Sunday, September 24, 2017

Wow, a Great History Lesson

A short history of fifes, drums, Boston.  Wonderful.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

More Historic Photos

SOURCE: Artifact Percussion, April 9, 2017,

Artifact of the Week: Faces Without Names

Artifacts are storytellers. They connect us - to our past, to long-gone strangers whom we’ve never met, to each other, and even to ourselves. To study an artifact is powerful and necessary. It is a responsibility that we have as human beings - and as drummers and percussionists - to preserve the stories of our craft and to preserve the names, faces, and teachings of those who came before us. Aaron and I find inspiration in those stories, which is part of the reason why we so enjoy taking the time to help protect that history and discover new editions of it, no matter how small.

This is the story of one small artifact: a roughly 5"x7" glass negative found (in its digital file form) in the Library of Congress Prints & Photographs online database. It is one of about 70,000 glass and film negatives given to the Library in 1955 by the Harris & Ewing photography studio of Washington, D.C. When this particular negative was digitized, Library staff gave it a simple title (“Drummers”) based on the only information they could gather from the content of the photo itself - that four of the five men pictured were carrying drums. There was no accompanying title or caption and the smallest date range they could gather was that it was taken between 1923–1929 (based on other nearby negatives in the collection).

Immediately, this image fascinated me. Clearly there was a reason this moment was captured. I had to know what that reason was and why that reason didn’t already travel with this negative. As always, discovery begins with questions. And I had a ton of questions.
With some logical reasoning and a little bit of research, I was able to determine that the man receiving the award in the image was the one and only Frank S. Fancher: renowned rudimental snare drummer, legendary record-breaker, and all-around badass boundary pusher.

Frank Fancher, an oft-overlooked rudimental snare drum legend, posing in his medal-covered drum corps uniform with his drum and his trophies in the early 1920s. The centered text reads: “Frank Fancher, “Wizard of the Drum,” World’s Champion Rudimental Drummer.” To the left it says: “182 — 1st prizes. Cups and Medals.”

I began my research on the guess that the non-uniformed man had to be a relatively “big name” in rudimental drumming during the 1920s. I knew that there were several powerhouse drummers during the ‘20s who would regularly compete in drum corps contests held at American Legion posts all around the country and that rudimental drumming, and these contests, still had close ties to the military. After all, during the first two decades of the 20th century, the snare drum in America was just starting to see a shift from the battlefield to the concert hall. Many of the most notable rudimental drum instructors during this era were veterans of the Spanish-American war. Some of the greatest and most important names in drumming flourished during the ’20s: J. Burns Moore, Sanford Moeller, Dan English to name just a few. William F. Ludwig’s drum company was still just becoming a household name in the percussion community.

Wait. There it was. Drum companies in the 20s were just starting to collect endorsers - the best players they could get - and where else to advertise their endorsements but in their catalogs? So off I went (one tab over in my browser) to [Sidebar: If you haven’t been to, you really need to go there. Right now. It’s amazing.] Anyway, I figured I would start with Ludwig, the biggest name in drums at the time (and the company most contracted by the U.S. government to manufacture service drums). I scrolled through a few catalogs - 1922, nope…1923, no endorsers in that one either…1924, nothing. Finally, as I’m scrolling through the 1927 catalog - debating whether I’m even going in the right direction at all - there he is. Frank S. Fancher. And he’s wearing a badge in this photo - an identical badge to the one being bestowed upon him in the LOC negative.

Frank S. Fancher, World’s Champion snare drummer, making an appearance in the 1927 Ludwig catalog. This headshot was likely taken on the same day as the Harris & Ewing negative.

So I had a name, and from there I was able to finish the story. Fancher’s name appeared in a few Ludwig company histories (and one Slingerland history). There were a couple web pages about his relationship with drum craftsman Odell M. Chapman and Fancher’s time with Chapman’s Continental Drum Corps of Willimantic, CT. I found the obituaries published in a 1966 issue of the Bridgeport Telegram newspaper and learned that Fancher, “a champion drummer many years ago”, died on Tuesday, February 1st, 1966 - less than a month after his friend, Odell Chapman, passed away at his home in Newport. I learned that Fancher’s drum - the one crafted by Chapman himself - lives on at the Company of Fifers and Drummers Museum in Ivoryton, CT.

