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Mar 21, 2023 - 5:31:37 AM
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5368 posts since 3/22/2008

Interesting listing on ebay.

Montgomery Ward was a big seller of Stromberg Voisinet and later Kay banjos in the 1920's and 1930's.  M/W offered banjo buyers lessons for the instruments they purchased (attached from M/W Catalog 118 Spring-Summer 1933).  The ebay offering happened to have the music lessons deal with the banjo (attached).  Very cool tidbit.  The ebay listing also points out that Gibson made banjos for M/W late 1920's - 1930's.  Yes, the Reconding King and Studio King banjos.  But the ebay banjo isn't a Gibson.  It is a Kay (attached).  Just thought I'd pass the M/W music lessons deal along in case you were wondering. 

Mar 21, 2023 - 5:54:38 AM
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2175 posts since 5/19/2018

$3.25 per month in the height of the depression was a serious amount of cash to a good portion of the country.

Interesting advertising.

Mar 21, 2023 - 6:03:06 AM

7494 posts since 9/21/2007

Montgomery Ward Banjo* Lessons 1933

(*tenor banjo)

Mar 21, 2023 - 7:36:14 AM



12158 posts since 2/7/2008

Originally posted by Alvin Conder

$3.25 per month in the height of the depression was a serious amount of cash to a good portion of the country.

Interesting advertising.

About 75 cents a lesson including the banjo if I read it correctly.  Wasn't an RB3 like $100 then? An All American $550.

Edited by - Fathand on 03/21/2023 07:40:54

Mar 21, 2023 - 9:36:47 AM
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5368 posts since 3/22/2008

Just for fun attached is a scan of the cover of Montgomery Ward Catalog 118 Spring/Summer 1933 together with a scan of the M/W banjo page in that catalog and a close-up scan of the Montgomery Ward Recording King tenor banjo made by Gibson which is posed with a couple of unbranded tenor banjos that were made by Kay for M/W.

Mar 21, 2023 - 10:14:42 AM

5368 posts since 3/22/2008

While we're at it lets take a look at the Sears Spring 1933 catalog for banjo comparison to Montgomery Ward's banjos at that time and for some fun. Attached is a scan of the cover for the Spring 1933 Sears & Roebuck catalog with a scan of the Sears Spring 1933 banjos page and a close-up of it's premier tenor banjo offerings. In Spring 1933 Sears offered three tenor banjos each one made by The Harmony Company for Sears. The $25.00 banjo is a pearloid model! I really like those pearloid tenor banjos. Sears also offered banjo lessons from the "famous" K. M. Baxter for $1.50. I don't have any details about Mr. Baxter's banjo lessons is why I was delighted to get some info from ebay about the Montgomery Ward banjo lessons which inspired me to start this thread in the first place.

Mar 21, 2023 - 2:10:35 PM
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4605 posts since 10/13/2005

Lordy Lordy, what has happened to our money? Able to buy a decent banjo back then for under 10 bucks! My dad left school at 12 years of age to work at a neighbor's farm, sun up to sundown for a dollar a day. That'd be about 1923 or so. The true cost of anything is how much life energy do you have to exchange to acquire it be it a banjo or a house. How many days do you have to work for a banjo? Yesterday at the grocer's the total came to $75 and I (somewhat jokingly)) said to the clerk, "But my bag is only half full!" The time/widget exchange is probably still similar, it is just that our cheapened dollars buy less and less so it takes more of them to buy the same gadget. I guess that is to be expected when money is printed out of thin air/paper by private banksters and then we the dumb taxpayer have to pay it back with sweat equity and interest. Boil the frogs slowly, they'll never notice. Works great.... for the manipulators at the top of the food chain. So what is a 1933 dollar worth in today's dollars? banjered

Mar 21, 2023 - 4:50 PM

359 posts since 8/25/2009

According to the CPI Cost of Living Calculator 1.00 in 1933 is worth $23.32 in Feb 2023.

Mar 23, 2023 - 4:09:52 AM

858 posts since 2/27/2004

Originally posted by Half Barbaric Twanger

According to the CPI Cost of Living Calculator 1.00 in 1933 is worth $23.32 in Feb 2023.

And if that were the case, that top o' the line $25 banjo would be $583 today. Wait, what?!? :D

Me thinks that cost of living calculator might be manipulated by them at the top...

Mar 23, 2023 - 2:13:14 PM

4605 posts since 10/13/2005

Manipulated? And at the top? Like inflation numbers? Employment numbers. Cost of living index numbers? Why our glorious leaders would never do that! Yeah, right! banjered

Apr 6, 2023 - 6:30:39 AM

3 posts since 4/5/2023

Hi, everyone. I just bought the tenor in the original post! I had already received it when I realized this thread was about my new banjo. I just joined, but I have come to BH in the past for information.

