Saturday, October 28, 2017

ca. 1880s John C. Haynes & Co. "Prussian" Drum

Amongst the most common styles of drums manufactured during the late 19th century were the so called "Prussian Drums". Featured here is just such a drum from Boston's John C. Haynes & Co.

ca. 1880s John C. Haynes & Co. Drumca. 1880s John C. Haynes & Co. Drum Label

The J. C. Haynes & Co.1883 catalog gives a bare bones description: "PRUSSIAN DRUMS, WITH RODS, HOOKS, SNARE-TIGHTENER, KEY AND KNEE-REST, OUR OWN MAKE". While other styles could be custom ordered, seven Prussian models are listed with the main difference being the shell material. Maple, rosewood, nickel, and brass shell drums were all offered with "nickel trimmings" and "fancy hoops" as additional cosmetic upgrades. The drum pictured above appears to be an example of model no. 19 1/2 built around a 16" maple shell and outfitted with nickel hardware.


1883 J. C. Haynes & Co. Catalog

The maple shell is quite thin with solid maple re-inforcing rings providing extra structural support. The seam is held together with small brass tacks, a feature common to many larger Haynes drums. A polished rosewood grommet lines the vent hole providing a small element of visual appeal to an otherwise plain drum. Solid maple counterhoops, painted black around the outer face, are roughly cut suggesting that these drums were produced quickly and in large numbers with less attention to detail than some other higher end Haynes instruments.


The paper label affixed to the inside of the drum is rather plain, merely listing the makers name and address underneath an image of a standard rope tension drum. The 33 Court Street address was used by Haynes from the mid 1860s all the way into the late 1890s meaning that this alone is not a reliable dating guideline.

Some smallish, semi-thoughtful modifications were made to this particular drum over the years with an additional (sloppy) coating of shellac being added to the shell, and the original snare strainer being swapped out for another very similar one. Time has taken its toll on the nickel plating leaving the tension rods a steely dark gray color and the claws a dull bronze. The overall effect is, nevertheless, a fairly good representation of one of the most widely produced drum styles of the late 1800s from one of Boston's largest band instrument makers of the era.

For more on the history of John C. Haynes & Company, please visit BostonDrumBuilders.com.


Sunday, June 4, 2017

Stone & Son's Entry Level Snare Drums

Over the course of more than forty years of drum making, Boston's George B. Stone & Son offered different levels of products at varying price points aimed at a wide range of buyers. One market in which Stone & Son did a great deal of business was the school market as evidenced by this advertisement announcing "Stone Drums for the School." The ad is undated, but came enclosed in a copy of Catalog K which included a price list dated September, 1928.

George B. Stone & Son Advertisement, ca. 1928

The single page flyer describes three economically priced "Colonial" models which "are made in our own factory" and "are far superior to the average drums offered at higher prices elsewhere." This likely meant that the Colonial model shells were single ply maple with solid maple reinforcing rings - the style most commonly used by Stone on nearly all of their drums, a notable exception being the famed Master-Model Drums which featured 5/8" thick, three ply shells.

The artwork seen above was in fact recycled from earlier Stone catalogs. That explains why the Colonial Orchestra Snare Drum and Colonial Military Snare Drum are advertised here as being equipped with the "long model snare strainer" though the pictures clearly depict drums outfitted with the Stone Patent Snare Strainer and Muffler designed by William F. McIntosh.

Stone Patent Snare Strainer and Muffler
Stone Patent Snare Strainer and Muffler
Stone Long Model Snare Strainer
Stone Long Model Snare Strainer

Stone's Colonial models were single tension drums which used simple thumbrods and claws to adjust both drumheads simultaneously. This was at a time when separate tension drums had long since become widely accepted as the professional standard. Another distinguishing characteristic of Stone's lower end drums including the Colonial drums is the absence of a badge or makers mark on the exterior of the drum. Stone certainly didn't want these beginner level instruments to be mistaken for professional level drums.

The Colonial drums were part of a long succession of budget level drums offered by Stone & Son. Among the comparable lines offered by Stone at other points in time were the "Victory" model drums, which appeared in Catalog I (1919) and the 1922 Supplement, and the "Veneer Drums" of the mid 1910s which were last included in Catalog H (ca. 1915). It should be noted that unlike the Colonial drums of the late 1920s, the earlier Victory models were likely assembled using components sourced elsewhere. The Veneer drums were not made by Stone at all but were instead purchased from another maker altogether.

