Monday, December 29, 2008

100 Year Old Playing Even Older Drum reports:

PLYMOUTH - Harold Boyer celebrates a century

Nearly a century of percussion has taken its toll on Harold Boyer’s eardrums. But the heart and soul of the little drummer boy who led the first Pilgrim Progress haven’t missed a beat.

Boyer celebrated his 100th birthday the way he has celebrated many grand occasions since arriving in Plymouth for the town’s tercentennial, tapping out a beat on the old rope drum that accompanied him through most of the last century.

Boyer led the parade again last weekend, marching with his trusty drum at the head of the annual procession opening Plimoth Plantation. Boyer and his drum are fixtures of the Plantation. They welcomed the English crew that brought Mayflower II to Plymouth Harbor in 1957. They were there again last summer when survivors of the original crew celebrated the 50th anniversary of their historic journey.

The drum is described as 112 years old.

Looks Like a Thompson & O'Dell:

Mr. Boyer's drum looks a lot like this Thompson & O'Dell drum now in the National Music Museum.

See "Portrait view of snare drum by J. B. Treat, Boston, 1905" The museum's website describes the drum:

"NMM 10045. Snare drum by J. B. Treat for Thompson and Odell, Boston, 1905. Paper label affixed inside shell, visible through vent hole: THE CELEBRATED / "ARTIST DRUM." / MADE BY / J.B. TREAT., followed by a long advertisement by Thompson and Odell, dated November 1905. Wood shell with natural finish, 225mm (8-7/8") x 421mm (16-9/16"). Twelve leather tugs. Wood rims with the outside edge painted black, with twelve metal hooks through which the rope passes. Brass snare adjuster. Ex coll.: Armand Zildjian. William F. Ludwig II Collection, 2001."

"Lit.: Jayson Dobney, Innovations in American Snare Drums 1850-1920, M.M. Thesis (Vermillion: University of South Dakota, 2003), pp. 140-141."

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Bordentown Military Institute Drum

A blogger on the Not So Modern Drummer website wrote about the drum pictured above:

The photos show a very old military drum, which I think NSMD displayed in an issue from about ten years ago. The diameter is 15 3/8" and the height is 5" (not including the 1.25" wooden hoops). The bottom calf head (torn) reads, “Bordertown Military Institute, B.M.I., New Jersey.” The snares are not metal - they are a varnished rope. The drum is in excellent condition.

Bordertown or Bordentown?
Founded in 1881, the Bordentown Military Institute operated as an independent military school in Bordentown, New Jersey, for 91 years. In 1972, it merged with the Lenox School in Lenox, Massachusetts. Bordentown/Lenox was in existence for only one year, however, closing its doors completely in June 1973.

How Old is the BMI Drum?
Compare the Union Shield on the BMI drum with that on this known 1915 drum:

The BMI drum's union shield appears to be of an earlier time. That union shield is of a similar shape to many painted union shields appearing on Civil War and earlier drums. However, the single claw, single tension (where turning the rod tightens/loosens both heads simultaneously) turnbuckle rod design of the BMI drum suggests that the date of manufacture was closer to 1900 or later. See, e.g., this drum from approximately 1900 in the collection of the National Music Museum:

NMM 13539. Snare drum by Charles Stromberg for Thompson & Odell Music Co., Boston, ca. 1892-1904. The Artist Drum. Board of Trustees, 2007.National Music Museum.

The BMI drum appears to be of a more modern rod tension design. My guess is that the drum dates from the early 1900's, approximately 1910 (later than the Charles Stromberg drum and earlier than the WWI drum).

Backsticking -- A Drumming Technique Institutionalized by John Dowlan

I first saw backsticking during a visit to a rehearsal of the New York Skyliners at the 369th Regiment Armory (Fifth Avenue between 142nd and 143rd Streets in Harlem, Manhattan) sometime in the early 1960s. To say that I was floored would be an understatement. At the time it was revolutionary. Today it's commonplace but it was a step jump in technique generally credited to John Dowlan.

(The images above courtesy of Rudimental Drumming website.)

From "The Baron of Backsticking" by Joe Marrella:

Believe it or not, BackSticking was developed in 1938 by its creator as a method to improve a drummer’s left hand. The first BackSticking exercise was accenting triplets. The technique was first taught to the Air Force snare drum section in 1958 by my dear friend, my mentor, my instructor, and the person most responsible for my success in drum corps, as well as scores of others.

