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

W. Lee Vinson can be contacted any time by email at

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 /

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 And for more on Boston's early 20th century drum makers, please visit

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Origins of the F. E. Dodge Company

A small ad for the F. E. Dodge Company appearing on the back cover of the Dodge Drum School published in 1909 reads "a drum factory since 1868". It is a dubious claim coming from a man who was born in 1877. The ad goes on to state "over forty years of experience is back of the Dodge drums, tympani, orchestra bells, xylophones, and drummers' traps". How could this be true when the company namesake was only in his early thirties?

Frank Edward Dodge was born on July 10th, 1877 in Wenham, Massachusetts. His father Frank Dodge (who has no middle initial) was a native of Marblehead, MA and is listed in the 1880 United States Census as a janitor at Abbott Hall. Frank Edward's mother Maria A. Dodge, formerly Maria A. McCarthy, was originally from Bangor, ME, the daughter of Irish immigrants. By the mid 1890s the Dodge family, including a second son Harry Plummer Dodge born in 1883, had relocated to Boston where Frank Edward received his primary schooling at Boston's English High School graduating as a member of the fourth year class in 1896.

F. E. Dodge continued his education at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology enrolling in 1896 as a Mining Engineering major and would later complete studies in Mechanical Engineering and Chemistry. According to MIT's newspaper The Tech Dodge was in 1896 - 1897 a member of the Freshman Orchestra serving as the group's treasurer. An MIT Register of Former Students lists Frank E. Dodge as having been at the school from 1896 - 1898 and then again in the years 1900 and 1901.
The 1900 United States Census lists F. E. Dodge as a musician still living under his parents' roof at 163 West Canton Street in Boston's South End. The 1900 Boston Directory also lists him as a musician, not a student, suggesting that he had begun his career as a professional drummer by this time. Boston newspapers frequently include mentions of Frank E. Dodge as a featured xylophone soloist at the Boston Theater in 1901 and 1902. By 1903, city directories begin listing Dodge's work address simply as "Colonial Theatre", the newly opened grand theater at 106 Boylston Street opposite Boston Common.1901 Boston Theatre Ad listing Frank E. Dodge as Xylophone Soloist
Boston Theatre Ad from the Boston Post, October 20, 1901

1903 photo showing Boston's Colonial Theatre at far right.                 Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Looking again at the 1900 Census, the elder Frank Dodge's occupation is listed as "Mfg - Stitching & Plaiting" while the 1900 Boston Directory lists him as a manager working at 12 Winter Street. These pieces of information coupled together point to the Boston Stitching and Plaiting Company at 12 - 14 Winter Street in Boston. The president of this company was a man named John A. McCarthy whose home address was 163 West Canton Street, the same address as the Dodge family. This confirms a connection both personal and professional between the Dodge family, John A. McCarthy and his Company.

A very early F. E. Dodge orchestra drum bears a makers label listing an address of 12 - 14 Winter Street, the same location as the Boston Stitching and Plaiting Company. Also notable about the wording on the drum label is that it reads "F. E. DODGE MANUFACTURING DRUMMER", not F. E. Dodge Company. All of this raises the possibility that there may have been some correlation between the Boston Stitching & Plating Company and the very early years of Frank E. Dodge's drum making endeavors before the founding of the F. E. Dodge Company.

F. E. Dodge Orchestra Drum, ca. 1903F. E. Dodge Orchestra Drum, ca. 1903Early F. E. Dodge Drum Label, ca. 1903F. E. Dodge Drum Label, ca. 1903

Various business listings and advertisements place the Boston Stitching and Plaiting Company at 12 - 14 Winter Street from at least 1898 until 1903. By 1905 the company had moved to 28 Summer Street. The 1906 Boston Directory lists the elder Frank Dodge as working as a treasurer at this address. But by this time the younger Dodge's drum building venture was standing on it's own at 3 Appleton Street. Public Documents show that on December 22nd, 1903 the F. E. Dodge Co. became incorporated under the laws of Massachusetts with a capital of $50,000 to manufacture drums, traps, drum findings, professional xylophones, orchestra bells, and timpani.

In tracing the exact origins of the F. E. Dodge Company, it is important to note that no such business is listed in Boston Directories until 1905. In the years immediately leading up to this point Frank E. Dodge is listed as a musician but the F. E. Dodge Company is nowhere to be found. The December 1903 incorporation, as announced in the Music Trade Review in January of 1904, is the earliest documented account of the F. E. Dodge Company. If Frank E. Dodge had founded his drum company in 1903, he would have been just 26 years old.

