The story of John Grey banjos starts in the year 1830 when Jacob Solomon and his family left Exeter in Devon to settle in London and start a wholesale hardware business. Two years later, Jacob's son Henry started a fancy goods business (beads. costume jewellery and steel pen nibs) on his own. In the course of time, musical instruments were included in the Firm’s stock and a wholesale catalogue issued in 1860 by Henry Solomon & Co., of 134 & 31 Houndsditch and 27a Duke Street, included banjos ringing in price from: "No. 1, small size, each 3s. 6d." to "No. 8,, full size, pearl mounted, with vellum head and tuning screws richly inlaid, each £1 8s. 6d.
In 1861 Henry Solomon sold the musical instrument side of his business to Barnett Samuel, who had married his sister Caroline in 1849. Barnett Samuel lived in Sheffield and manufactured tortoiseshell (doorknobs, knife handles and combs but the musical instrument business appeared to offer him better prospects so he moved to London with his family and took over the warehouses at 31 Houndsditch and 27a Duke Street.
In 1869 Nelson Samuel (Barnett's third son) entered the business and eventually took a great part in the prosperity of the firm. The selling of musical instruments seems to have been a paying business for by 1872 Barnett's eldest son was taken into partnership and the title of the firm became Barnett Samuel & Sons. (It is some indication of how the business thrived to know that in 1872 Barnett Samuel moved his home from King Street in Finsbury to the more exclusive area of Clifton Gardens in Maida Vale.) The firm moved to 32 Worship Street, London, E.C. in 1878 and Nelson Samuel was given a partnership. He proved to be a force behind even greater expansion of the firm's activities. By then they were dealing with every type of musical instrument and musical merchandise-including banjos and zither-banjos made for them by the usual Birmingham and London factories.
In 1878 the firm opened the first English harmonium factory. Barnett Samuel died in 1882 but Nelson Samuel's guiding hand led the firm from strength to strength. There are no records of when they actually started to make banjos but in 1899 there is a record of the company importing "hundreds of banjo vellums from Germany for use in their factory." It would suggest they were already making banjos by this time. In 1901 Barnett Samuel & Sons became a limited liability company, with Nelson, Selim and Max Samuel as directors. By this time the firm was one of the largest musical instrument wholesalers in this country and, in addition, had established their own piano factory in North London.
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