“Build it and they will drum.” Dedicated to research, study and comparisons of field drums. Our purpose is to collect information about historical U.S. drums (manufacture, preservation, conservancy, repair, market) for use by scholars, collectors and others. Photographs of drums, and anything related, together with informative narratives, are welcome. Interested readers will find archived postings a good resource. Reach us at BlogMaster@FieldDrums.com.
Friday, March 17, 2017
Antique Regimental Civil War Drum
Experts in the drum community, please feel free to comment. Share your comments on this drum. If it's original, was it simply not finished (even to the point of not painting in the usual information on the banner)? The emblazonment looks so clean and the counterhoops so fresh as to suggest that if it is original, it's never been used. But, is it CW?
War Era Sewell Morse Brattleboro Vermont Snare drum in excellent
overall condition - drum retains early leather, bindings and gut snares.
Minor marks, dings and wear to drum but appropriate for an object of
this age, 8" high 18" diameter.
9th Vermont infantry drum. An unusual tenor drum dating from 1830-1840 most likely from milita use prior to war. Drum is marked with 9 VT INF in blue pain on old red surface. It has been repaired and restored by Charles Soistman of "The Rolling Drum Shop"- Drum retains early paint, one original hoop (now damaged) and canvas hanger with two period correct drumsticks. 17 in High x 16 diameter.
by Dominic Massa, WWLTV (New Orleans)3:10 PM. CST November 23, 2016
In a quiet room filled with art, antiques, jewelry and other auction
items valued in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, it’s no surprise
that a snare drum might create the most noise. Probably no one has
played the drum in close to 200 years but it could fetch up to $250,000
at an auction next weekend. It’s not the sound, but the story of this
drum that’s important.
Its title in the Neal Auction Company catalog
is a good starting point: “The Exceptionally Important Jordan B. Noble
Infantry Snare Drum.” The drum, which is part of a collection of some
200 items up for bid, likely picked up that descriptive name from its
former owner, entrepreneur and collector Gaspar Cusachs, who assembled a
collection of more than 200 pieces of local history before his death in
You may not know Cusachs’ name, but the name Jordan
Bankston Noble (which is signed inside the drum) is one you should learn
more about. The drum belonged to Noble, who many historians believe was
born a slave in Georgia sometime around 1800 and is best known as the
teenage drummer who beat the call to arms for General Andrew Jackson’s
troops at the Battle of New Orleans. You can imagine how important the
role of a military drummer would be on the battlefield, keeping soldiers
in step as they marched towards victory.
According to the
National Park Service, the teenage Noble joined the U.S. Army in 1813 as
a free drummer in the 7th U.S. Regiment, under the command of Gen.
Jackson. "Noble was one of nearly 900 free men of color and slave
volunteers that had swollen Jackson’s defenses leading into the British
invasion (at New Orleans)," according to historians at the Park Service.
“You can’t get any more local than the Battle of New Orleans, and to
have an actual piece owned by someone who was there, you can’t get much
better than that,” said Marc Fagan, vice president of consignments for
Neal Auction Company.
Writing in Louisiana Cultural Vistas,
music historian Jerry Brock said that Jordan Noble “was arguably the
most celebrated black musician in 19th century New Orleans,” adding that
“in a life that bridged nine decades, Noble advanced the cause of black
freedom and human rights.” After his death in 1890, The Daily Picayune
ran Noble’s obituary under the headline “Answered the Last Roll: Death
of the Drummer Boy of Chalmette.”
The newspaper said “many will remember the white-headed old man and his well-worn drum.”
“He broke down race and class barriers as a soldier (veteran of four
wars), musician and statesman. He pioneered New Orleans marching music
and parade traditions and demonstrated bravery, free spirit and dignity
in his personal quest for liberty and will to survive and prosper,”
“Through his music and community involvement Jordan
Noble nurtured a joy of life and love for humanity in a city that
underwent massive expansion and sociocultural upheaval during his time.”
Jordan Noble (Photo: Neal Auction Co.)
Following the Battle of New Orleans, Noble continued his military
service. According to Neal Auction Company, Noble worked under President
Andrew Jackson in 1836 during the Second Seminole War as a member of
the Louisiana Volunteers. He was a drummer for the Mexican Artillery
during the Mexican War in 1846 (under the command of Gen. Zachary
Taylor) and during the Civil War, he served on the Union side as Captain
of Company C of the 7th Regiment of the Louisiana Volunteer Infantry.
