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 And for more on the early 20th century snare drum makers of Boston, Massachusetts please visit

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 And for more on Ditson and many other Boston based drum makers of the early 20th century, please visit

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 And for more on the early 20th century snare drum makers of Boston, Massachusetts please visit