Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Tompkins 1860-1863 Masterpiece Drums -- Where Are They Now?

[Ed. Note: This post on 7 known remaining Tompkins drums (1861-1863) turned out to be a larger project than I initially expected. But the collection of information about the drums of Wm. S. Tompkins in one place was worth the effort.]


Who was Wm. S. Tompkins? The 1870 Yonkers census contains a record (p. 611a) of Wm. S. Tompkins, "Drum Maker" listing him as having been born in New York, 58 years old (so b. 1812). Ten years earlier, in 1860, when some of the discussed below drums were made, he would have been 48 years old.

We know he was a craftsman, fond of elaborate inlaid circular patterns of five-pointed stars and diamonds, centered about a bone grommet vent hole. Some patterns were more elaborate than others, but his style is unmistakable.

The October 28, 1880 edition of The New York Times reported a large torch light parade in downtown Yonkers during the evening of October 27, 1880 with many bands and other units parading, among them the Tompkins Drum Corps. Perhaps Tompkins was associated with that drum corps, or it was named after him.

Where are the drums of Wm. S. Tompkins? Well, I can account for six of them. Each one bears the unmistakable imprint of a fine craftsman, William S. Tompkins of Yonkers, New York. Below is one in my collection.

And at least three (but perhaps all) of them bear the same handwritten inscription (including a drum number which varied from drum to drum):

Wm. S. Tompkins & Sons
Yonkers, N.Y.
Drums of all sizes made to order

As shown in the photographs below, there is no snare hardware at all on this drum. The snares were tucked in and pulled down along with the heads. Imagine how difficult that was to perform. [Ed. Note: We took some liberties in refurbishing this drum, including using polished brass hooks -- I know, a real "no no" for authenticiy bugs. What appears to be the hooks Tompkins used can be seen on some of the drums pictured below.]

Below is the same drum as above photographed when I acquired it in 2006 and before Jim Ellis at Cooperman Drum Company in Vermont turned back the clock to 1862 and brought this beauty back to playability and life.


I was delighted to see this beautiful 1863 presentation drum by Wm. S. Tompkins fetch $3,000.00 at auction recently on eBay (#150213786096). In addition to the drum, the buyer (an accomplished rudimental drummer and avid collector) will also receive a copy of the National Archives' military and pension records for J.W. Kemp, the person to whom the drum was presented. Nice deal.

And, interest at that price level was not limited to the buyer. Two other bidders bid in excess of $2,500. Due to eBay's ridiculous practice of masking bidders' names on some of our drum auctions, it is difficult to identify the other bidders.

The above 1863 J.W. Kemp presentation drum was described on eBay as follows:


"Authentic Civil War Snare Drum. This drum has a silver-plated presentation shield attached that reads "Presented to J.W. Kemp Principal Musician by the Staff & Commissioned Officers of the 14th Regiment Indiana Volunteers As a mark of their respected esteem February 1862.

"The inside contains a paper tag that reads "INDIANA PIANO FORTE Ware Room and Music Store, Willard & Stowell, NO 4 Bates House Indianapolis, IND.

"There is additional small type advertising on the tag that is difficult to read. I believe the manufacturer is Wm. S. Thompkins & Sons of Yonkers N.Y., based on almost identical inlaid design seen in "A Pictorial History of Civil War Era Musical Instruments & Military Bands" by Robert Garofalo & Mark Elrod, on page 43 and another example from the National Music Museum as seen at

"I have [spoken] with another owner of a similar Thompkins drum [Ellis Mirsky] that has the same red, white and blue rims [See our group's icon photo]. The ropes, leather pulls and calfskin heads have been replaced approximately 25 years ago. Catgut snares and attached leather stops are probably replacements.

"The shell is slightly depressed just above the presentation shield and has a smudge and a few light scratches. Just to the left of the center inlaid work is a small ding that broke through the outer shell layer but it doesn't go all the way through. Otherwise the shell is in excellent condition with slight wear. The joint seam is tight and straight. Overall height is 15" and overall diameter is 18".

"The gentleman I bought it from was an 80 year old former re-enactor that purchased the drum from a fellow re-enactor at Billie Creek Indiana in about 1975.

"The Billie Creek gentleman said when he was a very small child, he played with the drum as his father plowed the field for an old lady who was J. W. Kemp's daughter-in-law. The old lady gave it to the little boy as payment for the father's work. The locale and chronology makes since.

"I have obtained the full Military and pension records for J.W. Kemp from the National Archives. The full copies are included in the sale."


"NMM 10,141. Side drum by W. S. Tompkins, Yonkers, New York, 1860. Handwritten inside shell: Wm S. Tompkins / Maker / Yonkers NY / July 31 1860 / No 2190. William F. Ludwig II Collection, 2002."

"Engraved on a silver-plated shield: Presented to / Tm. J. Hellrigle / by S. Cieighead D. Iddings / And others of the City of / Dayton Ohio / August 20. 1860. Ornately inlaid mahogany shell featuring a field of stars in concentric circles around a large central star. Ten leather tugs cut in the shape of shields, each with the initials T. J. H. engraved on a small silver-plated shield on the tug."