Capital investment aside, a man as young as Dodge would have needed help starting a new drum manufacturing business and he may have found it in William J. Blair of Boston's Blair & Baldwin, drum makers since 1892. The missing link between Blair and Dodge and their respective drum companies is provided in 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):

"William J. Blair was a drummer in the Civil War and a maker of good drums. Baldwin was a fine workman also. He resigned to manufacture bicycle wood rims and wheels. Later he worked for John C. Haynes & Co. where he was known as "Grandsire Baldwin". When Mr. Baldwin resigned about 1905, F. E. Dodge bought out Mr. Blair who worked first for Mr. Dodge and then for Nokes & Nicolai until his death."

Ayars' statement about Grandsire Baldwin resigning in 1905 cannot be correct seeing that Nahum "Grandsire" Baldwin died in 1896, but her reporting about Blair checks out. Military records show William J. Blair was born in Monticello, New York in 1846. He later resided in Syracuse working as a blacksmith when in January of 1864 he joined Company H of New York's 16th Heavy Artillery Regiment as a musician. Much later in his life, Blair is listed in the 1908 and 1909 Boston Directories as a drummaker at 3 Appleton Street confirming that he did in fact stay on board with the F. E. Dodge Company after Dodge bought out Blair & Baldwin.

If William J. Blair had been building drums since the late 1860s, then by 1908 he would have had about 40 years worth of experience in the business. And that may well have been the reason that Frank E. Dodge could claim that "over forty years of experience is back of the Dodge drums." It certainly wasn't that the F. E. Dodge Company had been around for four decades.

For more on F. E. Dodge and the other early 20th century drum makers of Boston, Massachusetts, please visit

W. Lee Vinson can be contacted any time by email at

Sunday, January 1, 2017

F. E. Dodge Field Drum ca. 1904 - 1907

At approximately 110 years old, this F. E. Dodge field drum shows its age. Cosmetic flaws aside, it is still a wonderful example of an early rod tension drum from Boston's most prominent drum maker at the turn of the twentieth century. Measuring in at a robust 10" deep by 16" across, this is a large instrument closer in size to the wartime regimental drums which preceded it than the much shallower orchestra drums which were becoming widely favored for popular music styles. This was after all a 'street drum' intended to be played while standing or marching with a military style band or drum corps.

The tension rods and even more so the claws used tension the heads are rather forward thinking for the first decade of the 1900s. For that matter, the use of metal hardware at all suggests that this was a professional level model as rope tension drums were more affordable. The single ply maple shell with solid maple reinforcing rings is constructed as well as any other instrument of the day. But Dodge's innovative hoop claws are the most ingenious feature here. Long before modern drum lug casings housed fully swiveling nuts to accommodate tuning rods, Dodge's claws represented an early attempt to help let the tensioning hardware fit into place without the possibility of any binding, warping, or stripping.

Lee's F. E. Dodge Field Drum ca. 1904 - 1907F. E. Dodge Drum Label ca. 1904 - 1907

The shell interior is painted black, a characteristic of some, but not all Dodge drums. A large circular paper label is visible inside of the drum. Note the inclusion of the "Inc." lettering which likely means that this drum was produced after the company's incorporation on December 22, 1903 and before it was legally dissolved in 1907. Curiously, the label is positioned upside down, another peculiarity common to many F. E. Dodge drums.

The snare mechanism is rather basic by modern standards but was in fact a small step forward in functionality relative to the traditional snare strainer in that it allowed the snares to be tightened using a knurled knob easily reached from the top of the drum and without the possibility of the snares becoming twisted. A simple leather snare butt, cut in Dodge's distinctive jagged fashion, holds the snares in place against the opposite counterhoop.

F. E. Dodge Snare StrainerF. E. Dodge Snare Butt

While a 10" x 16" model isn't specifically listed, the drum matches very well with those advertised in the 1907 Dodge catalog. A final indication that the drum featured here was constructed no later than about 1908, the Dodge Drum School published in 1909 includes illustrations of a Dodge drum featuring an updated claw design which would go on to be commonly used on Dodge drums until 1912 and by their successors Nokes & Nicolai until 1926.

Do you have an percussion instrument made by the F. E. Dodge Company? I would love to see it! Send Lee an email anytime at And for more on the early 20th century drum makers of Boston, Massachusetts, please visit

Thursday, December 1, 2016

ca. 1936 George B. Stone & Son White Marine Pearl Master-Model Drum

One drum could never tell the complete story of a company whose life spanned decades, but the drum featured here could write its own chapter on both what could have been, and what had become of Boston's George B. Stone & Son by the late 1930s. Clearly, the potential existed for Stone & Son to have remained a respected manufacturer of professional level drums. The craftsmanship is proof of this. Yet rather than evolve with the times, George Lawrence Stone had chosen his company's fate. Having never fully modernized its production capabilities or instrument designs, Stone & Son was being left in the dust.

