Sunday, June 7, 2009

Sympathetic Restoration

"Sympathetic restoration." Ah, the term may be what we all have been looking for. For quite some time, I've been wrestling with the fix-don't fix, restore/refurbish/replace dilemma. What exactly is the right thing to do to a vintage drum (or any musical instrument, piece of furniture, timepiece, or body part for that matter). Sympathetic restoration may sum it all up.

But what is sympathetic restoration? I have searched for a definition but haven't found one. Instead, the term used in context can shed some light on what it means.

In "Restoring Classic & Collectible Cameras" By Thomas Tomosy wrote (p. 6): "One must be aware of the kind of restoration he or she undertakes if keeping or increasing the value of the item is important. The term used in the antique furniture field is "sympathetic restoration." The term means bringing the piece as close to its original condition as possible, not only in appearance, but in the methods and materials used to restore the object."

A watch collector described it as a restoration that follows the spirit of the original watch.

An antique clock collector wrote as follows: "There are many disciplines involved in antique clock restoration that demand a knowledge of the history of the specific timepiece. Some of these include early carpentry methods, lacquering, dial restoration, silvering and gilding, wheel cutting and bushing, reconstructing broken or lost parts, cleaning and lubricating, dismantling and assembly and of course thorough testing. We use the appropriate professional for the work involved, and all work is performed by craftsmen possessing a high degree of competency in the skill required. They work with care, pride in their accomplishments and a real passion for antique clocks."

And, in "Understanding the Art Market: Condition, Restoration and Conservation" one blogger wrote: "Sympathetic restoration is crucial in any field. We deal in antique clocks and furniture and unless you restore sympathetically you can destroy the value of anything."

A home remodeler wrote in connection with the term "[w]e work hard to ensure that any work we carry out closely matches the original style of the property. This is very important when working on period buildings."

And an article discussing the restoration of the Georgian Theatre Royal (England) notes, "Theatre trustees were praised for the sympathetic and detailed approach to the restoration of the landmark venue."

Restore or Preserve?

In "Classic Mustang Forum" (a website for car collectors) one contributor wrote of a car as "ridiculously original". That term might sum up the goal of "sympathetic restoration".

Last year, in Behind the Scenes in the Musical Instrument Department of the Metropolitan Museum of Art , I wrote that "I ... attended a discussion sponsored by The Amati (Friends of the Department of Musical Instruments) titled 'Seen or Heard'. Speakers were curator Kenneth Moore and conservator Susana Caldeira of Department of Musical Instruments at the Met, and Eric Grossman, Curator of String Instruments, The Julliard School. There is much common ground with drums and many of the same issues -- store or restore, play or don't play, replace consumables or not (viz. strings on string instruments; snares, ropes and pulls on rope drums). And, as in the world of rope drums, there are many views.

"My take-away was an understanding of a museum's important role in preserving musical instruments (as other historical objects) in their original state for future study, replication, and even perhaps occasional playing. Preservation allows interested researchers to see actual specimens of genuine articles decades or centuries after original manufacture. Although some would criticize museums on the ground that they don’t display everything they have, one should consider that that is neither possible nor necessarily desirable. Also, many museums allow serious researchers access to their stored assets under controlled but reasonable conditions. That’s a fine trade-off for the important role museums serve in preserving instruments that otherwise could fall into the hands of restorers of varying degrees of skill who, despite good intentions, might destroy forever the only evidence of original condition in existence."


WMEA - Antiques Road Show - by Nancy Campbell


A. Antique Instrument Materials and Construction
1. Related to aging an instrument
2. Related to worth of instrument
B. To Restore or Not to Restore
1. Restoration Types
a. For Display
b. Display/Playable
c. Performance
C. Examples of Restoration Challenges
1. Specific Problems
2. Restoration Examples and CSI
D. References
E. Questions
F. Display Instruments

Antique Instrument Construction in General (1800 to present) - aging an instrument

