount of the metal. Is anyone personally familiar with the soft grey metal inlays? I've ordered a sheet of 0.040" pewter to check out, but would like to get confirmation on the metal used, if possible.


That looks similar to the material in my old Buckbee/WTB Sterling and I've always wondered what that material was. I'll be watching this post curiously. I'd love the see the after pics when you finish!


 

Oct 17, 2019 - 8:10:11 AM

1516 posts since 12/26/2007

George - I'm cleaning up the pot this AM and I agree with your analysis of the likely sound quality of this banjo. The pot is similar to medium-grade Buckbee and L&H instruments. I wrote an article on "Fancy Trade Catalog Violins"..... the ones made by a bunch of different German / central European workshops with lots of inlay and incorporating lots of construction shortcuts that the Italian luthiers would not have used, and I'm very familiar with instruments that have more "bling" than sound quality. I'm finding that there are different versions of the inlays on the neck of this model, and it's not going to be an especially collectable or valuable instrument when restored, so I'm not going to overdo it on research. I'll be happy if I can work the pewter that I ordered (pewter is used in some jewelry), and if I can patinate the metal to dull it a little. A fun project.

TriMD - this is a musical curiosity, and I'm looking forward to restoring it. It's going to take a lot of work, so it will be a few months before it's playable. The instrument wasn't very well photographed / presented on eBay and I bought it for a song.

Oct 17, 2019 - 10:32:45 AM

1539 posts since 1/13/2012

quote:
Originally posted by G Edward Porgie

I worked on one of those "1492" banjos once, but it was in better condition and the metal was intact so I really didn't bother to research that aspect (it was the pearl piecesand some bits of copper that had to be replaced).

Pewter sounds like a good guess, but I think it's also possible from the look of that metal that it may heve been plain lead. Lead is easy to work and dulls to the same gray over the years. No one knew or cared much about toxic metals back then.

Don't expect this banjo to be very good. The one I worked on was basically a budget banjo with fancy, poorly done inlays to make it desireble (kind of like those Volkswagons whose owners doctored them up with fake Rolls-Royce grills) and sounded pretty crummy.


Any of those inlays I've worked on (including in these Columbian banjos) didn't seem soft enough to be pure lead.

Andy 

Oct 17, 2019 - 4:29:19 PM

6247 posts since 8/28/2013

quote:
Originally posted by Andy FitzGibbon
quote:
Originally posted by G Edward Porgie

I worked on one of those "1492" banjos once, but it was in better condition and the metal was intact so I really didn't bother to research that aspect (it was the pearl piecesand some bits of copper that had to be replaced).

Pewter sounds like a good guess, but I think it's also possible from the look of that metal that it may heve been plain lead. Lead is easy to work and dulls to the same gray over the years. No one knew or cared much about toxic metals back then.

Don't expect this banjo to be very good. The one I worked on was basically a budget banjo with fancy, poorly done inlays to make it desireble (kind of like those Volkswagons whose owners doctored them up with fake Rolls-Royce grills) and sounded pretty crummy.


Any of those inlays I've worked on (including in these Columbian banjos) didn't seem soft enough to be pure lead.

Andy 


Thanks for that info, and I'll agree that it's probable that the inlays may be harder. As I stated, I never messed with the gray metal inlays.  I have, however worked with lead and it's not all that soft. Piano keys are weighted with lead, and installing them requires a pretty heavy hammer blow to swage them into place in the wooden keys. Lead has also been used for pips to hold the 5th string in place on some old banjos. In fact, that 1492 banjo I worked on had a lead pip (technically, a small nail with lead blob melted to the head, with a slot cut for the string). Granted, the slot was messed up, but it took one hundred years of abuse to get that way.

Oct 18, 2019 - 2:47:23 PM

beegee

USA

21368 posts since 7/6/2005

You can get a lead testing kit and a silver testing kit.

Oct 18, 2019 - 3:20:21 PM

1516 posts since 12/26/2007

Bob - after I did a little online research on pewter I ordered a lead test kit.  I'm sure the metal isn't silver.  Apparently lead hasn't been a significant component of most pewter for some time.  In the late 1800's (around the time this banjo was built) an interest developed in a pewter alloy called Britannia metal, which does not contain lead and which is brighter / more silvery than old-style pewter.  The use of pewter (Britannia metal ?) in banjos might be the result of that upsurge in interest in pewter in the 19th century.

When Linda & I recently visited Burlington VT we visited a Danforth Pewter store.  There have been pewtersmiths in the Danforth family for a long time (1700's ?), and the shop had some interesting info on the family history, which I have not been able to find online.

Oct 18, 2019 - 4:16:52 PM

6247 posts since 8/28/2013

Please keep this thread alive by posting results of your testing. I am curious as to what you find, in case I run into another banjo with similar inlays, and I'm certain that others are interested, too.

