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).


  1. I have an old drum with the label inside as follows:
    "Eli Brown
    Drum Manufacturer
    Bass and Snare Drums
    made in the neatest and best manner
    Windsor, Conn. 1827
    "Heads set over by Chas S Miller Sept 12 1879"
    I had the drum redone by Drum Brothers in Arlee Montana, 3/05. Heads, rope, ears, rope is hemp

    Any comments. Jim Doolittle, Florence, MT

  2. I spoke with Mr. Doolittle today. His drum has been in his family for many years. His father brought it west from Connecticut. The drum measures 17-1/2" x 17-1/2". He told me that his father had the drum "redone" in 2005 and that the new heads are dearskin. There are no snares but there appear to be cutouts. Mr. Doolittle undertook to send photos which will be published on this website.

  3. I just got back from the Antiques Road Show and they told me I have a Brown Company drum dated April 1811. What would this be worth?

  4. I just back from the Antiques Road Show and they told me I have a Brown Company drum. The date on the label is April 1811. How much would that be worth?

  5. Dear ARB1974: Thats like me saying to you that I have a car, and asking what it's worth. Send us a set of photos, inside and out, especially any label that might remain. If your drum is from 1811, whether a Brown or not, there could be interest in the drum community. Contact us at

  6. Also ARB1974, what are the dimensions? And, which expert at Antique Road Show saw your drum? Did he/she estimate its value?


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