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!!!

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Civil War Brass Snare Drum

eBay seller johndavidoneill has posted this beauty on eBay with a BIN price under $500 and a photo showing brass drums in use during the Civil War.  Nice find John.

Described as:
  • Ancient - Civil War Rope Tension Drum !!!!
  • American marching Field Drum; drum is in original playing condition. 
  • Drum Shell measures 16" Dia. x 12 " Deep, - Drum's Overall height approximately measures 14 ".
  • Brass Drum Shell has a beautiful patina-ed  aged finish.
  • 16" Diameter Calfskin Drum-Heads and Gut Snares.
  • Maple Hoops with Ten (10) Leather Ears, Twenty (20) rope-hooks - hemp rope.
  • Period correct: Civil War Hinged Snare Strainer.
  • Drum produces a Very Loud, Crisps, Deep, Old -School Low-Toned Rattle.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Ditson Drum Needs Rehab

A reader wrote:


I recently picked up an old rope drum that I planned on restoring. After I got it, I came to realize it was an Oliver Ditson drum. I've never owned a rope drum before, let alone a 95+ years old and possibly collectable rope drum. My original problem was just buying the leather ears for it, but now I'm wondering how I should restore it safely without damaging its appearance or value. I definitely need some advice about what to clean, what to clean with, what to not do, what to look for, etc. To my untrained eye, I'm fairly confident that it was stored well and that all parts will hold up under tension if I changed out the rope and bought some ears. I'm also curious as to how special this drum really is. I've attached as many useful photos as I could. 

I realized after I disassembled it that I never took a picture of the snare tension mechanism. It was a long rod with threads on the end that spanned from the top rim to the bottom rim. There was a key that stood next to the top rim that could be turned to tighten or loosen the snares.

Thank you for any advice.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Notes of a Conversation with Leo Brennan, Sutler

"I've been In F&D for the last 50 years so I can’t help but knowing a bit about fifes and drums." So began Leo Brennan's story of how he came to acquire three Brown drums.

He told me about his first drum, vintage 1837.  It all began last February, 2009 when as a member of Mattatuck Drum Corps he was first to arrive at the corps' clubhouse.

"Some of the drums they play are Brown drums.  There was a card on the door of the loft (clubhouse) one night that said, “If interested in a Brown drum, let me know."  Leo handed it in to the president. He spoke about it at the meeting.

One of the members complained that they had done business with the person who left the card and that he wants too much money, they don’t need the drum

The drum corps passed on the opportunity. Four or five weeks later Leo expressed interest in the drum and took the card

Brennan said that Matthew (Sunny) Lyons, 80ish, is an expert and can still play very well.  He was in the U.S. Army and the U.S. Navy at the end of WWII and the Korean War.  Matt and Leo looked at the drum and Matt recommended buying it.   Leo did so and got the history.  The drum had been part of the Alex Smith collection, an apple farmer from Northford, CT.  In 1897 he won the CFDA championship.  He loved Brown drums, and had at least 8 of them.   He would hand rub the drums during the winter to give them a luster (before modern distractions like television).

Leo never met Alex Smith but heard stories. He would insist that visitors who could play do so with him.

Leo made sure to say that the fourth Saturday in August, sponsored by the Westbrook Drum Corps at Exit 65 on I-95, Westbrook, CT, there is a 45 corps muster, a lot of good corps.  A jam session starts on the preceding Friday night

Leo mentioned that there are articles about him and his drums, including his bass drums.

Leo said that he does a lot of research in the library and found a photo of an Eli Brown drum at an antique shop in New Hampshire.

He phoned the auctioneer.  Leo faxed a bid but forgot to sign it

Leo won the drum (was outbid by several hundred dollars but with an unsigned bid).  The drum was owned by Griswold who sent it for repair in 1948 to Hubbard in Massachusetts.  Hubbard put new rims, rope and ears and coat of varnish, removed the snare assembly and did not replace it. That’s how he acquired his second Brown drum.

Then, talking with me, he became aware of the 1809 Brown drum (he had thought the oldest Brown was 1810 - a woman at a muster arrived with a black plastic drum).  I directed Leo to Barry Glick who had the drum for sale.

Leo spoke of Jack Haynes, an electrician, whose aunt owned the drum.  The drum had been in an attic for 40-50 years.  When she passed away, Haynes was the only heir and he acquired the drum.  That’s how Barry Glick came into the picture (a computer guy, middle man).

Leo came to an agreement with the owner. The seller asked for $3,500, Leo rejected it and the seller backed right off

Jack Haynes delivered the drum to Leo who bought it for $3,000.