Very little had changed about the Geo. B. Stone & Son Master-Model drums since they were first introduced in 1922. Through the 1920s and into the 1930s, the industry had completely passed Stone by. While Leedy, Ludwig, and Slingerland had all moved to double post tube lugs, metal counterhoops, and state of the art snare mechanisms, Stone continued to use an impractical tuning system, wooden counterhoops, and a snare throw-off patented in 1909.

What is so stunning about this mid-late 1930s Master-Model aside from the brilliant chrome plated hardware and white marine pearl wrap, is just how well the whole instrument is constructed. There is absolutely nothing shoddy about the execution, nothing lacking in the way of quality workmanship to hint at Stone's long fading prowess as a drum builder.

Lee's mid - late 1930s WMP Stone Master-Model Drum

Smaller details about the drum do indicate that the end was near for Stone. The label fixed to the inside of the shell is actually a repair label. Faintly ink-stamped across the top of the label is the word "Manufactured". This is a clear sign that Stone was no longer producing a high volume of drums and that their priorities had shifted towards repair and maintenance of existing instruments. That a repair label rather than a manufacturers label was used on such a high end drum as this one speaks volumes about how late in the life of Geo. B. Stone & Son this drum was produced.

Stone did apparently have a few Master-Model badges left sitting around the shop, albeit the silver variety as opposed to the typical bronze badges with a recessed blackened background. The silver version applied here was typically reserved for special drums such as pearl wrapped models and the rare all-metal Master-Models.

Late 1930s George B. Stone & Son Drum Label

Late 1930s George B. Stone & Son Drum Label

Geo. B. Stone Master-Model Drum Badge

George B. Stone & Son Master-Model Drum Badge

There are a few interesting differences between this example and earlier Master-Model drums. The most dramatic is the use of ten 'lugs' per side (20 total) as opposed to twelve (24 total). Anything other than a twenty-four lug Master-Model is almost unheard of, the notable exception being the aforementioned all-metal Master-Models which employed metal counterhoops and only eight lugs per side.

Another subtle but profound difference here is the use of washers which lack the usual "STONE & SON / BOSTON MASS" stamping. This suggests that Stone's builders had run out of stamped washers and did not expect to churn out enough more Master-Models to warrant having another batch of washers made up with the Stone imprint.

Stone Master-Model Nuts and Washers ca. mid 1920s - mid 1930s

Stone Master-Model Nuts and Washers ca. mid 1920s - mid 1930s

Stone Master-Model Nuts and Washers ca. late 1930s

Stone Master-Model Nuts and Washers ca. late 1930s

Small signs of Stone keeping up with the times are evident in the use of chrome plating, and with the factory installation of a Leedy tone control. Ludwig and Leedy, both owned by Conn at this time, had begun installing tone controls on snare drums beginning in the early-mid 1930s.

It should also be noted that wrapped examples of Stone Master-Model drums are quite scarce. Most Master-Models featured a black lacquer finish. Next most common is a natural maple finish. A "Pyralin Master-Model" was offered as early as 1928, but the number of existing wrapped drums suggests that they were produced only in small numbers, likely on a custom order basis. These were expensive drums after all. A 1932 price list offered the Pyralin Master-Model for $50 which equates to more than $800 today.

As is typical for Stone, the four digit serial number is both imprinted inside of the shell and ink-stamped onto the label. A serial number in the 9600 range places this drum around 1936. A three digit Master-Model number is also stamped inside of the shell in a smaller font. The number, 820, is extremely high, the highest among more than four dozen other recorded examples again confirming just how late this drum was produced.

Stone Serial Number

George B. Stone & Son Serial Number

Stone Master-Model Number

Stone Master-Model Number

Most earlier Stone drums including Master-Models would have been outfitted with individual strands of snappy wire, wire wound silk, or natural gut. This being a drum from the late 1930s, the James Snappy Wires installed on the drum at present may well be original. New calfskin heads bring this drum back right back to 1936, just before Stone & Son was done for good.

Do you have a Stone Master-Model? I would love to hear about it! Shoot Lee an email at And for more on George B. Stone & Son and all of the early 20th century drum makers of Boston, Massachusetts, please visit