Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Early 19th Century Barrel Bass Drum (Edward Riley)

Dave Randall wrote:

I had someone direct me to your blog in my search for some history about this drum. I am a collector of American made Ludwig drums from the 1960's, but this drum is way out of my league.

I first saw this drum used as an end table in my Uncle's apartment in the late 1950's in Goshen, NY. I have been it's caretaker for about 20 years now and would like to know more about it and also clean it up, replace the roping etc.

However, I need expert advice on all this before I would do anything to this drum. It does have a notation in pencil along the side of one of the heads "Sept 1, 1839". Also I've been told that this type of drum was used as a signaling drum in the Civil War.

Any help here would be appreciated.

Thanks, Dave Randall, Dayton, OH


There are no snare beds cut into the drum and since I have the original beaters it's clearly a bass drum.

The drum has a remarkably intact label:


Edward Riley (1768-1829) (see Metropolitan Museum of Art's Collection Database at was "one of the earliest American musical instrument makers of [the 19th] century" "Orchestral Musical Instruments, by Daniel Spillane, The Development of American Industries Since Columbus, XIV", The Popular Science Monthly, April, 1892, p. 798 and appears to have been known for his flutes. "Common flutes without keys were made in America before the Revolution, but Riley was the first maker of standing to appear in the field. He had a factory in Franklin Square, New York, as early as 1810, where he produced wood wind instruments of various kinds for orchestral and band purposes." Id. Riley was also a music publisher during the 1820's. "American Sheet Music: ca. 1820-1860."

Riley emigrated from London to New York about 1805 (See "19th century American one-key and simple system flutes"). William Hall and John Firth (of Firth, Hall and Pond) worked for E. Riley around the time of the War and 1812 to about 1820 or 1821 when they formed Firth & Hall (see chronology of Firth, Pond & Co.). Hall and Firth married Riley's daughters. Id.



I have quickly looked at your blog and see that you have an interest in the USMA Band at West Point. My father Howard W. Randall was a snare drummer during WW II with the band. He was a multi-instrument musician and was much better known for his tenor sax playing at the time. However, there were no open slots for woodwind players at the time, so he came in as a drummer and had those duties for marching and concerts, but they used him on sax in the smaller dance bands. Here's a picture of my Dad and the drumline from his time.

I don't have any dates noted on the photos. According to his discharge papers he was in from March 7, 1942 until January 19th 1946. It must of been a great time in his life as a musician. He really was not too far away from home (Middletown, NY) and I know he was always going into NYC to jam. He was single and making a living making music in his early 20's.


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