Leo is now selling his 1837 Brown rum on eBay.  His son is taking care of the eBay transaction.  If it does not sell, he will pull it off eBay for 6 months.  Then he will try to sell his 1829 Brown drum.

Leo said that he has measured more than 100 Brown snare and bass drums.

He mentioned an 1823 Brown drum that he saw at a Nathan Hale Fife and Drum Muster (Homestead).

He has all the data sheets

Leo also noted that Sue Cifaldi has also done a lot of work. They plan to get together and compare notes.

Leo mentioned "American Drums of War 1607-2007", by George Carroll -- $40.0, and "The Browns of Wintonbury, Makers of Brown Drums" -- $12.5.

Leo's drums has have 16”, 17” and 18” diameters.

His 1837 drum is playable (but no snare assembly).


Leo Brennan
Ye Olde Connecticut Peddler

Hi Folks,

I've been in the business of sutlering for over 20 years and have met some of the best people around who have become good friends. 

I attend over 30 events each year and you can always find a good selection of the things you need or want on display. If by chance, you do not see what you want, ask or call me at (203) 245-9543, after 2 pm, Monday through Thursday....Fridays, I'm usually on the way to a weekend event, so when you are at an event, be sure to look for Ye Colonial Sutler's Shop on Sutler's Row.

If you would like, I will gladly send you a list of events I will be attending this season. If you have an event you would like me to attend, send me an invite and/ or call me. If possible, I will include it in my schedule.

Unfortunately, with prices as they are today, it is necessary for me to charge the sum of $3.00 per catalog.

VERY Partial List of Items available:
  • Audio Tapes & CD's
  • Books
  • Clay Pipes
  • Garters
  • Instruments
  • Leather Goods
  • Mugs
  • Rifle and Musket Accessories
  • Stockings
  • Slings, cases, etc... 
Ye Colonial Sutler's Shop
 Leo Brennan, Sutler
c/o 49 Nortontown Rd.
Madison, CT 06443

1823 Pennsylvania Militia Drum

1823 Pennsylvania Militia Drum

This drum appeared on Antiques Roadshow originally aired November 7, 2011 (appraised August 21, 2010 in Washington, DC by Paul Carella.

Antiques Roadshow Appraisal Transcript:

GUEST: It came down through my dad's family. My great-grandfather was from Pittsburgh and was a Scout River, Hudson Bay painter, and I believe this belonged to one of his brothers. 

APPRAISER: And where do you think his brother used it? 

GUEST: I have no idea. 

APPRAISER: Well, it has a date on here up front, and it says November 1, 1823, and that was probably a commemorative date from the founding of the regiment of the militia unit that the original owner of this drum was in. 

GUEST: Oh, okay. 

APPRAISER: And one of the things that the drum does have, if you look in the inside, is you can see the remains of a label in here. If you had the drum cover on it, how would you be able to see the label? 

GUEST: Right. 

APPRAISER: But what's very interesting is right here on the side is a vent hole, so if you peep through there, the label's directly across on the other side. 

GUEST: Oh, how cool! 

APPRAISER: So you'd be able to read it. And it served two purposes: to be able to see who the maker of the drum was, and the fact that it was vital for the resonance. 

GUEST: Oh, okay. 

APPRAISER: But what's equally interesting is the quality of this federal-style eagle. It's beautifully painted, and very vivid colors, and it's fairly early as a militia drum. I would date the drum sometime in the 1840s. 

GUEST: Wow, that's really cool. 

APPRAISER: It's a piece of folk art more than anything else. Have you ever given any thought to what it was worth, or... ? 

GUEST: Well, I took it to a local high school appraisal thing, and they told me about maybe $2,000. 

APPRAISER: $2,000, okay. At auction, I feel that this drum is probably worth between $7,000 and $8,000. 

GUEST: Oh, how nice. 

APPRAISER: Mm-hmm. It's a beautiful piece of Americana. 

GUEST: Cool, thank you! 

Friday, June 26, 2015

Grouping of Three Snare Drums, Two Bugles and Assorted Accouterments

June Firearms Auction Day 2 by Rock Island Auction Company
June 27, 2015, 9:00 AM CST
Rock Island, IL, USA,-two-bugles-and-ass-2139-c-af04c4eabc

Lot 2139: Grouping of Three Snare Drums, Two Bugles and Assorted Accouterments

Estimated Price: $900 - $1,400

Description: Grouping of Three Snare Drums, Two Bugles and Assorted Accouterments Lot of three antique drums, two pairs of drumsticks, drum accouterments and two bugles.