Though he was sold back into slavery four times, Noble (who died a free
man) is also well-regarded as an important leader in the early movement
for racial equality. He is an important music figure who gave regular
performances playing his drum at public events, where crowds were drawn
to see the man known as Gen. Andrew Jackson’s drummer.
opinion, the drum is one of the most important historical artifacts that
we have here in New Orleans," said Shelene Roumillat, an historian who
researched Noble for her Ph.D. in history at Tulane University. "His
military career continued after the Battle of New Orleans and the fact
that he returned to the city in the 1850s is important because at that
time there was a resurgence of the free men of color who were veterans
of the battle."
She pointed out that those veterans began to be
included in Battle of New Orleans anniversary parades in the city at
that time and Noble became the most celebrated veteran of the free color
veterans in the 1850s. "It was a very strategic move on the part of
people in power in New Orleans to combat criticism of slavery and the
way blacks are treated in the South," she said. "He becomes and remains
the most celebrated veteran of the free color veterans. That's because
of his music and I think the sentimentality of memories attached to the
Battle of New Orleans, which is one of the proudest moments in the
Noble played at events all across the city, she
said, becoming the first black man to lead parades through the streets
without any official sanction or invitation to do so. "He takes it upon
himself with a fife player to go around the city and play, including on
New Year's, where they played a salute to the military, the city and
the government. The fact that he's black and is doing this is important.
Nowhere else in the country is that happening."
The drum which is
on the auction block was believed to have been displayed at the 1904
World’s Fair in St. Louis and at the Louisiana State Museum since 1909.
Neal Auction Company, which acquired the drum more than a year ago,
estimates the drum’s value between $200,000 and $250,000. Fagan, who
called the drum truly a one-of-a-kind piece, said there is a chance that
a museum or institution will snap it up next Friday when it goes up for
“Obviously we can’t determine who buys it but we certainly
inform institutions about the opportunity and if it ends up in their
hands, we’re more than happy. We do hope that happens,” he said.
up for bid in the same auction is a blue silk flag presented to Gen.
Andrew Jackson to celebrate the victory at the Battle of New Orleans.
The flag is mounted with a document detailing Noble’s military service.
“The flag also was the property of Jordan Noble and the museum had it
displayed as being given by the ladies of New Orleans to Andrew Jackson
to commemorate his victory,” said Fagan. “At some point, the history is
not very clear but it was given to Noble by Jackson.” The flag, which
Cusachs acquired from Noble’s wife, is valued between $200,000 and
The Noble items are just two of the 200 intriguing
items up for bid Dec. 2 as part of the Cusachs collection. Other pieces
include weapons, swords, rare maps of Louisiana and New Orleans,
paintings and manuscripts signed by historical figures such as Napoleon
Bonaparte, President James Madison and Gov. William C.C. Claiborne. The
pieces are described as being instrumental in early exhibits displayed
at the Louisiana State Museum at the turn of the 20th century. The
collection was on loan to the state museum for many years but returned
to private hands and is now being sold at auction.
Shelene Roumillat will give a lecture before the auction Dec. 2 on
Jordan Noble and the Battle of New Orleans. The lecture at 11 a.m. will
proceed the auction at Neal Auction Company, 4038 Magazine St.
Here's a 6-year old article originally from Drum Business (May/June 2010 issue) by Fran Azzarto, found online at http://www.moderndrummer.com/site/2014/12/need-know-drumsticks/ (Dec. 15, 2014):
What do the numbers and letters mean?
The history behind the numbers and letters stamped on drumsticks is a
little foggy. The letters originally stood for styles of music, while
the number was related to the stick’s diameter. The larger the diameter,
the lower the number. Some of this coding still applies to today’s
basic stick models. Here’s a breakdown of what the companies used back
in the early 1900s, when this system was first established:
The letter A stood for orchestra.
The letter B stood for marching and concert bands.
The letter S stood for street band.
The letter D, used by Gretsch, stood for dance band.
2B is the most common size for a thick stick.
7A is the most common size for a thin stick.
