Sunday, March 3, 2019

1903 William F. McIntosh Orchestra Drum

William F. McIntosh was a peripheral figure to Boston's early 20th century drum making industry. Known best for his Patent Snare Strainer and Muffler, McIntosh also sold drums of his own making such as this orchestra drum dating from July of 1903.

1903 William F. McIntosh Snare Drum

A drum such as this could easily go unidentified if not for a handwritten makers label applied inside the shell opposite the air grommet. The homemade nature of the label is odd if not suspicious given that other extant McIntosh drums from the same era bear printed makers labels. There is, however, reasonable cause to assume that this drum was indeed from the hands of William F. McIntosh such as the strong resemblance it shares with a known 1903 parade drum.

The snare mechanism is an early Stromberg design which was patented in 1904. The parts are stamped "PAT. PDG.", or patent pending, which would suggest the hardware present here was minted sometime after Stromberg's patent was applied for on July 20, 1903 and before the time it was granted on April 5, 1904.

1903 William F. McIntosh Drum LabelCharles A. Stromberg Snare Strainer

Turn of the century drums were by their very nature experimental. This drum is no exception as the peculiarities abound. The shell measures just under 4 1/2" inches deep. Why choose 4" or 5" when only 4 1/2" will do? An oversized polished rosewood grommet is normal enough though it is installed somewhat off center sitting slightly closer to the bottom edge of the shell than the top. What was the need for this? And curiously, the bottom reinforcing ring is much more narrow than the top. Perhaps this was an oversight due to haste, or could there have been some logic behind the decision? These questions remain unanswered.



More quandaries arise after a look inside the drum. Several carefully cut wooden panels have been applied inside the shell, one each backing the snare mechanism and butt, and another at what appears to be a crack or weak point in the shell. It is unclear whether these are original to the drum or if they were later additions or repairs. The snare strainer and butt have been removed and then reinstalled in slightly different positions necessitating a little bit of added support seeing as they are attached using only wood screws. Scraps of paper poke out from behind the panel which backs the snare mechanism, but why?

Charles A. Stromberg Snare Butt1903 William F. McIntosh Snare Drum

Peculiarities in all, there is an admirable simplicity to the drum in appearance and function. It is not excessively designed or over complicated. Stromberg's snare mechanism which McIntosh chose to employ is forward thinking yet basic. And the tensioning hardware, modern as it may have been for the turn of the century, is uncomplicated and efficient. Not that McIntosh can be credited for any of the subtle advances in drum making technology on display with this instrument, but he was at the very least keeping up with the changing times. One is left to wonder what could have become of him had he spent a lifetime devoted to drum building. McIntosh's career would later pivot towards radio sales and repair, a far cry from his drum making endeavors of the early 1900s.

Do you have a drum made by William F. McIntosh? I would love to hear about it! Feel free to send Lee and email at lee@vinson.net. And for more on the early 20th century snare drum makers of Boston, Massachusetts please visit BostonDrumBuilders.com.



Sunday, February 3, 2019

1910s Oliver Ditson Nickel Plated Orchestra Drum

Boston's Oliver Ditson Company traces its roots back to the 1860s as a music publisher and musical instrument dealer. Before 1904, the John C. Haynes Company served as Ditson's manufacturing branch while the Ditson Company handled retail. All the while, Haynes and Ditson were essentially one in the same managed by singular ownership. In conjunction with Ditson's opening of their new quarters at 150 Tremont Street, John C. Haynes & Co. officially ceased to exist as of January 1st, 1904 though John C. Haynes remained as president of the Oliver Ditson Company as he had been since 1888.

1910s Oliver Ditson Orchestra Drum

Drums labeled as being manufactured by the Oliver Ditson Company first appeared in 1904 and were produced through the 1910s. The nickel plated model featured here dates to the 1910s. Drums produced during the first decade of the 1900s, circa 1904 - 1910, list three Ditson branches including one in Philadelphia which was closed in 1910. The label affixed inside this particular example lists only Ditson's Boston and New York branches placing the date of manufacture at 1910 or later.

Oliver Ditson nickel shell Orchestra Drum ca. 1917Oliver Ditson Drum Label, ca. 1910s

Two outstanding pieces of provenance appear inside of the shell. A penciled-in date and name, presumably that of a previous owner, perhaps even the original owner, reads "Apr. 26, 1917, Harry Scully, Pittsfield, Mass." There is also an ink stamp from a dealer who may well have sold the drum: "L. E. Page, Pittsfield Agent for Ludwig Drums and Traps, 47 Reed St. Pittsfield, Mass." World War I draft records from 1917-1918 list Lewis Elliot Page, born August 31, 1887, as a machinist and musician in Pittsfield employed by the General Electric Company. Richard Harry Scully's draft card, complete with a signature matching the one found inside of his drum, lists his date of birth as November 28, 1890 and his profession simply as farmer.



