... of 23/25 Constitution Hill Birmingham were established in 1851 as Musical Instrument Merchants, Patentees and Manufacturers."
In 1894 they had a stand at the Birmingham Industrial Exhibition on which they displayed and advertised themselves as being agents for Windsor banjos and zither-banjos.
Following the success of this Exhibition, they engaged Olly Oakley to demonstrate Windsor instruments in their store. ( In March 1892 Windsor teamed up with Arthur J.Taylor, a prominent Birmingham teacher who taught Olly Oakley, who was working in Taylor's shop at this time. This employment came to an abrupt end and Oakley went to work for Joseph Riley where he sold Windsor & Taylor banjos).
They appear to have started to manufacture their own banjos and zither-banjos a year later and in 1896 filed a patent for an improved zither-banjo, "the inner hoop, or hoop proper, having, outwardly projecting lugs round the bottom edge, which rest on corresponding inwardly projecting lugs on the outer hoop or casing."
In the same patent they also included the specification of making, the necks of banjos and like instruments, hollow. In 1897 the firm was advertising its "Riley-Baker Perfected Banjo" in which the hoop was "stiftened or reinforced by an internal annular flange or horizontal feather, which is directed internally from the inside walls , at a point rarther abovce the middle line of the hoop; which is made of two diameters, the upper part being the smaller"
The instrument comprised many other improvements which included a tailpiece which was perfected by Grover some years later.
The Riley- Baker zither-banjos and the firm’s “Mikado” banjos (a feature of which was the amount of aluminium used in their construction) were widely advertised and John Pidoux was signed up to demonstrate them for the company, in which he played a teaching and advisory role for a few years.
John Pidoux played a Riley-Baker zither –banjo at a Will C Peper concert at the St. Martin in the Fields Town Hall, London in May 1898 but the tone of the instrument was said by a critic to be “disappointing”.
In 1901, the firms “Jubilee Year” they announced that they had 2000 banjos in stock! .. but they discontinued making banjos and zither-banjos three years later in 1904.
Pictures courtesy of John Jukes, .. also see Riley-Baker
This Riley, pictures courtesy of Clay Mileson shows the influence of the Stewart Special Thoroughbred on the decoration and carving.
Joseph Riley 1831 -