Most stick manufacturers still offer the classic models: 2B, 5A, 5B,
and 7A. As Pat Brown of Promark puts it, “Beyond that, most companies
have adopted their own individual systems for naming or numbering
sticks, and usually those names or numbers are little more than generic
part numbers that bear little or no relevance to the size or shape of
the stick.” So in order to keep your customers from getting overwhelmed
by the options as they search for the right stick, consider having pairs
in the basic sizes nearby to help guide you in the right direction.
What’s the difference between sticks made of hickory, maple, oak, and plastic?
The most common types of wood used today are hickory and maple. Maple
is 10 percent lighter than hickory, which allows drummers to use a
larger-diameter stick without it being too heavy. Maple also plays a bit
faster. It wears out pretty quickly, however. Hickory is a harder wood
and will last longer than maple. Hickory is also fairly resilient and
can absorb the shock of a hard-hitting drummer. Oak is the heaviest wood
option. Promark’s Japanese Shira Kashi white oak sticks are 10 percent
heavier than those made with American hickory. The extra density means
oak sticks can withstand more intense playing styles.
The bottom line is that oak will last the longest. Hickory has a
natural feel, takes an average amount of punishment, and is the most
versatile of the three wood types. Maple will allow for more sensitivity
and may be better suited to lighter playing situations.
For extreme durability, check out the aluminum/ plastic sticks by
Ahead. These drumsticks are made of aerospace-grade aluminum tubing, and
the upper half has a replaceable polyurethane cover with a threaded
tip. These sticks are designed to last, while still offering a
comfortable playing experience. According to Ahead, “Our sticks have up
to 50 percent less shock and can last up to ten times longer than most
similarly sized wood models.”
Hickory is of medium weight and durable.
Maple is lightweight and quick.
Oak is heavyweight and durable.
Aluminum/polyurethane sticks provide extra rebound and are extremely durable.
What’s the difference between wood and nylon tips?
According to Mark Dyke at Vic Firth, “The drummer will choose between
a wood- and nylon-tip stick based on the desired sound color of the
cymbal. Nylon tips create a brighter sound than wood.” Also, nylon tips
are virtually indestructible, so nylon tips will far outlast wood tips.
Regal Tip’s unique E series nylon tip is designed to offer the
durability of plastic with the warmer sound of wood.
Nylon: long-lasting tip, bright sound
Wood: full and warm sound
Regal Tip E series: durable tip, warm sound
What effect does lacquering have on the sticks?
Lacquer seals the wood and stabilizes moisture content. It can also
help provide a more comfortable grip. Regal Tip’s three-step lacquer
process is designed to take the comfort level one step higher. According
to Regal Tip’s Carol Calato, “This lacquer finish will actually get a
slight tacky feel when your hand heats up as you play.”
Some lacquers are too thick for certain drummers; those players will
need a model that’s closer to raw wood. If your hands sweat very easily,
a stick with a lot of lacquer can be very difficult to hold on to.
A “specialty grip” stick may be the best choice; these models feature
non-slip coating toward the butt end.
Lacquered: slick feel, moisture resistant
Unlacquered: tight grip, susceptible to moisture-content changes
Grip stick: no slippage, moisture resistant
What’s the best size and model for a beginner?
One size does not fit all. If a student has small hands (either
because of age or stature), the most logical recommendation would be a
smaller stick than one used by someone with a larger hand. But some
experimentation is required to find what feels most comfortable. A 7A is
a good choice for someone with small hands, like a young student. A 5A
is the most common model for average-size teenage or adult hands. Some
companies offer a stick that is specifically made to fit the small hands
of a young drummer. Those include Vic Firth’s SD 1 Jr., Vater’s Junior
Sticks, and Promark’s SD1F Future Pro.
Consider the size of your hand, and play a couple of hits on a rubber
pad using different sticks. If the stroke looks a bit out of control
with a thin stick, try a thicker model. Control is everything for a
beginning drummer, and finding the correct size of stick is a crucial
element in developing proper technique.
See http://www.moderndrummer.com/site/2014/12/need-know-drumsticks/ for the article.
The Musical Instrument Museum ("MIM") in Scottsdale, Arizona has a new exhibit titled, "All-American Bands" and featuring a display of instruments from the Sousa era. Included is a drum that I donated to MIM, an 1890 inlaid rope-tension bass drum by Lyon & Healy, restoration by George Kubicek.
