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ABBOTT

John G. Abbott was a maker of banjos from about 1890 and sold under his own name and made for other firms and teachers (e.g. Barnes & Mullins, John Alvey Turner, Norton Greenop, Charles Skinner. Len Shevill, G. Scarth).When Barnes &, Mullins came to London in 1901,and soon after, started their own workshops at Harrow, Middx. John G. Abbott supervised the making of the Barnes & Mullins banjos and zither-banjos.

 

In 1905 he left Barnes & Mullins to form his own company with the title of J. G. Abbott & Co. and a factory at 97/99 Hampstead Road, London, N.W.l. The instruments they made were grouped under the general names of "Mirabile" (banjos), "Monarch" (plectrum-banjo and tenor-banjos) and Amboyna" (Zither-banjos). About 1928 his workshops were transferred to 44 Chalton Street,Euston Road (where his son-learned the art of instrument making) and four years later he became, part of the Besson Co., when his works were transferred to Besson’s premises at Stanhope Place, Marble Arch, London, when the making of banjos virtually ceased, his activities being devoted to making plectrum guitars (sold under the brand of "Aristone").

 

In 1936 he suffered from serious internal trouble from which he never fully recovered. He died on February 11, 1938 after a brief illness. John (“Jack") Abbott-son of the above learned the craft of instrument making in his father's workshops. When his father joined Besson & Co. in 1932, he established his own one room work-shops at various addresses in London for the making of, mostly, guitars. He did make a few banjos which were branded "Abbott-Victor”. He gave up business in 1957.

 

 

VAN ALLEN

Will Van Allen (whose real name was William Dodds) was a highly successful variety artist who used the banjo in his act. At the turn of the century. He was conducting a successful teaching studio at 38 Newington Butts, London, but his increasing professional engagements made it necessary for him to finally give up teaching. In 1902 he toured the U.S.A. for twelve months.

 

It is not known when he first started to make banjos, but his first models were called "Revelation", the wood hoop of which was covered by an S-shaped metal casing with a projecting flange at the bottom through which the brackets passed. When he went into partnership with Olly Oakley in 1926 with a shop at 61, Charing Cross Road, London, the “Will Van Allen" banjos, well made modern instruments, appear to have been products of the John G. Abbott workshops. He dissolved his partnership with "Olly Oakley in 1929 or 1930 and very few Van Allen banjos appeared to have been sold after this date.

 

 

BARNES BROS.

Towards the end of the 1920’s three engineer brothers named Barnes in the Woolwich area decided to make banjos They slavishly copied the Essex "Paragon" model and named their product "Paratone." At a superficial glance it was difficult to tell the two makes apart, it is not known when they ceased making banjos

 

 

BARNES & MULLINS

Samuel Bowley Barnes and Edward Mullins were boyhood friends in their home town of Bournemouth As young men they decide to join forces to become dealers in musical instruments; mainly selling, and mandolins in which they were particularly interested. Being- players of no mean ability. their public appearances helped them to sell their goods and soon they were despatching instruments all over the country because of their advertising and the launching (in February 1894) of their monthly fretted Instrument magazine called “The 'Jo." ("The 'Jo" title was changed to “The Troubadour" after a couple of years.) They started to sell their "own" make of banjo but these were made for them by J. G. Abbott, W, E. Temlett. Windsor, Matthews, etc. - the usual makers "to the trade" at that time. It was in 1897 they patented their “mute attachment" which was fitted to B. & M. zither-banjos and worked from under the vellum. At the end of 1900 they moved to London and established themselves at Rathbone Place, off London's Oxford Street, as a wholesale house in all musical instruments and merchandise and, soon after, started their own workshops at Harrow, Middx. which at first were under the supervision of John G Abbott. During the dance-band boom they marketed- their "Lyratone" banjos plectrum banjos and tenor-banjo which enjoyed considerable popularity. A feature of these instruments was the all-metal construction of the hoops. They ceased making banjos soon after the outbreak of World War II. the instruments branded "B. & M." sold from about 1965, have been made for them in Germany.

 

 

BEAVON

Ball Beavon established a wholesale musical instrument business in Pinder Street, Bishopsgate, London, in the 1880's and 'although he marketed. banjos bearing his name as maker. they were made for him by Matthews and Houghten of Birmingham. In the days of the 7-string banjo, he sold an unfretted instrument with 40 brackets on the hoop and fitted with push in pegs. The firm went out of business during the First World War, probably due to the cessation of supplies of cheap musical instruments and merchandise from the Continent.

 

 

BIRCH

This maker had premises in High Street, Peckham, London and flourished during the banjo "boom" (1880 to 1914) and is said to have been a maker of cheap zither-banjos for the retail trade. Many of the zither-banjos in the shops for less than £1 at this time would have been produced by him.

