Thursday, September 23, 2010

Tompkins' (uncompleted) Drum #5 Surfaces on eBay


Note the beautiful grain pattern resulting from an oblique slice through the wood stock causing otherwise circular growth ring patterns to appear somewhat elliptical.

The two (of six) drilled holes in the bottom counterhoop were made to accommodate one of three short legs when the drum was converted to a small table.

Whether as a result of luck or care, the grain pattern partially lines up nicely at the glued seam. (Tompkins could have chosen the portion of the exterior veneer blank he used so as to cause the grain pattern to line up so well, at least partially, at the seam.)

This hole is one of three on the inside of the top counterhoop and was made to accommodate a circular tabletop that was screwed into the top counterhoop.

Not sure what happened here. It's a gradual thinning of the interior veneer such that the exterior veneer is exposed on the inside of the shell. That may have been a or the reason that this drum was never completed. Tompkins may have been concerned that the drum's thickness, being non-uniform, would lead to structural failure at that location.

Note the number "5" in handwritten in pencil on the inside of the shell

Note the number "5" in handwritten in pencil on the inside of the counterhoop

Note the strong construction evidenced by two-ply manufacture and reinforcing hoops top and bottom.
The grain runs vertically on the inside layer of the shell, and horizontally on the outside layer of the shell, for improved, cross-grain strength.

The counterhoops show no sign of ever having been used to tighten down the drum. No depressions in the top edge that would have been made by roped hooks under load.


eBay seller emilysattic ( 412) put this beauty on the market and it escaped my attention until my friend, George Kubicek, emailed me with about 3 hours left in the auction. I was glad he did. I placed my bid and waited patiently for the auction to close at about 7 minues past 7 o'clock in the evening while I was attending a business meeting (watching the clock count down on the auction during the last few minutes).

Final sale price was only $305 but there is alot missing. What I bought was just the shell and the hoops. They are characteristic of the work of William S. Tompkins, whose drums are featured in other articles on this blog (search above left for Tompkins). My guess is that this drum, marked #5 on the inside of one of the reinforcing hoops and on the inside of the shell (see photos), is one of Tompkins' early drums.

The drum had been used as a table. Three short legs (probably not period) accompanied the drum. They were screwed into drilled holes through the bottom counterhoop. A circular wooden top (probably not period) was affixed to the other counterhoop by small angle brackets screwed to the inner surface of that counterhoop.

There was no trace of any flesh hoops, skin heads, ropes, tugs or snare mechanism. Moreover, there was no evidence of any snare bed depressions in the shell. And there weren't any notch cutouts in either of the counterhoops to accommodate snares such as are seen on drums even older than this drum.

Drums manufactured prior to and even during the Civil War can be found with or without snare mechanisms. However, the field snare drums that I have seen that lack snare mechanisms had some sort of design feature to accommodate and allow the snares to be pulled through to the outside of the shell and kept tight against the snare head.

The shell of this drum has no such features. There are no bearing surfaces for the skin heads to smoothly transition from horizontal to vertical. Both shell edges are square to the shell surface. And, there is no vent hole. You can't have a good-sounding drum without a vent hole. There is no evidence of scratching to indicate damage caused by a flesh hoop. The hoops lack the telltale marks of rope hook depressions on the outer edges, and the shell lacks any evidence of vertical scratching caused by leather tugs moving up and down the shell. It's anyone's guess why that is, but I have mine.

I think that the drum was never completed and never used as a drum; that it was made to be a drum, but then set aside. Perhaps the drum was imperfect and not of the quality for which the maker wanted to known. That is, of course, merely a guess. Imperfections in the outermost circle of inlaid diamonds would be consistent with that hypothesis. Those diamonds, while attractive, are not set out along the circumference of the circle with the clock-like exactitude for which Tompkins' later drums are known. See, e.g., drum #22 from my collection.

Tompkins Drum #22, Hand-signed and Dated 1862
(Collection of Ellis Mirsky)

Tompkins drum #5 stands, perhaps, as a record of what a Tompkins drum look liked partway through the manufacturing process. It is, essentially, an uncompleted drum, apparently taken out of manufacture prior to finishing. It shows us the precision with which the surfaces were made. It's a real treasure in that regard.

