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.

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.

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