The inclusion of these lower end models in Stone catalogs is accompanied by language distancing Stone & Son from the quality of the product to some degree. In the case of the Victory models, Stone Catalog I states "In answer to a widespread demand for an inexpensive drum we offer the VICTORY line of medium grade drums which, although not up to the Stone quality, are good serviceable instruments for orchestra, band and drum corps."

Stone Victory Model Drums, Catalog I (1919)
Stone Victory Model Drums, Catalog I (1919)

The earlier Veneer drums carry an even stronger disclaimer in Catalog H announcing "For those wishing an inexpensive drum, we buy from another manufacturer, this line of veneer shell drums. While not up to the "Stone" quality, they are good serviceable drums, priced extremely low, and are as good as any veneer drums made."

Stone Veneer Drums, Catalog H (ca. 1915)
Stone Veneer Drums, Catalog H (ca. 1915)

All of this is to say that Stone making the entry level Colonial model drums in house during the late 1920s was noteworthy because it indicated a shift in Geo. B. Stone & Son's business strategy to move away from professional level drums and more towards catering to school bands and the drum corps markets, a mission advanced by Stone's own Drum School. The move away from high end drum manufacturing proved to be a trend through the 1930s as the Great Depression took its toll, talking movies was killed off the theater musician, and the industry generally passed Stone by.

Do you have an instrument labeled Geo. B. Stone & Son? I would love to hear about it! Drop Lee a note at lee@vinson.net.

And for more on George B. Stone & Son and the other early 20th century drum makers of Boston, Massachusetts, please visit BostonDrumBuilders.com.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

No-Nic Bass Drum Pedal, ca. early - mid 1920s

From user "Big Beat" at DrumForum.org comes an interesting Nokes & Nicolai bass drum pedal. The pedal is marked only with the moniker "No-Nic", an abbreviated version of the company name.


The pedal pictured above is completely different in design from the Piano-Action Pedal Bass Drum and Cymbal Beater as advertised in Nokes & Nicolai American Drummer No. 5 circa 1914.

Nokes & Nicolai Bass Drum Pedal from Catalog 5, circa 1914
Nokes & Nicolai American Drummer No. 5, circa 1914
Nokes & Nicolai Piano-Action Bass Drum Pedal
Nokes & Nicolai Piano-Action Bass Drum Pedal

The 'piano-action' style pedal is included again in Nokes & Nicolai American Drummer No. 6, circa 1918 so the more modern pedal must date no earlier than the very late 1910s. But the later No-Nic pedal is significant because it shows that the company was still evolving with the times into the 1920s even though their days were numbered. Nokes & Nicolai would merge with the Liberty Rawhide Company of Chicago in 1926 to form The Liberty Musical Instrument Company.

Do you have an instrument by Nokes & Nicolai? I'd love to see it! Drop Lee a note at lee@vinson.net

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Blair & Baldwin, Practical Drum Makers

Blair & Baldwin was founded in 1892 in the Brighton District's Abattoir Grounds, several miles west of Boston proper. It was a malodorous locale to open up shop, but low rent and easy access to animal hides for drum heads would have made this a serviceable location in the beginning.

In 1894 the young company relocated to 379 Albany Street and claimed to be the largest drum manufacturer in New England. Their boast may or may not have been merely advertising bluster, but it is true that there were very few other musical instrument makers specializing only in drums at that time.

By 1897 Blair & Baldwin had relocated to 169 Dudley Street where it would remain until 1902, the last year the company appears in directory listings. Around 1903, William J. Blair sold the business to Frank Edward Dodge who was starting his own drum manufacturing operation which would soon become known as the F. E. Dodge Company.