His name is John Dowlan. To me, he is the “Baron of BackSticking”.

Official Bio from the World Drum Corps Hall of Fame

In 1935, John joined the Osmond Post Cadets Junior Corps in Philadelphia as a rookie drummer. During the years that followed John practiced long hours to obtain a firm rudimental drumming foundation. It was during this time John also developed and refined his practice techniques commonly known today as BackSticking."

In 1946 following his Army military service in the Philippines during WW2 John returned to Osmond and became drum instructor. A new senior drum corps was being formed known as A.K. Street VFW Sr. Corps and they were auditioning drummers. He soon joined. The corps' name was later changed to the Reilly Raiders in memory of a former junior corps member Frederick J. Reilly.

During his 7 year tenure with Reilly John won many snare drum accolades including the VFW Senior Individual National Snare Drum Championship in 1949 in Miami, again in 1950 in Chicago and again in 1951 in New York City. To show his versatility John also played soprano bugle in the National Championship Senior Brass Quartet.

In 1957, John was selected by M/Sgt Truman Crawford to teach and arrange percussion for the drum line of the USAF Drum Corps, Washington, DC. While there the Air Force drummers introduced the World to John's BackSticking Techniques. During John's drum corps career he has instructed in excess of 50 top junior and senior drum corps and hundreds of drummers. Some of these drummers are members of the World Drum Corps Hall of Fame today.

Audio of John Dowlan Playing:

1949 VFW National Snare Drum Championship Solo (probably not recorded in but as played in Miami, Florida)

1950 VFW National Snare Drum Championship Solo (probably not recorded in but as played in Chicago, Illinois) (also 1951, New York City)

Friday, December 26, 2008

Drums of the U.S. Air Force Drum & Bugle Corps

One of my favorite drum corps, innovators and very lucky guys to have had the opportunity to play under the command of the late great Truman Crawford, this corps was years ahead of the rest of drum corps. The USAF D&B Corps that gave us many great performers, teachers and leaders. Here are some photos of its drums. See for the corps' history.

And, of course, the boys had fun, lots of it. How many Yankees in this photo can you name?

Reliable sources provided the following corroborated information: (left to right) Hank Bauer, Phil Rizzuto, Billy Martin. And the patch on the Yankees' shoulders is a 50th anniversary patch.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Nobel & Cooley Civil War Drum

The drum was manufactured in Granville in the early 1860's and "picked up" on the Gettsyburg battlefield in 1863 by James Forrest who mustered into the Union Army on June 19th, 1863 as a musician in the 28th Pennsylvania Mil. Infantry regiment. This places him at the right time and in a regiment that was involved on the battlefield.

Over 140 years later, this drum has come back home to Granville.

The hoops on this Civil War drum were bent using the same bending machine that is till used today to build high quality custom snare drum for today's musicians.

Source: Noble & Cooley Center for Historic Preservation, Granville, Massachusetts

Nobel & Cooley Printed Label

The Noble & Cooley Center for Historic Preservation
Dedicated to Celebrating Yankee Ingenuity

Tucked away in the foothills of the Berkshires is an intact factory with all the machinery necessary to manufacture toy and professional drums. SIA toured the factory during the 1988 Connecticut Valley Tour. The Southern New England Chapter visited the site for an in-depth inspection of the Company's manufacturing equipment in 2005.

In 1854 Noble & Cooley Company, located in Granville Massachusetts, began manufacturing drums. The area has a unique heritage in small-scale industry and in particular in producing vernacular solutions to technological problems. The local farmers, faced with diminishing returns in agriculture and shortages of labor, turned to mechanized manufacturing to survive.

Noble & Cooley is a surviving example of the manufacturing firms that were once plentiful in the remote valleys of New England. Silas Noble, a master mechanic, and James P. Cooley, an entrepreneur, started by making drums in Noble's farmhouse kitchen. The drums sold quickly and in 1856 they built their first factory. Business expanded during the Civil War when the Company produced drums for Northern regiments. During this period the factory expanded and the company switched over from waterpower to steam. By 1873 they were producing 100,000 drums a year. Around this time vernacular tooling, jigs and fixtures were introduced to cut labor costs and increase output. The Company developed proprietary technology in steam bending, decorating and assembly of drums.