The shell is formed from a single sheet of metal riveted at the seam and rolled over at the bearing edges. Snare beds are rather crudely hammered into the snare side bearing edge. The wooden counterhoops are described by Ditson advertising as "maple hoops, ebonized, with top metal bands". The metal bands are rolled over on the inner edge much like the shell's bearing edges and, beyond cosmetic flair, provided protection against damage from rimshots.

1910s Oliver Ditson Orchestra Drums

Ditson offered their Orchestra Drums in a variety of shell materials including bird's-eye maple, white holly, mahogany, and rosewood. These options and more are listed in Ditson's "Wonderbook Number Four" published in 1910. The catalogue spans more than seventy pages in length and lists instruments ranging from drums, cymbals, bells, and percussion accessories, to wind instruments including flutes, piccolos, trumpets, and bugles. As Ditson was a large music house with multiple branches, they were no stranger to the practice of selling instruments made by other manufacturers including Chicago's Lyon & Healy with which Ditson shared deep roots and an ongoing business relationship. It is often times ambiguous as to where a given instrument was sourced with makers labels sometimes reading "made expressly for" Ditson. That said, it is assumed that a fair percentage of the instruments cataloged in 1910 were still manufactured by Oliver Ditson in Boston.

Oliver Ditson Wonderbook, 19101910 Oliver Ditson Catalog - Snare Drums

Do you have a drum made by or for Oliver Ditson & Co.? I'd like to hear from you! Feel free to send Lee an email at lee@vinson.net. And for more on Ditson and many other Boston based drum makers of the early 20th century, please visit www.BostonDrumBuilders.com.

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Stromberg Invincible Orchestra Drum, ca. 1912

Snare drums by Boston's Charles A. Stromberg are recognizable by their elegance, attention to detail, and forward thinking design. All of those traits are on full display in this early Invincible Orchestra Drum produced between about 1912 and 1914.

 ca. early 1910s Celebrated Stromberg Invincible Orchestra Drum

Like the master luthier he would one day become, Stromberg chose his wood with great care. The thin one ply shell employed here is reinforced by three narrow reinforcing rings which are formed from three-ply maple, an unusual construction technique which added great stability to a shallow drum shell. Though the original exterior shellac finish is weathered from age, when viewed in good light at just the perfect angle, the curly maple still shows its stripes.

Stromberg was apparently on the move when this drum was made. The makers label has been corrected to list 78 Portland Street as his new address having previously operated at 61 Hanover Street. A brief ad run in the Boston Globe places Stromberg's shop at 78 Portland Street at least as early as August 4, 1912. Directory listings show that by 1915 Stromberg had relocated to 40 Sudbury Street.



The claws installed on this particular drum differ from those seen on most Stromberg drums of this era. The single point claws used here (below left) closely resemble those used on George B. Stone & Son's Separate Tension Orchestra Drums while Stromberg more commonly used a two pronged claw (below right). Another minor curiosity with this drum is the very short headed slotted tension rods. Stromberg used several different styles of rods over time, including those with hex shaped heads in later years, but the slotted tension rods present on this drum are atypical.



The snare strainer and butt are Stromberg's patented designs. In this instance, the strainer is more an evolution of the original than a reproduction. Through several more years of development, Stromberg had updated his design to incorporate a throw-off lever allowing the snares to be engaged or released instantaneously. Unique for its time, the mechanism was quite tall allowing the strainer arm to extend nearly to the top of the drum for easier accessibility.



Do you have a drum made by Charles A. Stromberg? I would love to hear about it! Feel free to drop Lee an email at lee@vinson.net. And for more on the early 20th century snare drum makers of Boston, Massachusetts please visit BostonDrumBuilders.com.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Geo. B. Stone & Son Silver Sparkle Pyralin Master-Model

Christmas came early this year with the arrival of a very special drum earlier this Fall, a circa late 1920s George B. Stone & Son Master-Model drum in sparkling silver pyralin wrap.

