Wednesday, July 23, 2008

From the Drum Collection of Howard Reiff

A number of drums from the collection of Howard Reiff are pictured below. More information on Mr. Reiff is being sought and, when received, will be posted here. In the interim, we have the following photos, courtesy of Jim Ellis at Cooperman Fife & Drum Company. (See Worldly, Yes, but Marching To the Beat of a Local Company, by Carolyn Battista, New York Times, July 11, 2004).

Veteran Corps of Artillery Drum (1920s, maker unknown).
The symbol of the VCA:

A drum bearing the symbol of the VCA:

Couesnon & Company (Paris, France), post-1900, brass shell.

The Couesnon company was started in 1827, in Château Thierry, a small city on the Marne River, 50 miles east of Paris, an area traditionally associated with the making of brass instruments, according to Richard Dundas, in his book, Twentieth Century Brass Musical Instruments in the Twentieth Century (third edition). The company was purchased by the Couesnon family in 1883 and already had an outstanding reputation as a maker of fine instruments. The production included percussion, woodwinds (including double reeds), small and large brasses, and military bugles. Under the personal direction of Amedee Couesnon for 48 years, the company won many medals and awards for quality production and technical innovation.

They made many horns which were imported into the United States, including many that were sold under the names of music stores and other private labels.

By 1911, Couesnon had expanded to eleven factories and more than 1000 workers, meeting the needs of many performing groups and military bands. During this time the products were highly sought after and were played by many of the virtuosos at the time. Although they made virtually any musical instrument, during the 1930s they began catering to "Fanfare bands" (marching brass bands very popular at the time), and gradually became almost the only supplier of marching brass instruments in France. At this same time, prior to the war, the Couesnon trumpet factory in Paris was located right next door to the F. Besson trumpet factory, where the premiere trumpets prior to World War II were made. Curiously, the Couesnon trumpets of the time look virtually identical to the F. Besson models.


John Stratton (1860-1862 est.), 16" x 11" shell, star inlay, bone vent hole grommet.

G.W. Quick 1909, 14" x 9" shell, 2 ply, birds eye maple shell.

Abner Stevens 1840, 16" x 13" shell, painted star, tack design, original label, press-fit gut.

Abner Stevens 1811, 15" x 11" shell, single row of copper tacks at seam overlap.

Monday, July 21, 2008

When is a brown drum a Brown drum?

Frederick A. Hesketh, Town Historian, Bloomfield, Connecticut, author of a four-page summary of "The Browns of Wintonbury, Makers of Brown Drums", and a 59 page detailed version available from The Wintonbury Historical Society writes:

Susan Cifaldi[*] has devoted [many] years to a search of authentic Brown Drums. She has uncovered many but also believes that a lot of “fakes” have been created. Cifaldi relates that a member of an old drum corps “… sought to alleviate the dismay that arose at the demise of the famous drum shop. He made several replicas so closely mimicking the originals that it is difficult to tell the impostor from the genuine article.” It is also suspected that he was aided by a fellow drummer, a printer by trade, who replicated the Brown labels.

Cifaldi’s extensive research has identified more than 90 Brown Drums still in existence, including the eight in the possession of the Museum of Fife and Drum operated by the Company. Others, in addition to those in the hands of the Mattatuck and Moodus drum corps are in the Smithsonian Institute, Nathan Hale Homestead (Coventry, CONN.), Connecticut Historical Society, West Point Museum, Alexander King House (Suffield CONN.), Buffalo/Erie County Historical Society and our own Wintonbury Historical Society. The remaining drums are in private collections.

The mystery of when the first drum was made may never be solved. Virtually all known and verified Brown Drums have a distinctive label and date inside the drum opposite the air hole. The earliest date known to the Company of Fifers and Drummers is 1810 and bears serial No. 108 and the name B. E. & M. Brown, believed to be Benjamin, Eli, and Moses.

[Note: It would be good to have a photographic inventory (on the Internet) of all of the drums identified by Cifaldi.]

First, what do Brown drums look like? Well, those I've found described on the Internet are generally big and have elaborate tack patterns. Here are some examples.

(Center Drum: NMM 10039. Side drum by Eli Brown & Son, Bloomfield, Connecticut, 1841. Printed on paper label inside drum shell, visible through vent hole: ELI BROWN & SON. / DRUM MANUFACTURERS, / HAVE CONSTANTLY FOR SALE / BASS AND SNARE DRUMS / MADE IN THE NEATEST AND BEST MANNER / Bloomfield, Conn. 1841. Maple shell, natural finish, 495mm (19-1/2") x 471mm (18-1/2"). Rope tension. Ten leather tugs. Wood rims painted red, with holes drilled for the rope to pass through. Brass snare adjuster. William F. Ludwig II Collection, 2001. Lit.: Jayson Dobney, "Museum Enhances its Percussion Collections with Rare Instruments That Document the American Percussion Industry," America's Shrine to Music Museum Newsletter, Vol. 29, No. 1 (February 2002), pp. 4-5. -------, Innovations in American Snare Drums 1850-1920, M.M. Thesis (Vermillion: University of South Dakota, 2003), pp. 105-107.)