The seller described Tompkins drum #5 as follows:

Up for auction is a Rare Antique 19th Century William S. Tompkins Burl Wood Civil War Drum Shell. This beautiful antique burl wood Civil War Drum Shell has a inlaid circular pattern with a center-concentric star, five-pointed stars and diamonds design with red, white-wood color, & blue hoops. The burl wood (shell-outside) has a natural & interesting design, and thought it was Birch at first, Maple or Ash ? I purchased this drum shell as a small antique side table, knowing-seeing it was a antique drum, (added later) with a antique spinning wheel top, three simple carved old oak legs, carefully placed. The top was attached with 3 simple L brackets-measured-spaced out, on the inside, holes going thru inside edge top-not going thru top R,W,B top hoop, and the simple carved oak legs, measured-spaced out, were carefully-neatly drill, thru R,W,B hoop-shell, legs were notches out-to fit on inside back, screw attaching thru the front-tighten by legs. (have to mention, is part of the condition)

Overall it is in good, restorable, condition, nice(original) patina with crazing-expected wear, inlay all present-intact, center concentric star-inlay has a vertical age split-indentation inside shell-not seen from front-seen before in other examples I have seen, 2 -3 age splits from age, hoops are strong-condition mentioned above. Signed 2x in pencil-number 5, inside of shell and inside support-hoop, measuring approximately: 17 1/4 inches wide by 13 1/4 inches high, please see pictures. I do not see any Vent Hole?

William S. Tompkins, born 1812-Drum Maker & Craftsmanin in N.Y., is known for his inlaid circular patterns of consentric stars, five-pointed stars and diamonds with red, white-wood color, & blue hoops, and why I am attributing this drum to him. (information provided by a good site on the internet [, of course])

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Noble & Cooley To Re-Issue Civil War Drums to Commemorate War's 150th Anniversary in 2011

First Prototype Reissued Drum Showing Copper Tacking Along Seam
(leather tugs will be stained dark on the reissued line)
This drum is currently on exhibit at the Drummer Boys, "Answering the Call" exhibit, Zadock Pratt Museum, Prattsville, New York.
(See article below re the Drummer Boys exhibit.

Jay Jones, President of Noble & Cooley,
Using 1860 Wood Bending Machine to Bend Tulip Wood Shells

1860 Parallel Clamps and Lap Clamps
Holding Tulip Wood Shell in Form

Photos and above information courtesy of John C. Quinn, Civil War Collector, Historian and Musician, Windham, New York (

Granville, Massachusetts - Jay Jones, president of Noble & Cooley and great-great-great grandson of one of its founders, James P. Cooley, said that the company plans to reissue its Civil War contract field snare drum conforming to period specifications using the same, gigs, fixtures and forms used during the Civil War. Noble & Cooley would be the only company to ever do so. Jones declined to discuss the price point but it is expected to be competitive.

This will not be a reproduction Civil War drum but something completely different. It will be the same drum, made to the same specifications, using the same material and made in the same factory using the same machines as when this line of drums was originally manufactured for the U.S. Army.

The reissued drum will measure 12"x16" (16-3/4" to the outside of the counterhoops) with red-painted oak counterhoops mounted on a single-ply tulip shell. The snare mechanism will be the same bronze/brass design used by Noble & Cooley for its Civil War contract drums, including a leather butt plate securing 8 gut snares. The drums are planned to be unpainted, but stained walnut and coated with shellac. The seams will be secured by copper tacks as were the first issues of this line. The drums will be equipped with calf skin heads and a rope loop for carrying (pre-D-ring).

The ropes will be Irish linen although Jones recalled his grandfather telling him that the originals used 7-strand Italian hemp which the company is currently having difficulty locating. (From 1937 until the late 1960s the United States government recognized that industrial hemp and marijuana were two distinct varieties of the cannabis plant. After the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), hemp was no longer recognized as being distinct from marijuana. That may account for the difficulty in securing hemp. History of Hemp. See also, Hemp, THE ENCLCLOPAEDIA BRITANNICA, 1856: "The Italian hemp is very fine, that variety called garden-hemp being the longest of any kind; its superiority is supposed to be the result of spade culture in very suitable soil. It is also as white and soft as the finest white Russian.")

A prototype of the re-issued line is already in the field and in use by the 77th New York Regimental Balladeers of Windham, New York, a Civil War reenactor singing group. The drum is being used in connection with efforts to raise funds for a special celebratory Historic Heritage event featuring musical performers at the Noble & Cooley Center for Historic Preservation.