Woodwinds - Body materials early on were usually light colored wood, such as boxwood or maple - occasionally rosewood or fruit wood, probably because of availability. Later, dark woods became more common; rosewood, ebony, and grenadilla. Flute and piccolo head joints might be made of ivory (occasionally a whole instrument was). Hard rubber, metal and plastics came in later in the 19th century. The rings and reinforcements were horn, ivory, or bone, and later became brass and nickel. The tenons were swedged with tread rather than cork. The earliest flutes did not have head-to-barrel tuning slides, just regular tenons. Early keys were flat; either square or round; sometimes decorated, and had leather rather than pads. When cupped keys became more prevalent in the 2nd quarter of the 19th century, stuffed leather pads were used. These keys were originally mounted in wood saddles machined into the body of the instrument. Later, they were mounted in metal saddles mounted with screws into the body, and eventually posts drilled into the wood or soldered on to the metal. Key systems overlapped widely - Simple system flutes had 1 to 8 or 10 keys, and clarinets had from 4 to 13 keys. Rings were added, and eventually the Albert system and Boehm systems became the norm, although they co-existed well into the 20th century. Number of keys, and the material that the keys were made of or plated in, dictated price. Metal flutes tended to be more expensive than wooden ones because of the tooling and machines required to make them. Features to look for: Extra keys, precious metals, engraving or decoration.

Drums - Early snare drums and bass drums were longer than they were around. Mid-nineteenth century drums were more equal, and later ones are larger around than deep - as instruments went from strictly outdoor instruments to concert-type, and did not need to be overpoweringly loud. Shells were made of wood; solid wood fastened with nail and tacks in early drums, and veneered solid and plywood that were glued later on. Early materials were usually oak, ash or walnut for the shells, and ash or maple for the hoops. Snares were gut, and tensioned with iron or brass strainers. Late 19th century snares were often like shoe laces; leather or plastic covered fiber. Heads were calfskin - mylar is a mid 20th century invention. As a result, early drums can be any size - the plastic heads necessitated standardizing drum diameters. The early drums were tuned with linen rope and leather 'ears' through holes in the hoop; later, cast iron and brass hooks were used for the rope. Single rod tension drums appear after the Civil War, and evolve into modern hardware. Features to look for: painting or extra ornamentation - such as ivory, marquetry, tack patterns.

Brass - In 1800, brass were either natural instruments or slide instruments. The first new innovation was the addition of keys, which produced the Keyed Bugle, and later the Quinticlave and Ophicleide. Valves were being experimented with in the 1820's and 30's, and a number of valve types were born. They included odd types like the disk and box valve, the Berlin piston valve, the Vienna twin piston valve, the Stolzel single piston valve, and the rotary valve. Valve numbers could be 1 to 6 valves in these experimental times, and they may be arranged differently than in modern instruments. More modern Perinet or French style valves didn't come along for about another 30 years or so. Instruments were made of solid metals; brass, nickel silver, silver or gold; plating is a late 19th century innovation, and lacquer is not seen widely until after WWI. Also, the tubing all has seams - seamless extruded tubing is not seen usually until after 1900. Parts are hand fitted and made, and valves will not interchange, though sometimes slides will. Makers names are usually stamped or hand engraved early on; later more elaborated hand and machine engraving is seen. Every type of instrument configuration can be seen in the early to mid 19th century, from Over-the-Shoulder instruments, to Bell-Up, to Bell-Front, to Teardrop and Circular in any voice. After 1900, instruments became more standard in configuration. In the early era of sound recording (before microphones), front facing recording bells in large brass became the norm. Instruments were often sold by the metal or finish, with cheaper instruments plain brass and more expensive ones nickel silver, then when plating was common, the nickel plated, silver plated, and gold
plated instruments graduated upwards in price. Features to look for: fewer or more numerous valves, odd valve types, keys, extra engraving, precious metals, accessories.