I read somewhere that these "1492" banjos were mostly built in the few years following 1892, and that the demand caused L&H to farm out a lot of the work. That could explain the variation in inlay details.

Oct 18, 2019 - 8:20:11 PM

117 posts since 11/20/2017

Look up German silver, or Nickel silver, quite a lot of the Birmingham (U.K.) makers used these alloys on early fretless banjo necks for decorative purposes.

Oct 18, 2019 - 9:40:44 PM

9034 posts since 1/15/2005

quote:
Originally posted by kiteflyer

Look up German silver, or Nickel silver, quite a lot of the Birmingham (U.K.) makers used these alloys on early fretless banjo necks for decorative purposes.


That would be my guess!

Oct 19, 2019 - 4:17:26 AM

1516 posts since 12/26/2007

Cyril & John - Tnx for the input.  I removed the remaining metal inlays from the (ruined) fingerboard yesterday.  As I expected, the metal is very soft.  I have a few sheets of different thickness (~ 0.020 and 0.040), modern nickel silver that I use for restorations and repro parts, and nickel silver is quite a bit stiffer than this material.  The patina and surface texture of this material is also very different than the nickel silver that I have seen on vintage instruments, so I'm still thinking that it is some form of pewter.  For the photo I used steel wool to clean away oxidation on the lowest portion of the ship inlay, which rests on the base of an old nickel silver dish that I use to keep track of disassembled parts. 

The material is soft enough that conventional methods for cutting it, especially to make fine, detailed objects like the ship on the peghead, likely won't work.  I may seek out a CNC machine.  Or, I could back pieces of the the pewter sheet that I ordered with thin wood and cut it with a jeweler's saw, then release the inlay from the wood with a solvent, like I do for small, fine pearl cutting.  I'm curious if the pewter sheet that I ordered is a soft as the original inlay material.

Now that my curiosity is fully engaged, I may think about getting some of the old metal analyzed.  I used to know some of the folks at the PSU Mineral Constitution Lab, who have some sophisticated analytical equipment.  Per previous post, Knows Picker works at a lab.  I bet a metals analysis would cost less than the bloodwork that I get for my annual medical checkup, and would likely bring me more pleasure ! !.


 

Oct 19, 2019 - 1:56:59 PM

551 posts since 5/19/2018

I would be almost certain that it is German Silver or Mallecort. It’s a copper/tin based alloy. Zero silver content and was widely used late 19th early 20th century in numerous applications. From gun stocks to flat ware and everything in between. Safe to use as it usually has no lead content.

You could probably score a period correct tea pot or plate very cheaply on eBay and use it to supply the needed material for the inlays.

Oct 19, 2019 - 8:52:14 PM

6247 posts since 8/28/2013

I would be almost ce5rtain that thes einlays are NOT german silver, or mallecort (a foreign word for the same metal) which is an alloy not of copper and tin, but of copper, zinc, and nickel. It's also known as nickel silver, and is used for much harder things, such as jewelry, flutes, various wind instrument valves, coins, and BANJO FRETS. (it HAS been used as a BASE metal for flatwear, generally plated with nickel or, sometimes, silver. You certainly can't have a soft knife that bends every time you try cutting your meat or your wrists!) I doubt that something as soft as you have reported would be made of this nickel silverl.

I'm thinking maybe pewter, or possibly lead or a lead alloy.

Instead of relying on opinions and conjecture, if you are so worried about authenticity, you should simply have the stuff tasetd by an expert.

Oct 21, 2019 - 4:44:31 PM

1516 posts since 12/26/2007

I received a small pewter sheet from Contenti today. It is 92% tin, 7.5% antimony, and 0.5% copper. The as-received metal is mirror-bright, and it patinates well with liver of sulfur. The sheet is 0.040", which is a little thicker than the banjo inlays. The metal is relatively soft and bends fairly freely by hand. Cutting it with a metal hand saw I can tell that the metal is softer than 360 brass and considerably softer than nickel silver, based on how the saw teeth bite into the metal.

The photo shows the salvaged inlay and a small square of patinated pewter resting on the bright metal sheet.


 

Oct 21, 2019 - 9:12:49 PM

947 posts since 3/21/2013

there's an august pollman on ebay right now with mystery pewter toned inlays as well

Oct 22, 2019 - 3:36:11 AM

1516 posts since 12/26/2007

".....august pollman on ebay"

Yep...... that's a nice one. It looks a lot like the workmanship on a WTB Sterling banjo, decorative tension hoop & nice tailpiece. I've got a Sterling banjo that has copper, pearl and pewter (?) inlays, and I've always thought that the instrument was made by the Buckbee shop.




Hangout Network Help

View All Topics  |  View Categories

0.3583984