At the turn of the 19 th century Noble & Cooley adapted the technology for manufacturing "tin" cans to making toy drums. A machine for printing up to eight colors sequentially was developed and built in the machine shop. Toy drums continued to sell and the company adapted to WWII materials restrictions by building paperboard drums. Mid-20 th century marketing strategies included licensing of Disney and Muppets characters to be printed on the drums to increase sales.

In recent years globalization and a changing market in children's playthings have eliminated the economic viability of large scale toy drum manufacturing. For the past 20 plus years the company has shifted focus to the manufacturing of very high quality professional snare drums and drumsets. The machinery and production space used to manufacture toy drums has been unused. The owners, descendants of the founders, believed that the Company was historically significant and should be preserved. They generously agreed to transfer ownership of some of the historic buildings and machinery to a non-profit organization with the objective of preserving the Company's history and manufacturing technology.

Local preservationists organized The Noble & Cooley Center for Historical Preservation (NCCHP), a 501 (c)3 non-profit corporation. The mission of the center is to preserve the regional history of manufacturing, agricultural pursuits, and rural crafts through acquisition and maintenance of significant historical buildings, machinery, historical collections and local artifacts. Initially, the focus will be on dynamic demonstrations of manufacturing toy drums. The corporation will also promote preservation and study of the acquired properties, collections, and artifacts and make them available to the public. The museum will be located within the historic buildings of Noble & Cooley Company on Water Street in Granville, Massachusetts.

The historical buildings will provide the space in which to build an educational facility to share the history of the region. The factory buildings retain much of the equipment that was used to manufacture toys from the 1850's through the 1950's. The museum will also preserve and demonstrate the progression of factory power sources from water to steam to electricity. The rural character of western Massachusetts will be represented in displays of farming and logging techniques of the 19 th century. The center will be a showcase of the "Yankee Ingenuity" that enabled the local area to prosper.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Engraving of Sentinel with Drum on Horseback

General Putnam leaving his plow for the defense of his country. Lithograph.

Remembering the Revolutionary War CD

Marquise de Lafayette Portrait with Drum

Alonzo Chappel's fine oil of the Marquis de Lafayette has been reinserted into one of the most beloved engravings of the man. Please note the various symbols chappel has provided. The first that stans out is the "glove on the floor". ot has Lafayette laid down the gauntlet? The drum, the flag (of course), the muskets (with bayonet) and other items that are accoutraments of the time are all in there. The original engravings were book plate reproductions so that the people could see just who these people were.

From Line of Battle Enterprise.

Alonzo Chappel, American, 1828-1887


Beyond the Marker
Harry M. Ward, Major General Adam Stephen and the Cause of American Liberty
(Charlottesville, VA: University of Virginia Press, 1989):

The Revolutionary War's Philadelphia Campaign of 1777 transformed General Lafayette's military career. Still a teenager, the French aristocrat joined the Continental Army in the summer of that year, as a volunteer major general without command, but did not see his first significant action until the Battle of Brandywine. He served with distinction in the conflict, surviving a leg wound and helping to rally American forces as defeat loomed. Then in December 1777, just prior to the Army's withdrawal to Valley Forge, the young marquis received his first divisional command. Lafayette replaced General Adam Stephen, who had been dismissed from the service for drunkenness and poor leadership at the Battle of Germantown.

General George Washington was one of Lafayette's strongest supporters. He informed the Continental Congress that the Frenchman "possesses a large share of that Military order, which generally characterises the Nobility of his Country." He also quoted, approvingly, a line about Lafayette that originated with General Nathanael Greene — "The Marquis is determined to be in the way of danger."

After serving with distinction in the American Revolution, Lafayette returned to France, where he worked closely with American ambassadors Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson. In the 1780s, Lafayette became a participant of the reform movement, working to establish a constitutional monarchy in France, but did not join with radical forces during the French Revolution and was forced to flee the country. He would return to public life in Paris only after the exile of Napoleon Bonaparte.