I found the last piece of the puzzle in Rob Cook’s The Ludwig Book: A Business History and Dating Guide Book. In that text, Mr. Cook shares a postcard depicting two men - Frank Fancher and William F. Ludwig wearing U.S. Army Band uniforms and carrying Ludwig field drums - with the title “In the Inaugural Parade. Washington, D.C. March 4th, 1925.” There was text on the back of the postcard, too. It reads:
“Frank Fancher and William F. Ludwig were honorary members of the United States Army Band in the inauguration of President Coolidge on March 4th, 1925. Permission to play in the band, and honorary membership, was conferred upon them by Captain Sherman for services rendered [to] the U.S. School of Music and the U.S. Army Band in connection with the promotion of rudimental drumming. On March 3rd, Frank Fancher won the U.S. National Rudimental contest held at the Washington Barracks, DC.”

The postcard in question. An artifact that helps to tell its own story.

So there you have it. One story told by one small artifact. And though this story is but a pinpoint in a much larger and more illustrative narrative, it still matters. It mattered to Frank Fancher. It matters to me. And I’m sure it means something to anybody who has ever held a pair of snare drum sticks and felt the weight of a drum on their shoulders, or heard the sound of their instrument resonate through the concert hall, surrounded by other musicians who love their craft.

What we’ve learned (so far). We have a date, location, event, and a couple names. Unfortunately the Sergeant First Class, Corporal, and Private remain unidentified. Since it seems that they aren’t Army bandsmen (judging by their cap and collar insignia) it will be much harder to identify them, but we are currently trying to find more information on the results of the 1925 U.S. National rudimental contest. If you have any information at all, please let us know.

For me its the journey of the artifact itself. Ninety-two years ago, a photographer with Harris & Ewing, Inc. saw fit to imprint this moment onto a glass plate. He was probably a freelance photographer with the news service and took the photo with the idea of it being sold to a local newspaper - these were two of the biggest names in drumming, in town for the inaugural parade. But, for one reason or another, that never happened. So there it sat, unpublished, in a storage room in the studio at 1313 F Street NW, until George Harris retired in 1955 and gave his entire collection of negatives to the Library of Congress. And somehow, out of 70,000 negatives, this one was one of the 28,000 that were turned into a digital file directly from the original. So thanks to the preservation work by the Prints & Photographs Division staff, I was able to stumble upon it while hanging out with my dog on a Sunday afternoon. (Yeah. The internet is magic.)
But that negative could just as easily have been destroyed. Just like so many one-of-a-kind, hand-crafted snare drums that were thrown away by unknowing grandchildren of Civil War veterans. Or beautiful, hundred-year-old tambourines - with another hundred years of life left in them, at least - that are “upcycled” into primitive wall decorations, never to see a concert hall again. We all collectively, as percussionists, need to preserve these artifacts and the stories they carry with them.
So go explore and go discover and cherish each detail you find. Find the missing pieces of our past and bring them to light. Share them with each other and pass them on to our future generation.
And remember that one day, an artifact will tell your story, too.
Happy hunting.
This was the first edition of our new, weekly Sunday percussive-history hang out. If you dig it, feel free to share with a friend who may also dig it. If you have any questions, please shoot us an email at
Check back next week to learn about one our favorite artifacts in our collection: a one-of-a-kind WFL tambourine that jingle-jangled for astronauts ;)
Recommended reading & viewing:

Thursday, June 29, 2017

John G. Pike Civil War Militia Drum

John G. Pike Civil War Militia Drum 

Priced at $1,990 on

Dimensions: 15" x 16.75" x 16.75"
Artist or Maker: John G. Pike

Thursday, June 15, 2017

1913 National Guard Fife, Drum, Bugle & Bell Corps

Recorded more than 100 years ago.  Includes Semper Fidelis, Gary Owen, Hell on the Wabash (with modified drum chart presumably to play at speed), and more.