U.S. Army Old Guard FD&B Corps at Norwegian Military Tattoo, May 2016
the highest point ever achieved by a FD&B corps anywhere anytime
ever. What a treat! It's as if the New York Regimentals were
resurrected, bugles added and then brought more than 50 years up to
date. I thought the 60's were great for rudimental
drumming. Someday we'll look back at this as the Golden Age. I can't
imagine a higher level of achievement. Now we need to spread the
knowledge, technique and style. I am overwhelmed.
I have a drum in my shop that is perplexing me and so I was hoping that each of you might take a look and give me your opinion. Here is what I know, the drum has an "aftermarket" label with the last date on it of 1937, 100 years after the drum is claimed to have been made by Eli Brown. The drum measures 18 11/16" in diameter and 17.5" in depth, which isn't outside the realm of possibility for a Brown drum. There is an ivory vent grommet which is very similar in style to other Brown vent grommets and the shell is made of tiger maple, which was used on many Brown drums that I have seen. Having inspected the drum closely and having a couple of other local guys that know quite a bit about Brown drums look at, the initial reaction by everyone is that this is not number "8" a Brown drum for a number of different reasons. The bottom reinforcement ring doesn't quite meet up so there is a small wedge placed in between the two ends so that they match up. The tack design does not look like any other Brown tack design that I have seen to date, I have seen quite a few over the last few years but by no means all of them. The two rows of tacks on the outer edges of the design both have 20 tacks, this is inconsistent with Eli Brown and other Brown tack designs. On classic tack designs on drums of this size, there are between 19 and 22 tacks on the seem side and 13 to 16 on the opposing side, never the same number. The spots where the diamonds in the tacks designs would be (usually with half of the diamonds turned on a 90 degree axis to the rest) are more like ovals and all face the same direction. The tiger maple, while a wood that the Browns used, does not seem like the grain pattern is up to the quality of comparable Brown drums. The scarf seem is about 8.5" wide and comes across the back of the face but is only under about 80% of the tack work but in other drums this size the scarf comes across the back of the entire tack pattern.
This being said, the one thing that is giving me pause on all of this is the size that is hand written on the inside of the drum. The number "8" in the size is in a handwriting that is very much like the numbers written inside of several Brown drums that I have expected. I have included pictures on the numbers inside the drum as well as the numbers from inside of one of Leo Brenan's Eli Brown drums for comparison.
The drum has been refinished, which is common for this area because we have a lot of players here in CT. The back of the tacks look aged as I would expect from a drum of its claimed age and the hoops are definitely not original. Please let me know your thoughts on this when you have a moment, any insight offered would be appreciated.
Matt Alling CT Pro Percussion www.ctpropercussion.com 203-228-0488 - Phone Calfskin, it's the new plastic!!!
A reader recently wrote with the following information and photos:
I am trying to identify an old drum. I have George Neumann's book and it shows a picture of a drum almost exactly like mine on page 197. Neumann dates the drum to 1746. If this is a militia drum, how rare are they and what could be a ballpark value of it. Any help would be greatly appreciated.
16" high x 14 1/2" wide
About this artifact
The most important military musical instrument of the 18th century
was the snare drum. It not only provided cadence, but also transmitted
the basic orders to troops in camp and on the battlefield with specific
beating which the soldier was trained to recognize. The drums were
fashioned from wood with skin heads, catgut snares, and ropes for
tension that required leather pull-down "lugs" to help tighten the
heads. When marching, the common step was about 75 per minute. (Modern
marching cadence is 128 steps per minute.) Source: http://shaysrebellion.stcc.edu/shaysapp/artifact.do?shortName=drum
CFD - Charles “Shang”
Wheeler, A Different Kind of
by Matt Alling CT Pro Percussion www.ctpropercussion.com 203-228-0488 - Phone
What would you say if I
told you that the man who played this drum won so many championships that he
stopped competing? Okay, the truth is, the championships in question had
nothing to do with the drums but it makes for a great story which we’ll get to
in a minute. The drum in the picture is one of three drums on display at the
Company of Fifers and Drummers Museum that was used by The Cupheag/Stratford
Pioneers fife and drum corps in Stratford CT, from 1938 to 1946.
