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Nov 23, 2021 - 8:43:35 PM
1508 posts since 3/1/2012

I’m about to buy an antique banjo with a painted skin head.
Am I correct that this was popular in the latter half of the 19th century?
Was it a regional thing, or more widespread?




Nov 23, 2021 - 9:05:23 PM
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6650 posts since 9/21/2007

I have often speculated that this was an “enhancement” done by antique dealers to make junk worth more. Don’t forget that in the 1940s-70s these did not have much of any value at all.

Having an artist paint a pretty generic scene might make it sale.

I have no proof, only a hunch.

Nov 23, 2021 - 9:16:38 PM

1508 posts since 3/1/2012

quote:
Originally posted by Joel Hooks

I have often speculated that this was an “enhancement” done by antique dealers to make junk worth more. Don’t forget that in the 1940s-70s these did not have much of any value at all.

Having an artist paint a pretty generic scene might make it sale.

I have no proof, only a hunch.


Interesting! Would not have thought of that angle.

Nov 24, 2021 - 2:39:50 AM
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321 posts since 3/12/2014

I thought about having one done. My dad was a train enthusiast and I would love to have a steam engine upon the head.

...Deb

Nov 24, 2021 - 3:09:23 AM

1801 posts since 1/13/2012

quote:
Originally posted by Joel Hooks

I have often speculated that this was an “enhancement” done by antique dealers to make junk worth more. Don’t forget that in the 1940s-70s these did not have much of any value at all.

Having an artist paint a pretty generic scene might make it sale.

I have no proof, only a hunch.


That is definitely true in some instances, though I've seen a lot of decorated heads that have A. extensive player wear and/or B. references to people and places of the 1900-1920 era that would add no retroactive value. So a good number of decorated heads do seem to be the product of a fad contemporary with the instruments they are mounted on.

Nov 24, 2021 - 4:06:11 AM

csacwp

USA

2969 posts since 1/15/2014

quote:
Originally posted by Andy FitzGibbon
quote:
Originally posted by Joel Hooks

I have often speculated that this was an “enhancement” done by antique dealers to make junk worth more. Don’t forget that in the 1940s-70s these did not have much of any value at all.

Having an artist paint a pretty generic scene might make it sale.

I have no proof, only a hunch.


That is definitely true in some instances, though I've seen a lot of decorated heads that have A. extensive player wear and/or B. references to people and places of the 1900-1920 era that would add no retroactive value. So a good number of decorated heads do seem to be the product of a fad contemporary with the instruments they are mounted on.


I've seen this as well on banjos from the 1900-1930 era, but they tend to have sketches or doodles on them rather than paintings that cover the entirety of the head. 

To answer Jim's original question, I've never come across evidence of painted heads from the late 19th century. 

Nov 24, 2021 - 4:24:24 AM

1801 posts since 1/13/2012

quote:
Originally posted by csacwp

I've seen this as well on banjos from the 1900-1930 era, but they tend to have sketches or doodles on them rather than paintings that cover the entirety of the head. 

To answer Jim's original question, I've never come across evidence of painted heads from the late 19th century. 


I've seen both. We have a few really beautiful full-head paintings and drawings at the shop that are obviously early 20th century, and clearly were played a lot afterward (to the detriment of the artwork, unfortunately).

I havent seen much evidence of head art from before 1900 either. Obviously, the older the head, the less likely its chances of survival, so the sample is skewed... but it generally seems that head decoration (other than names/dates on the backside) wasnt really that popular until after 1910.

Nov 24, 2021 - 5:23 AM

571 posts since 6/2/2011

My son is currently painting the head re-creating the stenciled head of a 1976 how many Bicentennial model original head popped.

Nov 24, 2021 - 5:30:48 AM

6650 posts since 9/21/2007

What is interesting to me is that these head paintings (I've seen a couple generic ship paintings too) are not signed and dated. Many of the flapper/cartoon/design drawings are either signed or accompanied by the obligatory college autograph collection.

Nov 24, 2021 - 7:55:02 AM

1508 posts since 3/1/2012

I wonder if John Bernunzio or Jim Bollman would have any opinions on the subject, given how many banjos they have seen.

Nov 24, 2021 - 9:11:05 AM
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73 posts since 2/4/2010

We've had a couple of 19th century banjos ( Buckbees, etc. ) at The Music Emporium years ago that to my eye had contemporary artwork on the heads - one an amateurish but charming woodland scene with a deer, done in oil paint ( plenty of craquelure, etc. that implied real age ) another of a mountain scene with waterfall. Unfortunately I didn't snap photos at the time. As others have mentioned, most of the" head art " I've seen has been flapper or college related on banjo ukes and low end tenor banjos from the 1920s ( a fad at the time ). I think I have a few old heads with art stashed away somewhere in a box that will probably only come to light after my demise. I know a few other dealers, restorers, collectors, etc. that keep these things as mementos of bygone days.
I'm reminded of a 6-string tunbridgeware banjo that I found in an antique shop in Paris in the 1960s. It had a wonderful scene of tall ships at sea painted on the head. It was too expensive for me at the time so I told Ruebens about it. He bought it ( asking price worked out to over 2k in US dollars ) and later sold it to Tsumura - it's pictured in Tsumura's big book page 82. The banjo was late 1860s/1870s , I expect the head art was pre-1900.