Restoration Guidelines

1. For Display - Instrument to be kept as original as possible - minor repairs possible to facilitate assembly for display such as crack stabilization, tenon swedging, bore oiling, exterior cleaning

2. Playable for Display/Demonstration - Missing pads replaced - keys working or missing key holes plugged - tenons swedged with thread or cork for assembly purposes - valves workable - slides pulled if necessary - new drum head if
necessary for assembly of drum - major leaks repaired or covered with a reversible repair such as tape - major dents removed

3. For Performance - Instrument should be kept as original as possible, but repaired or parts replaced only if missing or necessary to playability - keeping to the historical appearance and workings of the instrument - leaks sealed - dents removed to the extent that the instrument is round and straight - pads and corks replaced in woodwinds - thread or cork replaced on tenons - new heads, rope, leathers on drums - snares can often be re-used - slides pulled - valves felted and corked as new - bore oiling - cleaning with non-abrasive metal cleaners - flushed out - "like new" Some makers to look for:

Woodwind - Pond, Samual Graves, Firth, Christopher Gerock, Gehring, Martin, H. F. Meyer, Rudall Carte, Rudall & Rose, J.C. Haynes, Metzler, Jerome Thibouville-Lamy, Kohlert, Buffet, LeBlanc, Bonneville, Haynes, Peloubet, Whitely

Drums - Pollard, Noble & Cooley, Thomas Bringham, Graves, Horstmann, Eli Brown, Lyon & Healy, Ludwig & Ludwig, Leedy, Meacham, Thompson & Odell, Eisele, J. C. Haynes, C. C. Clapp, Kilbourn, Abner Stevens, Werner Soistmann

Brass - D. C. Hall, Samual Graves, Isaac Fiske, Quinby, Boston, Gilmore, Moennig, John F. Stratton, Ernst Seltmann, Wm. Seefeldt, Klemm, Julius Bauer, Louis Shreiber, Jerome Thibouville-Lamy, Besson, Cortois, Couturier, Highham, Diston, J. W.
Pepper, C. G. Conn, H. N. White, Buescher, York, Selmer, Slater, Adolph Sax, Ditson
Dealers - Lyon & Healy, Carl Fischer, Montgomery Ward, Sear, Roebuck & Co., Cundy-Bettony, misc. music stores



1. The New Langwill Index - A Dictionary of Musical Wind-Instrument Makers and Inventors - by William Waterhouse - Tony Bingham, London - 1993

2. Early American Brass Makers - Robert E. Eliason - The Brass Press - 1979/1981

3. Woodwind Instruments and Their History - Anthony Baines - Dover Publications - 1967

4. Brass Instruments, Their History and Development - Anthony Baines - Dover Publications - 1976

5. Twentieth Century Brass Musical Instruments in the United States - Richard J. Dundas - Queen City Brass Publications - 1986

6. Graves & Company, Musical Instrument Makers - Greenfield Village & Henry Ford Museum - The Brass Press

7. Keyed Bugles in the United States - Robert E. Eliason - Smithsonian Institution Press - 1972

8. Musical Wind Instruments - Adam Carse - Dover Publications - 1937/2002

9. The Early Flute - John Solum - Oxford University Press 1992

10. A Pictorial History of Civil War Era Musical Instruments & Military Bands - Robert Garafolo & Mark Elrod - Pictorial Histories Publishing Company - 1985

11. The Flute and Flute Playing - Theobald Boehm - Dover Publications - 1922/1992

12. The Keyed Bugle - Ralph Dudgeon - The Scarecrow Press - 1993

13. The Music Men - Hazen & Hazen - Smithsonian Institution Press - 1993


1. National Music Musem -

2. 1st Brigade Band -

3. The Band Museum -

4. The R. Jones Trumpet Page -

5. Vintage Cornets -

6. J. W. Pepper -

7. The Company of Fifers and Drummers -

8. Lars Kirmser's Music Trader (Instrument serial numbers) -

9. Vintage Instruments -

10. Horn-U-Copia (antique instrument forums) -

11. H. N. White -

12. Conn Loyalist -

13. Tony Bingham -

14. Early Musical Instruments -

15. eBay -


  1. Great post Ellis! I very much like the idea of 'sympathetic restoration'. I think that both the value and condition are crucial in making these decisions as well. For example a drum in excellent original condition can easily be devalued by even the most sympathetic of restorations while a badly damaged or deteriorated instrument's value (both monetary and historically) could be improved by the same means. Food for thought.

    Always interesting to check in on your blog. Keep up the good work!

  2. Variety of drums have different historical stories. For instance, learning how to play drums would be fun if you know it's historical origin, nice blog:)


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