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])

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