Trash or Treasure: Vintage banjo example of 1920s craftmanship
“He kept it under his bed for 20 years,” Detroit News design writer Maureen Feighan told appraiser Jerry Anderson about her father and his 1920s banjo at a recent Trash or Treasure appraisal held downtown at DuMouchelles. “The banjo belonged to my dad, Dave. He wasn’t a musician, and didn’t play an instrument,” so why he acquired it has never been clear, she added.
She gave the appraiser and others gathered at the recent event additional information. “He got it from a friend – though I don’t know who – for doing this friend a favor. That’s really all I know… he kept it under his bed for years and never played it, though I remember him telling me it was a special banjo because it has a gold inlay. I always thought it was cool. Finally, in my 20s, I told him I thought it was too cool to be under his bed and I’d like to have it, so he gave it to me. I’ve kept it on a guitar stand in my bedroom for years.”
Anderson agreed that the piece was cool and identified it as a Ludwig Stratford Plectrum Banjo, circa 1925, adding that it was made in Chicago and features a walnut neck with ebony fingerboard and original black hard shell case. The hoop and rim are engraved with a floral design. A similar item listed on reverb.com, a music site, is described by the seller as a "beautiful example of Ludwig’s mid-1920s craftsmanship, made at the height of the jazz banjo era. The Stratford Plectrum Banjo (and its tenor sister the Bellevue) occupied the middle of the Chicago company's banjo line, but is an extremely ornate banjo considering its original $150.00 price.”
Anderson praised the quality, especially the figured walnut on the neck and resonator and the gold-plated tuner. Feighan added that she and her husband collect vintage instruments and “sometimes have a family band,” but that she remembers hearing the out-of-tune banjo played only once since she acquired it. “My mother-in-law Anita played it and she sounded pretty good. She is very musical and a wonderful piano player.”
Anderson said the years have been relatively kind to the instrument. “It’s missing a string but that’s really no big deal,” he added, appraising it at $500 to $700 at auction. “I guess all those years under bed paid off,” joked Feighan, adding that it was worth more than she thought.
She intends to keep it as family heirloom and pass it on to her own children. “My dad died in 2011 so it’s even more special now. It will never go under the bed again.”
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About this item
Owned by: Maureen Feighan
Appraised by: Jerry Anderson, DuMouchelles
Estimated value: $500 to $700