Geo. B. Stone & Son Master-Model Snare Drum

Stone & Son offered a "Pyralin" Master Model at least as early as 1928. Aside from sliver sparkle, surviving examples are known to exist in gold sparkle and white marine pearl. Much more common however are drums featuring a natural maple finish or the ubiquitous black lacquer. The factory original silver sparkle wrap applied here is a very fine pattern which has mellowed slightly over the years to a subtly warmer hue. Depending on the lighting it can appear more gold or copper like in color, or at times even greenish.



No doubt this was a special drum to roll off the assembly line as extra care was taken in other ways besides the addition of the silver sparkle wrap. For one, the shell interior was finished with a clear coat of lacquer, a characteristic highly atypical of Stone & Son who normally left the inside of their shells unfinished and occasionally even rough.



The badge and label present here are typical of late 1920s Master-Models. Stone ceased date stamping their makers labels sometime in 1925 so we are left to guesstimate the exact age of this drum. The Master-Model number is penciled inside of shell just below the air vent, and also stamped into the underside of the counterhoops.



Do you have a Stone Master-Model? I'd love to hear from you! Feel free to send Lee an email anytime at lee@vinson.net. And for more on George B. Stone & Son and the other early 20th century drum manufacturers of Boston, Massachusetts, please visit BostonDrumBuilders.com.

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Who was O. A. Whitmore?

Featured here is a very early drum for Thompson & Odell by O. A. Whitmore, dating from about 1875. Thompson & Odell was only beginning to become established at the time, a fact underscored by the wording "successors to A .W. White" on the makers label.

ca. 1875 Drum by O. A. Whitmore for Thompson & Odell, Boston, MAca. 1875 O. A. Whitmore drum label for Thompson & Odell

Thompson & Odell's beginnings can be traced back to 1872 as "Woods & Odell". In 1873 J. Harrison Woods and Ira H. Odell took in a third partner in Charles W. Thompson forming "Woods, Odell, and Thompson" operating at 121 Court Street. Woods left the company by 1875 after which the remaining two partners established Thompson & Odell at 86 Tremont Street, the address most recently occupied by Asa Warren White and Louis P. Goullard under the moniker "White & Goullaud".

The drum dates from circa 1875 placing Whitmore as perhaps the first in a long succession of drum makers contracted by Boston's Thompson & Odell.

This drum being from right around 1875 places O. A. Whitmore as perhaps the first in a long succession of drum makers contracted by Thompson & Odell that would later include J. B. Treat, and Charles A. Stromberg. Whitmore's makers label also describes his business as specializing in E. B. Mansfield's banjo, a design for which Mansfield received a patent in 1872.

O. A. Whitmore settled north of Boston in Malden, Massachusetts around 1871 and was building drums and banjos at least as early as the mid 1870s. He is listed in the 1876 Boston Directory as a musical instrument maker producing drums and banjos at 282 Washington Street. Before this time, as early as 1871, Whitmore appears in the Directory with the occupation of "musician", but is not included under listings for musical instrument makers.

Around 1879 Whitmore opened his own shop at 178 Washington Street. As of 1880 he was in business with Peter J. Boris at the same address, the firm being known as "Whitmore & Boris". Boris, long active as a musical instrument importer and dealer, had previously been partnered with J. H Woods of Woods, Odell & Thompson. Whitmore and Boris' working arrangement was evidently short lived lasting only until about 1882. Perhaps their business interests merely evolved in a different direction, however, as the two are listed as assignees of an 1882 patent for fish nets of all things.

By 1883 Whitmore had essentially traded one partner for another now joining up with the aforementioned Eben B. Mansfield to form "Whitmore & Mansfield" still operating at 178 Washington Street. The two men together had previously secured a patent for a music stands a few years prior. In addition to manufacturing Mansfield's patent banjos, Whitmore & Mansfield also dealt brass instruments including cornets. But like Mansfield's previous joint business venture, the partnership was short lived. Whitmore & Mansfield vanishes from Boston directories after 1884 as do both individuals for a time.

Whitmore & Mansfield was short lived, vanishing from Boston directories after 1884.

It could be that Whitmore returned to the road for a few years, or that he simply didn't have a business address in Boston for a period of years. Nevertheless, his music store at 178 Washington Street changed hands at this point as a man named George M. Lane was selling musical instruments there in 1885. By 1886, Lane was gone and D. C. Hall was selling musical instruments at the same address as would be the case for the next several years.

O. A. Whitmore resurfaces in directory listings in 1888 as a music teacher at 179 Washington Street, a professional address shared by several others including J. H. Woods. Whitmore would continue to appear here through the 1890s while living in Malden.