Pretty snappy for their time.

Per Frank Dorritie, "These recordings are remarkable and the playing is state of the art for the context. You may be interested that the bugles used herein are in the Key of F, meaning they are the Cavalry type, or possibly, Regulation G's with the tuning slides pulled out to the F line, though this is less likely given the superb intonation and tone here.

"Also attached a pic of my own fully restored Edison Cylinder Player."

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Civil War Eagle Snare Drum of the 78th New York Infantry, 1st Regiment Eagle Brigade, Cameron Highlanders....

"Civil War Eagle Snare Drum of the 78th New York Infantry, 1st Regiment Eagle Brigade, Cameron Highlanders. The regiment left for the "seat of war" in April 1862, and was engaged at Antietam, Chancellorsville and Gettysburg and, later, through heavy fighting in Georgia, being consolidated with the 112th New York in July 1864. The drum is 10" high with a 17" diameter, doubtless being slightly shortened during the period of use, which is not uncommon with the diminutive size of many drummers. Both heads intact, retaining most of the original rope, now broken, and one of the original tighteners, only remnants of the label remain. Brass tack decoration around the air hole, classic painted eagle decoration with the number 78 deeply carved preceding Reg. Original red painted hoops. The drum is in as found/ untouched condition, having surfaced a number of years ago with other artifacts related to this and other New York state regiments. The drum retains about 80% of the original paint decoration, with no imminent signs of further deterioration. Hoops retain 95% of the original red paint with demonstrable wear from the ropes. The drum is accompanied by the original fine condition sticks, with artificially grained decoration, the first example we've seen and the original cloth storage bag, black cotton with gray silk lining, a few holes, but very good and sound." Blogmaster's Note: Probably cut-down based on three reasons (the 10" height; the emblazonment is cut-off top and bottom; the tack pattern appears also to have been cut off at the top and the bottom of the shell).


Sold at auction by Heritage Auctions for $4,310.37 (including buyer's premium) on 12/12/2009.

Friday, May 12, 2017

"Liberty" Barrel Drum - What Can You Tell Us About This Drum?

"Liberty" Barrel Drum - What Can You Tell Us About This Drum?

David Hillier, an antiques dealer in W. Townsend, Massachusetts seeks information about this drum.  Please reply to

Monday, April 17, 2017

Civil War Infantry Drum

Looks authentic.  What do you think?
Description: Regulation Civil War Infantry drum. The drum gives every appearance of being very well used since the war, with restoration to the leather hoop tighteners and replaced cords. Brass tacking looks to be original on drum air hole. Drum head of bottom is torn. The paint on both the red hoops and the eagle decorated panel is worn but retains vibrancy.
Dimensions: 14 -1/4"T. x 16 -3/4"D.
Condition Report: (Very Good). 
May 26, 2017, 9:00 AM PST
Las Vegas, NV, US
Live Auction

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?

Described as:

Antique Regimental Civil War Field Drum, eagle motif. A 1 inch crack in one of the skins and a small hole in the other otherwise very Good original condition. 14 inches tall X 17 inch diameter.


Showtime's Spring Auction, 2017, 1st Session
by Showtime Auction Services
March 31, 10:00 AM EST Live Auction
Ann Arbor, MI, US

Sewell Morse Snare Drum

Described as:

Civil 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.



Civil War, Sporting and Firearms Auction
by Duane Merrill & Company
March 25, 9:45 AM EST Live Auction
Williston, VT, US


Marked 9th Vermont Company Grade Infantry Drum

Described as:

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.


Duane Merrill & Company
March 25, 9:45 AM EST
Williston, VT, US
Live Auction

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Story behind the sound: Rare Battle of New Orleans drum on auction block

Story behind the sound: Rare Battle of New Orleans drum on auction block

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 1929.

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,” Brock contends.

“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.

"In my 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 city's history."

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 sale.

“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.

Also 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 $250,000.

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.
Historian 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.

A Short Article on Drum Sticks by Fran Azzarto

Here's a 6-year old article originally from Drum Business (May/June 2010 issue) by Fran Azzarto, found online at (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 for the article.