Wm. C. Streetor / Co. F 7th Inf'y E.M.M. / July, 1863
(Collection of the Missouri Historical Society)

Note: E.M.M. stands for Enrolled Missouri Militia. Click here for a brief history of the E.M.M..

I am informed by Jeff Meyer, a curator at the Missouri Historical Society who graciously provided additional information about the Streetor drum, that the drum has a silver plate on its face engraved “W.S. TOMPKINS / MAKER / YONKERS, NY”. Also, inside the shell is handwritten in script “Wm. S. Tompkins & Sons / Makers / Yonkers, N.Y. / Drums of all sizes made to order / June 1st / 1863”.

Who was Wm. C. Streetor? Sgt. Major Wm. C. Streetor's service record states that Sgt. Major Wm. C. Streetor was transferred from the 7th to the 13th Reg't, E.M.M. Sept. 25, 1864 in St. Louis and relieved of duty Nov. 3, 1864. The service record is online at the Missouri Secretary of State's website, Soldiers Database: War of 1812 - World War I, Record Group: Office of Adjutant General; Series Title: Record of Service Card, Civil War, 1861-1865; Box 80; Reel: s774.

This information from Missouri History Museum:

"Both Union and Confederate army regulations authorized each infantry company to have two musicians, usually a drummer and fifer. Drums were used to signal camp duties and battle orders, maintain the rhythm of the march, and entertain troops in band concerts; and because both factions believed themselves to be the protectors of liberty, patriotic signs and symbols adorned northern and southern military paraphernalia. This drum features an ornately inlaid shell with a popular concentric star design similar to those on other drums made by William S. Tompkins of Yonkers, NY.

"St. Louisan William C. Streetor used this particular rope-tension snare drum in the Civil War."

[Ed. Note: The surviving examples of such ornate drums, like this one, bear an inscribed presentation plate. It appears that such drums were presented at the conclusion of service or in honor of some contribution made by the recipient. I wonder whether such pretty drums were actually used in service, especially in war. The condition of this drum, in particular, from what can be seen in the photo, appears to be very good, consistent with little or no actual use, save a couple of what look like hoop dents possibly caused by intended or accidental rim shots with hardwood sticks.]

"Streetor, a sign writer and painter, joined the 7th Regiment of the Enrolled Missouri Militia (E.M.M.), one of several Unionist militia organizations in the divided state of Missouri. He was relieved of duty in November 1864 with the rank of sergeant major, having served 3 months."

[Ed. Note: Streetor was mustered out from the 13th Regiment after 3 months of service. His service record indicatest that he was transferred from the 7th Regiment to the 13th Regiment. His rank (Sgt. Major) is suggestive of more than 3 months service. Also, his drum bears the marking of the 7th Regiment, and the date July, 1863. My guess is that the drum was presented to Streetor by his friends or by officers in the 7th Regiment upon his first retirement which would have been from the 7th Regiment possibly in July, 1863.]

"Streetor served earlier in the war as a drum major with the 3rd Regiment, U.S. Reserve Corps.

"The drum was a gift of Kate Streetor."

Possible Assembly Error: What is that metal (brass?) attachment on the top of the counter hoop? Sure looks like the bottom of a screw-type snare mechanism (can't tell without a side view). If it is the bottom of a screw-type snare mechanism, it doesn't belong there (it belongs on the bottom counter-hoop facing inward; Tompkins' red, white (in this case clear) and blue counter hoops always had red on the outside, white (or clear) in the middle and blue on the inside moving longitudinally along the vertical axis). Here the paint pattern tells us that the counterhoops are installed correctly. Could it be that someone attached the bottom of a Civil War era snare mechanism upside down and confused the top with the bottom counter hoop? A curator at the Missouri Historical Society, who generously gave me some of his time over the phone and who was kind enough to take a second look at the drum in his possession at my request, confirmed that the metal attachment is not a drum carry. Wish we could get some better and more comprehensive photos.

(pictured in The Civil War Fife and Drum Page)

See for a similar drum.

So, that's five drums, and I promised you six.

The sixth Wm. S. Tompkins drum of which I am aware is pictured at p. 43 of "A Pictorial History of Civil War Era Musical Instruments & Military Bands" by Robert Garofalo & Mark Elrod. When I have a chance to scan it in, I will and we'll have in one place (in a virtual sense) for the first time since perhaps 1862, six drums by a very special craftsman whose work lives on well past his mortal self.

Bonus Round:

Jeff Meyer of the Missouri Historical Society wrote in an email to me: "The drum I told you about at Campus Martius was made by Tompkins in 1863 and presented to William G. Jewell, Co. I, 18th Ohio Volunteer Infantry. There is no silver presentation plate on it, but around the inlay is painted, “The JEWELL of Co. I / Presented to Wm. G. Jewell by Co. I, 18th O.V.I”. The museum is in Marietta, Ohio and is maintained by the Ohio Historical Society."

