Sunday, July 29, 2012

Descendants of George Lawrence Stone along with this blog continue to gain steam and have already lead to some interesting correspondences regarding the early 20th century Boston based drum companies, the innovative instruments they produced, and the people behind these companies. The latest to write in was a granddaughter of George Lawrence Stone. More on the Stone family in a second.

Many drummers today know George Lawrence Stone (1886 - 1967) only as the author of Stick Control, one of the most important method books ever written on snare drum technique. The most brilliant aspect of Stone's book is its simplicity which allows the sticking patterns contained within to be catered to nearly any style of drumming from orchestral to rudimental as well as on drumset. Stick Control was the first of its kind and has shaped the way that virtually all drummers practice today.

100 years ago, George Lawrence was better known as the son of George Burt Stone. The elder Stone was well known as a band director, drummer, teacher, and author, and in 1890 founded George B. Stone & Son. The younger George Lawrence grew his performing career through the early 1900s and 1910s as a member of the Boston Festival Orchestra and Boston Opera Company Orchestra, and as a businessman working as Junior Partner under his father at Geo B. Stone & Son. George Lawrence famously turned down contracts with the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the John Philip Sousa Band in order to tend to his obligations with the family business. When George Burt Stone passed away in 1917, George Lawrence assumed the helm at Geo. B. Stone & Son.

George Lawrence would oversee the company through prosperous times in the 1920s, but the company faded through the 1930s and fizzled completely by around 1940. The Stone Company's decline was spurred by many factors including the Great Depression, the advent of talking movies which put theater drummers out of work, and a shift in George Lawrence's focus more towards teaching and writing and away from producing and selling musical instruments. Also, the Stone Company never fully industrialized their manufacturing processes or their equipment on the level that would have been necessary to compete with the larger drum companies of the midwest. Stone's drum manufacturing equipment was eventually sold to Ralph Eames in 1950.
     George Lawrence Stone, ca. 1917
George Lawrence Stone, ca. 1917

The Stone Drum & Xylophone School thrived long after the manufacturing business was shuddered and for many years George Lawrence authored percussion columns in trade publications including Jacobs' Band Monthly and the International Musician. There was no Modern Drummer Magazine or Percussive Notes at that time so Stone's article's were one of the few regularly published resources for drummers. But George Lawrence Stone will probably be best remembered as the author of Stick Control first published in 1935.

Getting back to the descendants of George Lawrence Stone, his surviving grandchildren have recently come together to reclaim the copyrights to their grandfather's books. They have since been working to update old versions and make sure they are easily available everywhere. New re-engraved editions of Stick Control and Accents and Rebounds have already been completed and are available through the new family business, Stone Percussion Books LLC. Next up on their docket is The Dodge Drum Chart which was written by F. E. Dodge in 1908 and later edited and republished by George Lawrence Stone in 1928. The Stone Family is currently in search of an original copy of the book to be used in preparing a new edition. If you have one, you can contact them through their website.

And as always, if you have an instrument made by George B. Stone & Son INC., I'd love to hear from you! Send Lee an email at

Sunday, July 22, 2012

The Holy Grail

Every drum collector has one. It's the one they've always wanted but can't afford, or the one they've always searched for but never found. It's the ultimate rarity, the stunningly gorgeous eye catcher, the conversation piece worthy of even the most astute enthusiast's attention. And maybe it changes over the years depending on the focus of one's collecting.

At one point in time my Holy Grail was a Ludwig & Ludwig "Black Beauty" - a popular choice among drum collectors. I bought the drum pictured at right in the Summer of 2007. Dating from the early 1930s, this drum was produced while the company was under Conn ownership and not long before their engraved metal shell drums went out of production altogether. The brass shell is a heavy one-piece version with a factory installed tone control. Both of these elements along with the understated engraving pattern help date the drum roughly to 1932 - 1934, or so the Ludwig experts tell me.

But since the focus of my collecting has long since shifted to the Boston based makers of the early 1900s, so has my holy grail. Below is my current list of three such drums in reverse order. I know that at least two of the these three instruments actually exist....

3.) Pearl Covered Master-Model by George B. Stone & Son, ca. late 1920s.

Photo © 1996 by Harry Cangany
If this one looks familiar, it's because this drum is pictured in Harry Cangany's book The Great American Drums and the Companies That Made Them, 1920 - 1969. Cangany later sold the drum to a collector in Boston. I've met the owner, I've seen his collection, and I've held this very drum in my hands. And I can honestly say that it's real and it's spectacular!

