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

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