(Reported to Have Been Made by Eli Brown of Bloomfield, Ct. in 1840. 18" d x 16" h, The Civil War Fife and Drum Page)

Nominal Size: 26 x 25 maple shell drum with diamond and circle tack pattern and ivory rimmed vent hole circa 1820. Possibly made by Eli Brown, 1st Brigade Band, Wisconsin.

And this drum: It's a brown drum, but is it a Brown drum? The handwritten label (post-1911) clearly reads "F. Brown, Amsterdam, NY / 1829" but the printed label does read "BENJAMIN BROWN". Cifaldi wrote me by email that the drum is "likely to have been made by Benjamin Brown, given that the printed label appears to be a legitimate Brown label and Benjamin was making drums in 1829."

(Evert Oathout's Drum: Approx 18 ½ in diameter and 13 ½ tall including rims)

Who Were the Browns?
The Browns were a family of Connecticut Valley (Windsor area) farmers, coopers and tanners, generations of whom (possible as early as the Revolution) made drums, among other things (including many children) -- good drums, some say the Stradivarius of field drums. (Source: draft unpublished research paper by Cifaldi) (John Brown the abolistionist was a family member, Hesketh (below), p. 1.)

"Vintage Drum Time Line, Major American Drum Manufactures of the 20th Century Principals and Companies," reports that Eli Brown & Son, of Windsor, Connecticut succeeded to Porter Blanchard, Concord, N.H., the first drum maker on the American continent to make military parade drums. (Porter Blanchard drums are the subject of other articles on this blog. See "Civil War or Earlier "Porter Blanchard" of Concord, New Hampshire", "1841 Porter Blanchard Snare Drum on eBay is Talking, But What is it Saying?".) However, Hesketh suggests that Blanchard's work was preceded by the Brown family, as early as the Revolution.

Cifaldi wrote by email "re Porter Blanchard, I know of no direct (or indirect, for that matter) connection between Porter Blanchard and the Browns. From my research, it appears that the Browns succeeded no one and simply made drums because they wanted to, the two younger makers (Moses and Eli Sr.) perhaps receiving instruction from their fathers (both coopers). At least one young Brown, William, apparently devoted himself to drum-making as a calling, if his probate papers are any indication, but as for the other Brown participants it seems to have been more of an adjunct to their primary occupations of farmers and artisans (based on probate information). Also, Blanchard was not "the first" to make military field drums. See Performing Arts in Colonial American Newspapers, and there is a John Rogers making drums in Middletown, CT in 1774. Doubtless there are others if we look hard enough for them."

Also see The Company of Fifers And Drummers: Ivoryton, CT, and Moodus Drum and Fife Corps, Moodus, CT.

Many of the drums in the collection of The Mattatuck Drum Band, Waterbury, CT, are by Eli Brown family of Windsor, Connecticut made from 1820 to 1840.

And, see "Brown Drums at Yale", by Joe Gillott.

Is this a Brown Drum (or perhaps an Abner Stevens)?: I don't know. If you do, or have any thoughts on the question, please feel free to contact us.

The drum has just returned from Cooperman Drum Company where this beauty received new flesh hoops, counterhoops, tugs, snares, heads and a rope carry (the original counter hoops, now in storage, were in sad shape, partially broken). The tack pattern bears some resemblance to known Brown drums but it is not anywhere near identical. The tack crosses at the 12 o'clock and 7 o'clock positions might be a clue.

If you have any ideas, please feel free to let us know.

* Susan Cifaldi*, former Music Librarian and Assistant Archivist (1987 to 2005) of The Company of Fifers and Drummers, Ivoryton, Connecticut, reputed to be an expert on the subject of Brown Drums, has published on this subject. Our treatment here is intentionally limited to pointing out some sources, assembling some photos and asking some questions. Susan was a fifer for the Nathan Hale and Westbrook Drum Corps and currently plays the fife in the North Branford Ancients. Susan has published several articles, encyclopedia entries, and other essays on the history and traditions associated with fifing and drumming and in 1989 co-authored with Bob Castillo Benjamin Clark's Drum Book, a practical edition of the original 1797 manuscript. She has also participated in several research projects, includng The Performing Arts in American Newspapers 1690 - 1783 (1997) and Early American Secular Music and Its European Sources, 1589 - 1839, An Index (2002).