President James Monroe invited Lafayette to return to the United States in 1824. During the next year, he visited every state in the young nation, generally receiving an enthusiastic reception from Americans eager to remember the glories of the Revolution and to honor the Frenchman for his friendship with Washington and contribution to the American cause.

Drum from Guilford Courthouse, North Carolina

Guilford Courthouse National Military Park
National Park Service Museum Collections
American Revolutionary War

Restored snare drum. The drum and drumsticks were reportedly carried by Luther W. Clark at the Battle of Guilford Courthouse.
Wood, sheepskin, linen. H 41.9, D 39.4 cm
Guilford Courthouse National Military Park, GUCO 349

Wood. L 37.5, D 2.1 cm
Guilford Courthouse National Military Park, GUCO 444

Wood. L 37.1, DIAM 2.1 cm
Guilford Courthouse National Military Park, GUCO 445

On March 15, 1781 Major General Nathanael Greene and his army of 4,400 Americans contested the British invasion of North Carolina at Guilford Courthouse. Lt. Gen. Charles, Earl Cornwallis, commanded the tough professional force of 1,900 British soldiers. Greene deployed his men into smaller groups to take advantage of the terrain.

The Courthouse battle was fierce. The veteran British troops were severely crippled. Cornwallis lost a quarter of his army and almost a third of his officers. Greene lost only six percent of his men. With greatly diminished ranks and depleted supplies, Cornwallis withdrew to the coast, 200 miles away.

The battle fought at Guilford Courthouse was the largest and most hotly contested action of the Revolutionary War's Southern Campaign. It is considered the high-water mark of that campaign in that it changed the course of the war and contributed to the eventual American victory at Yorktown seven months later.

The drum and fife regulated the Revolutionary War soldier's life. By commands of music, the soldier was notified when to awake in the mornings, when to attend drill, when to stop for meals, and when to report for pay. While on the march, music assisted with cadence and order, helping men to march in time. Music encouraged soldiers to press a march or attack with vigor.

Orders were also given using whistles, blowing horns, and bagpipes. Music and songs in camp lifted soldiers' spirits following exhausting duty. They helped build fellowship in the regiments.

Drums have been used to convey commands since ancient times. They provide distinct sounds that can be heard for great distances. The drum was the very voice and tongue of the commander. After the adoption of firearms, the fife came into use. Its peculiar piercing sound transcended the noise of men and gunfire, and added melody to the drumbeats. By the Revolution, armies had adopted a system of commands given by the drum and fife, which could rapidly communicate orders to whole armies at one time.

Poster of Historic Drum Beaten at Battle of Lexington

Now in the possession of the Lexington Historical Society.
The long roll on this drum was the first act of the Revolution.
Drum beaten at the Battle of Lexington by William Dimond.

Poster now available at

Thursday, December 11, 2008

New Mexico Civil War Drum -- Can You Help ID This Drum?

An art conservator for a southwestern museum has been asked to treat a drum from the museum's collection. The drum is going to be exhibited in a new museum and the curator would like it to be repaired prior to exhibit.

The donor claimed the drum was from the Civil War Battle of Glorieta, New Mexico.

The conservator asks whether any of our readers might be familiar with such drums

It is possible that this drum was made on the western frontier. It does not have an obvious snare mechanism and there is no evidence that there ever was an attachment point for a snare mechanism.

The shell of the drum is made from wood and covered with a sheet of tin. The drum has also clearly been repaired at least once. All of the repairs appear to have some age to them, and might have been field repairs.

Any information that our readers can provide would be most helpful.


1. First, would you recommend doing anything at all to this drum?
2. If you would recommend doing something, what would you recommend?
3. Do you have any knowledge of shell construction involving a tin sheet laid over a wooden shell?
4. Would this have been a snare drum?
5. Would this have been a military drum?

If you have any suggestions, opinions, etc., please email the Blogmaster.

Brass Snare Drum, ca. 1870-90

Of interest here are the design details, shown especially well in these photographs. eBay item no. 250325919975 described by eBayer atomic-asis( 296) as follows:

This is a Late 1800's Miltary Snare Drum. We've had a few people looks at this and this is what we have been told.