I was really interested in the historical information already discussed, and I'd love it if anyone could offer any more ideas on how to narrow down the manufacturer and year. Mostly I would appreciate advice on repair and restoration. This is my second tenor that I acquired with the intent to restore and play. It really seems to be in great condition and should play well with just a little setup. That crack in the resonator sidewall is the biggest issue, and I'd be happy for advice on how to proceed and what to watch out for with an older instrument.

I'm sure this should be a new post elsewhere. I'm happy to follow up with more photos. For now here's the inside view of the resonator.

Apr 6, 2023 - 7:20:08 AM

3 posts since 4/5/2023

Sorry. I said "manufacturer and year" I guess it's been made clear that it's a Kay and not a Gibson. I guess this would mean that it was made by Stromberg-Voisinet in Chicago?
There is a line for date underneath the signature on the music lesson certificate, but no date was filled in.

Apr 6, 2023 - 11:44:15 AM

5368 posts since 3/22/2008

A little history pertinent to your new banjo.
Stromberg-Voisinet Co. was a fretted instrument manufacturer and was formed Feb. 20, 1922 (incorporated in Illinois). Once formed the company established its factory at 316 Union Park Ct., Chicago. Initially, the company concentrated on mandolins and guitars and almost exclusively supplied stringed instruments for instrument distributors. In fall 1923 Montgomery Ward advertised its first S/V banjo. Thereafter through the years, S/V supplied many different styles of banjos to Wards and other instrument distributors. You won't see a Stromberg-Voisinet branded banjo because the company primarily catered to the trade not retail sales. One of the company's incorporators was Henry K. (Kay) Kuhrmeyer. Over time Kuhrmeyer became the leader of the company. Somewhere about 1931 Kuhrmeyer bought out Stromberg and Voisinet and essentially became the sole owner of S/V. On June 8, 1931 Kuhrmeyer announced a name change for the company from S/V to the Kay Musical Instrument Co. doing business at the established factory at 316 Union Partk Ct., Chicago. "Kay" was Kurmeyer's nickname. Almost simultaneously with this name change Kuhrmeyer began making many of the company's banjos with a metal neck adjuster wedge between the neck and rim. Those banjos, then, were made by the Kay Musical instrument Co. So, your banjo is not a Stromberg-Voisinet - it is a Kay. Meanwhile, Kuhrmeyer and his Union Park factory continued to supply the trade with instruments (especially Wards). Essentially, new name but business as usual. However, Kuhrmeyer began to test the retail waters by bringing out a line of Kay Kraft branded banjos right there in June 1931 all with the metal wedge neck adjuster.
I'm working on a 1950 Kay tenor right now. Do not take the banjo apart until you know what to expect. I find Kay banjos difficult to work on because of the blankety-blank neck adjuster and neck/rim "dowel" rod. Go, to BHO repair forums and ask for help before you get out your screwdrivers and wrenches!!

Edited by - beezaboy on 04/06/2023 11:45:46

Apr 6, 2023 - 3:01:05 PM

3 posts since 4/5/2023

@beezaboy Thanks! That's fantastic information and exactly what I was hoping for.
"ask for help before you get out your screwdrivers and wrenches!!"
Indeed. That's why I signed up. Here to learn. I haven't done anything but slide off the resonator so far. I did notice the wedge. If it's of interest to anyone, there is a label inside the pot with instructions for adjusting the action and includes, "PATENT APPLIED FOR
I'll attach an image. The instructions make it sound easy to adjust, but from what you've said, it's not as simple as all that.
It also doesn't seem to be all original. The tailpiece is stamped "GROVER PATENT" and has eight hooks, so I guess it was intended for a mandolin (works fine and looks fine). Also I think it was probably refretted at some point. The ends of the fretwire are sharp all the way down the fretboard like a newly purchased cheaply made instrument. There is a deep rut in the fretboard beneath and slightly inside the A string at the second fret (doubt it will bother my playing), but the wear on the frets doesn't seem to reflect that amount of playing to my eyes. The bridge has "GERMANY" stamped in ink on the bottom of the foot (so I've removed the old, rusty strings, too).
It honestly appears to be in playable condition as it is, so I am in no rush to do anything too ambitious too quickly.
Thanks again for the information.


Apr 6, 2023 - 4:59:34 PM

5368 posts since 3/22/2008

The application for the neck adjuster was filed April 7, 1930 when Stromberg-Voisinet was still S/V not Kay hence the S/V paper label. The patent was finally awarded Mar. 2, 1933. The sharp edges to the frets on your banjo is probably caused by the fingerboard shrinking over time leaving the fret edges exposed. Your banjo did not have fingerboard binding on the edges and the shark teeth fingerboard condition happens somewhat often on vintage banjos. Grover was a banjo parts maker and manufactured a good product. Many banjo makers used Grover parts as original equipment. A fingerboard tunnel at fret 2 A string is common as most of us duffers never get out of the first position.
BHO member mikehalloran is the Kay neck adjuster authority. Attached is his explanation for manipulating the beast. I'm too much of a wimp to try all of Mike's gymnastics!

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