Letters from Readers: Leather Ears for Extraordinary Eagle Drum
This article features a Civil War era regimental eagle drum that may be the cleanest example of such drums yet published on this blog. If you have any suggestions, please feel free to write in.
A reader wrote: "I recently purchased a fine, labeled, Ernest Vogt field drum, (December 29, 1864 contract), from Austin Miller Antiques, Columbus, Ohio. (website with drum still pictured under folk art link, is, www.usfolkart.com) I would like to locate more original leather ears of the type remaining on this drum."
Relevant Related Information:
Terry Cornett, principal percussionist with the Huntsville Symphony Orchestra and owner of Heritage Drum Company, has written elsewhere on this blog in reference to a drum that he restored: "the ears are Cooperman repro of Eli Brown. The customer 'cooked' them in fireplace ash."
Here's the Drum:
Austin Miller Antiques, Inc. Columbus, Ohio:
Civil War Drum - SOLD
Philadelphia, c. 1860
Bentwood with original paint
Height 15.75 inches, diameter 16.75 inches
This side drum from the 1860s bears a stenciled eagle design that was typical of the thousands of instruments produced for use by the Union Army during the Civil War. The eagle is painted on a blue field, which means it was used in the infantry, and a banner held in the eagle's beak bears the words REG: U.S. INFANTRY.
This instrument is a rope-tension drum. Players adjust leather tugs, or "ears," to change the tension on the ropes that zigzag back and forth across the shell around the drum. The tension on the ropes changes the pitch of the skin drumhead.
To the right of the eagle painting is a tack design. Brass tacks were used to reinforce glued shells, and the tack designs became decorative elements for drum makers and also served as a kind of maker's mark. The tack design on this drum consists of a circle around the vent hole; above and below the circle are arrows pointing toward the rims. These geometric figures are framed by two parallel rows of tacks that are parallel with the shell seam. This design is the same one used by the prolific drum manufacturer Ernest Vogt, in Philadelphia, and allows attribution to his workshop.
The writer, Guy-Franz Schum, provided the following additional information in response to my email (copy below):
On Jul 2, 2008, at 6:06 AM, Ellis Mirsky wrote:
That is an extraordinary drum and you are incredibly lucky to have found and purchased it. I think it may be the finest example of such drums that I have ever seen. It is simply unbelievable in terms of its condition. The paint work is in uncommonly good condition. Frankly, I think that it is good enough to be exhibited with other fine musical instruments in [an art museum]. It is certainly museum quality.
The drum is simply astounding in its freshness and quality. My guess is that it has never been used and possibly never played. Many drums were made and stored, then sold as surplus. The absence of a regiment number and the fine condition of the drum are consistent with this drum being made during the CW but not deployed.
Now, you mentioned in your email that it is labeled. However, the website does not mention a label. Rather it talks of attribution to Vogt based on design. Did the seller miss a Vogt label inside the drum which you found? If so, can you send a photo of the label (easily done with a small digital camera pressed up against the vent hole) and some additional photos of the drum, especially details of the snare mechanism?
Thanks for writing about this wonderful piece of American history.
Guy's email reply:
On the drum: I have wanted one of these since I was 10 years old. I am now 62. My wife and I have been married 41 years and have collected American furniture of the William & Mary period, English delft, Staffordshire pottery, and other signs of domesticity. I started collecting Civil War stuff at 10, with proceeds from a paper route, but stopped when I was in my early 20s — children and mortgages.
I picked up collecting again about 6 years ago. Sticker shock on even pretty mundane Union stuff hit me hard. Nevertheless, as with furniture, I have a small but fine group of things. My all-time favorite drum is the one Don Troiani has got. The painting of the eagle is good enough to have been done by a fine artist like Harnett, or Eastman Johnson. And it has a great history to it.
The drum I got, as I said, came from Austin Miller, whom I have dealt with for folk art. I snapped it up sight unseen almost because of his impeccable taste and honesty. It cost me $11,500. *** There is one now on the Antiques Associates of Townsend website. You have to search for it, but they want $13,900 or something....
It was only when I got [the drum] home to Ole Virginny, after driving all day to and back from Columbus, Ohio, that I woke up in the morning and decided to peek through the percussion hole, and there it was! ... the standard Vogt label with the contract date on it.
The entire drum is right from stem to stern. The bottom head is torn, but in place. The snares are all there and completely attached across the bottom laterally. The painted surfaces and varnish finish, ropes, and 5 remaining ears are there too. If it was not issued, which I suspect, then at some point someone hooked it up and carried it around, because there is minor scuffing, very minor but evident, at the point where the shell rubbed against a coat button or a buckle. But this is almost unnoticeable, and one would have to know how and where to look for it, and be familiar with how military drums are carried.
I am familiar with the drum at the Met. One of the reasons why I bought my drum is because I could see that it was a Vogt drum and that the hand that painted it was the same, or from the same shop. I was thrown a bit, by the tacking pattern info that Miller put in his caption for it, because I have seen Horstmann and Soistmann drums, labeled, with the same pattern. But I figure maybe they collaborated at times, one doing shells and hoops, and jobbing them out for painting and roping. Just a guess.
Any way. I will try to get the label photo, and take some shots of the whole thing [for the web]site in the next couple of days.
I'm glad to have found the Blog and pages.