1) Snare drum that measures 14" diameter and 7" high. A tag taped to the drum states that has a label inside for Werner Soistman of Philadelphia, dated 4-15-1865. This label is not visible through the vent hole. The drum has been restored with new ropes and stretchers. The painted floral scroll head bands appear to have original designs and paint. Condition: Fine as restored.

2) Snare drum that measures 16" in diameter and 12 3/4" in height with a brass body and red head bands. Condition: Fine to good with areas of discoloration overall.

3) Snare drum that measures 17 1/2" in diameter and 12 1/2" in height with a walnut body and wood/metal head bands. Condition: Fair needing major restoration.

4) Brass bugle measuring 14 1/4" in length and marked "U.S. REGULATOR/MADE IN U.S.A." with light blue cord wrap around the bottom tubes. Condition: good to very good with an aged patina.

5) Brass and copper bugle measuring 12" in length with small chain attached to mouthpiece.

Condition: Very good with a minor aged patina. Lot includes two sets of drumsticks (one set black, one set walnut) and other drum accouterments. Manufacturer: None

21st Virginia 1905 Reunion Drum

Indian Pottery, Civil War & Firearms by Embassy Auctions International
Kinzers, PA, USA 

Lot 97: 21st Virginia 1905 Reunion Drum

Estimated Price: $250 - $400

Description: Nice 20th C. rendition of a Civil War veteran's drum. The 21st Virginia. Richmond, VA 1905. This old drum has the correct cording and leathers with a pair of early drumsticks. A nice collector's piece.  Dimensions: 14 1/2" T and 15 1/2" Diameter

Civil War Era Drum

Indian Pottery, Civil War & Firearms

by Embassy Auctions International

July 1, 2015, 12:00 PM EST
Kinzers, PA, USA 
Lot 88: Civil War Era Drum
Estimated Price: $300 - $500
Description: Civil War Era drum with 20th Century replication of the 8th Arkansas Regiment. Refers to Shiloh, Perryville, Chickamauga, etc. This is a very old drum that has been elaborately painted for a collector or reenactor.
Dimensions: 19 1/2" T and 15" Diameter

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

War of 1812 Chandler Field Snare Drum (Possibly)

A reader wrote in with photos and information on a drum that might be a Chandler drum from the War of 1812.  Comments, opinion and information are welcome.  Email us at  


Lee Vinson suggested that I write to you for some information on a drum I own that I acquired, probably in the 1970's, from a car dealer (Bob Roughton Pontiac)  and old gun collector here in Hampton Roads [Virginia].  He bought it for me at a gun show somewhere in New England and I paid him around $250 for the drum and his troubles.

Unfortunately the drum has been cut down.  (OUCH!)  I have shown it to Terry Cornett of Heritage Drums in Huntsville, Alabama who was not convinced of its age, he wanted to restore it to playing condition, and to Lance Pedigo of Colonial Williamsburg.  Lance felt the drum was older than anything in their collection and wanted me to let CW display it.

If you feel it may be worthy of your blog please proceed.  I have, for the sake of time, simply forwarded the small e-mail string between Lee and me.  There are some pictures of the drum at the bottom of the string.  I will send a few more pictures in a separate e-mail.  Any information on this instrument would be very much appreciated.  I have given you all the provenance on it that I have at the moment.

John Lindberg
Lecturer of Percussion
College of William & Mary
Virginia Symphony Orchestra (Retired)


-----Original Message-----
From: W. Lee Vinson (
To: JP Lindberg (
Sent: Tue, Jun 16, 2015 2:48 am
Subject: Re: GB Stone xylophone and a Chandler rope drum (More pictures to follow)

Hi John,

A follow up.  I found this post on Ellis' blog.  Looks like it might be the same maker:


Definitely get in touch with him and let me know what else you come up with!

- Lee


On Tue, Jun 16, 2015 at 1:31 AM, W. Lee Vinson ( wrote:

Hi John,

Thanks for writing!

The Stone xylophones are neat little instruments. I've run across a handful of them. They must have been super popular with theater musicians of New England in the 1910s and 20s.

Your rope drum predates most of what I collect. (And I collect some pretty dusty drums!) I'll point you to two other guys who may be able to help:

Ellis Mirsky ( is a lawyer by day and a drum blogger by night. is his baby.  He might be interested in sharing your pics on the blog which could generate some leads if he doesn't have any first-hand knowledge himself.

Brian Hill ( is an avid collector of 18th and 19th century rope drums, especially those with some sort of provenance.  Shoot him an email with pictures and he'll probably have something to say!

Hope this is helpful! Let me know if you uncover any more info on the drum. I'd be interested to know more about it as well. 