I am also aware of a silver sparkle wrapped Master-Model which is presently in the grasps of another collector and, like the marine pearl drum in Boston, is not for sale. So alas, the search continues. Additionally, I have seen two separate pieces of ephemera documenting the existence of a Master-Model with chrome hardware and finished in "red pearl"! So I know that more examples of pearl wrapped Master-Models are out there. If you have one, we should talk!

UPDATE: A White Marine Pearl Master-Model has surfaced!!!

2.) All-Metal Master-Model by George B. Stone & Son, ca. 1925

Introduced in 1925 (after the publication of Catalog K in which there is no mention of such a drum) the All-Metal Master-Model was for all intents and purposes a Stone Master-Model built around an aluminum shell rather than the customary three-ply, 5/8" thick maple. Gladly, I can confirm that this drum exists even beyond second hand reports from two other credible collectors and even the press release pictured here.

I was contacted about a year and a half ago by an older gentleman who had an All-Metal Master-Model in his possession. The pics he emailed me were cropped and out of focus, but the proof was there. It looked to have possibly been painted but the knobby gold hardware really stood out from the cream colored shell. Unfortunately, our communications broke down and we fell out of touch. But at least I know that there is such a drum to be unearthed.

UPDATE: An All-Metal Master-Model has surfaced!!!

1.) Engraved Snare Drum by Charles A. Stromberg, ca. 1920s

I'd have to categorize this one as the rarest of the rare in terms of early 20th century Boston-made drums. It's little more than a myth to me really, but a very noteworthy collector claims that such a drum does in fact exist and that he has seen it with his own eyes. The tale of his encounter with this drum is amusing if nothing else as it involves an old-school curmudgeon living out of an un-airconditioned RV in the dead of summer at a swap meet. This all leads me to wonder exactly how credible the account really is. But what do I know? I wasn't there. In support of his claim, Stromberg was known for his high degree of craftsmanship and ornately detailed examples of Stromberg guitars and banjos are well documented.

So if by any wild chance you happen to come across one of these three drums, please get in touch with me! We'll work out a deal. And I promise you that no one will be more thrilled to bring in one of these instruments. As always, you can reach me by emailing

Friday, July 13, 2012

The Bower Practice Drum

Harry A. Bower was an active performer, teacher, author, and inventor in Boston during the early 1900s and into the 1920s. Bower's designs for new percussion instruments, while innovative, were often eccentric bordering on impractical. But this early practice pad, referred to by Bower as a "Practice Drum", has a certain simplicity about it. Bower, always the entrepreneur, apparently went so far as to patent this design and license it to Art C. Higham of Los Angeles, California for production.

Mike Curotto's Bower Practice Drum
Photo: Mike Curotto
Mike Curotto's Bower Practice Drum Label
Photo: Mike Curotto

Bower relocated from Boston to Southern California sometime in the early to mid 1920s. We know that much based just on the patents credited to Bower and the addresses he was using at the time for which the patents were applied. Once in California, Bower must have established a relationship with Hingham who, according to the paper label affixed to the underside of this example, was the "Sole Manufacturer of Bower Practice Drums, Drum Sticks and other drum specialties." The patent for Bower's "Practice Drum" was applied for on February 27th, 1919 and was granted on July 13th, 1920 which would be exactly 92 years ago today.

Pictured above is a very nice example of "The Bower Practice Drum" from collector Mike Curotto. The large black and white drawings below are from Bower's patent application, the full version of which is viewable online at

Harry A. Bower Practice Drum Patent

Do you have an instrument built by Harry A. Bower? I want to hear from you! Send Lee an email at

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Enes J. Nokes Genealogy

I get drum emails all the time. And I always enjoy hearing from other collectors or anyone who comes across an old drum. But I recently got a completely unexpected message unlike anything I had received before. The email was from the descendants of Enes J. Nokes, co-proprietor of Boston's Nokes & Nicolai from 1912 - 1926.

Through life events such as early death, second marriages, and children being raised by extended family, the person contacting me had long been separated from the Nokes family tree. But after running a web search for their ancestor, they arrived at my website to find a picture of their great grandfather staring back at them! After providing the emailer with more information and pictures, they remarked that they could see a strong resemblance to their father who was in fact the grandson of Enes J. Nokes.

While my interest in Nokes (or any of the other names behind the Boston Drum Builders for that matter) has never really extended beyond his involvement in the percussion industry, this made me stop and wonder. Who else would be interested in the information I gather beyond drum collectors?
       Enes J. Nokes, ca. 1915