Nov 24, 2021 - 9:25:48 AM

1508 posts since 3/1/2012

Thanks, Jim.
This may be another of those ‘Maybe yes, maybe no’ banjo situations…

Nov 24, 2021 - 11:56:10 AM

2250 posts since 1/4/2009

I cant imagine that paint wouldnt effect the tone of the banjo, im with the painted later to be wall hanger crowd.

Nov 24, 2021 - 12:50:35 PM

conic

England

937 posts since 2/15/2014

I painted some abstract art on a deering goodtime a month ago with some acrylic paint. It looked real good but it affected the tone real bad so I had to clean it all off 3 weeks later.

In 1985 I was given an old 1920s Keech Banjolele which still has oil based artwork on the head but its 50% rubbed off, from whats remaining, it looks like a country scene

Nov 24, 2021 - 1:30:27 PM
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9176 posts since 8/28/2013

I would guess that head painting goes back nearly to the beginnings of banjo making. There has always been a desire among human beings to decorate almost every open space available, be it cave paintings or spray painted graffiti, and a banjo head seems just such an open space. While the vast majority doesn't mess with things, there are always those who do, and I'm sure that would apply to any era. (Had Nero played banjo instead of fiddle, I'm sure he would have emblazoned its head with some kind of Imperial Insignia.)

I've never felt head painting was very practical due to finger oils, pick scapings, and the tendency for hide heads to break, but with modern plastics, that's less of an issue, and with a transparent head, the design or painting can, and is done inside the resonator, where it can be seen and not scarred.

It might be interesting to sort some examples of old painted heads to see if there are any style or subject matter trends prevalent in certain eras. Although the misshapen flappers of the twenties seem to be in a distinct category, I wonder if, perhaps, sailing ships may have been popular at one particular time, or if forest scenes, birds, and flowers may have appeared at a different time. One might be able to correlate some of this (if enough examples can be found) with historical events or prominent people. Perhaps a late 19th century nostalgic look at the sailing ship after the fairly recent transition from sails to steam, or maybe a new awareness of naturalism with the creation of the National Parks, or even a nod to a vanishing Native American presence.
 

Nov 24, 2021 - 2:17:24 PM

1508 posts since 3/1/2012

Working with my personal belief that Google knows all, I googled painted banjo heads. Not surprisingly, the subject was covered here on the Hangout several times over the years, but dealing with more recent acrylic paints, and painting on the underside of clear plastic banjo heads. I didn’t see any discussion of painted heads on old banjos.
The other thing with banjo heads is that they may not be original to the banjo, so a 19th century banjo might have a painted head from 1920.
No way of knowing if this was done early on, barring a contemporary photograph.

Nov 24, 2021 - 4:20:34 PM

1081 posts since 12/8/2006

Some dandies on the "Decorated Banjo Head" group here on BHO

Nov 24, 2021 - 4:32:55 PM

1508 posts since 3/1/2012

Didn’t realize there was such a group. I will check it out. Thanks!

Nov 25, 2021 - 5:13:29 AM
Players Union Member

Helix

USA

15025 posts since 8/30/2006
Online Now

I enjoy the new acrylics because they don't fade.
I really like the heron or egret, too bad you can' t reproduce it. Somebody knew their art.




Nov 25, 2021 - 11:58:27 AM

377 posts since 6/26/2011

Paintings can often be dated via pigment analysis, but this must cost a fair sized wedge of dollar bills. You in the States seem to cherish your history these days, this could be a good research project for a university perhaps?
Cheers from Bill.

Nov 25, 2021 - 7:34:45 PM

2801 posts since 3/30/2008

Painted banjo heads don't really make much sense, the artwork is obscured by strings, bridges, & players hands & arms. The only painting fashion I can think of is the bass drums of the teens, 20's & 30's, & they were only popular because they were lighted from behind & really showcased the image. Drum companies hired artists to paint standard scenes that were available in catalogs.  (A painted banjo head only looks good in an open case). 

Edited by - tdennis on 11/25/2021 19:36:41

Nov 25, 2021 - 10:30:20 PM

1265 posts since 3/21/2013

The ones I have seen have all been after 1900 and up til about 1930 or so. The 20's seemed to be very popular, as remarked above, probably due to the collegiate scene. They seemed to be in the vein of year books and such, with short notes/comic strip doodles, signatures and fav songs, etc. I do have a head that a member sold me, it came off a vega whyte laydie and has a spanish flapper gal on it. I still need to frame it. I've always wanted to try my hand at doing some painting on hide heads too. Once of these days I'll get the time to do some...

Nov 26, 2021 - 5:35:55 AM
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Helix

USA

15025 posts since 8/30/2006
Online Now

I want the falls of the Missouri river as seen by Lewis and Clark.

Nov 26, 2021 - 7:46:27 AM

9176 posts since 8/28/2013

quote:
Originally posted by Helix

I enjoy the new acrylics because they don't fade.
I really like the heron or egret, too bad you can' t reproduce it. Somebody knew their art.


I agree on that heron/egret. It's not only pretty accurate as to the bird, but the overall design of the painting indicates the artist was either decently trained or at least had a natural artistic bent.

Nov 26, 2021 - 7:54:50 AM

Jbo1

USA

1088 posts since 5/19/2007

Don't forget, Pete Seeger embellished his banjo head with the phrase "THIS MACHINE SURROUNDS HATE AND FORCES IT TO SURRENDER".

I know a lot of people have autographs on their banjo heads. Those get worn off and get lost.

Nov 26, 2021 - 8:08:06 AM
Players Union Member

Helix

USA

15025 posts since 8/30/2006
Online Now

Some do , others don’t


 

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