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Large Tacked Snare Drum

Now this drum is large -- 21" diameter, 21" height (including counterhoops) (shell measures 20-1/2" diameter, 17-1/2" height). It dwarfs the other drums in my collection, some of them 17" diameter Civil War originals. (Side by side it looks twice as big.)

At first we thought it might be a bass drum. But it was just slightly shy of bass drum dimensions to qualify. And then telltale snare depresions were found in one of the counterhoops and what could be a snare bed (or part thereof) on one of the edges of the shell. There were no screw holes indicative of a long gone snare mechanism. And, based on the size and tack construction of this drum, we were not surprised as pressed snares were a possibility.

Based on the size, construction, tack pattern, drilled counterhoops and condition of this drum, we are estimating pre-Civil War, early 19th century, possibly earlier. Maker unknown.

If you have any opinions/information, please share them with us.

Before: Deceptive, this drum's hidden beauty was not well represented by this photo from eBay (item no. 170214783047). Just a shell, two red (faded to almost orange) drilled counterhoops (one broken), two flesh hoops. (The snare notch in the underside of the red counterhoop is visible at the center of the photo.)

After: After a stay at Cooperman Drum Company in Bellows Falls, Vermont, new drilled counter hoops, flesh hoops, heads, snare, ropes and tugs, voila:

Monday, July 14, 2008

Letters from Readers: Unnumbered Red Wm. S. Tompkins Drum

Compare with 1862 Tompkins Drum (restored by Cooperman Drum Company):
Not quite the same inlay pattern but similar.

Wm. S. Tompkins & Sons
Yonkers, NY
Drums of All Sizes Made to Order

Dave Watts wrote:


After reading the blog on Wm. Tompkins & Sons drums [see Tompkins 1860-1863 Masterpiece Drums -- Where Are They Now?; Old Tompkins Drum Surfaces on Internet (here), and other articles -- use the search feature top left to find more], I thought I would write to let you know I also have one. It is in excellent condition and all original except for replaced rope and 3 tugs. The shell and rims are really nice with bright colors and with a couple of small hairline cracks. Heads are original, heavily faded but not stained, torn or wrinkled. It has 3 rows of stars and and diamonds circling the percussion hole -- typical with Tompkins drums -- and has the hand-written inscription on the inside of the shell and dated 1863. It measures 16.75" in diameter and 15.25" in height. It also has the original gut snares and strainer.

I purchased this drum approximately 20 years ago when I was on a mission to find a nice drum. Other than the Wm. Tompkins & Sons drums listed on this site and the one shown in Garofalo's book on Civil War Musical Instruments, the only other I saw was the presentation Tompkins drum* displayed at the Smithsonian [not this] reportedly used for Lincoln's Funeral.

I could not find a "2" written on my drum.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading the articles on the blog and now have it in my favorites. Feel free to contact me with any questions.

Thanks again.

*Dave added the following information in a follow-up email:

I saw the Tompkins drum approximately 4 years ago on display in a special Lincoln exhibit. It was definitely a Wm. S. Tompkins and Sons drum as indicated by the display sign and I also looked through the vent hole and observed the inscription. [See reference in "The Nation’s Flagship History Museum Explores a Uniquely American Office – The Presidency – in Exhibition of Unprecedented Size and Scope", November 14, 2000.] It may not be on display at the present time but was definitely there for that exhibit. A letter to the Museum of American History should confirm this.

Drum Played at Lincoln's Funeral:
Following up on Dave Watts' lead, we found the following on the website of the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History:

This drum and drumsticks were used at Lincoln's funeral. Mourning for Abraham Lincoln combined the use of traditional military rites, the need for official governmental commemoration, and the desire to provide a means for the public expression of grief. As his body was transported to his hometown of Springfield, Illinois, the two-week-long funeral procession retraced the train journey Lincoln had taken to Washington as president-elect, allowing one million Americans to pay their respects to "the savior of the Union." In many of the cities the train passed through there were parades to honor Lincoln. "Life and Death in the White House, Abraham Lincoln".

The drum pictured looks as if it bears only a single 10-point inlay rather than the concentric circles of small stars and diamonds marking other Tompkins drums. The star pattern is more characteristic of drums by other makers (e.g., Eisele, Sempf, Soistmann) discussed elsewhere in this blog. (See "Drums with Inlaid Stars", April 16, 2008.) Based on the foreging we emailed the National Museum of American History to see whether we can get a more complete set of photos for our readers. We hope to receive a reply:

Dear Ms. Machado,

I write and publish a blog on rope field drums (please see It is the only web-based collection of information on the topic.

