The advent of sheet music, the American Civil war and the subsequent prosperity and growth of the USA created an environment in the last quarter of the 19thC when American music started to come of age.
Composers like Stephen Foster (born on 4th July 1826, the day both Jefferson and Adams died) were documenting American culture in music and what longevity his music has, ironically all becoming famous in the English speaking world long after his death, with songs like “Jeanie with the light brown hair” being a hit in the 1930’s.
When looking at the main banjo makers of the period in the US it is possible to date the development of particular styles and models from serial number records, but in the UK that is much harder as the Blitz wiped out a lot of manufacturing and the salvaging of 19th c banjo production records from the rubble of Birmingham or London was not high on the list of war time priorities.
The recent boom in the popularity of the 5 string banjo has led to the plethora of collectors digging up all sorts of attic residents from this bygone age and having them restored. Equally there are good restorers out there, sensitive to the instrument’s history, ready to bring them back to life.
Likewise at the time there were numerous small town makers, converted carpenters or metal workers who made maybe a few banjos a year, copying the popular local styles of the time. Some put their names on the instrument, and very few, the date it was made.
A recent restoration in Bob Smakula’s shop turned up a very pleasant surprise, the makers name and date, written on the neck, under the fret board! It was there, waiting to be discovered, almost 150 years later.
Research has failed to find out anything more about this individual, but what he did for us was to provide a categorical statement of a popular style of banjo, in NY, on that exact date. Thanks to Jacob T Noelsch, anyone know anymore about him? Another clue is in this well engineered hardware.