Blair & Baldwin Drums

William J. Blair appears to have been the driving force behind Blair & Baldwin from the very beginning. In an 1894 write up about the company, Baldwin is not even mentioned. In addition to the picture seen above, the following information comes from Boston & Bostonians (New York: American Publishing and Engraving Company, 1894):

"This is one of the most responsible firms in the country in this line and well and favorably known. Mr. W. J. Blair is a native of New York State and a practical drum maker of thorough experience, and an expert in his line. He turns out a very superior class of work, and sustains the reputation he enjoys. His productions are noted for excellence, being no surpassed in a single feature of merit by any instrument of the kind on the market, and are in growing demand throughout the United States and Canada. He manufactures drums of every description, in all sizes and style for military bands, orchestras, etc., and his is the largest house in the business in New England. He has been established since 1892, and was formerly located in Brighton District, removing to the present address [379 Albany Street] in 1894. His factory here is spacious and commodious and is fully equipped with steam power and machinery. His facilities are first-class, and a number of skilled hands are employed by him. A large and varied assortment is always carried in stock and every article offered for sale by this reliable house is warranted as to make and material. Drums are made to order also, on short notice, and satisfaction is assured. Repairing is promptly and neatly done, at very reasonable rates, and all work is guaranteed to be strictly first-class. This house can supply the trade on the most advantageous terms. Bottom Prices are quoted and all orders receive prompt and personal attention."

William J. Blair was born on April 19, 1845 in upstate New York. The 1850, 1855, and 1860 Censuses place the Blair family in Syracuse where William's father Brown W. Blair was a shoemaker. Brown's wife Catherine, sometimes listed as Kate or Katie, was from Ireland and the couple had four children together of which William was the eldest.

A teenage William J. Blair was working in Syracuse as a blacksmith when in January of 1864 he joined Company H of New York's 16th Heavy Artillery Regiment as a musician. His military service was brief as the Company was discharged at Washington, DC in August of 1865.

Not long after the Civil War, Blair returned to Syracuse and in 1870 was living with his mother and two younger brothers, his father now deceased. According to the census from that year, William Blair is a 25 year old musician, though the 1870 and 1872 Syracuse City Directories list him as an 'agent' or 'clerk' respectively.

By 1878 William J. Blair had found his way to St. Louis where he worked as a musician at the Theatre Comique. A fellow musician there was a New Hampshire native named James G. Baldwin. The 1880 census lists the two men at the same address placing William J. Blair and James G. Baldwin together more than a thousand miles away from Boston and more than ten years before the founding of Blair & Baldwin. The Theatre Comique was destroyed by fire in December 9th of 1880, an event which likely put both men out of work spurring their respective moves to Boston.

Musician William J. Blair first appears in the Boston Directory in 1881 at 6 Staniford Street, the same year that musician James G. Baldwin is listed at 177 Shawmut Avenue. The two men would reside at several different home addresses over the next ten years before going into business together in 1892. Both men are listed at Blair & Baldwin, Abbatoir Grounds in 1892 and 1893 and again with Blair & Baldwin in 1894 at 379 Albany Street.

The company may have sputtered briefly in 1895 as there is no mention of Blair & Baldwin in the Boston Directory from that year though Blair is still listed and resides at the same home address. Curiously, Baldwin's occupation is now "druggist" and he has a new work address. Blair appears again in 1896 with Blair & Baldwin but James G. Baldwin's shift away from the company was a permanent one. In fact, Baldwin seems to have left behind his musical career entirely with directories showing him as a druggist again in 1896 and then as an "apothecary" from 1897 through 1903. Late in his life Baldwin would return to his native New Hampshire where he passed away in 1912 at the age of 59.

After Baldwin's exit from the company around 1894, Blair carried on until at least 1902. Around this time a young Frank E. Dodge was making entries into the drum making business. The F. E. Dodge Company was legally incorporated in December of 1903 and had likely struck a deal with Blair by this time. In his later years, Blair continued to work for Dodge who handed off his company to Nokes & Nicolai in 1912. Blair reportedly stayed on board with Nokes & Nicolai until his death in 1916.

For more on the early 20th century drum makers of Boston, Massachusetts, please visit BostonDrumBuilders.com.

W. Lee Vinson can be contacted any time by email at lee@vinson.net.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Geo. B. Stone's Mastercraft Drums

By the end of the roaring twenties, Boston's George B. Stone & Son had fallen behind the times. As the advent of talking movies was quickly killing off the Vaudeville-era drummer and the Great Depression was beginning to set in, Stone made one final attempt at innovation. In an effort to target the still thriving drum and bugle corps market of the early 1930s, the Stone Mastercraft drums were born.



