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May 21, 2024 - 6:16:39 PM
1793 posts since 3/1/2012

Here is a question for you: it is my understanding from my Art Major days, that the French Impressionists in the 1860s and later were able to easily paint outdoors because tubes of commercially available oil-based paints had become available.
And a quick Google search indicates that tubes of oil paints were invented by an American in 1841…
OK…now the brick red underpainting on a banjo I recently acquired was probably a milk-based paint, or so I have heard. Would the use of milk-based undercoating be a way to determine how old a banjo is? And were the undercoatings eventually oil-based?
Here is the brick red used as an undercoating for faux-graining on the outside of the banjo pot. This banjo also has the undercoating on the inside of the pot:




May 21, 2024 - 7:14:06 PM

1793 posts since 3/1/2012

Another photo…


 

May 22, 2024 - 3:30:21 AM
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1749 posts since 12/26/2007

Hey Jim -  I worked on a primitive banjo, possibly mid-1800's, that had milk paint, photo below (link).  This was my first exposure to milk- painted banjos, and I did a little research on identifying early milk paint, which indicated that antique milk paint may be hard, possibly chalky, non-soluble in denatured alcohol, and slightly soluble in ammonia.   I also found a nail expert, who told me that there were contemporary as well as possible ca 1800s nails in the pot (described in the link above).

I also worked on a possible Boucher banjo, likely mid-1800s, that had oil-based faux graining.  Someone had apparently spilled a solvent on the heel which removed the faux graining.  After some experimentation on wood scraps with shellac-based paint and tints, the faux graining was restored (link) .  The banjo had alcohol-soluble pumpkin-orange undercoat and dark brown top coat.

I don't have any answers to your questions, but maybe the tests for milk paint could be useful.

 




Edited by - Mark Ralston on 05/22/2024 03:37:14

May 22, 2024 - 6:06:16 AM

549 posts since 11/29/2012

My Wunderlich banjo has milk-based paint on the inside of the pot and dowel stick. I think in one of the short video interviews online with George Wunderlich he discusses the paint. As you might recall, he built his banjos using not only period available materials, but also period tools. And he's a historian. You might be able to email him if he's around.

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