 

 

BOHEE

When the American James Bohee established his teaching. studio in Coventry Street. London, in 1882 he first sold S. S. Stewart banjos at exorbitant prices to his pupils but before long he decided it was more profitable to sell his "own" banjos. These had a 12 inch hoop, plain nickel-silver, fingerboard without any fret markings, and push-in ivory pegs. It is said he was a shrewd business man and asked as much as £50 for one of his banjos, a truly great price when one realises the highest-priced instruments at that time were 9 or 10 guineas. Bohee banjos were branded "Champion" and Alfred Weaver made the majority of them, although some were said to have been made by Arthur Tilley of Surbiton. Bohee died in 1897.

 

 

BOOSEY

Banjos and zither banjos bearing the name made of Boosey and Co., of London were made in the early 1900's by both Windsor and Weaver, while a few of the cheaper models were of German origin. When the dance-band boom started in the early 1920's the banjos sold under the Boosey name were imported from the U.S.A.

 

Boosey & Co. became incorporated with Hawkes & Co. in 1930 to become Boosey & Hawkes Ltd.

 

 

BOSTOCK

T. Bostock, of Rosoman Street, Clerkenwell, London, was a wholesale maker of banjos and zither-banjos from about 1880 to the middle 1920's when nothing further is heard of him.

 

 

BREWSTER

J.E. (John Edward) Brewster was a teacher. and player of the banjo who was born in Twillingate, Newfoundland, and came to England about 1872. He established a successful teaching connection in London and became well known for his public performances and contributions to fretted instrument publications. He was the author of "The Brewster Banjoist" and compiled “Howard’s Banjo Tutor” and “Chappell's New Banjo 'Tutor”. He was a skilled wood-worker and in 1873 set up a small workshop in London's Oxford Street with John E. Dallas (q.v.).In 1896 he was granted a patent pertaining to zither-banjo construction in conjunction with a Richard Langham but all the banjos and zither banjos he sold bearing his name as maker were actually made for him in the workshops of John E. Dallas. He died in Paris on August 15th, 1912.

 

 

BROADCASTER

The range of banjos sold under the name of "Broadcaster" were stamped: "Made by J. & A. M. of London."

 

In actual fact they were made by the huge furniture, gramophone and radio company J.& A.Margolin Ltd. The banjos were inexpensive instruments, their wooden hoops being covered with nacrolaque, as were the fingerboards. The metal work (bezel, shoes, brackets, tailpiece, etc.) was of very thin lacquered brass.

 

 

BROMLEY

Bromley, of Camden Town, London, has been noted as a maker of banjos but details of his activities and/or his instruments have not been discovered.

 

 

BUCHANAN

A display advertisement in the April 1928 issue of "B.M.G." proclaimed:- BUCHANAN BANJOS Makers and repairers of all fretted instruments. 6 Granville St. West, GLASGOW, C.3. but nothing has been discovered about "Buchanan" banjos nor has any other advertisement about them been found.

 

From early 1927 to late 1940 a Miss Elizabeth Buchanan of the above address advertised herself as a teacher of the Banjo, Tenor-banjo, Mandolin, Guitar and Ukulele and, for a period, her advertisements included "instruments repaired on the premises".

 

 

BUTLER

A zither-banjo marked "Butler, Haymarket, London" passed through the hands of A.P Sharpe but no details of this maker of (or possibly dealer in) musical instruments have been discovered.

 

 

CAMMEYER

When Clifford Essex arid Alfred D. Cammeyer dissolved partnership in 1900, Cammeyer took over the workshops (established in 1896 at 13 Greek Street, Soho) for the production of Cammayer instruments. These were mainly zither-banjos but some banjos (and later, plectrum banjos and tenor banjos) were made. The man in charge of the workshops was Sidney W. Young who was responsible for the designs of the famous "Vibrante" and "Vibrante Royal" zither-banjos and the "New Era" banjos bearing the Cammeyer name.

 

When Cammeyer retired from business ill 1939, Sidney Young took over the workshop at Richmond Buildings, Soho, and continued to make instruments under his own name up to the outbreak of World War II. After the war he established a workshop at 70 New Oxford St., "here he worked in conjunction with John Alvey Turner Ltd. until his retirement in 1963. When Cammeyer died in 1949, Mr. Young acquired the stock of Cammeyer "parts" and timber and from these Produced many "Vibrante" zither banjos but these instruments do not carry the facsimile signature of Alfred D. Cammeyer, which first appeared on Cammeyer instruments after July 1st, 1900 and was attached to all his instruments until the date of his retirement.

 

 

CHAMBERLAIN

Joseph Chamberlain was born in Leicester on June .5th 1898 and learned the craft of woodworking from his father. He started to make banjos in the 1910's. Although his main activity started to make banjos ill the 1920's, although his main activity was teaching arid conducting a successful music shop with emphasis on the fretted instruments.He concentrated on producing one grade of high-class banjo, although he was known to have produced a cheaper instrument of varying design at different times during his banjo-making days. Since 1939, when he ceased to make banjos, he was concerned mainly with making -guitars. He died in 1967.

 

 

CLAMP

J. Clamp, of Newcastle, appears to have started to make banjos (unfretted) about the year 1890. He later made some fretted banjos and zither-banjos. A player who told A.P Sharpe he knew J. Clamp, said that he did not make more than about thirty instruments during. his lifeline. The instruments bearing the name of Clamp are extremely well made and many have elaborately carved necks at the head and heel.