Christine Merrick Ayars' Contributions to the Art of Music in America by the Music Industries of Boston 1640 - 1936 (New York: H.W. Wilson, 1937) mentions Stone's Mastercraft drums, though the purported benefits of its design sound mostly like advertising babble:

"A few years ago they brought out a "Mastercraft Drum" which is a patented innovation. There are two pivots inside the shell to loosen or tighten the rods, which go inside instead of outside, thus eliminating some of the wear on the drum heads. The basis of the patent is the ventilation allowing moisture to come out. The Marlborough, Massachusetts, American Legion band with this kind of drum won the ninth prize offered at the Detroit Convention."

Of particular interest here is the reference to the Marlboro Drum and Bugle Corps. The Herbert F. Akroyd Post 132 American Legion Drum and Bugle Corps, to be more specific, was a powerhouse on the American Legion competition circuit through the 1930s with none other than George Lawrence Stone as drum instructor. Not surprisingly, the Corps purchased and performed on the new Stone Mastercraft drums. A 1934 photo shows the Corps with their instruments including no fewer than sixteen Mastercraft snare drums and four bass drums.


photo: Marlborough Historical Society

Unfortunately there is no specific provenance attached to the drum featured at the top of this page though it is marked "7A" both inside the drum in strong black lettering, and on a small metal tag attached to the batter side counterhoop suggesting that the drum was part of a large set. Perhaps it could have been one of the drums used by the Marlborough Corps? Or could it even be the drum that George Lawrence Stone is photographed with below?

By the 1930s, George Lawrence Stone was positioning himself more as a teacher, author, and clinician than a drum manufacturer. To that end, Stone was pouring a great deal of time and energy into writing columns such as those for Jacobs Orchestra Monthly and the International Musician, and his regular teaching schedule at the Stone Drum School which he owned and operated in conjunction with his manufacturing company. He also was actively involved with the drum and bugle corps scene including his work with Marlborough. A flyer advertising Stone's "Two Lectures on Music Appreciation", one on "Rudimental Drumming" and the other on "The Instruments of Percussion", shows George Lawrence playing a drum nearly identical to the Mastercraft model featured here.


photo: Barbara Haines / StonePercussionBooks.com

Contrary to what Ayars reports, Stone appears to never have received a patent for his Mastercraft drums. A patent application may well have been submitted, but no evidence exists to suggest it was approved and that a patent was granted. The wording on the badge is telling. It reads "PATENT APPLIED FOR".



The Mastercraft drums employed a highly unconventional tuning system involving a system of gears inside of the drum which turned a square rod that then connected to claws reaching out from inside the shell and then around the wooden counterhoops. It was a very over-complicated way to achieve single tension meaning that both heads were tightened simultaneously and could not be tuned independently from one another. The design appears to have been best suited to large field drum and bass drum sizes as the gears and claws utilized on the Mastercrafts would not have been easily scaled down for shallower drums. That being said, there are reports of a 6.5" x 14" orchestra model in existence.



In the pantheon of strange ways to tune a drum, the Mastercraft would have to rank near the top alongside WFL's "Victorious" wartime models and the Leedy & Ludwig knob tension drums of the early 1950s. And as innovative as the Stone Mastercrafts may have been, they don't appear to have done much to keep the family business afloat as Geo. B. Stone & Son's manufacturing interests withered through the 1930s and fizzled out completely not long afterwards.

Surviving Mastercraft drums are scarce, and there is a good reason for that. The awkward tuning mechanisms are prone to jamming and removing a drum head requires that the entire drum be disassembled. Furthermore, as most Mastercrafts were aimed at the drum corps market, such groups tend to put a lot of wear on their instruments which likely meant that many of the Mastercraft drums were used until they were no longer serviceable and were then discarded. To find a complete example in good condition is a rare treat providing a valuable glimpse at George B. Stone & Son's last true attempt at innovation.

Do you have a Geo. B. Stone & Son Mastercraft drum? I would love to hear about it! Drop Lee a note at lee@vinson.net. And for more on Boston's early 20th century drum makers, please visit BostonDrumBuilders.com.