Fairbanks No. 7 Banjo, ca. 1908

Value (2006) | $8,000 Retail$10,000 Retail

APPRAISER:
It's called a bump case and you'll see it has this wonderful bump and most banjo cases just have, you know, straight sides. And it's typical of this period of banjo making around... 1900 to 1910 you'll start to see these bump cases. The first of the hard cases.

GUEST:
Right.

APPRAISER:
And this is the most stunning Fairbanks banjo I've seen in a long time. This is a Fairbanks Whyte Lady Number Seven, which in the line of Fairbanks banjos is reasonably high in the line. In fact, it was the highest grade Whyte Lady model, and I'll tell you what I mean by Whyte Lady. It has the Whyte Lady tone ring in it. And the Whyte Lady tone ring is, do you see this metal business in here?

GUEST:
Yes.

APPRAISER:
That is a tone ring, and you'll see it has little scallops. That's the Whyte Lady tone ring.

GUEST:
Okay.

APPRAISER:
It's actually a ring of scalped metal that sits inside of another ring and that's what gives it that nice, big, clear sound that was lacking in the earlier banjos.

GUEST:
I see.

APPRAISER:
And the Whyte Lady was a great innovation, and they started making it about 1902, as I recall, maybe around 1900. This was made in 1908 or 1909--

GUEST:
Wow.

APPRAISER:
--from the serial number. You can see the serial number right here. Another one on the rim, made in Boston. And Fairbanks was the premier banjo company in Boston, and perhaps the premier banjo company in the United States, along with the SS Stewart Company in Philadelphia. They made most of the great banjos in America.

GUEST:
Fascinating.

APPRAISER:
And you can see some amazing detail here. The gorgeously carved heel, engraved inlays…

GUEST:
Mm-hmm.

APPRAISER:
It has maple rim with colored wood marquetry. This tortoiseshell material is actually tortoiseshell colored celluloid. And it has a presentation plate, which is unusual for these banjos. Normally, this would have a nickel plate that would say: "A.C. Fairbanks, Boston, Mass."

GUEST:
Okay.

APPRAISER:
But this one says, "Made expressly for Mrs. Edward L. Hitchcock by the A.C. Fairbanks Company of Boston." It has gorgeous engraved inlays up and down the front. Rather large, in fact. And this wonderful engraved inlay in the head.

GUEST:
Mm-hmm.

APPRAISER:
And also... wonderful engraved inlay in the back of the head…

GUEST:
I'll be darned.

APPRAISER:
…that griffin. It has mother-of-pearl pegs on gold-plated tuners. Where did you get it?

GUEST:
I inherited it from my uncle. He and my father and their brother and my aunt had a small musical group. My father played the violin, my aunt played the piano and my uncle played the drums.

APPRAISER:
Did you ever hear him play this?

GUEST:
I never heard him play it. We lived on opposite ends of the country for most of our lives. I never heard him play it.

APPRAISER:
Do you know where he got it?

GUEST:
I don't know where he got it.

APPRAISER:
So no connection between your uncle and Mrs. Hitchcock?

GUEST:
Not that I know of.

APPRAISER:
There's a big space in between.

GUEST:
That's right.

APPRAISER:
Well, this is the type of banjo old-time players, people that play Southern Appalachian music, would just die to have.

GUEST:
Wow.

APPRAISER:
This is stunning. It just makes me shake.

GUEST:
What's it made of?

APPRAISER:
What's the wood? This is maple neck, ebony fingerboard, with mother-of-pearl inlays. The rim is also maple. And condition-wise, it's a 9.5 out of ten. It's the nicest one I think I've seen in years. It might surprise you that this is probably worth about... at least $8,000.

GUEST:
Wow.

APPRAISER:
And an enthusiast might pay a bit more.

GUEST:
Wow.

APPRAISER:
It could reach as high as $10,000 in the right situation.

GUEST:
Wow. (laughing) I'm amazed. Wow.

Appraisal Details

Appraiser
Vintage Instruments, Inc.
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Appraised value (2006)
$8,000 Retail$10,000 Retail
Event
Salt Lake City, UT (June 24, 2006)
Period
20th Century
Form
Banjo

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