 

 

CLERC

L. (Leon) Clerc was born in London about 1864 and made his debut as a banjoist at the age of 18 with "The Star Minstrels" an amateur organisation. When he was 22 he had become established as a teacher of the banjo in London's East End and about the year 1888 he opened a factory at 44, 46 -& 48 Commercial Street, Shoreditch, London, for the manufacture of musical instruments and his banjos and zither-banjos carried the brand names of "Athena", "Crescent" and "Marvel." In 1891 he formed the "Athena Quartet" which became known in all the best concert halls in and around London and did much to publicise Clerc’s own make of instruments. Production appears to have ceased about 1908.

 

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 Soon after the end of American Civil War (1865) intensive development of the banjo started in both the USA and England.   In London William Temlett (Snr) had established a workshop in 1864, and he patented the idea of a closed back banjo with a suspended sound box in 1869.  

 

The biggest influence on the development of the banjo from the European side came from the Zither.  The Morning Post London May 1849 records ... Max Homeier the celebrate Zither  performer was resident in the Strand and available to be booked by Gentry and Nobility for Parties, Dejeuners and Concerts.

"Zither banjos and ordinary banjos."

J W Sweeny, the 1st or perhaps the 3rd?

 1842 .. John Tyler was US President, slavery was not going to be abolished in the USA for another 23 years . 7 years earlier was the battle of Alamo in the Texas War for Independence, Charles Dickens was writing his American Notes: and the banjo had arrived in England through Liverpool.  

 

Earlier in 1834 reference to a banjo appeared in the Dublin Weekly Mail with the immortal line  “ ‘ O! corn-stalks and Jews harps!” said Daemon after worrying on his seat during the  .. overture by the orchestra; “Will they tune their banjos all night, and never get to playin?”

 

26th January 1839 The Leeds Times advertised The Royal Illusionists Address which included The Unequalled ANTI-FANDANGO-DANCE. Banjo jig and Jim Crow Jump Dance, by a "New Laid Egg".  James Low had been performing this very same banjo/dance show in New York in March 1838.

 

26th February 1842 ER Harper, the American Comedian was performing at the Royal Amphitheatre, Liverpool in a production called The Court Jester, for 10 days.   He is credited with writing “Jim Along Josey” in 1838, and later in his schedule he was on stage at the Queens Theatre Liverpool on the 22nd October 1842 playing his Louisiana Banjo Melodies, on his New- invented Banjo  .. songs like Lucy Lucy Long and Jim along Josey .. as originally introduced by him on both sides of the Atlantic.

 

In March 1842 JW Sweeny made the crossing from New York to Liverpool with The American Circus.  Their first performance was also in the Royal Amphitheatre, Liverpool on 28th March.   The show was made up of horse riding skills and gymnastic exercises interspersed with other performers.

 

Sweeny’s role was to entertain the crowd during intervals and on Thursday 31st March 1842 “The Liverpool Mail”  reported  .. A company of equestrians arrived from the United States …. We have only space to notice the racy and original negro singing of Mr Sweeny, who accompanied himself on the banjo, or mandolin.  His instrumentation is excellent and his self-possession, while the house was convulsed with laughter …, was irresistibly comic ... encored three times.  

 

ER Harper was an established comedian who wrote for and played the banjo, and bought the banjo into the UK one month before Sweeny.  However Sweeny was part of a major tour and was primarily a banjo performer and dancer and gained faster recognition on the instrument than Harper.  

 

Clearly they got to see each other’s performances as they we both in Liverpool at the same time at the beginning and end of 1842, and played some of the same tunes.  

 

The rhetoric in the advertisements for their subsequent performances grows through the year as they both try to claim to be “the first”, and they were by no means the only ones performing the music of the American Negro.  

 

However, it now appears that James Low (Uncle Jim Lowe?) was 3 years ahead of them both.

an instrument emanating from the Tyrol region (of the Alps) “appears to be a sort of guitar with metallic strings laid flat upon a table"

 

24th Nov 1883 in The Era, Alf Wood, Negro Comedian, banjo Soloist is sole agent for The Temlett Banjo.  The Severn Oaks Chronical in December 1892 reported that Mr Arthur Doody received a well-earned encore for his zither banjo solo “Home Sweet Home”  

 

The zither banjo created a totally different type of sound with its steel strings, closed back and geared tuners and in 9 years the description "zither banjo" had come into general use.

 

Having identified there was a clear difference in sound on 14th Sept 1897 W Covill Cheltenham advertised WE Temlett high class Zither and ordinary Banjos.  

At its peak Arthur Wilmshurst was consistently producing the best quality zither banjos; his metal fretwork cover to the wooden pot kept the pot perfectly circular so the action never suffered, he still used the neck clamp (as used on ordinary banjos ..) on the internal perch pole (dowel stick), a thick ebony fret board and laminated peg head.

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