Friday, July 24, 2015

Pre-Civil War Field Drum

Matt Ailing of CT Pro Percussion is engaged in a massive project cataloging the world-class collection of rope drums and other instruments and uniforms at The Company of Fifers & Drummers in Ivoryton, Connecticut.

Matt recently wrote concerning one of those drums:

Hey guys, I hope the email tittle got your attention. I have finally started working on cataloging all of the drums at the museum at the Company of Fifers and Drummers and I have already come across  my first drum that is raising questions. The drum has no visible makers label but does have a repair label opposite the vent hole. At some point in the future I will be opening the drum up for further photos and research but this is what I have so far. This is drum #9 in their collection and museum notes state that it is a pre-civ war drum and carried by a member of the Davenport Family during the Civil War. There was a repair done in August of 1897 by Henry Hollwedel (drum maker) but I don't have any other info on the repair. Their is also a repair label on the inside from drum maker Howard Reiff in the summer of 1997, exactly 100 years later. Reiff says on the tag that he thinks the drum is late 19th or early 20th century but the museum info and what I see on the drum would conflict that. He also states that he thinks the drum is French because of the European Oak used. The drum is very light and the grain does not look like oak to me so I am inclined to strongly disagree with Mr. Reiff. The iron nails in the drum are something that Brian and I have discussed in the past and don't scream late 19th century to me but more early 19th century or even late 18th.

 The drum is almost square in size at 14" iameter and 13.75" shell height. The shell and hoops appear to be single ply and there is no carry hook or D ring or signs that there ever was one, these are things that would have been common on drums in the late 19th  or early 20th century drums. The drum has 9 rope holes; Mr. Reiff states that this is an indication that it is French as well but I have seen a number of American made rope drums with 9 holes. I am interested on thoughts that either of you might have on this drum.

Matt Alling
CT Pro Percussion
203-228-0488 - Phone
Calfskin, it's the new plastic!!!


  1. Regarding the Colchester Contintentals bass drum, please be advised that there is an identical drum that was once owned (and maybe still is) by the Colchester Historical Society. Identical right down to the writings inside the shell and the paper label that adorns it.

    I was Ed Olsen's assistant and still at The Company when they acquired the drum. At the time there was a keen interest expressed it in by the Colchester people. I think we were both amazed when an identical drum was eventually donated to them.

    Obviously, one of us has a "fake." I use the term in quotes, because the old-timers, long since dead, who made drums in the Brown manner never viewed them as "fakes." They viewed them as faithful copies of the beloved drums that were no longer available to them, as the Brown shop had stopped producing drums probably by 1846 or so and the shop itself closed for good in the 1890s, when the homestead was sold outside the family (legend has it that the Brown granddaughter who sold the home gave all the drums, in various stages of construction, to the East Hampton Drum Corps, retaining two bass shells that she cut in half to use as planters at her West Hartford home).

    Not surprised that there are so many copies of various Browns still around. The East Hampton corps used the parts they were given to finish off the ones they could. There was a gentleman in the local Chester Drum Corps who copied Brown drums and even carved artistic figures in bas relief on the inside of the shell (I've seen two of these examples). And it's no legend that an old-time Moodus drummer made excellent copies, including identical paper labels that were prepared for him by a fellow drummer who happened to be a printer (this printer-drummer also copied the famous Wilcox certificate issued to the corps founder, Hezekiah Percival).

    I have not seen the Colchester Historical Society's drum in a while, so I cannot speculate on who has the copy, but I would speculate -- and not be surprised if it was eventually proven -- that one of the drums has something to do with Moodus's beloved Elmer "Grump" Ventres.

    I deposited the newspaper article on the ColHistSoc acquisition and my research regarding the various makers of "fake" Brown drums in the Drum Corps Archives at The Company. Hopefully they are still there, I haven't been there in some time.

  2. P.S. As I recall, the ColHistSoc drum is missing the Chapman label but is otherwise identical.

    Odell Chapman is another interesting drum maker. He incorporated many of the Brown characteristics in his own product but to my knowledge never intentionally copied the drums. He did, however, at one time set out to make the "world's largest bass drum," which ended up with the Westbrook Band (not drum corps).

    The 1793 drum that Matt mentions came to The Company from Earl Sturtze's widow (she also donated all of the furnishings in the Sturtze Room, where I imagine they still remain). As I recall she mentioned that her husband has "refurbished" the drum, which probably accounts for the anachronistic hooks (and would also indicate that the hoops are replacements).

    I have found mention of hoop hooks as early as 1862. There are, however, a variety of styles and makes, so I can't comment on Matt's assessment of the hooks he has found on other drums. There is, however, (or was) a good pictorial study of hooks, also from the Sturtze collection, at the museum in Ivoryton.


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