- Lee 


On Mon, Jun 15, 2015 at 9:53 PM, JP Lindberg ( wrote:


I own a Stone xylophone as pictured on your blog.  Yours is the only other xylo I have ever seen like it.  You answered a lot of my questions about the instrument.

Also, I have a rope drum, that may date back to the War of 1812.  I'm sending some pictures along in the hope you may able to shed some light on it for me.

I believe this drum was made in the Boston area.

John Lindberg
College of William & Mary
Virginia Symphony Orchestra (retired)


Handwritten markings on the above drum indicate work done on the drum in September and October 1812.  That's pretty compelling information.

I think that the partial label indicates manufacture by Massachusetts Drums, and that “KIN” is either wrong (an incorrect transcription of what is written on the inside of the drum) or part of a longer phrase.
Interestingly, another "Massachusetts Drums" label (different font, different information on label, but the font used to write "Massachusetts Drums" the second time toward the bottom of this label appears to match the font used to write "Massachusetts Drums" toward the top of the label on the Lindberg drum) on another drum from the 21st Maine Volunteer Infantry described in this blog reads:

Massachusetts Drums
Made and Sold by
Chandler & Peabody
Marlborough Street-Salem

Here is a fully intact "Massachusetts Drums" label from a known War of 1812 drum.  So it appears that the two drums (this one and the Lindberg drum) were made a different times (the label below by Chandler & Peabody on Marlborough Street, Salem, Massachusetts).

See also

Saturday, May 23, 2015

John Dowlan Interviewed by Larry McCormick

Thank you Buglers' Hall of Famer Frank Dorritie (with whom I marched (snare) in the 1967 Long Island Sunrisers Drum & Bugle Corps) for the link to this video interview (below) of rudimental drumming legend John Dowlan, by another legend Larry McCormick (including clips of even more legends from the USAF D&B Corps).

One topic discussed is back-sticking.  We have two earlier posts to this blog about back-sticking.  The first post focused on John Dowlan to whom Joe Marrella (also on the video) attributes back-sticking as early as 1938, although it took a couple of decades for before a drumline (USAF) put it into play:

The second post focused on A. R. Carrington, a field drum champion of the 1870's,who appears to have been doing a number of stick tricks, including something that appears to have been back-sticking:

I am certain that Dowlan came up with the technique entirely independently, and to him much respect and admiration are due for a whole host of reasons.  Hell, his story (watch the YouTube video) about being watched in 1951 (I was 4 years of age then and hadn't yet mastered ratamacues*) by Perrilloux prior to being judged by Pratt.  Well, that's the real deal.  Perrilloux was not easy to please, to say the least.

And thanks go to Larry McCormick for his efforts to record and preserve drumming history.

My father, Jacob J. Mirsky, 1939 NYS VFW Jr. snare drum champion, Bronx Post 95 Sons of Veterans (of WWI) FD&B Corps, put 3S sticks in my little hands at age 3 or 4 (around the same time John Dowlan was winning national championships), stood behind me, wrapped his hands around mine and whipped out a straight 2/4 and 6/8, then a few ratamacues.  My inner organs vibrated and I was hooked.  His ratamacues had a strange affectation which I've since seen on an old film of a veteran drummer from the Civil War.  His left hand would flip outward on the last beat.  And his long roll wasn't up and down entirely.  It rolled out from underneath as if his hands were constantly sweeping air away from the drum head.  He was my first teacher - he and J. Burns Moore of course via his instructional book "The Art of Drumming".

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Questions Raised About an Old Double-Tension Bass Drum


Hi. My name is Mike and I have a drum similar to the one you have posted in the link below ( I have attached some pictures. Can you help me identify it? There are no makers marks or labels anywhere.

It looks like it was a rope tension drum originally. Any idea what it might be worth?





Thanks for your email.

What are the dimensions?

The paintings appear relatively new.  The holes in the counterhoops suggest that they were part of a rope tensioning system.

The tensioning hardware might provide some clues.

Can you get photos of the interior?




I haven't seen any scratches on the shell which makes me think the shell was painted when the tension hardware was added. There are holes in both hoops although some are filled in with wood plugs.

Both hoops are made of the same wood and seem to be the same age.

Thanks for your help so far.

What does the tack seem tell us about the age? Do you know if the drum is of an American origin? 



     Prior to about 1860 or so, steambent drum shells had to be held together by tacks because the glues were not sufficiently developed to hold the overlapping portions of the bent drum shell together.

     So the presence of tacks is evidence (not necessarily irrefutable proof) that the shell was manufactured prior to approximately 1860.