Long before coming to Boston, Osceola Aurelius Whitmore was a native of Reading, Vermont. Born September 2, 1838, he would take up the clarinet at a young age and soon become well established with a variety of minstrel shows eventually taking on management positions and ownership stakes in several companies. This early chapter of Whitmore's life is well described by Frank H. Clark in "History of Reading, Windsor County, Vermont. Vol. II:


Whitmore & Clark's Minstrels
"The most famous musical organization which originated in Reading was undoubtedly Whitmore & Clark's Minstrels, a company that for more than a quarter of a century annually visited every part of New England, and parts of New York and the Provinces, and the memories of which will be remembered with pleasure by many an "old-timer". The company was organized at the close of the Civil war and was the successor of several similar organizations that had been more or less successful, S. A. Brock's Broadway Minstrels, Whitmore & Thompson's Minstrels and others."

"Of the proprietors of the company [Whitmore & Clark's Minstrels] only one, Osceola A. Whitmore, was a native of Reading. He was born on the old Whitmore place Sept. 2, 1838, a son of Capt. Nelson Whitmore, at one time captain of the militia company and Mrs. Lucy (Holden) Whitmore. Young Whitmore must have been inspired by the old time music of the fife and drums, which he says was the most important part, to him, of the annual June training. The players were Otis Foster, snare drum, Henry Megrath, fife and Capt. Nathan Sherwin, bass drum.

Mr. Whitmore began to play the clarinet at an early age, his first engagement in public being at the hotel in Hammondsville in 1855 for a dance, playing with Carlos Hawkins and for which he received for his valuable services the sum of twenty five cents. He received his first instructions on the clarinet from Alonzo Bond of Boston, who taught the Woodstock Band about this time, and was a member of the band in 1860 and '61, and went into camp at Rutland in May 1861 with the Woodstock Light Infantry. In the beginning of the war, when the first call for three months' men from President Abraham Lincoln was made the government did not employ bands, so the band returned to Woodstock when the company left for the seat of war. Afterwards he traveled with Barnum's Circus and was with the Whitmore and Clark troupe for twelve years after it was organized. The name was retained after Mr. Whitmore retired from the organization except for one or two seasons."

Whitmore & Clark's Minstrels was formed in 1866 with Whitmore himself reportedly staying on board until about 1878 before leaving the group to accept more solo clarinet work with various musical organizations in Boston and to pursue his interests in the musical instrument business.

At the time of his death in 1918, Whitmore was remembered foremost as a performing clarinetist and teacher. The final stages of his life perhaps overlapped with but apparently outlasted and overshadowed that of his banjo and drum manufacturing interests and certainly his early career with traveling minstrel shows.

A brief obituary from the Musical Courier published November 28, 1918 reads as follows: "Osceola A. Whitmore, at one time one of the worlds' most famous clarinetists, died Sunday, November 17, in Allston, Mass at the age of 80 years. Mr. Whitmore had been associated with Gilmore's, Carter's, Sousa's and the Germania Bands and the Boston Symphony Orchestra. He had been for twenty-seven years in charge of the orchestra at the Fabyan House in the White Mountains, and was also well known as a teacher and maker of clarinets. Mr. Whitmore passed the greater part of his active life in Malden, was a member of the common council for three years and a member of many fraternal organizations. He is survived by two married daughters."



This particular drum had previously suffered the indignancy of being converted into an end table of sorts. The conversion had been accomplished by screwing three drum sticks into the shell to serve as legs. The legs have now been removed and new heads tucked onto the existing flesh hoops restoring some semblance of respectability to this interesting historical piece.


The snare strainer looks to have been replaced once upon a time as the bottom hoop has been crudely gouged to accommodate a newer but similarly basic mechanism. The gut snares are held in place with a simple leather snare butt as is common for drums of this age.


Rustic condition aside, the construction methods implemented here are more crude than those commonly seen on drums from a decade or two later. Whitmore used not only a series of small tacks to hold the shell together along the seem, but the same is true of both the counterhoops and the re-inforcing rings. Yet signs of high end refinement are simultaneously present as seen in the beautifully polished rosewood grommet lining the air vent and faded remnant of a gilded scroll design ornamenting the black enameled counterhoops.



W. Lee Vinson is a classical percussionist, music educator, and snare drum historian. He is the author of BostonDrumBuilders.com, a website devoted to the late 19th and early 20th century drum makers of Boston, Massachusetts.