The  early banjos - wooden tops

Springers musical instrument collection


In 1846 William Temlett established a factory in London  making 6 & 7 string banjos and is thought to be amongst the first regular makers in the UK. These were regular style banjos.

Little is documented about banjos prior to 1840s. It is generally accepted that the instrument was developed from African Americans based on gourd bodied banjos sometimes known as strum strums. Membrane (skin resonators) instruments are known earlier in Asia, from Persia to Japan. Banjos made before the 1840s were either made by their players or commissioned one off instruments. The first recorded banjo maker was William Boucher of Baltimore.  It is known that a certain Joe Sweeny, a banjo playing  musical hall performer came from the USA to England in early 1840s and gained much popularity with his blackened up ,performances. It is said that his influence started  the banjo craze. Apparently he would not let anyone inspect his Boucher and quickly put it away after each performance. The result was would be banjo players made drawings or described what they wanted to instrument makers with various interpretations. A guitar made a six string “banjo” with a wooden table (left), another an elaborate “Casino” banjo but with standard 5 strings and a Boucher style head, but still no velum, often not with a round pot various interpretations were produced.

There were banjos made it seems before Sweeny’s appearance in England. There may well have been separate developments of banjos before him.  English made banjos are predominantly 6 and 7 string in the mid 19th century.  A 9 string banjo ( 3 octave strings) and 13 string English banjo exist (ex Ruben Greene collection) which could be an interpretation of a harp guitar. ( eg  Light c1815)  

 In 1846 William Temlett established a factory in London  making 6 & 7 string banjos and is thought to be amongst the first in the UK.


A contemporary reconstruction of a tack head gourd banjo of 1830s-40.


5 string "Cassino" banjo, (left)so called because of its decoration. circa 1840

 Wooden top banjo circa 1840s, later  "modernised" with frets and tuners.(right)


A Pollman 5 string banjo mandolin of the 1880s. A short lived revival of wooden top banjos. Vega also produced one with a standard banjo pot  in the 1920s-30s.


Early 20th century  four string  bass banjo by Clifford Essex.


This page is part of a collection of instruments for reference and interest.  For items to purchase see the links at the bottom of the page. Thank you

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