Would there be a way to prove it's age? Any idea of its value today?


As to proving a date of manufacture, no, not that I am aware of.  My guess is that the drum in probably 19th century.  As far as value, probably not much of a market for the drum.  A few hundred dollars maybe.  The demand for bass drums is very small.  And 32” diameter bass drums have an even smaller demand.  They’re just too big to fit comfortably into most collector’s usually limited display space.  If you’re interested in selling the drum, you might consider eBay.  I’ve bought many drums on eBay.  You could try auction houses, but without substantiated provenance, I don’t think that there will be much interest.  Also, the painting, as I said, looks too fresh which causes me to suspect it’s a relatively recent paint job.  See some of the authentic mid-19th century emblazonments.  They look old, worn, washed out colors.  By contrast, your drum looks bright, as if it had been painting last week.

Also, the hole (see below) is perpendicular to the surface (or radial).  Rope holes would have been at an angle (or would exhibit wear at an angle).  It looks like there is a slight discoloration below the hole in the photo below.  That could be wear or possibly from foot hardware (where the drum might have had a device attached to keep it from moving on the floor if the drum was used as a bass drum in an early drum kit).

How many holes are in the hoops?  Are there about 10 or 12 holes in each counterhoop?
Also, since the eagle is aligned vertically perhaps it was meant to be seen from the head side of the drum rather than from a radial position.  That would be consistent with the drum having been used as part of a drum kit and painted that way for that purpose.

A drum that size would have been used as a bass drum in a marching band or drum corps to provide the downbeat and keep soldiers in step while marching.  Or it could have been part of a drum kit.

See, e.g., this single tension bass drum from the 1920’s, as well as a 14x28” Ludwig brand double tension bass drum from the same period, and a 1930’s Slingerland bass drum with similar hardware to yours.

product 081023553102 Vintage Ludwig 14x28" Bass Drum 1920s **WoW**
And see this relatively new custom dixieland jazz band drum:

     Are the tension rods perfectly evenly spaced around the drum shell?  If not, that could be evidence of after-market installation.

     Bottom line: Without actually seeing the drum, my sense is that the shell and hoops could be mid-19th century but the tensioning system is early 20th century.  The paint job – who know?  My guess is that it’s relatively recent.

     I’ve copied Lee Vinson on this reply.  He’s a knowledgable drum collector/historian.  He might have some ideas.  Also, I’m copying him on our prior email exchanges.




Thank you for including me in this conversation. Unless I hear from Mike, I don't know that I'll chime in as you've been quite thorough already and I agree with all of your points.

I do wonder who did the conversion. The tube lugs in the blurry pics look Stone-ish to me. 

Perhaps someone sourced their parts there or maybe even Stone & Son was behind the work themselves?!? Seems like George Burt and his son would have been more reverent and restored such a drum rather than converted it for modern purposes, but who knows? It's only a thought. Certainly nothing conclusive but it's fun to daydream about!

Hope all is well with you.


I hate to be a nuisance but if you would send a lot more pics, in focus, Lee and I would greatly appreciate it.  Many of the pics you sent were out of focus unfortunately.  iPhone or other smart phone pics without flash will be fine.  You have a very interesting drum and we'd like to get to the bottom of the mystery.
By the way, W. Lee Vinson is also looking at the pics.  Lee is a collector/historian/performing percussion artist with his own website.  See and see his collection at
I'd also like to send the pics to others (including performing percussionists with the Nashville Symphony - Sam Bacco; the Orlando Symphony - Mark Goldberg; and the Huntsville Symphony Orchestra - Terry Cornett, and other drum restorers - George Kubicek, and others) but I'd like to send them really good photos.  The best way is for me to post the pics on my website.
So please send a lot of good in-focus pics so I can broaden the base of input concerning your drum.
Thank you.

Hi Guys,
Here are some more photos. I was able to get a couple of photos of the inside and you can see the grain and tool markings.
Let me know if you need a pic of anything specific.


Hi Mike and Ellis,
Thank you for forwarding the pictures along. It's an interesting OLD drum with stories to tell, but I can't say that I any further insights beyond what Ellis has already offered up. Perhaps some of the other collectors out there with more expertise in 19th century rope drums would recognize something distinctive about the shell which could narrow things down a little further as far as date and origin are concerned, but I'm not seeing much to go from.
Thank you again for including me in the conversation! Hope all is well.

I do not see any evidence of anything being clamped to either rim. I do remember the drum was being used as a coffee table when I first discovered in a cottage in Northern Ontario.
The mark is 6.5 inches wide and looks more like some type of stain on the skin.