"Hi Mark, I would estimate that your drum was made just after the civil war era. These brass drums with painted rims and solid tension mechanisms are quite commonly found to be of the late 1870 - 1890 period. I hope this is of some help. You might also like to take the drum outside in bright light and look through the small hole in the body. There is often a makers label inside and can often date the drum accurately." -Civil War Preservationist

Another gentleman who is a specialist on vintage drums thought that it was post-civil war due to the fact that there is brass hardware on the drum. He also noted that the snare used fibrous string instead of metal and the heads are calfhide. Please note, some of snares are broken, however they do look original. Also, one of the lug is missing. All in all, a great collectors item!

J.L. Miller Bass Drum

This 28" bird's eye maple bass drum is sure to clean up nicely. eBayer cape-estate( 10585) (cape cod antiques collectibles,etc) describes eBay item no. 220326041525 as follows:

J.L. Miller & Co. Providence, RI Civil War Era Drum

Fresh from the barn of an antique home, we offer this wonderful, large drum labeled JL Miller Co, dealers in drums of all descriptions, 10 Cove St. Providence, RI. This wonderful drum measures approximately 28" in diameter and 15" wide. We do not know a lot about drums, but it appears to be in decent condition for its age. Birds eye veneer shows a bit of cracking in a couple of spots. Would benefit from a cleaning. We have not attempted to clean it. We will leave that to the new owner. Retains the original label on the inside of the case, as shown in photos. A great old drum!!

Monday, December 8, 2008

William S. Tompkins, Drum Maker

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). About ten years earlier, in the early 1860s, when some of the drums discussed in the above-cited blog posting 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.

See "Tompkins 1860-1863 Masterpiece Drums -- Where Are They Now?" for more information about Wm. S. Tompkins and his drums.

Preceding the American Civil War, the United States was a war with Mexico. The Mexican War between the United States and Mexico began with a Mexican attack on American troops along the southern border of Texas on Apr. 25, 1846. Fighting ended when U.S. Gen. Winfield Scott occupied Mexico City on Sept. 14, 1847. Source: "The Mexican War".

So, in 1846-47, Wm. S. Tompkins would have been 34-35 years of age. In my non-expert opinion, the portrait looks age-appropriate.


Here's the answer in an email from one of our readers, Mark Groesbeck:

Dear Ellis,

Thank you for writing. Isn't the internet wonderful? I am delighted to send a picture of William Shute Tompkins, however I cannot send it without a story!

When my wife and I were relocating from Rochester, NY to Atlanta, GA, we were both a little nervous about having William Shute Tompkins' portrait hanging in our dining room. After all, we knew he had made drums for the civil war, we knew he was a relative and we knew he was from Yonkers, NY. Therefore, he must be a Union soldier, right? Well, the fact that he is my great, great grandfather (not three greats, but two --- I must have mis typed my earlier message) won out, and we decided to hang the portrait.

Imagine our delight when during our first gathering at the house, someone walked up to the picture and asked, "who is this person who fought in the Mexican War?" I asked how he know it was the Mexican War, and was told the high collar with red was the indication of a Mexican War uniform. You can imagine our relief!

As for any bibliographical information, I will have to go back through some of my family papers to see what I can find. On my Bowman's Ancestral Chart, here is what I have. My maternal grandfather, Merwin L. Smith (1883-1954) was a geneaologist and also a member of the Massachusetts Society of Mayflower descendants. It was his wife, my maternal grandmother, Marian Tremper (1882-1971) whose lineage traces back to Tompkins. Marian Tremper was the daughter of John H. Tremper (1837-1930) and Frances Hatfield Tompkins (1827-1926). Frances Hatfield Tompkins was the daughter of Wiliam Shute Tompkins and Martha Augusta Hatfield.

When you have a minute, please write back and tell me a little about yourself. Where do you live, and how did you come to be interested in Tompkins drums?

Best regards,

Mark Groesbeck

Friday, December 5, 2008

Theft -- Eagle Drum Sold for $25!

Yes, we can all give ourselves a collective kick in the butt for missing this one. Someone actually won for $25 at auction this Regimental Eagle Drum. Oooh, that hurts.

Lot 479 : Drum
Estimate : $40 - $60
Realized : $25
Auction Date : Aug 16, 2008

Stair Galleries & Restoration, Inc.
549 Warren Street
Hudson, New York
United States of America
Phone: 518 751 1000
Fax: 518 751 1010

P.R. Winn, Drummaker

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