# # #

[Ed. Note: April 11, 2008. Drum enthusiast Terry Cornett of Heritage Drum Company emailed today to point out that another Tompkins drum has surfaced on eBay (#180230021879)

Described by the auction house (Pook & Pook, Inc., 463 East Lancaster Ave., Downingtown, PA United States 19335, 610.269.4040) as follows:

"Civil War mahogany drum with red hoops and inlaid star decoration, the inside inscribed ''Wm. L. Tompkins & Sons Makers Yonkers, NY Drums of all sizes Made to order June 1st 1861'', 14 3/4'' h., 18'' w."

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Not Our Usual Fare -- Alfaia Drums from Brazil

What is an Alfaia?

Alfaias are bass drums from Pernambuco, a State on the Northeast of Brazil, where they are used in maracatu, mangue, and related music forms.

Well-known regional artists such as Chico Science & Nacão Zumbi and Mestre Ambrosio use them in their performances and recordings. They are also known as surdos de cordas (rope surdos), and are included in the class of bass drums called bombos, which includes surdo drums and zabumbas as well. The largest alfaias are called alfaia marcacao up to 20".

Medium-sized drums are called alfaia "de vira" up to 16" and 18". These drums are similar to surdos and may be an ancestor of their popular urban cousins. The first feature one notices that sets them apart from surdos is the rope tuning. The two cow leather - or goat hide heads are clamped to the wooden body with thick wooden hoops. The hoops are threaded with rope which is used for tensioning the heads.

Alfaias are played with distinctly-shaped fat wooden drumsticks; sometimes the stick in the dominant hand is a little larger than the one used in the weak hand. Their construction is similar to 19th Century US and European military drums, bombos, and other Latin American wooden bass drums.

They often have a rustic, natural look, but I also have seen them in many brilliant colors. Alfaias are very famous in Brazil and it getting popular around the world. We have made instruments that have been sold not only to maracatu groups but also to musicians in Europe, Americas and Asia.

Alfaia Construction Alfaias are made of wood with leather heads. The heads are held in place with wooden rings called counter hoops. This is the same basic construction as the bass drum in drum kits. The rings are tensioned against the drum shell by ropes. The shell itself is of wood.

The two cow- or goathide heads are clamped to the wooden body with thick wooden hoops threaded with rope which is used for tensioning the heads. Alfaias are played with distinctly-shaped fat wooden drumsticks.

They are usually between 16", 18” and 20" in diameter. Playing an Alfaia Traditionally strapped over the shoulder, alfaias are played with a distinctive technique. Because it is worn opposite the players dominant hand, the drum is in an awkward position for the weak hand. Players hold the weak-hand drumstick inverted to get the proper attack on the head. In some mangue bands, such as Nacão Zumbi, the alfaia-players wear the drums strapped around the waist, much like surdos in Bahia.

Alfaia 18" marquetry technique protected by clear varnish finish and baquetas (drumsticks), hand made by Mestre Ruy Pessoa. Drums come in Imbuya and Marfim wood made using marquetry technique (Gustavo Pessoa 415-375-1699 San Francisco, California)
See eBay #230224548342.

Their website is under development at These drums are available in Brazil and just starting to become available outside of Brazil.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Old Drum Sold for $511 on eBay -- What Were They Thinking?

Described in eBay (#160207957265) as follows:

Although I'm unsure of the age or origin of this drum, one person I showed it to suggested it was 150 years old or civil war era. The fantastic drum measures about 12 1/2" tall and 18 1/2" across. The drum is in as found condition, salvaged from an old barn with many other old things. Obviously, it needs a professional cleaning, as I have not attempted to clean it in any way for concern of damaging the drum further. It still has bird droppings on it. I'll leave the cleaning to the next owner. The drum shows its age, being in fair/average condition. The cat-gut sinew ?? covering is busted on both sides but it still can create a sound. The drum shows some small cracks, nicks, and general light damage. The drum features a stunning bird'seye maple veneer, old red paint, metal clips, a brass ??, and interesting rope/twine. It still has vestiges of leather something on the rope. Overall, a neat piece of Americana.

This puppy drew a bit of a crowd: 19 bids from 11 different bidders, including 3 smipers, one of whom won the auction at $511.00.

What were they thinking? This drum is in truly ratty condition. Only a remnant of the snare mechanism remains (a base screwed into the bottom counterhoop), no snares, no snare twist screw, broken heads, rusted hooks, clothes line rope.

Redeeming features are limited: possibly bird's eye maple exterior vineer, red painted lapped counter hoops, and large size -- 18-1/2 inches in diameter (very nice) and 12-1/2 inches tall, 15 hooks on each counterhoop. And, sure, highly likely a Civil War era (or earlier) drum.

But still, $511? I don't get it. If you do, or better yet, if you are one of the bidders, please comment and let us know what made that drum so valuable?

P.R. Winn, Drummaker

An article by W. Lee Vinson, author and publisher of and . For Lee's story about ...