The drum itself has no
maker's label inside and has a mahogany shell that is 32"x 12" with a
single-ply mahogany shell. The calfskin heads read "Cupheag Pioneers, Stratford
CT," and one head is painted with an Indian wearing a head dress. There is no visible
artist signature. There is a single point-of-carry eyebolt on one side of the drum and rope hooks that are screwed into
the rims. The heads on the drum have recently been repaired to prevent further
splitting and to preserve the artwork on the head.
This drum was played by
Charles “Shang” Wheeler and, if you are like me, you have no idea who he is, or
at least I didn’t until I started to research the drum and the drum corps.
After a bit of research I learned that “Shang”, who was born in 1872 and died
in 1949, wore a lot of hats in his lifetime, including prize fighter,
accomplished artist, political cartoonist, CT state senator, Native American
rights activist and, as a hobbyist was a wood carver. As a wood carver, Shang
carved duck decoys and birds and it is my understanding that he carved at least
one of every bird on the Eastern seaboard, from Maine to the Florida Keys. He
never took money for his carvings, liked to give them away as gifts and is
revered in many circles as the greatest decoy carver to date. It is not hard to
believe this, knowing that he also used to enter decoy carving competitions and
won so many times that he stopped competing and started to only display his
carvings in exhibition at competitions.In
recent years, some of Shang’s decoys have sold at auction for over $100,000.00.
“Shang” played with the
Cupheag Pioneers which, according to the Stratford Historical Society, was
formed by members of the now defunct Cupheag Social club. There is also a bass
drum in the museum that is painted with the words Stratford Pioneers, which are
believed tobe the same corps because
they were both active from 1938 – 1946 in Stratford Connecticut. It is my
theory is that the drum head on the Cupheag drum was painted by Shang, this is
supported by several sketches and political cartoons done by Shang that depict
Native American Indians, for which he was a big rights advocate for. Additionally,
although there is less evidence to support this at this time, I believe that it
is possible that Shang had a hand in making both bass drums. Both drums are of
very similar construction, have no maker’s labels and have very good
construction but also have a distinct homemade quality to them as well. It is
not uncommon for fife and drum corps to have made their own drums and with
Shang’s ability as a wood worker and artist; it seems entirely plausible that
he was involved in making the drums.
Recently, as you can
see in the final picture, there have been repairs done to the heads to help
preserve them for future generations to enjoy.
For more information on
this drum and the rest of the collection, please visit The Company of fifers
and Drummers museum in Ivoryton Connecticut. Also, watch for the new Company of
Fifers and Drummers museum website which will be going live very soon.
If you would like more
information on Shang Wheeler, contact or visit the Stratford Historical Society
in Stratford Connecticut.
Note – Pictures 3 and 5
are taken from the book, "Shang. A Biography of Charles E. Wheeler," Merkt, Dixon MacD., published by Amwell Press for the National Sporting Fraternity Limited, 1984.
A Word About Separate Tension, by George Burt Stone
One hundred years ago, separate tension drums were still something of a new thing. Single tension drums were perhaps slow to fall out of vogue because they had more in common with the traditional rope tension instruments used by drummers for the past century or two. In the case of rope tension drums, the simple pull of a leather tug tightened both heads simultaneously. The same principle was true of early rod tensioned drums, the only difference being the use of metal rods and claws rather than rope and leather to tighten or loosen the heads.
George B. Stone & Son - Catalog H, ca. 1915
George B. Stone & Son - Catalog H, ca. 1915
Catalogs of the 1910s often listed single tension drums and separate tension drums side by side making little suggestion as to which was preferable for any particular reason. A query posed to George Burt Stonein a 1915 magazine column then doesn't seem quite so uninformed. In response to a reader's question published in Volume 6, Number 1 of Jacobs' Orchestra Monthly, Stone chose to reprise his own article from the same publication in August of 1913. This topic was evidently so timely that he also reprinted the article in Geo. B. Stone & Son "Catalog H". The 1915 question and answer are transcribed here.
Q. What is your opinion regarding single and duplex strain on drum heads? I notice that many of the late drum makers are straining with a single rod from rim to rim instead of each head separately. This is, of course, in keeping with the old principle of rope strain but I have had much better results from duplex strain because you can use a heavy batter and a thin snare head.