Separately, John Quinn, spokesperson for the Balladeers, who is working with Noble & Cooley to produce the event, mentioned that production of 50 sesquicentennial drums is underway in Granville. He also confirmed that the prototype drum can be seen sitting on the stage in the video below. Quinn said that the prototype is currently on exhibit at the Zadock Pratt Museum in Prattsville, New York and that the drum will go on tour with the Balladeers beginning with the group's September 18 appearance at the Saratoga Springs Civil War Encampment at Congress Park, Saratoga Springs, New York. The drum will be raffled off by the Balladeers who, while on tour, are raising funds for the Historic Heritage event in Granville.

Drummer Boys, Answering the Call

Pamphlet produced in connection with "Drummer Boys, Answering the Call" an exhibit at Zadock Pratt Museum, Prattsville, New York, August 28th, 2010.

[TO BE INSERTED: Photo of Corporal William Vallet and Joseph S. Schepmoes, Drummers, 20th NYS Militia, Seward R. Osborne Collection.]

Drummer Boys
"Marching away with the naive innocence of youth"

These boy soliders performed an important role on the battlefield. As part of the command and control communication system the various drum rolls signaled different commands in the field

For the infantry, drums were also used to announce daily activities, from sunrise to sunset. Reveille was sounded to begin the day at 5 a.m., followed by an assembly for morning roll call and breakfast call. Sick call was sounded son after breakfast, followed by assemblies for guard duty, drill, or to begin to march.

Drummers were also important on the march to keep soldiers in step during parades and to call them to attention.

During battle, drums were sometimes used to signal maneuvers and give signals for the ranks to load and fire their weapons.

The artillery and cavalry relied solely on buglers who were just as important in their roleas drummers were to the infantry.

Drummer boys were usually treated as something of a mascot by the troops, and often entrusted to the good offices of the regimental chaplain.

Since they had few military duties to perform, the life of the drummer appeared rather glamorous, and so as would be expected, boys of all ages tried to enlist, often running away from home.

Officially there were age restrictions, but these were often ignored, and boys as young as ten were found beating the "long roll" which called men into action.

As part of the exhibit we have included the stories of a number of drummer boys who distinguished themselves during the war.


Both the Union and Confederate Armies would regularly recruit young boys for service as drummers. More than 100,000 federal soldiers were fiften years of age or younger. Three hundred were thirteen or under and most of these were fifers and drummers.


"The Hero of the Drum"
Poem by George W. Bungay

Clouds of smoke hung like a pall
Over tent and dome and hall;

Hot shot and blazing bomb
Cut down our volunteers
Swept off our engineers;

But the drummer beat his drum,
And he beat "No Retreat!"

With his drum: Through the fire.
Hotter, nigher.
Throbbed the drum, drum, drum.

In that hurrican of flame and thunder of the bomb.
Braid the laurel wreath of fame for the hero of the drum!
The hero of the drum.


The exhibit items feature in Drummer Boys "Answering the Call", include historial artwork by Don Troiani, Ron Tunison, Donna J. Neary, Dale Gallon, Julian Scott (1846-1901), Pamela Patrick White and others.

Examples of musical instruments including regimental eagle drums and a militia drum from the museum's collection are representative of the equipment used by Civil War drummers. Period sheet music, a principal musician sack coat, drummer's shell jacket, poetry, photo images, letter and dairy entries tell the story of these young patriots. J.Q. (John Quinn)

Co-curator "Hardtack Home Front Recollections: Greene County During the Civil War". Zadock Pratt Museum, Prattsville, NY.

Prattsville hosts Civil War musicians, actors

John Quinn, left, member of the Zaddock Pratt Museum board of directors, plays along with Civil War musicians during the Second Annual Col. George Watson Pratt Heritage Day in Prattsville on Saturday[, August 28, 2010]. (Colin DeVries/Hudson-Catskill Newspapers)

By Colin DeVries
Hudson-Catskill Newspapers
Published: Monday, August 30, 2010 2:14 AM EDT

PRATTSVILLE — Amidst the late summer majesty of the mountaintop, a contingent of Civil War reenactors reminded us of our roots this past weekend.

Contingents of Civil War soldiers and musicians laid claim to the Prattsville green on Saturday, pitching tents and bringing the old fife and drum to life.

The event was a celebration of the Second Annual Col. George Watson Pratt Heritage Day, sponsored by the Zaddock Pratt Museum on Main Street in Prattsville.

Rural Felicity, a period drum and fife ensemble, featured original tunes played during the time, as well as pieces from as early as the American Revolution.

“The Civil War was really the end of (the fife and drum),” said Nancy Scanlon of East Berne, a member of Rural Felicity, “because they started to use the bugle.”

In the wartimes, the fife and drum were more than mere musical instruments; they were communication devices.

