A Few Notes on the Genealogy of Vintage Banjo Manufacturers
Over the period 1880-1930, many banjo manufacturers came and went, but a few companies have identifiable familial connections. A few of these historically related companies are discussed below. Click on the links to see examples of particular banjos made by these manufacturers.
The Dobson brothers, Henry C. Dobson, George C. Dobson, C. Edgar Dobson, Edward C. Dobson, and Frank P. Dobson, were prominent banjo teachers and performers from the 1850's to the 1890's. Henry Dobson was the most innovative in terms of banjo design, but all had banjos manufactured under their names to be sold to students and others.
J. H. Buckbee (NY) (1861-1897), who made banjos for many retailers including (it is believed) George C. Dobson and Bruno, was sold to Rettberg & Lange in 1897. R&L produced the Orpheum line along with banjos sold under many other names, including Farland banjos. In the period around 1915-1920, they also made the Bacon Professional and Orchestra banjos sold by Fred Bacon. In 1922, R&L split up and and Lange formed his own company marketing the Paramount, Langstile, and Orpheum lines.
A. C. Fairbanks (1870-1880) made banjos under his own name until he joined with W. A. Cole in 1880 and produced the Fairbanks & Cole line until 1890, when they split up to form separate companies under their own names. Cole produced his own line, including the Cole’s Eclipse banjos until after 1910. The A.C. Fairbanks Co. produced its own line (and banjos for others including Robinson) until 1904 (although Fairbanks himself left the company in 1895), when a fire destroyed the Fairbanks factory and the company was sold to the Vega Company. Vega marketed banjos under the Fairbanks name until 1910, when they were labled “Fairbanks Banjo made by the Vega Company”. After 1922, they were simply labeled Vega. Vega also made some of the early Bacon Professional banjos.
S. S. Stewart produced his own line of banjos from 1878 until his death in 1898. He also produced the Acme Professional line sold by Sears starting in 1893. For a few years following Stewart's death, Stewart’s Sons combined forces with George Bauer, also of Philadelphia, to manufacture banjos, guitars, and mandolins. Stewart's Sons also manufactured 4S instruments in collaboration with Joseph Stern from about 1902-1914. Some of the S.S. Stewart's factory employees may have gone to work for Weymann, another Philadelphia banjo maker who first started producing banjos around the time of Stewart's death, as early Weymann 5-string banjos are very similar in design and execution to Stewart banjos (thanks to Mike Holmes for suggesting this link). The S.S. Stewart name appears on later instruments made by Puntolillo, among others.
David L. Day worked for the Fairbanks & Cole, Fairbanks, and Vega Companies, where he is credited with introducing both the Whyte Laydie and Tubaphone lines, as well as for the Bacon Company after Fred Bacon set up a manufacturing operation in Groton, CT, which marketed banjos under the Bacon and Bacon & Day monikers. There never was a Bacon & Day Company.
J.B. Schall (1878-1907)was a Chicago banjo maker who made many Schall-marked banjos and banjos marked with the names of noted performers and teachers, such as Denzel. Schall also made many unmarked banjos and sold parts to other makers. Some banjos marked Waldo, a performer whose banjos have been reported to have been made by the Burroughs Company located in Saginaw, MI, appear to have been made by Schall, or at least using Schall parts. I have seen other Waldo banjos that looked to be made by Buckbee.
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