Recently a reader wrote to me saying that he saw the drum in the NMAH's exhibit concerning Lincoln's funeral. The reader mentioned that he saw the drum at that exhibit attributed to Wm. S. Tompkins, Yonkers, NY. We have several articles on our blog about that maker, and several about drums with inlaid stars. However, the drum in your exhibit is the only drum we know of with what appears to be a single 10-point star attributed to Tompkins. All of the others feature concentric circulse of small stars and diamond shapes.

Would it be possible to get a fairly complete set of photos of your drum, including photos taken through the vent hole showing the handwritten inscription typical of all Tompkins drums that we know about?

Thank you.

Ellis R. Mirsky

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Improved Roller Cord Hooks from Leedy

The Complete History of the Leedy Drum Company: The World's Largest Drum Company

This is the fascinating story of professional drummer, inventor, and industrialist Ulysses Leedy and his apartment-based drum company that became the world's largest manufacturer of percussion equipment. Features many photos documenting the company's interesting history. A must for all collectors and drum enthusiasts!
By Rob Cook
Exclusively distributed by Hal Leonard Pub. Corp., ©1993.
ISBN:0931759749 : 9780931759741

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Eagle Drum, 13th Penn., Co. G and Identified Drum Sticks

Price not stated.

Michael Simens
Pohle was in the 178th for its full two years of service, 8/63 to 11/65, all of it in the deep South taking their greatest casualties at Pleasent Hill during the Red River campaign. $1,250.00

Stamford Historical Society Drum

The first item on the right in the Halliday Gallery which catches the eye is a drum which belonged to Charles M. Gill, 1st Regiment. Connecticut Volunteers, Heavy Artillery. Peering through a hole in the side one can see the maker’s name John F. Stratton & Co., Manufacturers of Military Band Instruments, of Every Description. No. 49, Maiden Lane, N.Y. Gill later worked at the Stamford Stove Foundry on Canal Street and lived on Bedford Street in a house next to the donor, Mrs. Thomas F. Hogan.

The Stamford Historical Society, Inc.
Stamford's Civil War: At Home and in the Field -- a 2003 Exhibit and more
Virtual Tour: The HALLIDAY GALLERY – I

Drum with Portraits of Civil War General

Collectors Firearms
3301 Fondren Suite O,
Houston, Texas 77063
Tel(713)781-1960 FAX (713)781-6407

Listing Item 2950

Note: Terry Cornett, a featured artist and Principal Percussionist with Huntsville Symphony Orchestra (Terry is also a drum maker and restorer, and owner of Heritage Drum Company) wrote in to say that he remembers having seen this drum on eBay around 2002 and that at the time, the description mentioned that the image was a likeness of General Meade.

The drum also features a mounted soldier with baggy pants reminiscent of the Zouaves.

Civil War Drum Returns to Carroll County, Virginia

Photo from Carroll County Historical Society Website

Reprinted from

From: Freddie Spradlin
Subject: Civil War Drum Returns to Carroll County
Date: Wed, 30 Dec 1998 20:05:57 -0500 (EST)

Thanks to:
Mary A Sutphin
for forwarding this to me [Freddie Spradlin].

I think the folks who originate in Carroll will be interested in this. Especially those who had relatives in 29th VA. Infantry. This is from "The Carroll News," Wed. Dec. 30th. Very condensed. "Civil War Drum returns to the county where it was made." "A part of Carroll County's Civil War history was recently returned to the county through the efforts of of the Carroll County Citizens Committee for Historic Preservation. Gary Marshall explained, court clerk Wheatly spotted in an estate auction a listing for a Civil War era snare drum made in Carroll County.

The auction was held in Charlottesville. Marshall describes the drums history as uniquely tied to Carroll County.

"Joshua Mabry, a wheelwright, whose business was was just east of Hillsville, made the drum. When the Civil War started and units were recruited, the drum was taken with Company D, 29th VA. Infantry, where Alfred Gardner, another Carroll native served as company drummer throughout the war. Gardner, 1837-1925 described how he would wake the company with his drum. Another family story recalls a goose being grabbed by Gardner and stuffed inside one of the drums he used on the march near Lynchburg.

When the war ended in 1865, Gardner walked home carrying the drum, just as he had done four years through the war. The late John Perry Alderman wrote the definitive history of the 29th VA. Inf., which reflects the journey of the snare drum, as it reflects the battle action of the 29th." Marshall states, "It (the drum) represents an aspect of the heritage of our county. It makes concrete the hallowed memory of a definitive period in the formation of our American nation. For this drum, even in defeat, once voiced the sounds of war, a war that shaped a divided people into the United States of America."

P.R. Winn, Drummaker

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