The pairing of the fife and drum, particularly on the battlefield, was used to issue commands to troops on the front lines. Officers would often relay orders through particular fife and drum codes, which troops learned in drills.

Back at camp, the fife and drum were used to tell warriors when they should wake, eat and sleep.

In honor of the fife and drum corps which kept Civil War soldiers on target, the Pratt Museum is currently featuring an exhibit honoring the young musicians who issued those orders.

“Drummer Boys: Answering the Call” is a new exhibit at the museum which spotlights local drummer boys who served during the Civil War with New York’s 20th Militia Regiment, the Ulster Guard, commanded by Col. George Watson Pratt, the only son of Zaddock Pratt.

The exhibit speaks to the overall value of the drummer boy during battle and the important role many prepubescent youths played during wartimes.

The museum is currently showcasing another exhibit titled “Silver Eagles: The War Colonels of the 20th NYS Militia,” which provides history on the three colonels, including Col. Pratt, which led the 20th Regiment.

The 20th Regiment consisted of many Greene County residents and fought valiantly in battles at Antietam, Md. and Fredericksburg, Va.

A total of 120 men were lost in the regiment, including nine officers.

According to John C. Quinn, a member on the Zaddock Pratt Museum board of directors, 620,000 Americans died in the Civil War, which would be equivalent to about six million Americans dying in the Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts.

“It was an absolutely devastating loss of life,” Quinn said.

About two percent of the total Civil War era population was killed in the war. The 1860 census listed 25 million people living in the United States.

Scanlon commented that it was important to remember the history of the Civil War and to remind people of the cost, especially in today’s world of divisive politics.

“It’s important to keep our history close,” she said, “or we’re bound to repeat it.”

To reach reporter Colin DeVries please call 518-943-2100 ext. 3325, or e-mail

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Oliver Ditson Drum Co. Bass Drum

eBay seller rmagiccds ( 3184), item no. 200512716955, sold Sep. 2, 2010 for $119.50, described as:

Antique 1800's Bass Drum; OLIVER DITSON DRUM CO. Boston

Here is a recent estate find. This is a rare Original Antique Bass Drum Made by The Oliver Ditson Drum Company Boston USA. It has a Maple Shell with Wood Hoops and Gut Heads. The Original paper manufacturers label is inside which reads "Oliver Ditson Company Manufacturers Of Drums and Drummer's Traps Boston New York." The shell measures 24" x 9 1/2". This Drum is complete but will need some attention. One of the heads has a split and will need to be replaced, it has been repaired for display purposes. The original rope binding is frayed and split from age and needs attention, I placed the ropes loosely on the drum for the photos but they need to be fixed. The hoops and shell are in excellent condition.

For more information on Ditson, please search this blog (upper left).

Note that about 1850 Elias Howe (Boston Drum Factory) sold out his entire business to Oliver Ditson and retired. Boston of To-Day, Richard Herndon, Edwin Monroe Bacon, Post Publishing Company, 1892, US 13181.28A, PP. 265,6. Field Drums: Elias Howe Drum, ca. 1861

Thus, a Ditson drum and a Boston Drum Factory drum could have much in common.

1800's John Stratton & Son Military Bass Drum

19th Century John Stratton & Son Military Bass Drum

eBay seller horncollector ( 1517), item no. 270625732996, asking $995, described as:

I recently picked up this Bass, but unfortunatly will now have to sell it due to hard financial times.

This "Bird's Eye" maple Stratton bass drum is in excellent condition and ready to be played. It was restored by Cooperman in 2002 and has new Goat skins and rope. The original Stratton label can be seen by peering through the vent hole. This drum measures 28 1/2" high and is 14 1/2" wide. This drum was made between 1889-1895 while John Stratton was in business with his son. It can easily be used with any reenactment band depicting anything from the 1840's California Gold rush era, the Civil War through to the Indian Wars.

Also, see

Note: the Cooperman label lists the repairs/restorations made in 2002. Included is "Ashton Tack Design". The editor will investigate whether that means that the tack design was added in 2002.

Search this blog (upper left) for other Stratton drums and historical information.

Civil War Drum William Kilbourn with Paper Label

Civil War Drum William Kilbourn with Paper Label

eBay seller donald5606 ( 153), item no. 270627793972, sold for $51.00, Sep. 3, 2010, described as:


See also, "Field Drums: Civil War Era Drum by William Kilbourn w/ Label", this blog, Dec. 17, 2009 (including for this better label):

P.R. Winn, Drummaker

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