A. In answer to your question, and to many other questions which I have received within the past month or so concerning the relative merits of separate and double tension, I will reprint below an article, entitled "A Word About Separate Tension." This article appeared in the August, 1913, issue of J. O. M. in the Drummer department.
"There is at the present time considerable discussion among professional and amateur drummers as to the relative merits of separate and of double tension for tightening snare drum heads.
"Personally, I think that separate tension is much the better for the following reasons: In a snare drum, the snare head should be comparatively thin, the tension being loose enough for it to vibrate freely against the snares. The batter head should be a certain degree thicker, for this head must receive the beating of the sticks and must necessarily be strong in order to stand it. The batter head should be considerably tighter than the snare head in order to properly transmit the concussion of the sticks to the snare head, also to properly rebound the sticks.
"With ordinary rods (straining both heads at once), the snare head, being thinner and weaker, is strained much tighter than the batter head, which is the reverse of the correct adjustment.
"In rainy weather or in a damp theatre pit where heads are bound to slacken, ordinary rods cannot begin to take all the looseness from the batter head without at the same time pulling the snare head to a high tension. Result - a drum with a "tubby" tone that "plays hard" because the batter head is loose; so loose that it will not rebound the sticks to the player's satisfaction.
"Another point, suppose one of the heads begins to pull down on one side (this is possible with the most even heads obtainable) an attempt to correct the unevenness by tension with ordinary rods invariably results in the other head being pulled out of shape, which makes retucking necessary.
"Separate tension rods control each head independently. These rods allow the correct relative adjustment of the batter and snare heads, giving the user the exact combination of head tension that he has found in practice to be the most satisfactory for tone and playing qualities. In damp weather, provided he is using separate tension rods, Mr. Drummer will find it very easy to strain the batter head up to a sufficient tension to rebound the sticks without even touching the snare head unless he thinks it necessary. If one of the heads starts to pull down on one side more than on the other, it is a simple matter with separate tension rods, to adjust the strain so that one head will be evened out without disturbing the other.
"And last, but not least, if while playing on a separate tension drum, his stick goes through the batter head, the player simply turns his instrument upside down, and finishes the engagement playing on the snare head. If he has had the forethought to buy an extra head, tucked, stretched and dried on a flesh hoop, it is a matter of but a few moments to put the drum into first-class playing condition once more."
This website is a non-commercial, non-profit, non-revenue-generating work developed and maintained by Ellis Mirsky, an attorney working in New York, solely for the purpose of
gathering information about field drums for use by hobbiests, researchers, reenactors, students, collectors and enthusiasts. Any suggestion or information that you may have
For the lawyers out there, this is not a scholarly journal. It's an amateur collection of information about field drums, a
subject given precious little attention. On the theory that the "fair use" doctrine of copyright law allows such use for
non-commercial educational purposes, we've taken photographs and text freely and without express permission from various
sources on the Internet. Whenever possible, work created by others is set in italics so as to distinguish it from original
writing. However, if at times we fail to do so, there is no intent to take credit for someone else's work. It is merely the
result of a lack of perfection, something which we readily admit. Photographs and italicized text should be considered
attributed to the sources identified near them, even if not expressly so stated. If you believe that anything written here is
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"I have gon, and rid, and wrote, and sought and search'd with my own and friends' Eyes, to make what Discoveries I could
therein. * * * I stand ready with a pencel in one hand, and a Spunge in the other, to add, alter, insert, expunge, enlarge,
and delete, according to better information. And if these my pains shall be found worthy to passe a second Impression, my
faults I will confess with shame, and amend with thankfulnesse, to such as will contribute clearer Intellence unto me."
Fuller's "Worthies of England," 1662. Increase Blake of Boston, His Ancestors and Descendants, etc., Blake, Francis E.,
Boston, Mass., 1898, Press of David Clapp & Son.
The drums on these pages were here long before we arrived and, with care, should be around long after we've departed. We have the privilege of taking care of them for a short period. As such, we are self-appointed caretakers of a small slice of our
country's rich heritage. By sharing knowledge and information, we will all be better suited to discharge our responsibilities with skill and good judgment. Ellis R. Mirsky, Blogmaster@FieldDrums.com